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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Kalanon's Rising by Darian Smith (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Kalanon's Rising over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Along The Razor's Edge over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read the prologue of Along The Razor's Edge over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Rob, it’s a new year and a new decade. What does 2020 hold for you?

RJH: Thanks for having me back. Hard to believe, but the turning of the decade marks 10 years since I decided to give this whole writing thing a crack. Things have sure changed a lot, both for myself and for the industry, in that time.

2020 is a busy year for me. I’d already set myself the task of releasing a new trilogy, and then randomly decided I was going to release a 4th book at the end of the year as well. 2019 Rob thought it was a good idea, but I don’t think he considered the amount of effort it would take.

There’s a couple of other things in the works as well… but I can’t talk about them, so I’ll just be all vague and mysterious.

Q] We are quickly approaching the release of Along The Razor’s Edge. This is an entirely new trilogy set in an entirely new world. Can you tell us what drove the inception of this new story?

RJH: I actually cannot remember how this one initially started. I have this weird thing where an idea will just pop into my head, and sometimes it’s so strong an idea, such a cool concept, that I just have to write it down. Along the Razor’s Edge was like that. Something sparked off my imagination and I hammered out the first two or three chapters with no real idea where the world or the character would eventually take me. When it happens, I send those chapters off to my Alpha readers just to make sure I’m not a lunatic and the idea is solid. Then I sit down and start getting to grips with the rest of the story and the world behind it. In my defense, I started writing this book in late 2016 and a lot has happened since then. But sometimes that initial spark comes from another book I’m reading, or something I’ve watched, a cool piece of art, or sometimes a line from a song. The mind works in mysterious ways and mine has a habit of leading me down the rabbit hole.

Q] Let’s talk about the quick release schedule you are planning for this trilogy. Why the quick release for this story?

RJH: Because fellow author and villainous vagabond, Ben Galley, tricked me into it!

I’ve been sitting on this completed trilogy for a while now. I think I finished writing From Cold Ashes Risen (book 3) in October of 2018. So, I had an entire trilogy finished but for the editing, just sitting around collecting proverbial dust. Then I spoke to Ben at WorldCon last year and he mentioned he’d done a rapid release of his Chasing Graves trilogy. He said it was an awful lot of work, but really helped drive the success of the trilogy. For a start, we live in the age of binge culture and fans love to be able to move from one book to the next. But there may also be some Amazon algorithm black magic in play. As an author who’s always up for trying new things and doing things differently, I thought I’d give the whole rapid release thing a go. Turns out Ben wasn’t lying when he said it was a lot of work… but he was understating.

Q] If I recall correctly, you started writing this series of books in 2017. What made you wait for a while before getting them ready for the release?

RJH: Fear. I have been, and still am, terrified of releasing this trilogy. It is so different from anything else I’ve written in many ways. On the surface level, it’s written in 1st person perspective, which is new to me. It’s all told from the perspective of an older character looking back on their life, which is again new. It utilises flash backs which is another thing I’ve not done before. So much of the bones of the story are me trying out new things and seeing if I can do it. I think I’ve managed it, but really the truth will be if the readers think I have.

But honestly, the fear goes deeper than that. This series deals with a lot of serious and intense issues. Eska is a character who, on a very real level, hates herself. She entertains thoughts of suicide. She is defiant to the point of self destruction. She’s a child soldier who was ripped away from her family, trained to be a weapon, and then finds herself without a war to fight, and realises she’s doesn’t know how to not fight. And it’s all focused through the lens of a much older Eska who can look back on her decisions and say “What a fucking idiot I was!” And this is all just about book 1. So, I deal with a lot of serious themes throughout the series and I hope I’ve done them justice.

