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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy 2019 review



NewCon Press Official Website
Read our interview with anthology's editor - Jared Shurin
Pre-order TBoBF here (USA) or here (UK)
Friday, June 26, 2020

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots review


Pre-order Hench over HERE(USA) or HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Freelance writer, promiscuous wordsmith, relapsing academic, poet, journalist, editor, reviewer, music critic, geek, gamer, metal head, feminist, gastropornographer, sadomasochist, cheese pervert, rogue wizard, lady hobbit, shit disturber, groce count, fireplug. Supervillain. I have often been in the newspaper for swearing. 

FORMAT/INFO: Hench is out on September 22, 2020, in all formats. 


Hench expertly deconstructs superhero stories and offers a fresh perspective on the subgenre. Instead of following heroes, it focuses on Henches, expendable employees of supervillains. 



Anna Tromedlov works temp jobs for minor baddies. Her newest job ends in a disaster - Anna ends injured, out of work, and disillusioned with reckless superheroes who pay no attention to casualties of their superhuman feats. Her data-based research confirms superheroes, for all their good PR, are terrible for the world. They're a pest. Or worse.



When Leviathan, an A-List Supervillain, hires her as a Hench, she can use her anger, data analysis skills, and excel sheets to wreak havoc in heroes' lives. Trust me when I say data analysis proves more lethal than laser beams or psychic powers. 

Make them late; make things go wrong around them; ruin their dry cleaning and dinners and marriages. Fuck with their social media profiles and public perception. 



Anna's work has one goal - to publicly humiliate heroes and make their private and public lives as miserable as possible. Thanks to modern technology, rumors, social-engineering, social media, and viral videos, she controls how the public perceives them and how they interact with others.



While Hench doesn't have a lot to say about superheroes that hasn't been said before, it offers a unique perspective. I wouldn't call Anna relatable, but I appreciate her agency. Despite the success of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel many superhero stories lack strong female leads. It's good to finally see a competent female character with an understandable backstory, her own agenda, and loads of screen-time. Her doubts make her more believable and human. The way she ruins her private life shows everything comes at a cost.


Interestingly, Anna bores most superheroes no ill will. She destroys them to get to a Supercollider, her, and her employer's Nemesis. Walschots' take on emotional detachment impressed me. Thanks to snarky (and slightly cynical) humor, the story never gets depressing or too dark. Even when things do get dark and depressive.

The plot follows her jobs, and it's not linear. Instead, we witness the turning points of her professional life leading to a brutal climax and excellent ending that I find fitting, even if it's more bitter than sweet.

In all, a worthwhile read for fans of the subgenre.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with Jon Auerbach (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Guild Of Tokens over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Jon. 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?

JA: Thanks for having me! I have been writing in one form or another since middle school, but most of it was for newspapers (I covered a dozen or so of my college’s sports teams and wrote a bi-weekly column). What really kickstarted my fiction writing was coming across a flash fiction challenge about seven years ago. The challenge was writing a 1000-word story based on a random trope on TVTropes.org. I got “battle couple” and wrote a story about a husband-wife assassin team who met and fell in love at assassin school. Over the next several months, I wrote more flash stories about that couple, along with some other one-off premises (a time-traveling steward of Avalon, a pair of brothers searching for their father and the city of Atlantis, boy-girl twins who accidentally travel to an alternate earth populated by elves, dwarves, and the descendants of a lost British colony). My plan was to build each of these stories out into their own books, but I never got very far.

Then one night I was walking home after seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past and came up with an idea for a sci-fi short story. This was in the wake of Hugh Howey uploading the first section of Wool to Amazon and having it go gangbusters. I didn’t think that something similar would happen to my story, but I thought it would be a good way to learn about self-publishing, so I revised the story several times, created a cover, and then sent it out into the world. It felt good to finish a project and immediately get it in the hands of readers, so I continued learning more about self-publishing while I worked on what eventually became Guild of Tokens.

Q] Your debut book has a very interesting premise Jon which combines urban fantasy as well as urban scavenger hunts. What lead to the inception of this story?

JA: It was a bit of happenstance. I was at work one morning and a premise just popped into my head:

"What if, buried somewhere in the too-numerous-to-count categories of Craigslist, there was a section called Quests?"

What followed was one of those rare writer moments where the words just started flowing out of my brain, and in the span of an hour, I had a 1000-word short in which our as-yet unnamed protagonist traverses New York City completing odd Quests in exchange for wooden tokens. I kept coming back to this idea over the next several months, writing out random scenes, but it took a while before it all gelled together into a cohesive story anchored by an actual character.

Q] Your book has a darker and grittier take on urban fantasy, plus there are no vampires. What would made you write this story in such a fashion & why no vampires?

JA: My exposure to urban fantasy is mostly through Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (one of the first fantasy books I read as an adult) and American Gods. I really connected with the “hidden world just out of sight” aspect of those books and wanted to write a story where there was this lurking magic out there that maybe you could find in real life if you looked hard enough. I’m drawn more to the myths and legends-subgenre of urban fantasy, hence the absence of vampires and other paranormal fixtures from the series.


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

JA: As you said, it’s a different take on urban fantasy. You’re not going to have super-powerful wizards just blasting spells at each other in alleyways. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting magical items or weapons. There are things like a sword which fits in any bag, or gum that when chewed sobers a drunk person instantaneously, or an ink that compels the reader to follow the written instructions. But there’s a rational explanation for all this. Magic is a natural resource. Like oil and gas and minerals. It’s found in nature and the earth. And like those things, it needs to be extracted and refined. And also like robber barons or industrialists with other natural resources, the people who discovered magic are the ones who kept it a secret and monopolized it and gotten rich off it by using it for their own profit. And they spawned these families who have passed down the secret and who still control it (maybe as part of a secret Guild of some sort). But, there’s a problem. Just like every other natural resource, magic is being depleted.

