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Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso (Reviewed by David Stewart)

To say that I liked Tali, Queen Talyien, the Bitch Queen of Oren-Yaro, is like saying that I like coffee. I could take a few cups of Tali every day, six or seven on those days where I need the extra kick. She is a character, but also a character. Villoso has a knack for writing strong leads, with Luc in Blackwood Marauders being the best part of that book and now Tali in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro taking up the strong lead mantle. Told in the first person in a diary-like way, Wolf is Talyien's book from the first page to the last, and seeing the world through her eyes is never dull. She makes sitting down to tea readable. The story of Wolf has readers venture with Tali into a foreign land, and while I was expecting something political, I was not expecting the fish-out-of-water story that Villoso gifts us with, all the while asking readers a complex question - what does a queen do when she is stripped of everything that makes her royal?


Well, I've already spoiled what I think is the strongest part of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Tali really steals the show, and she is reason enough to read this book. That she happens to be my "type" of character probably biases me towards liking Wolf, but even the best character needs a good plot and setting in which to work. Thankfully, Villoso has provided us with both. The story sees Tali venturing into the unknown, constantly beat up, and barely surviving to the very end of the book. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a political tangle, with Talyien hardly understanding her own nation at times, much less the complications of others. Villoso does politics and royal machinations very well, while at the same time not requiring an encyclopedia to keep track of a bunch of houses and one-off characters. The advantage of telling a book in first person that's also full of politics is that the reader only ever needs to know what Talyien knows.

The other great strength of the book is that question I posed in the start of this review. Talyien quickly loses all the shields that make a queen so invulnerable. She becomes a lamb amidst the wolves, and queens I've read about in other books would crumple in similar situations. Tali starts strong as a character, but her development over the course of her journey is key to The Wolf of Oren-Yaro succeeding. Villoso places her queen in situation after situation that tests her resolve and grit, and Talyien walks away a little different every time.

The other great strength of this book, perhaps its defining jewel, is Villoso's descriptions of food. This works both ways as some of the street food she describes is fairly nauseating, but her ability to either repulse or salivate her readers is truly beautiful. Not much more needs to be said about this.


There were aspects of the setting in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro that I felt were underdeveloped. Part of this stems from the nature of the work. Talyien's journey takes her to very specific spots. We don't get the jumped perspective of someone across the nation to break up what we're seeing. That said, I would have liked a deeper exploration of Villoso's world. I am intrigued by some of the hints given, particularly those involving dragons, but I never felt fully immersed in the world as much as I did in Tali's story.

The biggest problem in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, for me, was the big reveals, and most pointedly, the villain of the book. It is difficult for an author to build tension for a grand reveal near the climax of the story without giving away that very reveal by dropping overt hints or too many clues. I think Villoso errs in her choice of villain for The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, and while I think the character is fine by villainous standards, I found them largely fangless and simply an obstacle to be overcome - like a dark alley or locked room. Puppeteer villains like this one can work, but there needs to be, for the reader, some chance at guessing who is pulling the strings, or some kind of foreshadowing. Without that, it feels like the writer is forcing a reveal that is not entirely earned. This did not ruin the novel for me because there are strengths enough to appreciate, but given the sheer involvement of the villain in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, I would have preferred to care more about them.

If You Liked

I place The Wolf of Oren-Yaro in august company in this section. It is fairly unique in that it didn't overtly remind me of much, but when I started thinking about it I found some similarities to some of my favorite books. Queen Talyien has much in common with Misaki, the lead character of the recent SPFBO winning Sword of Kaigen. These are women with power, but hindered by their cold-shoulder male counterparts. They are both middle-aged mothers, something not common enough in fantasy, and they both display a strength of character and physicality that is hard not to admire. I also thought of Senlin Ascends as I was reading Wolf. Though not much can top the sheer wonder of the Tower of Babel, Talyien has a similar helplessness when left to her own devices that echoed that of Thomas Senlin, and like Senlin, she manages to overcome her trials through character and wit.

Parting Thoughts

I didn't read The Wolf of Oren-Yaro when it was self-published, but I did read Villoso's other self-published book, The Blackwood Marauders. My biggest complaint with Marauders had been a subtle lack of polish, which I mostly attributed to the author's admitted ESL situation. When Orbit picked up The Wolf of Oren-Yaro for publication, I knew it would be worth reading because Orbit has one of the best editing teams in the business, and Villoso's storytelling and world-building talent would shine in their hands. I was not wrong, and The Wolf of Oren-Yaro's polish gleams in the sea of fantasy books we find ourselves with these days. It's a great start with one of the most refreshingly blunt and multi-faceted characters I've had the pleasure of reading this year. The story wraps up in an incredibly satisfying way that also leaves the reader wanting to see where Talyien goes in the next chronicle. Villoso has crafted a world and a cast that have possibility, and I'd honestly like to read the next book right now.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Race The Sands by Sarah Beth Durst (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of twenty fantasy books for kids, teens, and adults, including The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Drink Slay Love, and The Queens of Renthia series. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for SFWA's Andre Norton Award three times. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk. Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Life, death, and rebirth -- in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races.

As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.

Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can't become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer. Impressed by the inexperienced young woman's determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win -- if he can be tamed.

But in this sport, if you forget you're riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races -- and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.

FORMAT/INFO: Race The Sands was published in North America on April 21st, 2020. It is 544 pages spread over 37 chapters. It is told in third person across multiple viewpoints. This is a standalone book and is published in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats by Harper Voyager books.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fear for your immortal soul is a very real problem in the land of Becar, a realm where those who die are reincarnated based on the goodness of their soul. Most likely, you'll come back as an animal; a rare few are pure enough to come back as a human. But the worst of the worst come back as kehoks, monstrous creatures that are random amalgamations of different creatures. Kehoks live to kill and destroy, and will always reincarnate as nothing but a kehok. But that hasn't stopped the brave and foolhardy from capturing and training kehoks to run in the annual races. The prize money is enormous, and the kehok who wins the grand championship is granted a charm that will allow them to reincarnate into a human upon their death.

This year, trainer Tamra desperately needs to sponsor a rider who can win the kehok races. Her daughter is training to be an auger, a gifted individual who can read a person's aura and determine what kind of creature they will reincarnate into. But auger school is expensive, and if Tamra can't pay the fees, the augers will assume full custody of her daughter "for the good of the country," and Tamra will never see her daughter again. So when she finds Raia, a runaway teen with the fire of a person who has nothing to lose, she goes against her better judgement and agrees to train her. And as if the two women weren't already under enough pressure, they soon discover that their kehok is particularly unusual - and its existence soon embroils them in a power struggle for the fate of the country.