And lastly, I couldn’t answer this question without talking about The Lessons Never Learned (book 2). I had to write book 2 twice because my first attempt at it was utter trash. I hated writing it. I knew it was terrible. I sent it to my Alpha readers and they came back and confirmed it was awful. I honestly thought I’d lost my ability to write (It was a fairly dark time of my life) and I considered giving up. So I threw the series to the side and wrote a little book called Never Die because I needed to write something just fun and, I guess go back to what I knew I could do for a while. But I couldn’t just leave Eska hanging, so I went back to book 2 and decided to bloody well fix it. That first draft was 100,000 words and I deleted about 85,000 words and just started again. It turned into a very different book and one I am extremely proud of. But I am also incredibly scared of letting other people read it.

Q] Lets talk about Eskara Helsene, the main narrator of the trilogy. When we meet her first, she’s a teenager who’s trapped in a subterranean prison. Over the course of the trilogy, we get a first hand account of what she eventually becomes. What made you focus such an epic story entirely through her?

RJH: I really wanted to try a 1st person narrative. Some of my favourite series like The Farseer trilogy and the Broken Empire are told through that perspective, and I wanted to give it a go myself. I think it lends itself to really letting the personality of the main character shine through (for better or worse), and allows you to deliver the world through tinted glasses. It also allows me to drop hints of what she’s is going to do and become. The reader knows from the first few pages that Eska eventually becomes knows as the Corpse Queen, but they have no idea how or why. There’s also the fact that the series is a very emotional ride for Eska as she grows up and discovers who she is, and struggles with who she was, and 1st person really lends itself to that emotional turmoil of being inside the character’s head.

Q] Talking about Eskara, she’s quite an unlikeable protagonist much in the vein of Jorg (Mark Lawrence) & Nyx (Kameron Hurley). It’s quite tricky to set your story from such a person’s perspective. Previously you have written stories from the viewpoints of charismatic villains and sociopaths. However Eskara is neither and so I’m curious as to her origins.

RJH: OK, so do you ever look back at the things you’ve done in the past and think “Urgh, I was such an arsehole.” Or “Why did I do that?” It’s actually really common especially in folk who suffer from anxiety. Sometimes you’ll just be happily going about your life and your brain will randomly remind you of something stupid/nasty you did when you were a kid and it sends you into this shame spiral because of something you did 30 years ago and nobody but you even remembers. This is a large part of where Eska comes from. She is recounting her life, looking back at it, and she does not look back on it all fondly or through rose tinted glasses.

I guess, in many ways, she was written as a bit of a foil to characters like Kvothe. Kvothe is another character who is telling the story of his life, but he aggrandizes the things he went through, embellishes them and looks back fondly more often than not. Eska does not. She looks back hates herself for the decisions she has made, is embarrassed by what she has done, and doesn’t try to sugar coat anything. And in book 1 especially, she is looking back at a time when she was a teenager and she was bratty and hormonal and prickly and selfish, and she doesn’t try to hide that, even though it makes her seem like a horrible person. So it’s fair to say that Eska comes from a place of anxiety. As a character, she clearly suffers from anxiety and even has a sort of physical representation of it.

Did I mention I tried something very different with this series and deal with a lot of serious issues? :D

Q] The first book is mainly subterranean, the second set in the skies above. Any particular thematic reasons for these plot locations or was it just a coincidence?

RJH: Back in 2016, I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if an entire book was set underground?” So I wrote it. Then in 2017 fellow author and notorious hat thief, Graham Austin King, gave me an ARC of a book he wrote called Faithless. And it turns out it’s a book set entirely underground. It’s also a bloody good book which I highly recommend checking out. And it dawns on me now that I can only name one other book I’ve read set entirely underground (The Fade by Chris Wooding), so I feel it’s an underused setting, especially in fantasy where it can be used to such great effect. It’s cool to have a story set in the darkness surrounded by rock, and gives a claustrophobic feel to everything that happens. Also, I love writing scenes where the point of view character cannot see and must rely entirely on their other senses. It’s a real challenge, but gives a sense of fear and urgency to it.