This is the present state of affairs that Jen, the main character, finds herself caught up in. The first book is an introduction to the world and the Quests, and the eponymous Guild is lurking off-page for most of the book. But in book two, Guild of Magic, it becomes front and center. Whereas in Guild of Tokens, the main conflicts are mostly personal, in Guild of Magic, the conflict spreads to the Guild itself, and then as the series progresses, that will spiral out into great conflicts with the other magical forces in this world.

Q] How many volumes do you think you would require to complete the Guild series?

JA: So I have a grand plan that involves writing several different series (some using the premises from my original flash stories I mentioned earlier), each revolving around a different mythos/magic and the characters from each series will all team up Avengers-style in a crossover series with a world-spanning conflict. Obviously, I’m still at the beginning stages, as I’m only on book two of my first series. But I’m hoping to wrap up a big arc in book three of the Guild of Tokens series and then either start the next series or do a spin-off series with one of the characters from Guild.

Q] David Gemmell had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as “Rick’s Bar characters” and described them in the following way:

When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them ‘Rick’s Bar characters,’ from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all.

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s?

JA: That definitely resonates with me and how I wrote Guild of Tokens. The main character, Jen, I would describe as being tough to write; the book is first-person, so in early drafts it felt like there was too much of my personality creeping in. So I made a conscious effort to reign that back and to let her own voice come through, but it’s much harder. Especially because there’s stuff that Jen is only learning about herself and her own history as the books progress and so she can’t draw on that yet because she doesn’t know it! Contrast that with Beatrice, who becomes Jen’s morally gray mentor about a third of the way through the first book. Originally, she was a one-note shrieking villain, but then I decided to have her be a foil to Jen and wrote a short story prequel to flesh out some of her backstory. Maybe it was writing in third-person point of view, but for whatever reason, that story and the two that followed were more in the “easy” vein as Gemmell calls it, and I find it smoother writing Beatrice.

Q] Let’s talk about what triggered your love for fantasy. You happen to mention in the acknowledgements section that it was the 1977 Hobbit film which blew your mind. Can you talk a bit more about how and why it blew your mind?

JA: I’d say it was the music. When Gandalf first appears at the crest of the hill overlooking Bilbo’s hole, and then the dwarves appear behind him and start singing, it immediately drew me in. And John Huston as the voice of Gandalf was spot-on casting.


It was the perfect self-contained adventure story, and only later did I learn that it was actually part of a larger story! I remember I came home from college one winter break to find out that my parents had thrown out the original video cassette, but fortunately I reacquired the film on DVD and digital and plan on showing it to my kids.

Q] Conversely with regards to younger self, how did you as an adult find the Peter Jackson LOTR trilogy?

JA: I loved that trilogy as well! I was furious when The Two Towers lost Best Picture at the Oscars to Chicago. Those movies also had amazing music, so much so that I went to back-to-back-to-back performances of the trilogy accompanied by a live symphony orchestra a few years back. S0meday I hope I’m able to write a scene that would be well-paired with Forth Eorlingas.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions. What would like to pass on to your fans both old and new?

JA: Thank you for having me! For those of you waiting on book two, I’m hoping for a productive writing summer that will allow for an early fall release. And for those of you who are new to the series, I’ve got a number of different entry points, especially if you are an audiobook listener. I’ve been releasing the short story prequels as podcast episodes over the past 2.5 months. The last part just went live last week and this week I’m releasing the prologue and the first chapter of the main book. You can find out more at www.guildoftokens.com.


This was part of the Guild Of Tokens blog tour organized by Storytellers On Tour. My thanks to Justine and Timy for letting Fantasy Book Critic be a part of it. You can check out the rest of the stops over here.


Official Book Blurb: All Jen Jacobs has achieved in life is loneliness. So when she stumbles across a real-life game of epic quests on the streets of New York, she jumps at the chance for some excitement and gold tokens. Little does she know that the items she strives to collect hold a darker purpose…

After a particularly harrowing quest pairs her up with Beatrice Taylor, a no-nonsense and ambitious mentor, Jen hopes she’s on the path to becoming a big-time player. But as she dives deeper into the game’s hidden agenda, she realizes Beatrice has her sights set on the Guild, the centuries-old organization that runs the Questing game. And the quests Jen loves are about to put both of them in grave danger.

Will Jen survive the game before powerful forces cut her real life short?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Play Of Shadows Cover Reveal Q&A with Sebastien De Castell (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE

Today we are glad to welcome back Sebastien De Castell as he reveals and chats about his latest gorgeous cover, his new series & what lies ahead in 2021. So read ahead to find out how Sebastien and his publishers came up with the gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows...

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Sebastien, how have you been amidst these troubled times?

SDC: It’s lovely to be back! I’ve been fine – thanks for asking. My own experience of the pandemic has been one of privilege in so many ways: I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we’ve had the benefit of a tremendously well-run provincial response that has resulted in a low infection rate and low numbers of deaths. My wife and I own our house and have quiet, friendly neighbors, so spending long periods of time at home isn’t as stressful for us as it is for so many others who are faced with monumental economic, emotional, and psychological challenges during a pandemic. And then, of course, the ultimate privilege of making a living as a novelist means that I still get to spend my days doing what I love: writing new books.

Q] Firstly I would like to congratulate you on the stunningly gorgeous cover for Play Of Shadows. Can you tell us who the designer/illustrator for it is and if you had any input towards it?

SDC: I need to preface all this by saying that the situation by which the cover for PLAY OF SHADOWS came about is incredibly rare in traditional publishing. My esteemed editor, Jo Fletcher, and I discussed how much we wanted to do something different with this next series in the Greatcoats world – that we wanted to focus on typographical treatments rather than stock imagery and evoke a feeling of mystery, intrigue, and the swashbuckling spirit. I have a background in working with designers, so I commissioned a cover design firm called Miblart and wrote a cover brief for them detailing both the experience we wanted someone looking at the cover to have as well as the core elements.