Race The Sands is an engaging fantasy tale that raises all kinds of questions about morality and what drives a person to be "good." Becar's entire system of power is based upon the system of reincarnation and the fear of what your soul will come back as. The wealthy maintain control because it is custom to believe that their wealth is a reward from the gods for the purity of their souls - and the fact that aura readings are private keeps anything from assailing this myth. Augers are those who live unblemished lives and should be given nothing but respect, but does their ability to see your future give them the right to destroy families in their quest for new members? And Tamra raises an excellent point - she won't remember her past life in her next body, so why should she do anything except what is best for her right now in this moment? Shouldn't she be good just because it's the right thing to do, not simply because she might come back as a toad in her next life? These are the kinds of questions kicked around in a story that begins with a very simple premise of "monster-racing."

Tamra and Raia are two excellent female leads that anchor the adventure. Tamra has a core of iron will power that allows her to control kehoks, and she's the main moral compass of the book. She's blunt enough to ask questions without concern for rank or etiquette, and pushes an auger who falls into their company to reexamine his beliefs. Raia, on the other hand, has a spark born of desperation as she escapes from a controlling family, and has to overcome her own self doubts over what she believes is a lifetime of failures. Along with Tamra's daughter Shalla, a family unit is built that has to weather all kinds of storms (literal and psychological).

The central thrust of Race The Sands is familiar, but no less enjoyable for it. You have your rookie rider, your curmudgeonly veteran trainer, and the horse monster that everyone believes is untrainable, fighting as the underdogs to win the grand championship race. But there's an extra layer to Race The Sands that was a surprising and welcome addition to what I was promised on the book jacket. Yes, this is largely a book about monster-racing, but there's also a level of political intrigue. There's tension in the capitol city revolving around the soon-to-be-crowned emperor, and those tensions and the attempted manipulations of those involved soon spill into the races themselves, as the capitol is where the final championship race is held. The stakes elevate just beyond Tamra and Raia's personal problems and become about the fate of the country as a whole.

One thing I had to get used to in this book is that it has a magic system that isn't visually flashy. If you aren't an auger, you can't see auras, and if there wasn't a POV character from an actual auger, we'd have to go on faith that their proclamations about who reincarnates into what are true - which, to be fair, is one of the points of the book. It makes me almost wish that we had only been given POVs of non-augers, to keep us in that same state of uncertainty as the populace as a whole. Regardless, it doesn't stop the book from raising questions about the system, questions that can be applied to real world religions and how they gain and wield power.

CONCLUSION: Race The Sands is a rousing standalone fantasy adventure, the kind that starts on a small, personal scale and eventually grows to a finale that shakes Becar to its core. It also scratches that itch of the "human bonds with a magical creature" trope, even if these particular magical creatures are reincarnated humans. If you're in the mood for monsters or racing or a primarily female cast surviving against all odds, Race The Sands delivers on all counts, in one delightful package that doesn't require a series commitment!
Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky review

Official Author Website
Order The Doors of Eden over HERE(USA) or HERE (UK)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

From Cold Ashes Risen by Rob J. Hayes (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order From Cold Ashes Risen over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Lessons Never Learned
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 Fantasy Book Critic's The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview
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 BOOK BLURB: The Corpse Queen Comes.

Eskara has lost everything. The War Eternal has cost her everything she loves, and the Iron Legion has taken the rest. Yet there is something that is still hers, something that kept her warm during her time in the Pit. Anger and a lust for vengeance. First on the list of those who must pay, the Emperor of Terrelan.

Her friends counsel peace, but her inner demons push for war, and Eska finds herself caught in the middle. Will she find a way to reap her vengeance? Or will the enemies of her past catch up to her first?

One thing is certain. The world will soon know fear when the Corpse Queen ascends her throne.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: From Cold Ashes Risen bring to an end to Eska’s journey as espoused by the trilogy format. At the end of The Lessons Never Learned, both the reader and Eska are given some majorly shocking revelations. With those, it made me want to read this book immediately. In this review, I’ll have to be very vague so as to not spoil the plot but also keep away from spoilers from the preceding volumes.

The story begins with Eskara being shattered about knowing the truth of her and Josef’s powers. There’s also the revelations about the world and the magic system. All in all this volume had mighty expectations placed on it because of the way, the story has unfolded and the particular way Eska narrated her own story. The main plot takes a while to come together but once it does, we the readers are treated to an all-out war that Eska rages against her enemy. The Corpse Queen rises and when she does, all else will fall.

This book takes all that we know about the world, the magical races and Eskara and then it further pulls the rug from beneath it all. Rob J. Hayes was worried about this trilogy about the style utilized, the main narrative voice, the plot structure, etc. All of his fears while justified from an author brand standpoint, turn out to be unsubstantiated from a fan standpoint. The writing is solid as ever (maybe one can argue that it’s better than his previous books considering the narrative and story structure), the pacing is crisp and each book has its own place, style and reveals a further aspect of the world, magic system and current happenings.

Eska as a character has really matured over the past two volumes. Yes she still has her rage but now she has the magical acumen and mental fortitude to back up the rage and make it into a cold flame which lasts longer and is more vicious. In this trilogy ending volume, she has all of her advantages taken away except for Serrakis and she has to truly work to achieve her end goal. The complete and utter annihilation of the entity that has shaped her life and powers. In both the past and future timelines we get a vivid story about how the past shapes the future and yet certain things are still unpredictable as ever.

The surviving characters and those she holds dear to her heart such as Hardt, Tamura and another unnamed character (SPOILERS) are given much more scope to shine. Plus I loved how the author played with the concept of sacrifice and heroism. Perhaps none more personified by the one entity who isn’t a person (Serrakis). The shadowy, Other worldly monster truly comes into the picture and I loved the way Serrakis does what it believes to be sancrosant. Lastly a quick word about the covers for this series, Felix Oriz and Shawn T. King have been a staple factor for Rob’s books and this series has been visually stunning. However the cover art for this volume is simply mindblowing to say the least & I’ve been just in awe of it since it was unveiled over at the Fantasy Hive.

For drawbacks, there’s a couple I would like to highlight but they are very spoilerific and more than a bit subjective. So I can’t really talk about them however the author note in the end of the book significantly dispels one of them. The other one perhaps is more due to the author’s ruthlessness and maybe by now I should expect that. But the losses still hurt and kudos to the author for making me so invested in his works no matter which story he chooses to tell.