As for the skies. I love the idea of flying cities. Of civilisations that live amongst the clouds, especially nomadic cities that travel the world. There’s something so awe-inspiring about the idea of looking up and seeing a vast city drifting across the horizon. So I decided to put flying cities into this world I was building. And it just made a nice juxtaposition that book 1 was set underground, and book 2 was set (mostly) in the skies. Also, book 2 really opens up the world and leaves behind the close, crushing claustrophobia, and it all just fit really nicely.

(Rare ARCs of The War Eternal trilogy)

Q] This trilogy has a truly epic world with several non-human races as well as a magic system that’s based on ingestion of gemstones (for lack of a better term) for the humans. Please talk to us about what inspired you to make it Source based and also about the Rand, Djinn and the several races?

RJH: I’m a big fan of magic systems with rules. Magic without limits bores me. It needs to be grounded in laws that function within the world it’s set in, and it needs to have boundaries. Extra bonus points if the magic system has a negative side to it. All power should come at a cost. I’ve also been playing D&D and various roleplaying games for pretty much my entire life. So I wanted to create a magic system where the power comes from somewhere else, but it’s the magic user who has the ability to wield it and the skill to shape it. The magic has a source outside of the user. It’s not an entirely new concept, though I do hope I’ve done something new and unique with it… actually I’m fairly certain I have, but I can’t give anything away without spoilers. But from the idea of having Sources, it seemed an obvious jump to renaming my Sorcerers to Sourcerers.

As for the other races. Well the Rand and the Djinn are the gods of this world. They have been at war for as long as anyone can remember (even them). Some might call it… an eternal war. And the world and its people bear the scars of that war. Let me share a little quote from Eska herself.

"If there’s one thing you remember from my story, one lesson you take from it, let it be this: Gods are fucking arseholes. All of them."

There’s also a bunch of other sentient races ranging from eyeless teddy bears (the tahren), to giant warring slugs (the garn), to barbaric cannibals (the Damned). Oh, and there’s also an entire Other World filled with monsters and horrors.

Q] Cover art being such an important factor, you have gone with your usual dream team of Felix OrtizShawn T. King. Pray tell us about the cover art decision and how you got these gorgeous covers?

RJH: I love Felix and Shawn. Those two make my books look so pretty. So the design around these covers would probably warrant an interview with Felix because he knows his shit! I originally had this idea of a series of covers similar to The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. I love the lightweight design of those covers. Felix came up with something I really liked, but he also realised that I what I really wanted was something a bit more traditional in nature. And then knocked up the cover to Along The Razor’s Edge over night and blew me away. And then he leveled up with the cover to The Lessons Never Learned. AND THEN he reached his final form with the cover of From Cold Ashes Risen. I joke. That’s not even his final form. But this is why I love working with Felix. He takes my ideas on board and then comes up with something much better that I didn’t even realise I wanted.

Then Shawn takes the fantastic artwork Felix produces, works some sort of visual wizardry I can’t claim to understand, and produces a finishes cover. I just sit back in awe and say “Yup, that’s what I wanted. Thank you for somehow interpreting my mad ramblings.”

Q] We might also be getting a standalone sequel set in the same world as Never Die as well as possibly another title. What lead to this decision and why did you title the series Mortal Techniques?

RJH: Oh there’s no might be. It’s coming!

I honestly did not expect Never Die to be as popular as it is. I have had so many readers tell me that they loved it and they want more. So I decided to give people what they want. The world I created in Never Die is one that I can use as a sandbox. I’m gonna play around in it and create a series of standalone books that take heavy inspiration from martial art films, Asian epics, manga and anime. These are all things that I love and have inspired me SO much over the years, and I want to create more stories that are love letters to them.

And when I decided to turn it into something larger than a single stand alone, I decided I needed to collect them under a new name. As much as I would love to keep calling them Never Die Harder or Never Die Another Day… I’m not. So as the magic system is all about qi and techniques, and the world features gods and spirits as well as people… I figured I’d call the series The Mortal Techniques novels. Currently I have the 2nd novel written, and I’m working on the 3rd one. Each one will be different, with different inspirations, but they will all be a lot of fun!