They came back with an initial concept that was already on the right track, and from there it was a process of refinement back and forth until we got to the gorgeous cover you see now. I presented this to my editor who took it to the Quercus art director who also agreed it was the right direction. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how rare this type of situation is for an author to get to actually commission the cover, but Quercus was kind enough to give me a crack at it. The response from readers online was been overwhelming and tremendously gratifying!


Q] I loved the juxtaposition of the swordsman, the mask and colours within this cover. It’s not only beautiful but also hearkens to the book’s blurb. As far book covers go, this is simply spectacular. What were your first thoughts when you were presented with it?

SDC: I went back to count the number of iterations of the cover and I think we went through sixteen rounds to get to that final cover. A lot of the essence was right there on the designer’s first pass, but then came all the other refinements to every element from the borders to the shadow figure to the sword in his hand to the symbols and motifs laden throughout . . . a lot of tiny things you wouldn’t even notice on their own but put together they completely alter the feeling one has looking at the cover.

My favourite moment actually had to do with the mask: the designer had put the mask in the border, and we had the shadow figure below it. We’d never planned for the two things to connect. But I was staring at the picture on my iPad and realized how close they were, so I opened up an image editor and sat there for an hour moving things around and doing rough drawings over it to show that you could align the two elements together. I sent that back to the designers and they then made it work much better than I could do.

All those revisions can have the effect of making it so you can no longer see the forest for the trees, so I was still going back and forth on tiny details (gold border or red? Red raven design or silver? Should we change that orchid over the letter “Y” again?). That’s why it’s been so exciting to see how readers online react to the finished cover.

Q] Play Of Shadows also marks a return to the world of Greatcoats. What can you reveal about this sequel series with regards to its chronological place vis-à-vis your debut books?

SDC: Everything in The Court of Shadows (the series of which PLAY OF SHADOWS is the first book) takes place a few months after the end of TYRANT’S THRONE. The country is at peace, yet no one really knows what the future holds. The threats of civil war seem to have died down, yet new threats are emerging whose roots go deep into Tristia’s past, connecting them to an enemy no one can yet see. This will be a series that features Greatcoats and Bardatti, Dashini and Rangieri, and new, previously unknown orders whose origins we have yet to discover.


Q] Play Of Shadows is also about the stage and theater as much as it is about hidden secrets. What was the main inception/driving force for this story?

SDC: I’m fascinated by that strange intersection of things that people don’t entirely believe in but kind of believe in. For example, few of us believe in predicting the future, but when someone pulls out a tarot card for us or says they had a dream about us we can’t help but think that maybe something they reveal will come true. Hopefully none of us believe in wishing wells, but when you toss that coin into the well, there’s a part of you that clings to the possibility it may work. These semi-beliefs are compelling to me as a writer, and I’m always looking to find that ambiguity in the cultures I create for my books. So I spend a lot of time concocting cultural practices that don't exist but could exist. For example:

- what if a culture believed that you needed to put a frame made out of rowan wood around a painting that has devils in it to keep them trapped inside?

- What about a city with a rich theatrical tradition that believed that some actors become so ingrained in a part that they – perhaps, just a little – channel the actual spirit of the character they’re playing when they take the stage?

Of course, most people would assume it was just an old superstition, yet I’d bet they’d still pay extra to see a performance by such an actor just so they could tell their friends about it. With PLAY OF SHADOWS, I took that one step further: what if you were an actor on stage playing the role of a historical villain only to suddenly find yourself witnessing the events of the story unfolding through their eyes, witnessing a truth that had long been buried to keep a ruling dynasty in power? What would you do then?

That was the origin of Damelas Shademantaigne, the grandson of two legendary Greatcoats who never wanted to be anything but a passable actor, thrust into the middle of century-old conspiracies, duels of honour, and the hunt for a shadowy court that seems to be secretly running his city.

Q] How many books are planned for the Court Of Shadows series?

SDC: The Court of Shadows will have four main novels, each of which introduces us to its own characters, followed by an “event” book in which they all come together. Readers will be able to read those first four books in any order, or even, theoretically, read the big climactic book and then go back to read the origins of the characters.

Q] Will we get to see/meet any characters from the original Greatcoats books?

SDC: Yes, though my focus is on new characters and new stories. PLAY OF SHADOWS brings back a certain mischievous Bardatti who I happen to adore who will help Damelas understand the mysterious abilities plaguing him, and there may even be an appearance by a certain roguish Greatcoat as well.

Q] Readers often have expectations of their own from their beloved authors (irrespective of the author’s own). How are you mentally preparing for your readers/fans’ eventual comparison of this new book/series to your beloved debut?

SDC: I think it helps that I went off to write the six Spellslinger books after finishing the Greatcoats because it allowed readers to feel like the Greatcoats Quartet was truly finished and that enabled them to unleash their own imaginations as to what happens next rather than feeling as if they had to wait for me to tell them.

The Court of Shadows goes deeper into the lore of the various orders of Greatcoats, Bardatti, Dashini and others, and the future of the beleaguered nation of Tristia. While there are new characters and stories, my focus as a fantasy writer still leans to swashbuckling, the redemptive power of friendship, and the desperately hard pursuit of trying to find the right thing to do in troubled times. So the underlying feeling or vibe that readers enjoyed about the Greatcoats will always be there, but the stories themselves are entirely new and go in different directions from the original quartet.


Q] How goes your writing for Way Of The Argosi? Do you have a possible release date for it?

SDC: WAY OF THE ARGOSI is finished and off to the wonderful line and copyeditor, Talya Baker at Hot Key Books! I’ve also finished the first draft of FALL OF THE ARGOSI, though that will need another pass before it’s ready. I’m not sure on the exact date of publication; the first book was originally meant to come out in April 2021, but since we’re so much farther ahead than we planned to be, I suspect it will come out sooner.