CONCLUSION: From Cold Ashes Risen not only heralds a pivotal plot aspect but also the rise of Rob J. Hayes as a writer to seriously be considered as one of the best wordsmiths of the darker side of fiction. This trilogy might end with this book but the story and the characters will live on and maybe, just maybe we the readers will be rewarded with more….
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Something is Killing The Children Vol. 1 review

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

AUTHOR INFORMATIONJames Tynion IV is a comic book writer, best known for his work on the Batman franchise for DC Comics. James' comics career began with co-writing the back-up stories on Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's character defining run on BATMAN, which would lead to his making his own name on a number of Bat-Centric series. 

An alumnus of Sarah Lawrence College, Tynion now lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

FORMAT/INFO: Something is Killing the Children is 128 pages long. It was published in May 2020 by BOOM! Studios.

OVERVIEW: I was raised on comic books. I still love the medium but I rarely find gems I need to shout about from the rooftops. Spoiler alert: I'm just about to do it. Something is Killing The Children is terrific.

With their first volume, James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera, and Miguel Muerto introduce readers to strange things happening in the small town of Archer’s Peak. Something weird and terrifying, something adults can't perceive, takes local children one-by-one. 

A mysterious stranger known as Erica Slaughter comes to the town. With a name like that, she has little choice but to slay monsters, right? And she does, but there's much more to her than that. Her origins and motivations remain mysterious and barely hinted. I expect the team will explore them in upcoming issues. Carrying machetes, using a chainsaw when needed,  and wearing a creepy bandana over her face, Erica kicks ass. But there's also a sense of sadness to her, a sadness that quickly turns to rage.

From the very first page, the story conveys a strong feeling of dread. Dramatic writing powered by amazing artwork give each scene a morbid atmosphere. Tynion succeeds at making readers unsure if the main characters will make it to the end. In most media, dire situations involving children serve mainly to raise the stakes, but children usually survive. Not here. Monsters are real and they don't care about the reader's expectations and genre's tropes. 

No one is safe. Violence occurs. Mayhem ensues. BUT nothing feels over-the-top, silly, or unnecessary. 

Dell’ Edera's art feels offbeat and unique. He enjoys thick lines of ink and tends to use a lot of shadows creating an eerie mood and sinister feeling. Colorist Miquel Muerto picks the right tones of blues and greens to make the panels and pages even more ominous. 

Something is Killing the Children is terrific and gripping. It tells a deeply personal, slow-burn horror story that deals with childhood's monsters and trauma. An excellent graphic novel.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cover Reveal Q&A: Cradle Of Sea And Soil by Bernie Anés Paz (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Pre-order Cradle Of Sea And Soil over HERE

Today we are glad to exclusively reveal the cover of Cradle Of Sea And Soil (book 1 of the Islandborn trilogy) by debutante author Bernie Anés Paz. Bernie also talks with us about the roots of his trilogy (Puerto Rican, West Africa, Caribbean,etc.) his background and about his #ownvoice fantasy story. So read ahead and enjoy the spectacular cover art

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Bernie. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and why you choose to go the self-published route? Anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

BAP: Thanks for having me! So, my path to becoming a writer was a little weird. I was a military brat, so I never stayed in one place for long. I was also born in Puerto Rico and struggled with learning English as a kid. It was bad enough that I couldn’t understand the teachers or my classmates, so I didn’t really have many friends or playmates outside of my younger brothers. I quickly found novels to be an escape from all that, though I needed help reading them at first. Once I started reading on my own, though, I became a voracious little monster and devoured stuff like Animorphs, Dragon Riders of Pern, and Goosebumps before leaping deeper into the fantasy and science fiction spiral. These novels also helped reinforce my understanding of English over time, and seeing me read made my teachers happy, so I kept at it.

Eventually, I stumbled onto a fantasy roleplaying website named Dae Luin. It was pretty awesome. Everyone had a character they developed over time, and we wrote our own plots within a shared world. Our members played shopkeepers, gods, angels, kings, monsters, pretty much everything and anything. I stayed there for almost six years. It not only helped improve my English even further, but it also gave me my first taste of writing, and I found it so enjoyable that I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I ultimately decided to go the self-published route for a lot of reasons. While I believe both traditional and indie publishing are valid paths, with self-publishing it’s more likely that any stumbles or roadblocks are of my own making. I also enjoy the creative freedom and ability to release on my own timeline, and I’m comfortable with shouldering a lot of the effort of publishing myself.

(Art by Daniel Kamarudin, Design/typography by Shawn T. King)

Q] The artwork for Cradle Of Sea And Soil is just spectacular. What were your main pointers for your cover artist as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

BAP: Daniel Kamarudin, my cover artist, pretty much turned lead into gold. To be honest, I didn’t know how to translate what I wanted into imagery, so I decided to trust his experience and knowledge. In the end, I just handed him some basic lore and background information, told him the two main characters—Colibrí and Narune—were mother and son, and mentioned that I wanted to portray that relationship as much as possible because family is one of the core themes of my novel. I gave him a description of the setting as well, which is this massive tropical forest where oversized roots and the lowest branches form pathways.

Daniel took that and ran with it and did a ridiculous job. I don’t know how he does his magic, but it worked. Shawn T. King then took Daniel's magic and added his own to compete the cover with his typography.

Q] Cradle Of Sea And Soil is the start of the Islandborn trilogy. What can you tell us about the main story and characters within it?

BAP: The entire trilogy will almost exclusively follow two POVs—Colibrí and Narune. As I mentioned, they’re mother and son, and they’re living together in exile just outside their tribe’s village because of a spiritual affliction they both have.

Colibrí is a veteran warrior trying to figure out why corrupted land is appearing well beyond where it should be, while Narune is trying to earn the right to become a warrior-mystic in order to better fight beside his mother—whose exile forces her to prowl the incredibly dangerous rainforest alone—when he earns his adulthood. The story alternates between them and follows them through their unique journeys, but they never really separate. Both Colibrí and Narune have to deal with each other and those who eventually became part of their family every step of the way. A lot of the story touches on the messy closeness families experience daily.

Along the way a lot of things happen. Colibrí and Narune are both warriors, so they’re sworn to take part in the eternal war against the strange, hollow monsters the tribes have fought forever. Those monsters also serve as the primary antagonists of the trilogy and are kind of tribal-themed eldritch horrors. You’ll also get to see Colibrí and Narune slowly deal with their shared spiritual affliction, and you get to watch Narune learn to use his people’s martial-based magic. Hopefully the end result is a trilogy that is both familiar yet a bit different than a lot of the Eurocentric fantasy out there.

Q] Let’s talk about how Cradle Of Sea And Soil came to fruition? What was your inspiration for this story?

BAP: I wrote a bunch of desk-drawer novels and they were all styled the same way as the fantasy I read. Many of my characters were even white and from European-inspired cultures. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Many of my most beloved authors write “standard” fantasy, and all I really care about is a gripping story with characters I can become invested in. But I watched this amazing Ted Talk named “The danger of a single story” and it absolutely broke my heart. I looked long and hard at the stories I was already trying to tell, then decided to challenge myself.