Q] Can you reveal anything about the second Mortal Techniques book? Its potential title? A blurb? anything else?

RJH: I can. The 2nd Mortal Techniques novel will be called Pawn’s Gambit. I don’t have a blurb for it yet, but it revolves around a secondary character from Never Die; the strategist known as The Art of War. And you’ll just have to wait for more information.

Q] You also became agented last year when it was announced that you had joined John Jarrold’s client roster. What can you tell us about Herald (book 1) and the Age Of The God Eater trilogy?

RJH: I did. I was lucky enough to be picked up by the dastardly John Jarrold who represents a whole list of amazingly talented writers, and now me. I can’t tell you much about Herald yet except that God is dead. The Godless Kings killed him and then ate him.

Q] Lastly Never Die is also a SPFBO 2019 finalist. What are your expectations now that you are the first repeat SPFBO finalist ever? How do you think Never Die will do in these finals among so many exciting titles?

RJH: I hope Never Die will do well, but I hope all the books in SPFBO will do well. It is an amazing line up in the finals this year and every one of the ten books deserves to be there. So if you want to help out indie fantasy, pick up a book from this year’s SPFBO and you will not be disappointed!

Q] Thank you as always for your time Rob. I wish you all the very best for the release of the new trilogy, SPFBO finals & Age Of The God Eater’s pathway to publication. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

RJH: Thank you for reading! You all rock and I could not do what I do without you.
Saturday, March 21, 2020

The FBC Social Distancing Giveaway (by Mihir Wanchoo)

It’s been an “interesting” few weeks for all of us in the USA as well as the rest of the world. Now with all the social distancing guidelines as well as the need to keep oneself at home, everyone’s rightly been worried about personal finances and small businesses.

Many indie stores are worried about their survival as well as authors whose names don’t end in King, Rowling or Martin. We at Fantasy Book Critic also share these concerns and while we can only do so much with reviews, interviews and spotlights. So to help with social distancing and what to do when you are self-quarantined, we have come up with a massive giveaway.

I thought how I can help the authors that I love, and also the indie bookstores that I frequent. So here’s what I’ve decided. I’m going to be doing a sixty book giveaway featuring many of FBC’s favorite authors and I’ll be using Powell’s books to buy all of those books from. Sadly this giveaway will be limited to USA only as I’m spending my own money for buying all these books and international shipping will be an expense that I won’t be able to afford.

So here’s how it will run, one grand prize winner will receive ten awesome books and ten runner-up winners will receive five books each (all randomly selected from the list of 60 titles). To enter, please send an email to "" with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: Social Distancing.

Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants in the USA ONLY! Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

1) Open To Anyone in the USA (only)
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
4) No Purchase Necessary
5) Giveaway has ENDED
6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Prizes To the Winners

Here are the 60 titles that are up for grabs (in random order):