Q] Many thanks for your time Sebastien, I can’t wait to read Play Of Shadows and get to dive back into the lands of Tristia. Any parting thoughts for your fans?

SDC: Just that I’m always delighted to read your letters – getting a real, physical letter in the mail is truly a thrill for an author! But e-mails, tweets, and Instagram posts are all lovely to see and I reply to every letter or e-mail I receive (I don’t check Facebook or Twitter all that often, so I’m likely to miss those ones). Next year is going to be a rather big one for me, with three (and possibly four!) new books coming out, so I’m really looking forward to getting them into your hands.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


Pre-order the book over HERE (US)HERE (UK)
Read the first chapter over here

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Damelas Shademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.

He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles - until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city's most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.

With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who'd just as soon see him dead, this failed son of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

Oh, and there's still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him . . .

NOTE: The Greatcoats series picture courtesy of TheComicVault. All other pictures courtesy of the author himself.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water by Zen Cho (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve & Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the novella HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Zen Cho is the author of the Sorcerer Royal novels and a novella, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, as well as the short story collection Spirits Abroad. She is a Hugo, Crawford and British Fantasy Award winner, and a finalist for the Locus and Astounding Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

OFFICIAL BLURB:A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

FORMAT/INFO:  The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water will published on June 23rd, 2020. It is 160 pages split over 8 chapters and told in the third person. It is available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats via Tordotcom publishing. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (CAITLIN): All Lau Fung Cheung and Tet Sang wanted was a cup of coffee.  But when they intervene on behalf of a waitress accused of witchcraft by an irate customer, they find themselves saddled with a new traveling companion. Guet Imm is a nun of the Order of the Pure Moon, forced into hiding after her temple was destroyed in the on-going war plaguing the countryside. She believes her encounter with the bandits is a sign from the deity that she should travel with them.  Which is unfortunate for Fung Cheung and Tet Sang since they're traveling with contraband the nun DEFINITELY won't approve of.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a diverting story of people just trying to get by in a world falling apart.  In broad strokes, we are introduced to a world that is engaged in what one character refers to as a "silent war" between occupying Protectorate forces and "bandits" (rebels who are trying to retake the homeland).  There's violence between the two factions, but nobody in the towns openly discusses it, for fear of being accused of supporting the wrong side.  This is a novella that captures the tension of never knowing if armed forces are there to help you or to destroy your livelihood, where the answer to that question could change depending on the day. In the middle of all this mess is our family of bandits, misfits and outcasts, working as "contractors" to make money to survive.

By far the standout character here is Guet Imm, the witty, insightful nun who nonetheless is somewhat naive about the world, having spent the last decade in monastic seclusion.  The occasions when you get to watch her run mental circles around the bandits, causing them to agree to things while they're still realizing they're being asked, are the best parts of the book. The rest of the cast is unfortunately somewhat one dimensional, aside from Tet Sang, whose own past is revealed to have indirect ties to Guet Imm's.  Tet Sang usually is the one trying to corral Guet Imm, and it's through the conversations between the two that we get the most insight about the themes of war and identity. 

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a good light-fantasy novella to curl up on the couch with for an afternoon, a pleasant story, if not a particularly memorable one.  I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but it never was deep enough, nor the stakes high enough, for there to be a "Wow" moment.  Still, if you love unlikely pairings, this is a good book to pick up.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Zen Cho has written a wuxia story that enthralls and makes you want more. As far as novellas go, this was right up my alley with its mix of action, understated humour and Chinese culture/mythos.

The story blurb has been covered by Caitlin so I won’t repeat it but one thing to remember is that this book isn’t what you typically expect. It’s not full of action and magic without any character growth. On the one hand, it’s magical in its own sombre way. The magic is in how the author writes the story and the characters, she steeples in it the culture she knows but also adds a modern sensibility and hence the result is something that is very Zen Cho but at the same time, completely different from her longer work.

The characterization is very, very sincere and solid for the length of the story. I loved how each character was refreshingly written and made distinct. The author also makes gender identity a normal part of the story and it wasn’t used as a gimmick. Besides the three main characters, the other characters don’t get much space to shine. This I feel is more due to the space constraints due to the novella rather than the authorial decision.

The last thing I want to highlight is the humor that’s strewn throughout the novella. It’s isn’t the loud, boisterous kind but more of a cerebral nature. Dependent on each character’s nature, it feels proper. Lastly the cover is something spectacular and being a tordotcom production, this is very much in line & to be expected.

CONCLUSION: The story ends on a poignant note and it left me wanting more stories featuring these characters and world setting. Zen Cho has written a short and superb story that will leave you stunned with its simplicity and charm. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water might have a long name but it doesn’t have any shortcomings in any of the other important areas. Give it a read and enjoy a very pleasantly nuanced story that will have you wanting more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Angel Of The Crows by Katherine Addison (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Goblin Emperor

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for acclaimed writer Sarah Monette who has previously written ten novels including a trilogy co-written with Elizabeth Bear. Her short fiction has been selected by The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year's Best Science Fiction. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin. She previously wrote The Goblin Emperor.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

OFFICIAL FORMAT INFO: The Angel Of The Crows will be published on June 23rd, 2020 by Tor books. It is 448 pages divided over thirty two chapters and an epilogue. It is told in the first person from the point of view of Dr. Doyle. It is available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: In Victorian London, every public building is watched over by an angel, a supernatural being that protects and assists the people inside its dominion. When Dr. Doyle arrives in London after sustaining an injury in the Afghanistan War, he could never have predicted he would have ended up with an angel as a roommate. But Crow is not like the other angels. He doesn't guard a single building. Crow is the Angel of London, and as such, offers his services as a consulting detective to any being, supernatural or otherwise, with a mystery to solve. But after a string of successful cases, Crow and Dr. Doyle find themselves with their toughest case yet. Prostitutes are being brutally killed in the East End by an unknown assailant - one the newspapers will eventually call Jack the Ripper.