The result was this novel. It’s primarily inspired by Puerto Rico, but includes a lot of inspiration from West Africa and the Taino natives, from which Puerto Ricans draw a ton of their heritage. I also pulled from the Carib natives and other Latin American cultures and, separately, from Spain which will pan out later in the trilogy.

Again, I personally believe there’s nothing wrong with writing what most people consider “standard” fantasy, but I figured that if I could add something born from my own experiences and heritage to the pool, then I owed it to myself to at least try and tell that story. There are already others out there doing the same thing, like Evan Winters, N. K. Jemisin, and M. L. Wang. Now, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to compare myself to any of them. They’re just very inspirational to me, and I wanted to write a story that followed after their footsteps.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Islandborn trilogy is set in? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

BAP: The story’s setting is a tropical archipelago. Within it is the world’s most ancient rainforest, and at that heart of that is a giant fissure known as the Primordial Wound. It gushes magical energy known as Flow, which has basically hyper-evolved everything in the region, including the native people. The Wound is also festering with a kind of infection known as the Stillness, and from it grow these hollow monsters that imitate pieces of nature or ideas like victory and fury. The tribes have been fighting against them forever, and their entire culture is based around containing the infection at any cost.

The forest itself is where most of the story takes place. It’s a tangle of layers, bridges, and roads created by roots and low branches. It’s full of all kinds of crazy, dangerous life, too. Some of the frogs have a synaptic connection to each other, so killing more than a few by mistake will send a venom-dripping swarm after you. There are hunting plants that either set traps or seek out prey in order to make up for the lack of sunlight that comes through the canopy. Only warriors usually enter the forest, whether in search of food or their ancestral foe. Everyone else lives in the coastal villages of the tribes.

As far as the magic goes, I think people will find it fascinating. It’s very combat-based sorcery loosely inspired by Magic the Gathering’s themed colors. Spells are “painted” into existence and every color has its quirks. The depths of the magic system will be explored well over the series, but readers can enjoy a hefty chunk of it in this novel.

Q] Can you share something about the book that’s not mentioned in the blurb and why should fans should be excited for your debut?

BAP: The worldbuilding, I think. The blurb just doesn’t do it justice. I love my characters, but it’s the setting that gives them so much of their flavor and cultural ticks. If you’re looking for something that’s different and not simply weird, and if you enjoy exploring worlds inspired by unfamiliar cultures like in Rage of Dragons, then I think you’ll really enjoy my novel too.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for this trilogy?

BAP: Tough one! I’d describe my stories as a trip abroad, just as with any other fantasy novel, but maybe one that’s a step further than you’re used to going. Rather than kings, emperors, and barons, you get a cacica. Instead of beer, you get chicha. My not-dragon is effectively a couatl. People eat cassava and guayaba. Again, different rather than simply weird and otherworldly, but there’s still monsters, magic, and battles to be had. I think that’s the pitch for my entire trilogy, in fact.

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

BAP: I just want to say thank you to anyone who picks up a copy of my book. Seriously, this is the start of a new journey for me and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. I appreciate you being a part of that adventure.


(Art by Daniel Kamarudin, Design/typography by Shawn T. King)

Pre-order Cradle Of Sea And Soil over HERE

Official Blurb: The Primordial Wound has festered with corruption since the birth of the world. The island tribes have warred against its spawn for just as long—and they are losing.

Burdened by the same spiritual affliction that drove the first Halfborn insane, Colibrí lives in exile with little more than her warrior oaths and her son. But when Colibrí discovers corrupted land hidden away by sorcery, those same oaths drive her to find answers in an effort to protect the very people who fear her.

Narune dreams of earning enough glory to show that he and his mother Colibrí are nothing like the Halfborn that came before them. Becoming a mystic will give him the strength he needs, but first, Narune will need to prove himself worthy in a trial of skill and honor.

Together, Colibrí and Narune must learn to become the champions their people need—and face the curse threatening to scour away their spirits with fury.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley review

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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: Pretty Little Dead Girls is 260 pages long. The book was originally published in 2016 by Crystal Lake Publishing. Cover design by Galen Dara.

OVERVIEW: I loved this book so don’t expect me to be objective. I want everyone to read it. Pretty Little Dead Girls is gutting and dark, but there are lightness and beauty to it, especially in the prose.

“Bryony Adams was the type of girl who got murdered. This was always so, and it was apparent from the way that men looked at her as she adjusted her knee socks to the way that women shook their heads in pity when she rode by on her bicycle.” 

Everyone who knows Bryony knows, the moment they meet her, she’ll end up murdered. Doomed at birth, she remains bright, loving, and friendly. She lightens the lives of people around her, making them better, even if for a while. She comforts those who mourn, in advance, her unavoidable death. Her natural charm and openness allow her to make friends with everyone, including a charming serial-killer destined to fulfill her dark destiny.

I loved observing Bryony navigate her doomed life. We’re all born to die, but it doesn’t mean we should wring our hands and despair. There’s so much to experience and enjoy. Despite living on a borrowed time, Bryony makes every moment worthwhile.

Yardley’s captivating writing style conveys emotions (love, happiness, fear and pain) with ease and impact. Her lyrical style awed me. I don’t know another author able to create such a dark and disturbing atmosphere in such a charming style. Like in this passage where the killer runs after his victim:

"He was sprinting, because he did not need to make it to the edge of town: he only needed to make it to the girl. His feet hit the ground like pistons, cold and mechanical, and he held the knife tightly in his grip, blade down. Oh, oh, how tragically this shall unfold."

Her style resonates with me. I praise her not only for imaginative wordsmithing but also for excellence in handling a third-person omniscient narrative voice. Not only is the narrator omniscient, but they also break the fourth wall throughout and… it works! The narrator engages readers, questions their assumptions, and plays with their emotions. And it works every single time. Incredible. And gut-wrenching.

A killer is just a tool of sinister fate and personified Desert for which Bryony's demise is the only acceptable outcome. Whenever her friends rescue her or interfere with her fate, the desert gets angry. But nor for long, because

"The desert had a trick up its sleeve, oh yes it did. For it may be thwarted at the moment, but it will not be thwarted for long, and even now there was a rumbling deep underground that made the desert cease feeling sorry for itself. In fact, it began to smile, a harsh smile, a terrible smile, and anybody who witnessed it certainly would have been frozen in horror, pierced by the chill one feels when they drop something fragile, something that was given to them by somebody very dear who is now dead, and now they have nothing with which to remember them, and shall never be able to recall their features exactly ever again."