The Legend Of Eli Monpress - Rachel Aaron
Ghosts Of Gotham - Craig Schaefer
Never Die - Rob J. Hayes
The Crimson Queen - Alec Hutson
Circe - Madeline Miller
The Golem And The Jinni - Helene Wecker
Skullsworn - Brian Staveley
The Shadow Of What Was Lost - James Islington
Dance Of Cloaks - David Dalglish
Where Oblivion Lives - Teresa Frohock
The Whitefire Crossing - Courtney Schafer
Jade City - Fonda Lee
Magic Bites - Ilona Andrews
The Nine - Tracy Townsend
The Waking Fire - Anthony Ryan
Ex-Heroes - Peter Clines
Daughter Of The Sword - Steve Bein
The Bear And The Nightingale - Katherine Arden
The Cloud Roads - Martha Wells
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep - H.G. Parry
Devil's Call - J. Danielle Dorn
City Of Stairs - Rob J. Bennett
Red Sister - Mark Lawrence
The Immortal Prince - Jennifer Fallon
Heaven's Needle - Liane Merciel
The God King's Legacy - Richard Nell
Ship of Smoke and Steel - Django Wexler
The Bone Ships - RJ Barker
In Shadows We Fall - Devin Madson
The Wolf of Oren Yaro - K. S. Villoso
The Rage Of Dragons - Evan Winter
The Lord Of Snow & Shadows - Sarah Ash
Otherland: City Of Golden Shadow - Tad Williams
The Folding Knife - K. J. Parker
Paternus: Rise Of The Gods - Dyrk Ashton
Theft of Swords - Michael J. Sullivan
Gideon The Ninth - Tamsyn Muir
The Lord Of Stariel - A. J. Lancaster
A Natural History of Dragons - Marie Brennan
Empire Of Sand - Tasha Suri
The Sword Of Kaigen - M. L. Wang
Ashes Of Onyx - Seth Skorkowsky
Endsville - Clay Sanger
The Grey Bastards - Jonathan French
Senlin Ascends - Josiah Bancroft
Priest Of Bones - Peter McLean
Spellsinger - Sebastien De Castell
The Company Of Birds - Nerine Dorman
Last Song Before Night - Ilana C. Myer
The Library of the Unwritten - A. J. Hackwith
Of Honey And Wildfires - Sarah Chorn
Seawitch - Kat Richardson
The Queen Of Swords - R. S. Belcher
An Alchemy of Masques And Mirrors - Curtis Craddock
Rumble In Woodhollow - Jonathan Pembroke
The Gurkha And The Lord of Tuesday - Saad Z. Hossain
Chains Of Blood - ML Spencer
Chasing Graves - Ben Galley
Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel - Edward M. Erdelac
Shoggoths in Bloom & Other Stories - Elizabeth Bear

NOTE: SD Giveaway picture courtesy of US Embassy Ukraine.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet review (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Official author website
Order Zero Echo Shadow Prime over HERE (USA) or HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: An unabashed geek, Peter is always searching for intelligence, whether it be artificial, extraterrestrial, or his own. He earned his storytelling chops at USC Film School, learned from the best at Pixar Animation Studios, and edited numerous indie films.

Peter can be reached on Twitter (@petersamet) or through his websites: and

FORMAT/INFO: Peter Samet self-published Zero Echo Shadow Prime in 2014. Cover Art by Blacksheep. Cover Design by Mark Landry.

OVERVIEW: I love hunting for indie gems and Zero Echo Shadow Prime (ZESP) definitely qualifies as one. It expertly blends action and serious themes (like transhumanism) into a compelling narrative. If you’ve ever wondered how would it feel to have a digital brain or have your mind uploaded in a robot body, you’ll love ZESP and the answers it provides.

Set in 2045, the story revolves around a young scientific prodigy, Charlotte “Charlie” Nobunaga. She created the world’s first sentient artificial intelligence, her friend and companion Alan (virtual assistant with holographic avatar). When she gets critically ill, her father makes a risky deal with Jude Adler, a villainous CEO of the Rivir corporation. They plan to keep Charlie “alive” by transferring her consciousness into a robot called PRIME and, if the procedure succeeds, euthanize the original Charlie (termed ZERO) who is beyond rescue.

As any self-respecting CEO, Jude Adler has a hidden (and nefarious) agenda. She uses Charlie’s brain scans in her secret projects named ECHO (android and constantly evolving killers trapped in a virtual simulation) and SHADOW (improved version of virtual assistants). People don’t trust corporations and in Samet’s world, we have a Sapien movement, led by charismatic Bob Sapiro, that fights with technology that could replace humans. They play an important role in the story.

So, without getting into details you should discover on your own, ZESP focuses on a woman split into four clones/iterations: a terminally ill human (ZERO), a robot (PRIME), a virtual assistant (SHADOW) and a killer (ECHO). The narrative shifts between them, and, surprisingly, it works. All subplots converge near the end in a satisfying conclusion that gives a chance for the sequel but ties most loose ends. 