Have you ever wanted to read the original Sherlock Holmes adventures, but with supernatural creatures and elements mixed in? If so, have I got a book for you! The Angel Of The Crows is a faithful (sometimes too faithful) retelling of many of the original short stories. While the lead characters have been renamed, they still live at 221 Baker Street in the late nineteenth century, they frequently work with Inspector Lestrade, and yes, they will absolutely take a trip to the countryside to investigate the Hound of the Baskervilles. But this is a world where the Hound might realistically have demonic origin, and if someone claims they've seen a ghost, that isn't a notion to scoff at. Werewolves and vampires openly walk in the streets, and a young woman can receive a respectable certification in clairvoyance.

As someone who has avidly consumed several iterations of Sherlock Holmes over the years, from the original short stories to the Jeremy Brett TV series to Elementary, I had mixed feelings about this latest outing with the famed detective. On the one hand, these are well-written adventures written much in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original tales, and are certainly a cozy way to pass the time. On the other hand, I found myself most enjoying the book when it offered a new angle or element to the material, and that was something it didn't do enough.

The Angel Of The Crows has one broad mystery - that of tracking Jack the Ripper - but the majority of the plot follows Crow and Doyle over a series of several mysteries of varying length. Some take place over several chapters, while a few are only a chapter or two long and serve as an interstitial that allows a deeper dive into Crow and Doyle as characters and serve up some secrets about Doyle's background in particular. Sherlock enthusiasts will recognize several cases, from The Sign of the Four to The Speckled Band, many of which have been given a supernatural twist. The more I saw of this London with its angels and hellhounds and vampires, the more I craved to see, to the point where I found myself wishing that the author had created original adventures for Crow and Doyle set in this world, rather than being largely guided by the source material.

That, at the end of the day, is what defined my takeaway from The Angel Of The Crows: the desire for more. I had a perfectly lovely time with Crow and Doyle, but I wanted to know more about them, especially Doyle, who has a surprising backstory that merited more exploration than what we are given. A little more explanation about some of the author's original elements, like the angels, or the difference between a vampire and a hemophage, would have also shored up the book. Nevertheless, The Angel Of The Crows is a book I enjoyed, and can certainly be recommended to those looking for a comfort read with a splash of new supernatural elements.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Best of British Fantasy - Q&A with Jared Shurin




Monday, June 15, 2020

Guest Post: The Fantastical World Of Perilisc: A Reader Compendium For The Works of Jesse Teller


Order Legends Of Eastgate over HERE
Add to Goodreads 
GET LEGENDS OF THE EXILES FOR FREE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Jesse Teller
Read Writing About Difficult Topics by Jesse Teller (guest post)

Today is the day for a surprise release from my world. It is a shock to most, but a few were given fair warning. The only people who knew I would be releasing a book today were those subscribed to my newsletter.

Today I release Legends of Eastgate, the third book in the Legends series. All the Legends books are collections of short stories and novellas, some tightly linked, others not. Legends of Eastgate is meant to be read alongside Legends of the Exiles. With today’s release we find ourselves halfway through Act One of my world. I’d like to talk about the concept behind my writing and the inspiration that brought it to be.

The concept of my work is very simple. The reader decides their level of involvement. In a lot of big series, you have to read a large stack of books in order to enjoy it. I wanted to get around that. I wanted to be able to tell a large story but allow readers the freedom to read just part of it. I wrote five series, each separate and containing one story. But when shuffled together in chronological order, they would tell one long tale, with scores of story threads woven into it.

The reader is able to choose if they want to read just one series and get a complete story, if they want to go digging for stories around the series they’ve chosen, or if they want to read a large number of books for the full scope of my work. When talking about it like this, it gets confusing, so let me give you an example. Let’s look at The Manhunters series.


This is, on the surface, a story about a man who puts together a crew of people to hunt down escaped criminals. If that interests you, you can read the trilogy, get a satisfying conclusion, and you will have read the abridged story of the Manhunters. But if you are looking for every nuance, the backstory of every character, you can dig a little deeper.

You can prepare yourself for the first book of The Manhunters by reading other books in the timeline before it. If you really want to know everything there is to know about the Manhunters story, then you have the option of starting at Legends of Perilisc. It’ll give you backstory behind one of the characters and with that in hand, you can enter the trilogy. But you still won’t have the whole tale. In order to get the entire scope of The Manhunters series, you must also read Legends of the Exiles, Legends of Eastgate, Liefdom, Onslaught of Madness, Wrath of Madness, Crisis of Fate, Plight of Madness (releasing October 5, 2020), and Fate of Madness (releasing April 15, 2021), then you’re ready for books 1-3 of The Manhunters. The more information you want to gather to prepare yourself for the entire story, the more you can read, the more tomes you can sort through.


So, I’ve put together a graphic that will guide you through a few of the storylines and character arcs. If you’re interested in the Hoodsmen, follow the red line and it will take you through every book you need to read in order to understand that group of villainous heroes. This small collection of storylines gives you a taste of what we’re looking at here, to allow you to read just one series or everything that leads up to it and everything that comes after. As it stands, we are halfway through the first act. I have three planned, but I’m not ready to talk about them. What I can say is that you can read Act One by itself and get one satisfying, complete story, or you will be able to line them all up and see the full scope of the worlds I’ve created.

I’ve had to release my books as series, even though this took me out of chronological order. I did it this way because, if I released them in chronological order, I would have to release book one, and it would be many years before the next book of that series came out. I was unwilling to do that. There is, in the fantasy genre, a growing frustration for long waits between books, and I did not want to force that upon my readers.