Yardley described Pretty Little Dead Girls as a novel of murder and whimsy, a perfect description. It's a horror that doesn't revel in gore. It's a romance that twists the genre. It doesn't shy away from brutal truths of our existence but even when it tugs at your heartstrings it leaves you with a sense of wonder.  Despite darker elements, it left me with a sense of hope and wonder at the end. This book gets a well-deserved place on my all-time favorites list.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Library of the Unwritten by AJ Hackwith (Reviewed by David Stewart)

The unintentional horror of The Library of the Unwritten might specifically apply to me. I have been a librarian for most of my adult life, and also a writer. The main character of The Library of the Unwritten is a woman named Claire, librarian of Hell's library and an author whose own literary ideas never found fruition. As I read though AJ Hackwith's novel, I couldn't help but feel a little called out. There is an idea in this book that if an author thinks about their unwritten character enough, that character will manifest and start walking around in the world. The idea of meeting my own main character, and the overwhelming guilt that would follow that meeting, terrifies me. Why did AJ Hackwith write a book specifically to shame me into finishing my own?


The idea of a library in hell where unwritten books go to linger is a good one, but it isn't unique. The first time I came across such an idea was in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series, where the lead character has exactly this kind of library in his domain. In Gaiman's work, the idea is not fully fleshed out and is only really mentioned in passing. Hackwith runs with the notion, sets her library in Hell (because apparently unwritten ideas don't make it to Heaven), and sets a story in it. I'll admit, I am always a little uncomfortable when authors decide to claim the existence of a Judeo-Christian Heaven and Hell, but Hackwith softens this fear with the inclusion of other religions, including Valhalla which is always a plus with me, and even some dead ones. Claire's journey takes readers on a ride, and along the way she gathers up a ragtag group of adventurers to help and hinder her. Claire herself is an excellent lead, fleshed out and sympathetic, while being deeply flawed (let's face it, she wouldn't have earned her turn as Hell's librarian if she weren't full of regrets).

There would be a real danger, in a novel like this, of abusing its connection and adoration of books and the written word. Puns would kill The Library of the Unwritten, and I am happy to say that it handles its connection with literature in as deft and plausible way as it could. The concept of book characters coming to life could feel hokey, on paper, and it takes suspension of disbelief to make it work even in this book, but that's the nature of fantasy. The meta-conversation about how characters are alive is in full swing here - many of Hackwith's inside-the-book characters feel as fleshed out as her "real" characters, and that says something about a writer's ability to humanize imagination. Of particular note is when Claire's history reveals that she has literally fallen in and out of love with one of her characters, revealing the kind of tangled psychology that would require months of therapy to unravel. What could have been a comedy fantasy about living books in Hackwith's hands becomes something much deeper.

I also had a moment in this book, which is full of beautiful prose and captivating imagery, when I was imagining the actual library. I thought of all those stories, potentially billions, that had never been written down, never conceptualized beyond the step of creation, and it hurt. It made me physically uncomfortable to think about every story that someone felt too afraid to write down, or show someone else, or to even think about for fear that they might not be praised, or worse, might be shunned. This was perhaps an unintended moment for the author, but a welcome one for a reader.


As much as I did like The Library of the Unwritten, there were aspects of it that prevented it from being truly great - even for a library book nerd like me. Many of these hiccups are parallel to the book's strengths. For instance, the inclusion of non-Judeo-Christian religions was a nice nod, but it almost feels like a begrudging addition. I never had the sense that any of these other religions carried any weight, and it was the belief in Heaven and Hell that was the supreme arbiter of faith. Now, this tracks on a percentage basis, Christians and Muslims make up the majority of the world's religious, but it feels like it places too much weight on one particular belief. Nor does it take into account the nearly one billion or so folks who claim no faith or a faith that lies outside of the major ones. This same critique can be applied to a dozen authors who write books like this, Gaiman, Pratchett, Moore, etc., and it likely boils down to the author's own background and shouldn't be counted as a ding against the book, but I would have really loved a deeper exploration of faith-based systems that did not center so much on Judeo-Christian beliefs. Perhaps that's asking too much for a book that carries a lighter hearted tone than many that deal in religion.

I mentioned liking Claire quite a bit, and I did, but I had some issues with other characters in the novel. Leto, for one, who is a good character in his own right, feels largely forced into the story for a big reveal later that, for me, fell completely flat. There are actually a few characters in the book that feel largely purposeless, but is it fair to criticize characters, even well-written ones, for not serving much purpose? Probably not.

To again parallel some of my earlier thoughts on the strengths of The Library of the Unwritten, while the reference to books and writing are well done, there is also a pattern of characters consistently trying to say these lines as though they are trying to get into Barlett's Book of Quotations. If it hadn't happened so often, I might not have noticed, but the novel has a persistence of characters basically turning to the camera and delivering one-liners that they hope will feel meaningful but ultimately feel a little cheesy.

The last area where The Library of the Unwritten falls flat for me is in its inability to go further. This is a series, so perhaps this critique will correct itself in subsequent novels, but for a book about the power of imagination, the sheer depth and breadth of it, it stays fairly tame. When I consider the amount of unwritten stories in a library like this, how many tales the author had to draw from with almost no limitation, I find myself disappointed in how mundane some of the events of the book play out. There is a climactic scene at the end, in particular, that could have really been a memorable one, but it plays out in a predictable way with one contrived deus ex machina moment that made me sad to read.

If You Liked

I was a little surprised, given the clear influences, that the author did not mention Neil Gaiman in her acknowledgements. This book screams Good Omens and Sandman to me, but I will acknowledge that similar ideas can bloom in different minds at different times. Regardless, readers who enjoy the more Judeo-Christian tones of some of Gaiman's England-centered work will find this enjoyable. I also found some pretty heavy similarities to Christopher Moore, particularly in the early parts of the novel which are more comedic in tone than some of the latter. Fans of books about big mystical libraries also might find some similarities to Scott Hawkins' fantastic Library at Mount Char, though Hawkins' book is a fair bit darker in tone then Hackwith's.

Parting Thoughts

The Library of the Unwritten is a book that, on paper, I should love. I liked it, and I will probably read the second book in the series when it is released later this year. Hackwith's writing is very good, and I only would wish for a stronger exploration of her material to really love what she is doing with these books. I am happy that she will continue with Claire as her main character because her complexity and range is really refreshing to read. I would like to see some of the adjacent characters brought up to that level, but ultimately the series feels like it belongs to Claire and I am ok with that. She is the librarian. 
Friday, May 15, 2020

Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dominic Watson Cover Reveal and Q&A

Pre-order Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

We have the immense pleasure of hosting the cover reveal for Dominic Watson’s Xindii: The Boy Who Walked Too Far. It’s a unique story that blends fantasy, sci-fi, metaphysics, and more.