Beyond the specifics of ZESP‘s plot, I loved the strong and nuanced cast of female leads,  excellent worldbuilding, and fascinating concepts. Take, for example, SHADOWS - a piece of programming living in smart cells injected into a person’s body. Not only do they have fancy avatars (like Khnum - an Egyptian Deity or Alan Turing), but they can also control a person’s hormones or neural activity. Fancy an adrenaline shot? No problem. More dopamine? Consider it done. 

With Alan, the first sentient AI, we need to consider the ethics of his relationship with Charlie - is it slavery? Is it consensual? Does true consciousness make it/him a living being? If yes, isn’t using him a power abuse? Mind-boggling and thought-provoking stuff. Especially when you focus on other Shadows, including one of Charlie's iterations and their interactions with people.

I related to Charlie’s idealistic personality and her interest in what makes humans human. Instead of feeling repulsed by synthetic copies of herself, she considers them her sisters. She accepts their inhumanity and treats them as her kin. Her intelligence and empathy made her more interesting. I admire strong-willed females with real agency, and Charlie is one of the most memorable ones I read about recently. The story’s villain is also a powerful female with an agenda.

That said, my main complaint concerns Jude Adler’s motivation. It feels shallow. A cliche corporate greed brings nothing new to the table. Sure, Adler is interested in the species' progression, but this thread remained underdeveloped. The Echo storyline felt a little superfluous and slightly confusing, especially at the beginning. I think the author decided to edit a lot of things out of the story to keep it tight. I get it and even appreciate it because it makes the book hard to put down (while leaving you with some lingering questions and an appetite for more).

CONCLUSION: I found the set-up compelling, and the focus on strong female leads refreshing (nowadays we have more of them in fantasy but I’m not so sure about sci-fi). The story finds a perfect balance between breakneck pacing and serious themes. Above all, though, it entertains. 

After finishing ZESP, I checked the author's bibliography but, unfortunately, it’s his only published book. A pity, because I would like more:)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Along The Razor's Edge by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Along The Razor's Edge over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read the prologue of Along The Razor's Edge over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: No one escapes the Pit.

At just fifteen Eskara Helsene fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. Fought and lost. There is only one place her enemies would send a Sourcerer as powerful as her, the Pit, a prison sunk so deep into the earth the sun is a distant memory. Now she finds herself stripped of her magic; a young girl surrounded by thieves, murderers, and worse. In order to survive she will need to find new allies, play the inmates against each other, and find a way out. Her enemies will soon find Eskara is not so easily broken.

FORMAT/INFO: Along The Razor’s Edge is 380 pages long divided into thirty-eight numbered chapters and a prologue. The narration is in first person omniscient via Eskara Helsene solely. This book is the first book of The War Eternal trilogy.

March 30, 2019 will mark the US and UK e-book publication of Along The Razor’s Edge and will be self-published by the author. Cover art is by Felix Ortiz & design is provided by Shawn King.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: At this point, I’m glad to say that I’m a through and through Rob J. Hayes fan. I’ve read every book of his that’s been released and a few that haven’t (so far). Rob’s books have all of the things that I look out for in fantasy:

- Terrific characterization
- Epic plots
- Thrilling magic systems & world-building

So far he’s written stories in three different worlds, not counting the SF-thriller Drones he released nearly two years ago. With this book, we are introduced to a fourth new, different world and set of characters.

Along The Razor’s Edge is a provocative story that focuses on Eskara Helsene, a child sourceror within the Terran army who fought in the greatest war known to mankind. The war between the Orran empire and the Terrelan empire ended with the death of the Orran line and Eskara along with her best friend Josef Yenhelm was sent to a subterranean prison known as the Pit.