Now there exists on my website a timeline that pulls apart the short stories found in the Legends series and shuffles them in chronological order among the novels. It is possible, if you’re willing to jump between books, to read Act One in the order it is occurring. This is possible because every story I publish begins with a year, a year lined up around one great event.

With my work, I have been able to free the reader of the commitment of reading every single book in my world, to allow them to pick and choose what stories they want to read and which characters they want to follow. I hope this gives readers the comfort and freedom to decide their level of involvement. So use this graphic and choose the stories you want to read about. As we go along, I’ll add more every six months. And maybe on days like today, a little extra.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


Official Author Website

Official Author Information: Jesse Teller has loved fantasy since the age of five. It has gone from love to hobby to professional life. He now spends his time writing novels and short stories in a fantasy world of his creation. Here you can find his thoughts on the genre, samplings of his work, and his process in creating it. Jesse Teller lives in Missouri. He hasn’t always, but like storytelling, it snuck into his bones. He fell in love with fantasy when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. His books explore violent issues without flinching.


Order Legends Of Eastgate over HERE
GET LEGENDS OF THE EXILES FOR FREE 

Official Book Blurb: Eastgate is a city of exiles ruled by the last survivors of a royal clan. Though most residents have been banished from their mountain tribes, they are not without pride or might. In this companion collection to Legends of the Exiles, heroes will fall as the next generation rises. War brings the tribes together against a new enemy, and all hope for peace rests on hatred and guile.
Saturday, June 13, 2020

MD Presley's worldbuilding project Q&A



Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Woven Ring
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Imbued Lockblade
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Glass Dagger

Friday, June 12, 2020

Legacy Of Ash by Matthew Ward (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (US)HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFO: Matthew Ward is a writer, cat-servant and owner of more musical instruments than he can actually play (and considerably more than he can play well). He’s afflicted with an obsession for old places – castles, historic cities and the London Underground chief amongst them – and should probably cultivate more interests to help expand out his author biography.

After a decade serving as a principal architect for Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 properties, Matthew embarked on an adventure to tell stories set in worlds of his own design. He lives near Nottingham with his extremely patient wife – as well as a pride of attention-seeking cats – and writes to entertain anyone who feels there’s not enough magic in the world.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.

Ruling families -- once protectors of justice and democracy -- now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.

Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.

Viktor Akadra is the Republic's champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.

Josiri Trelan is Viktor's sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother's failed rebellion.

And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri's sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.

As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory -- if it comes at all -- will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.

FORMAT/INFO: Legacy Of Ash was published in paperback in the US on April 9th, 2020 by Orbit Books. It is 800 pages spread over 69 chapters and a prologue. It is told in the third person across multiple viewpoints. This is the first book in the Legacy Trilogy. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fifteen years ago, Katya Trelan led the southern dukes in a failed rebellion to break away from the Tressian Republic, a failure that ultimately led to her death. Since then, her two children Josiri and Calenne have lived under house arrest at their estate near the border of the empire, trying to appear model prisoners while each plotting their own way out. Calenne's future lies in her upcoming wedding, when she can finally shed her mother's name and abandon the tainted legacy; Josiri wrestles with when, if ever, he will take the scattered remains of his mother's rebellion and lead them in defiance once more. But all plans are for naught when the Hadari Empire begins to invade at the nearby border. The invasion brings Viktor Akrada to the Trelan's doorstep. Viktor was responsible for crushing their mother's rebellion, but now he offers full pardons to anyone who helps fight back the invaders. Can Calenne and Josiri trust the Republic to keep their word? If only it that were the only question on the table. There are darker, more magical forces at play, and the gods themselves may be nudging fate...

If you like big, sprawling tales of empire where the intrigue among noble houses is as critical as the battles between nations, have I got a book for you! Legacy Of Ash is a book of moves and countermoves, with assassins, bribery, and conspiracies in the capitol city, and sweeping epic battles on the fringes of the empire. Alliances are made and broken as houses scrabble for power. These were the best parts of Legacy Of Ash, and I have to admit I was always faintly sad when the POVs broke from the power struggle at the capitol and returned to the duchy of Eskavord and the struggles with the Hadari. Those who like big battles will find plenty to like here as well, the siege of Eskavord taking up a considerable section of the book.

Magic occupies a curious space in the world of the Tressian Republic. Only magic that is considered derived from the benevolent goddess Lumenestra is allowed, and only then when practiced under the control of the state. Viktor, we soon learn, has a different kind of magic, one he's struggled to conceal for fear of being burned at the stake as a witch. You won't find hard magic systems here, but more nebulous magics derived from different gods. Magic outside of Lumenestra's in both feared and but also falls into the realm of myth; it's the boogie man that makes you lock your door at night, even as you protest it isn't real. But even without hard and fast rules, the magic was fun to watch and at times eerie. I particularly liked the kraikons, mechanical constructs powered by "sanctioned" divine energy and controlled through a talisman.

Where the book worked a little less for me was with the characters. That's not to say they're badly written; I personally just had a hard time connecting with people when I spent only a few pages at a time with them as the action bounced all over the empire and between factions. There are several POVs outside the three "main" characters, ranging from servants to council members. I definitely had favorites: Halvor and Kurkas were an interesting duo, and I rooted for Melanna, a princessa of the Hadari struggling to be respected and treated as an heir when woman are considered not fit for the battlefield. (Side Note: the Tressian Republic is fully egalitarian when it comes to the sexes, with women serving in the army and in politics without a second thought.) And Viktor himself was the core of the story, as he struggles to unite factions within an empire that are determined to hate each other. Nevertheless, I always felt a bit at a distance, and sometimes found motivation for character choices slightly lacking. There are likely plenty of readers who won't have this issue; for me personally it stopped the book juuuust short of being a four-star read.