Xindii is a thrilling story unlike anything you’ve read and Dominic was super kind to answer a few questions to talk about the world, the story, and how the cover was created.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Series Acquisition Interview with G. R. Matthews (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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Read Building A New Word by G. R. Matthews (guest post)
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Just last week Solaris books announced the acquisition of Seven Deaths Of An Empire by G.R. Matthews. I’ve come to know G.R. via the SPFBO competition and over the past five years have gotten to know him well. I’ve read and enjoyed his noir SF thrillers as well as Wuxia fantasy titles. So I was very excited when he had begun writing this new fantasy book.

Join me in welcoming G.R. as we chat about the inception of this series, its roman-inspired beginnings as well GR’s path in becoming a traditionally published author.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Geoff and many, many congratulations on your signing with Solaris Books. Can you provide us with a summary of your journey leading up to your book acquisition?

GRM: There is a long journey from beginning to write, to learning to write, through practicing and eleven completed novels - the magical 1 million words.

There is also the shorter journey of this book though it will take longer to describe. Get a coffee, maybe a snack, and settle down in your comfiest chair.

I’d been subbing to agents for a couple of years, and one (Jamie Cowen) gave great feedback on the first book I sent in. He took the full manuscript, read it, enjoyed it, but ultimately turned it down with some incredible advice and thoughts. Just getting the full MS request was a massive boost. So, I wrote another book and subbed that. Again, Jamie got back to me - comparing the book to the ‘The Revenant’ (and adding in a little John Wick), which was great, but again it wasn’t quite right as a debut, a first book.

Third time’s the charm, they say. Well, only if you work damn hard and listen to advice.

In July 2019, I started writing Seven Deaths and then went on a family holiday. While there I saw, actually I think I got told about it, a ‘Shoot your Shot’ event held by Rebellion Publishing. At this point I had three finished, unpublished books; the two I’d sent to Jamie, and a post apocalyptic ‘World of Warcraft meets the A-Team’ one (I think you’ve read that one, Mihir). Being cheeky, but when you are shooting your shot, the more bullets you fire, the better chance you’ve got to hit the target (my approach to Call of Duty multiplayer), I figured why not try them all.

Each “shot” was a pitch of one of those books on twitter using the right hashtag. I crafted three pitches - one line to sell the book on. I have them lying about somewhere. Anyway, I fired them off whilst on holiday (I take a laptop so I can write) and then went swimming (probably). After a day or two, and near the close of the window for that event, I thought “why not?” and pitched the book I was only 18,000 words into. Utter madness.

(Anna Stephens picture courtesy of Mike Evans and Fantasy Hive)

However, I’d learned from the advice and rejections, and for the past three books I’d written a plan for the book. I had character arcs, major events, and gone from pantser to architect without really realising. I’d also gone to an event in London a week or so before my holiday with Mike Evans and Anna Stephens, where commissioning editors had spoken about pitches. Admittedly, I might have gatecrashed one of the events, but one of the panel (and the organisers) did say it was OK. So, I didn’t really gatecrash, I asked… I am British and was raised to be polite. Just after that panel and as the person who’d booked the slot didn’t show up, I sat with Jack Rennison, Editor at Harper Voyager, for about ten minutes talking about this nascent book and pitches - I’d always had a “pitch line” in my agent query letters and working out how to improve them was, for me, important.

It was, after sending the pitches in, all about waiting… and writing. I settled in for the long haul and put it out of my mind. This book wasn’t done, nowhere near, and I’d just pitched it. It would be just my luck they’d chose this one instead of one of the completed books.

Bugger, they asked for Seven Deaths and it had been less than a week! I polished the 10K near the end of the holiday. My family allowing me the time to do so. I sent the first 10k to some friends (an SPFBO judging panel - there is no more difficult group to get a book past), who are all readers and writers. I took their corrections, feedback and polished some more.

Synopsis - bloody synopsis. I hate them, my precious… cough… erm… anyway.

This time, due to my new method of writing, I’d actually written that before I set to writing the book. It wasn’t perfect and things might change as the book gets written, but this synopsis needed to be right. I begged, well asked Adrian Selby (Winter Road, Snakewood) to look it over for me… please… and like a gent he agreed!

(Snakewood & The Winter Road pic courtesy of Baggies40)

Let me point out before a deluge of synopsis rain down upon him, I’ve met Adrian quite a few times and spent many an hour drinking and discussing something or other - the alcohol is not good for the memory. All of which boils down to; I sent it off and he replied a day or two later with some great advice. A quick rewrite and it improved massively. All done and with a nervous flutter, I hit send and the letter (it is just polite), synopsis and 10K sample was carried to Rebellion on the wings of an email.

I put it out of my mind again. Well, tried to, but what if they asked for the full MS and I’ve only got 25K done by this point. It was back to work (the job that pays the bills) in September, writing in the evenings and at the weekends. Write, write, write. I had a plan to follow; scenes, beats, and events to include. By mid-October it was done. Well, the first draft was done. I typed “The End” and sighed in relief, opened by social media, checked my emails. 155, 000 words… I can write quickly and have often had two books on the go at a time, but this had been like doing three NaNo’s in a row. I was knackered, but exhilarated.

A week later. Shit. They’ve asked for the Full MS. I’ve just finished draft one… it is rough, unpolished. A quick email to Kate, the editor who asked for MS, explaining how rough it is. Doesn’t matter, she said, send it anyway. Gulp.

Bundle it up in an email, a quick check of the formatting as I dragged it from Scrivener into word. A very quick spell-check, and send.

And now it was off to BristolCon, keeping it as quiet as I can, because, you know, jinxing things. Had a great time meeting an amazing bunch of folks, watching a friend demolish, ever so slowly, a plate of pasta. I really enjoy BristolCon - small enough to be friendly, big enough to always meet new folks. Back home and I know I’ll polish the draft, because if they say no, it is going to be subbed to agents. I sent my second draft, really just a read through and tidy up of sentences, to Julia, always my first reader, and wait for the feedback. When Julia sends it back it is edit, correct, and polish. Wait and try and think about the next book.

December 2019. Sat in a board game cafe on a work team building, well-being event. Check my emails, because I’ve been checking it every five minutes since October. Read the offer email… we’d like to publish your book… read it again. And a third, fourth time. Have I read that right?

Almost scream in shock, fright, excitement - but manage to keep my cool (I so did not). Woohoo!

What now? Jamie, help!

Q] After your adventures with self-published books in the SF and epic fantasy genres, what spurred you to give traditional publishing a try?