As the story starts, we are treated to life in the Pit and Eskara telling us about how she and  Josef  came to be in the Pit. We start from her childhood and find out how she came to be selected and how she first Josef. The author really gives us an in-depth look in to Eska and all that she holds dear. This is the first time that the author has used a first person perspective in the fantasy genre.

The majority of ATRE takes place in a subterranean hell hole wherein prisoners are abused physically and psychologically. Eskara and Josef are considered special prisoners as they are the last of the Orran Sourcerers and the Terrelans have grand plans for them. But for those plans to fruition, both Josef and Eskara have to be broken every which way. The main gist of the book’s plot is a about a jail break and it unfolds with all the thrills that one comes to expect from such plots. Eska and Josef have to find the strength within themselves and also find others who are crazy enough to believe them and bust out of the one place that’s virtually unescapable.

Eskara as a main narrator is an absolute asshole of a character and brings to mind some spectacular ones such as Prince Jorg (Mark Lawrence) and Nyx (Kameron Hurley). She’s acerbic, vindictive and fatal to her enemies. To her friends, she’s loyal, protective and a person who will never back down from a fight. We get a strong sense of both sides within the story. She is a fascinating character that only plays out to extremes and from a psychological point of view, she’s very, very unique. What the author really explores is the concept of child soldiers or child sourcerers (if you will). These children with talents have been taken and indoctrinated and it’s very evident with the way Eska thinks and behaves.

The whole story has a structure that’s very similar to the Name Of The Wind in the sense that we have Kvothe narrating his past and similarly here we have Eskara narrating her past life as she contemplates the bleak life situation in the Pit. The way the story unfolds, we know somewhat of the future as Eska herself tell us but the journey is important too as we don’t really know how it all will happen.

How it all unfolds is wherein Rob J. Hayes really shows his special factor. As always with all of his titles, the characters are what this book so thrilling. Beginning with Eska but then we are introduced to several others: Josef, Tamura, Hardt, Isen, Prig and more. All of them are well-rounded and we are given clues by future Eska about their roles and destinies. This was really fun to read as we are given snippets about people and situations and then the fun is to see when they actually happen. This was an interesting tactic utilized by the author and I would like to see how the others find it to be.

Overall this book has a solid pace and that will have you rooted as you try to find out what happens next. The book’s main timeline is set in the present and the flashbacks as well as future snippets are well mixed in with the present timeline.

The world isn’t really explored much as the entire takes place in a subterranean setting. We get some clues about the general going on above the ground and those are pretty fantastic. I believe the author will explore more of the world (Ovaeris) in the coming sequels. There’s also a lot of non-humanoid races that get mentioned within this opening volume and I hope we get to know more of them. Lastly there’s the magic system which the author has very nicely explained over here and this magic system is purely based on ingestion of crystals. Rob lays out the specifics within the story and I thought there was a cool twist too.

The only negative for me about the story is Eska’s character, as she’s very abrasive and more than a bit unlikeable. For those who aren’t really into unlikeable characters, this book can be a struggle. I had my issues with Eska but I've to grant it to the author for making her a complete character. Who while being unlikeable is still so solidly written that you can't help but be completely engrossed by her sheer will to do whatever's necessary. This definitely helped me for my overall enjoyment. Plus the world building and magic system are distinct enough to help overcome any other perceivable deficiencies.

CONCLUSION: Along The Razor’s Edge is an exciting start to a new trilogy by one of my favourite writers. It has action mixed in with distinct characters who will make it hard for you to ignore them. Along The Razor’s Edge is a story as intriguing as they come and proves to be just as sharply distinct as any well honed razor would be.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Made To Order: Robots and Revolution by Jonathan Strahan (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

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Order Made To Order: Robots and Revolution over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

Friday, March 13, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: A Sea of Broken Glass by Sonya M. Black (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Fate Lashed by Josh Erikson review

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Hero Forged

Friday, March 6, 2020

Hero Forged by Josh Erikson review

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

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Monday, March 2, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Blade's Edge (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)

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