The book is also one that takes a commitment, not just because of the 750+ pages, but because there's a sizable amount of set-up. Things do eventually take off; the ending in particular ramped-up the tension and pacing considerably as events came to ahead. Still, a late third act development introducing a new villain did feel a bit tacked-on. I can only assume this is part of the overall conflict for the full trilogy but for me it felt a bit disjointed, especially as the main conflict died down, only to have someone pop up and go "Excuse me, we have an unrelated situation over here, can you come deal with it?"

CONCLUSION: Legacy Of Ash is going to scratch the epic fantasy itch for a lot of people, particularly if you love watching people plot against each other. I enjoyed my time reading it, and can certainly say if this sounds like your cup of tea, go check it out! If you're frequently put off by hefty tomes that require patience before pay-off or have a yen for deep character work, than this might not be the one for you. Otherwise, grab a hot beverage and settle in for a grand tale of intrigue and battle!
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)


Official Author Website
Order Phoenix Extravagant over HERE(USA) or HERE (UK)



AUTHOR INFORMATIONYoon Ha Lee is an American science fiction and fantasy writer, known for his Machineries of Empire space opera novels and his short fiction. His first novel, Ninefox Gambit, received the 2017 Locus Award for Best First Novel.

FORMAT/INFO: Phoenix Extravagant is out in hardback on the 9 June 2020 (US) and 11 June 2020 (UK), and will follow in paperback in 2021. 

OVERVIEW: Just look at his cover - magnificent, isn’t? Dragons are cool, but automatic dragons are something else. 

Phoenix Extravagant, set in a fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation, revolves around politics, war, and rebellion. Instead of showing the conflict through the eyes of devious politicians or fighters, it follows Gyen Jebi, a non-binary painter destined (or rather maneuvered) to shift the scales of the conflict. A delightful change from the smash and bang seen often in occupation narratives. Gyen wants to paint, and they care little about politics or war. 

The Empire of Razan conquered Hwaguk and transformed it into Administrative Territory Fourteen. Gyen’s sister, Bongsunga, has revolutionary ties. She feels betrayed when her sibling registers for Razanei name, hoping it’ll allow them to secure a job. Jebi accepts an offer from the Razan government’s defense sector. His job involves reducing classic Hwagugin artworks to magical pigments necessary to program the behaviors of automata used to control the populace. A neat magical system. Without getting into details, Gyen ends up teaming up with a mecha dragon against the government. 

The world, while inspired by history, is extravagant, atmospheric, and mysterious. The book tackles the theme of colonialism and various forms of response from colonized nations (resistance, acceptation, partial assimilation). As mentioned before, politics happen in the background but influence Jebi’s life to the point where they can’t remain impartial. The choices they face and erratic actions they make pulled me through the novel. 

While they unravel the mysteries surrounding recent massacre, they grow involved with the lives of a sizable cast of characters, including Arazi - a sentient mecha dragon. Gyen’s actions are never thought-out. They react on impulse and often finish in even bigger troubles. 

Lee does a fine job breathing life into each of the protagonists, imbuing them with hidden depths that slowly reveal over the course of the book. That said, Gyen’s relationship with Vei felt slightly forced. I didn’t feel any chemistry between them. In contrast, Gyen and Arazi banter made me regularly smile. 

Even though I liked the book, it has a few downsides. First, it’s somewhat predictable. Second, the climax of the book moves at jet speed but it doesn’t resolve all conflicts, and I would expect a stronger closure from a book marketed as a standalone. 

Despite its stumbles, Phoenix Extravagant was well worth the time spent reading it. It’s fun and entertaining. I wouldn’t mind seeing more entries in this well-crafted world. The open (sort of) ending gives hope Arazi will return. Fingers crossed.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Exclusive Cover Reveal Q&A: Frozen Rage by Steve McHugh (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Crimes Against Magic

Today we count ourselves lucky to have Steve McHugh with us. Steve is an Indie best-selling phenomenon who was since then been published by 47 North. Steve was gracious to answer a few questions about his upcoming novella Frozen Rage featuring his nearly immortal protagonist Nate Garrett. So read along to find out what Frozen Rage is all about...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Steve. 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?

SJM: It’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for having me on the Fantasy Book Critic.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I fell in love with it during creative writing classes in English when I was 14 or so. I started to read Pratchett, Gemmell, King, and a whole bunch of other authors and decided I wanted to do that.

I self-published my first book in 2012. Crimes Against Magic was then picked up by a publisher 8 months or so later, and they’ve published all of my books since, but I get to self-publish my novellas. It’s nice to be able to have both sides of that creative experience, and my novellas let me tell stories that just wouldn’t fit in the main series.

Q] You have gone for a Shawn King original cover with your novella. What convinced you to indulge his artistic skills?  

SJM: I’ve known Shawn for a while now on Facebook and have always loved his work. I was looking for an artist to do the cover to Frozen Rage and thought that his style fitted the idea of the cover I had in my head. Turns out he managed to make it even better than the idea in my head, so that’s always a great thing.

(Cover design by Shawn T. King)

Q] I loved the cover for Frozen Rage. What were your main pointers for Shawn as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

SJM: I wanted a snowy forest landscape, I wanted Nate in the front, using his magic. After that, I just let Shawn do his thing. I have a tendency to come up with cover ideas that are completely unworkable for a book, so I’ve learned that keep it simple and let the experts do their job and you’ll get something awesome out of it.

Q] Frozen Rage is I believe part of your Hellequin Chronicles and focuses on Nathaniel Garrett. What made you write this novella about him with his magic still intact?

SJM: The Hellequin Chronicles is seven books long, and there’s quite a bit of time that happens between the books, so it’s a good spot to put a side story. Between Promise of Wrath and Scorched Shadows (the 6th and 7th books) are three years, so that was a good place to put this story.

Q] Let’s talk about Frozen Rage’s chronological place in the long life of Nate Garrett. Where/why is it set?