GRM: I love Self-publishing for the freedom it gives, and hate it for all the things, the tips and tricks I don’t understand, or haven’t got time to do. I love each and everyone one of the books I have put out. There is evolution in each of them, and there is a lot of my heart and soul in them too. I’d say the books I’ve written now are more polished than The Stone Road (my first), but I’d also say that book has an energy to it that I try to recapture each time I write.

I asked myself, what next? Do I continue to self-publish or do I look for an agent? I think it came down to a few things:
 1) I always wanted to see my book in a book shop. I’ve always dreamed of seeing it there, nestled in amongst other writers that I look up to in amazement and awe.
 2) There is the confirmation that I was good enough.
 3) I need to be moving forward a lot of the time. Despite my reputation for being laid back, I like having goals and working toward them - even if they are self-imposed.

Where I’ve ended up is, I suppose, a hybrid, a bit of both. From now on, I don’t intend to Self-publish another book in a new series. That isn’t to say that the Corin Hayes books are finished, because four books in and 15k into the fifth that would not be fair to him. It is likely to come out at some point… if enough people ask (hint hint).

Q] The title Seven Deaths Of An Empire is very, very catchy. What can you tell us about how it came to be?

GRM: I don’t think it was the first title I came up with, but it is by far the best. It may have been the second (I’ve just checked my journal) but it came after the initial planning was done. By that I mean sorting out the main characters and some of the main events rather than being an in detail, two page synopsis or complicated outline.

Seven Deaths, Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven, Lucky Seven, it just seems we have a love affair (in Western Europe and US) with the number seven. If it had been written in another country, by another writer, it might have been Eight Deaths or Three Deaths (a much shorter book).

I also like that the title gives you clues to the story, but plays a little bit the language - there are at least two ways to read it, maybe more. Also, the reader can count the deaths in the book and work out which are the significant seven? It is a puzzle and a hook (I hope).

Q] Based on the blurb details, there seems to be a roman influence on the world settings. Would you say that’s a fair assumption? Also what was your fascination with the Roman origins of the story?

GRM: The original idea was… The death of Alexander crossed with the rise of Nero. The juxtaposition of cultures, the desire of Alexander to conquer, the madness of Nero, all melded into one whole story. However, before you think it is historical fiction - it isn’t. It is inspired by those two events in our history and you can see that in the blurb.

The Empire itself is modelled, to a degree, on the Roman Empire and Army. It isn’t a lift and dump of structure, politics, and culture because that wouldn’t work in this world. Also because I’d get things wrong and someone would pick me up on it. So, it is based upon the Roman Empire.

Why? Because they are bloody interesting. Any Empire which can survive as long as the Roman’s, which can impose its culture and technology upon others is fascinating (from a distance, and almost 2,000 years is a good distance). You can argue, and it has been, that the Roman Empire persists to this day in the form of the Catholic Church, and that too is an element in this book (not the Catholic Church, but the persistence of ideas and faiths). There is also a fair amount of backstabbing and betrayal because that seems to be an element of many Roman stories and histories.

More than that, and cheating a little, most everyone is familiar with the Roman Army or Empire through school, TV, Film, or computer games. A lot of the heavy lifting or imagination is done before you sit down to read the book - it isn’t completely alien to the reader and their imagination will fill in the bits I haven’t described in great, overflowing, info-dump detail. It should make reading a smoother journey than needing to stop and go to a WIKI every two minutes to look something up.

Q] What would you say are some of the inspiration(s) for your new series?

GRM: Excellent question. Erm…

Really, this book came about from a map - the Geographer in me. I’d wanted to begin a new series. The Stone Road and rest of the Forbidden List was finished. Corin Hayes continues because he is just fun to write. It was a question of what next?

Whatever it was it needed a setting, a world, a history (even just a sketch of), and so I started there. Drew the map, worked out the weather patterns, biomes, transport links, trade routes, geology etc and the Six Kingdoms was born. You know, a lot of this probably came from reading Prisoners of Geography and seeing how much of national identity, politics, thinking is tied to our physical geography. Certainly, both of the other books in the Six Kingdoms (not published, yet - fingers crossed) have characters formed by their geography - both physical and human.

Anyway, Seven Deaths is not the first book in the Six Kingdoms. I have written two others. However, it is the first book chronologically speaking. With that in mind, I can truthfully answer that inspiration came from events in the other two books which take the story of the Six Kingdoms on and resound to the impacts of the events in this book and planned sequels - if that makes sense.

Q] How many books are you planning to write in this series?

GRM: I am planning nine books. That is three trilogies, in my mind at least. They cover three different periods in the history of the Six Kingdoms. Strangely, maybe, the first books of the other two trilogies are written and complete - though they need tweaking and polishing etc.

Everything from here on out depends on the readers. If they buy Seven Deaths Of An Empire, the other books will follow (I hope). Which, I suppose, depends on how well it is written and how much word of mouth, attention from blogs, and on Social Media the book gets. My hopes are high because I love this book!

Q] What can readers expect from this book and series?

GRM: My editor, and how strange it is to say and acknowledge that, describes the book as Grimdark. I like to think of it as a book of choice and consequence. Each character makes choices based upon emotion, morals, and upbringing, and each choice has a consequence, for good or ill.

More than that, readers can expect characters they can root for and others they can hate. There is double dealing, heroism, bravery, opportunism, and there is heart, soul, noble sacrifices, dark deeds and magic.

Readers will get to explore some of the Six Kingdoms in book one, and more and more as the story and world opens up.

They’ll be maps too. Maps which I, as a trained Geographer, have tried my hardest to make coherent in relation to geology, climatology, economics, and biomes.

Q] Thank you for your time and for consideration Geoff. I can’t wait to read SDOAE. Do you have parting thoughts for our readers?

GRM: I see some folks on social media say “I’m not buying a book until the series is finished.” Please, please, please don’t do this with mine. If this book does well, and it is a complete story, then you’ll get more. So, to paraphrase Mark Lawrence…. "Buy My Books!"

It has been a long road to get here and I’d like to thank everyone, including you, Mihir, for all the support to get here.

NOTE: For The Glory Of Rome digital art courtesy of Dusan Markovic.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Middle Volume Mini-reviews: Rob J. Hayes' The Lessons Never Learned & David Dalglish's Ravencaller (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Soulkeeper
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Mirrors 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Shadows
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cloak & Spider
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish
Read "Sequels And Satisfying Endings" by David Dalglish (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ravencaller is the sequel to Soulkeeper and as far as middle volumes go, completely outshines its predecessor. In this fashion, it’s not surprising as a David Dalglish title but definitely a big surprise for a middle volume.

The story begins with the focus solely on the city of Londheim as its inhabitants face an upheaval of unimaginable proportions. We are quickly reunited with our POV characters Adria, Devin, Jacaranda and Tommy (along with a few other new POV characters). The book’s plot mainly deals with all of the different magical races that have slowly awakened and now wish to eradicate the grotesque children of the sisters i.e. the so-called feeble human race. This never bodes well as the humans decide to fight back and in such a type of genocidal fight there are no true victors. I believe David Dalglish amply demonstrates that and more in this middle volume.

Firstly let me clarify why this book was so good to read. Now just about anybody can write mindless and over-the-top action sequences. That’s not why this book is so good. Yes it has its share of action and magical battles. But this is where David Dalglish truly differentiates himself from everyone else in the dark fantasy genre. It’s his skill with characterization and dialogue which makes the action that much more realistic and endearing. David often explores the grey within the characters as in this fight nobody comes out with clean hands. While he expands all our POV characters who deal with the stress of this war in many different ways. He also provides us with three non-human POVs in Puffy, Cannac & Tesmarie who provide another view into these events and do a lot to lighten the atmosphere from time to time.

Let’s talk about the action sequences, in a book full of monsters and monster slayers. The action sequences are a key component and it’s one of Dalglish’s strengths how beautifully he strings them together. To old time fans of the author, this comes as no surprise considering what he showcased in the Half-Orcs and Shadowdance series. But to his credit, David is able to keep his action fresh and this is aided by the monstrous races that have come back. The action sequences are pretty cinematic in their scope and while they range from the personal to absolute bonkers. They are equally fun to read about.

Secondly the characterization is further elevated in this middle volume. As noted in my previous review, I really enjoyed Jacaranda, Tesmarie & Puffy’s characters and in this volume, basically everyone is boosted. Devin is no longer a goody two-shoes and we learn that humanity can be overrated while some of the supposed monsters just want to be alive and enjoy the world. We meet a new character by the name of Evelyn and she’s one tough badass. One of the major villains from Soulkeeper takes a backseat in this book but his presence is felt throughout the story. Dalglish’s characterization is top notch considering he gives a wide look in to the human and non-human characters while making each of them distinct. Even the villains aren’t just murderous savants, there’s a reason to what they want to accomplish. It’s not something we as the readers will agree with but it’s valid nonetheless and they can’t be written of just homicidal monsters (well not all of them).

The book’s pace is also breakneck and that heightens one’s read as we are constantly taken from one surprise to another. This book is also around 550-plus pages and so it’s to the author’s credit that none of them feel sluggish. Lastly I have to say that Ravencaller’s cover is absolutely spectacular. I wasn’t a fan of the Soulkeeper one which was a more than a bit staid IMO. Paul Scott Canavan absolutely nails the look of the Avenria and I hope he returns to draw the cover of Voidbreaker as well.

For me this book didn’t have any major issues, yes I would have liked some more backstory about the Sisters and how the world was shaped. I’m sure though it will be all forthcoming in the final volume. This book was a near perfect one in that regards and it’s only second volume.

CONCLUSION: Ravencaller proves why David Dalglish should never be underestimated. One of the pioneers of the self-publishing revolution, he proves himself to be a master of dark fantasy. Brimming with terrific characters, awesome action sequences & a magical world that’s on the brink of utter annihilation. Ravencaller definitely proves itself worthy to be called one of the best books of 2020 (So far).

Official Author Website
Order The Lessons Never Learned over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
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 Fantasy Book Critic's The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After the claustrophobic events of Along The Razor’s Edge, we get a much different story in The Lessons Never Learned. This second book from The War Eternal trilogy expands the world and background admirably so.

The story literally opens up where Along The Razor’s Edge ended. Eska and her remaining gang (Tamura, Hardt, and Yorin) have reached the surface. Eska can’t believe that her crazy sounding plan has finally paid off. However things aren’t easy as once outside they will be hunted by the Terralan empire as fugitives. Eska has a plan and now that she’s free of the claustrophobic confines of the pit, the sky’s the limit literally. However the only place safe for her and her mates is in the sky itself. The flying city of Roshan, controlled by the R’and. It’s the sole place where she can be free of the Terrelan Empire as there’s a special group of people hunting her as well.

The sequel is a book that takes a wide scope lens to the story so far. In book 1 we found out how Eska and Josef got captured, in this sequel we get a solid inkling of the why. As always Eska occupies front and center of the book’s plot as well as the reader’s attention. Eska as a character is still a bit abrasive but now she’s learning more about herself and what she underwent at the Orran academy. In this volume, we see Eska’s evolution from a singular focused sourceror into a person that will leave a mark on this world.

The previous book was all about the claustrophic nature of the surrounding and in this one we get an exact 180 as most of the plot is situated around the flying cities across this world. We also get to see how and why they were formed.

The world is founded on lie, upon lie, upon lie. But the truth is always there, just waiting for an opportunity to tear down everything we have built.”

The book’s main plot deals with the how and why of the magic system as well as the backstory of the world. This is what made this middle volume a better one than its predecessor. The author breaks down all the various stereotypes and falsehoods that have been perpetrated upon the human populace. We also get to see quite a lot of the non-human races and where they stand in the hierarchy of the world.

We are, all of us, marred by scars, plagued by the faults and insecurities laid upon us by our pasts.”

Once again the book is centered around Eskara Helsene and another narrator. Eska has come a long way from where and what she was in the previous volume. This book deals with her maturation in more ways then one. She gets to experience love, and also learns a lot about the fate of the Orran empire. Her mental and physical evolution are fun to watch as we see her internalize her anger and insecurities but also sharpen her zeal and power. Serrakis is there to provide backup whenever she needs and also to taste the fear that she evokes. I loved how the author managed to make Eskara a stronger character while still keeping her sharp edges. There’s also the other narrator and I loved how ambiguous that narrative thread was until the very end.

This book also doubles up on the magic and action sequences more so than its predecessor. There’s some terrific sequences in the end and it more than makes up for the lulls in between the action sequences. However there’s not a dull moment to be had, in between all of the story, we get to meet so many new characters as well see so many new locations that we as a reader as well as Eska are left spellbound. Rob J. Hayes does something truly incredible with the worldbuilding & magic system as in the first book we have no clue about what awaits in this volume. Lastly the ending is something that will make your head flip and leave you wanting the last volume pronto. So it’s a good thing that we are only 13 days away from its release.

CONCLUSION: The Lessons Never Learned is another spectacular volume in a trilogy that does the unexpected, breaks all conventions and makes its tough protagonist into a person that we can root for. Rob J. Hayes stretches his literary muscles in more ways than one and once more proves why he’s a self-publishing star that will rise higher and higher.


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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