SJM: It’s set in the realm of Dreich, which is essentially this barren, snowy wilderness that at some point in the not too distant past had part of it converted into a getaway for the rich and powerful of the magical world.


It’s set just after Promise of Wrath (Hellequin book 6), and Nate is in a weird place at the time. A lot of stuff has happened to him over the last few years, and now he’s found that things are quieter, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he accepts a job from his friend.

As things tend to do when Nate is involved, it goes badly pretty quickly.

Q] Can you share something about the novella that’s not mentioned in the blurb and why Nate Garrett fans should be excited for this new addition?

SJM: It’s a murder mystery with returning favourite characters before Scorched Shadows when everything changed for Nate and his friends. And Nate and Tommy get to team up, which I haven’t done much of since the Hellequin Chronicles ended.

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 novella?

SJM: I write fun action-adventure books with magic. The bad guys are awful, the good guys aren’t always much better, and there’s lots of mayhem and humour that happens before the end. I write the books that I want to read, which in my head is how all authors should do it.

The pitch for Frozen Rage would be: "Nate and Tommy stop murderers from re-starting a war."

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

SJM: I just hope that everyone who has read the Hellequin, Avalon, and, or the Rebellion books, enjoy the novella. It’s always fun to write about Nate, and even more so when I get to put his best friend with him.

Take care of yourselves, and stay safe.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


OFFICIAL NOVELLA BLURB: The Realm of Dreich is a getaway for the rich and powerful, a medieval-inspired town in the middle of a vast frozen wilderness. Now it’s the site of a wedding, intended to join two feuding families who have spent centuries in an uneasy truce with each other.

When Tommy Carpenter asks his best friend, Nate Garrett, to help him with the security of the wedding, Nate reluctantly agrees, knowing that it will be a long weekend of work and, in all probability, treachery.

It is only a matter of time before members of each family are found murdered and it is up to Nate and Tommy to find the killer before more bodies fall, potentially reigniting a war.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Steve McHugh himself. 
Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Kingdom Of Liars by Nick Martell (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Nick Martell was born in Guelph, Ontario, where he lived for 7 years before moving to Huntington, New York. Nick started writing in 5th grade, beginning to explore the world that would fully emerge in The Kingdom of Liars.

Nick attended Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a minor in French. Since then, Nick has done a wide range of jobs that had nothing to do with his major in university from a Quality Insurance Tester for an engineering company in New York City to a volunteer on an organic farm in Ireland.

The Kingdom of Liars is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

FORMAT/INFO: The Kingdom of Liars was published in hardcover in the UK on May 5th, 2020 via Gollancz. It will be published in hardcover in the US on June 23rd, 2020 by Saga Press. It is 608 pages spread over fifty three chapters, with a prologue and epilogue. It is told in first person through Michael Kingman. It will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ten years ago, Michael Kingman's father was executed for murdering the Crown Prince. Since then, Michael has grappled with dueling legacies: that of the Kingman ancestral duty to be protectors and advisors to the royal family, and that of the ruined family name that comes with being the son of a traitor. He has searched for years for answers as to what happened that fateful night without success. But when he comes to work for High Noble Domet, the man becomes a surprising ally in Michael's quest for the truth. With Domet's help, Michael joins the Endless Waltz, the annual nobility courtship events, where he hopes to gain access to information kept secret by the royal family. As he delves deeper into court politics, it becomes clear that there are gaps in his memory from the time of the attack, and entire people he no longer remembers knowing. But if his father wasn't responsible for the death of the prince, who was?

The Kingdom of Liars is a novel that has an incredibly intriguing setup that I ultimately just didn't connect with. Let's start with the good parts. There were many aspects of the worldbuilding I enjoyed, including the idea of a magic system where overusing your abilities could cause you to lose your memories. This meant magic users have to take precautions to keep memories safe, from journals to tattoos. The shattered moon that occasionally rains debris onto the city was also something I'd never seen before, and I loved the concept of the Endless Waltz, a series of events the nobility attend to arrange marriages and form political alliances.

After the broad strokes of worldbuilding, however, I found myself lost in the minutia of details that were left vague or unexplained. To name a few:
- How exactly (in normal times) did the Kingman family operate in their role as intermediaries between commoners and the royal family?
- What exactly is a person who is a Sacrifice?
- How on earth did a character who was a commoner when the book began suddenly show up as part of the Crown Prince's inner circle?

Some of these questions are answered late in the book, and it was at the point that things started being explained that I finally found myself enjoying the intrigue at hand. The night of a fateful ball in particular was an outstanding scene, full of tension and confrontation, but also providing understanding of some key concepts that had been eluding me up to that point.

I also found myself struggling to connect with the characters. Most of them felt only roughly sketched out. Some of this stems from the fact that, for an unknown reason, Michael can't recall certain details of his childhood, including specific faces of friends he knew for years. But even the close friends he had in present day felt more like acquaintances than people Michael would put his life on the line for.

As for Michael himself, he's purposely written as brash and impulsive, which can sometimes make him a bit hard to read. But he also does carry an enormous burden. Since childhood, he's had the weight of being literally branded a traitor, reviled by everyone for his father's actions. At the same time, there's the weight of the ancestral family name - Michael comes from a long line of legends, of men and women who don't live history, they cause it. He wants to uphold this legacy, not out of any sense of nobility, but because it's what he was raised to do. It's hard not to feel some sympathy with a character who is hated for something he had no control over, who is also under pressure to live up to the names of heroes.

The Kingdom of Liars was a book I unfortunately wanted to love much more than I ended up doing. Although it has some original concepts, it just didn't deliver as wholly realized a world as I hoped. I will say that the last third of the book went much better for me than the beginning, as reveals and twists finally brought things to a head, especially as Michael uncovers what is buried in his missing memories. There were scenes where I could definitely see why this book has resonated with others (again, the scene at the ball is my favorite of the book), but overall, it fell just short of making me want to continue onward.

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