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Friday, July 30, 2021

SPFBO: The Fourth Depletion & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read Fantasy Book Critic’s first semifinalist update

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s second semifinalist update

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s third semifinalist update


Thursday, July 29, 2021

Blogtour: Interview with B.T. Keaton, the author of Transference

Thank you for joining us, B.T., and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this, and please, do call me Brandon. We’re all friends here (laughs).

Okay Brandon, before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m not sure how to answer that succinctly and not come across as more interesting than I really am. I’m just a big kid really. I love to help people, and I love to laugh, and to make people laugh. If you want to delve deeper we’d need an hour or two (laughs).

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

I am the office manager for a small tech company here in New Zealand. It’s a somewhat sophisticated title for what’s easily the most expendable job in the office (laughs).

Who are your favorite current writers, and who are your greatest influencers?

Grady Hendrix really blew me away this year with “Southern Guide” by not only taking me out of my comfort zone and scaring me, but also taking me back to a different place in time. I’m an unashamed, lifelong fan of Tolkien. Jeff Smith was and is a huge influence on me to this day. But my greatest influences would have to be my late parents, John and Natalie. I just want to make them proud of me, even if only in some small way.

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer?

I’ve recently discovered that, among the writing community, I’m what’s referred to as a “pantser.” Pretty funny really because it’s fairly accurate. I start with a general idea and then that seems to morph and take shape from someplace I don’t know where. I love that part of the process, though, because I think any good idea probably should go beyond what we ourselves imagine it to be in its infancy. I’m not saying I’ve always been able to do that with my ideas, but I try to let go of the reins enough to at least allow for it. As far as learning to write? I’m pretty certain I have my schoolteachers and all the guys and gals writing in the comic book industry in the 80s and 90s to blame for that. (laughs)

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I think of everything I write in a cinematic sense. I don’t fully know why that is. It could be from my boyhood in the 80s, and growing up with film, and being so influenced at a young age by the movies. You’ve only got roughly two hours to tell a good story on the screen, which is ironically about the length of my attention span on a really good day (laughs). But yeah, you know, I guess my writing style, if you could even call it that, is just an outgrowth of thinking visually.

How would you describe the plot of Transference if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

It’s interesting though because when people ask me about it, if they allow me, I’ll go off on several tangents. And some people get it and some people don’t. If I were a super-hero I’d be the guy who had the power to make eyes glaze over. (laughs) Honestly though? I think Foreword Clarion reviews said it best when they wrote, “… self-sacrifice, a desire for revenge, and a mother’s love could save the world in this….”

Okay, so you have decided to write a book, where did you start? Research? A scene that came to you? A character that you dreamed up? Tell us what got the ball rolling?

If we’re talking about Transference specifically, the idea came to me because I wanted to criss-cross something like Ghostbusters with Aliens, but also sort of introduce spiritual elements into the mix. I think we as human beings are spiritual, and that we look for the spiritual in life. Whether we ignore it, or deny it, or embrace it is the real question. But yes, research is so vital to all of that, and an enjoyable part of the writing process for me. You ever fall down the YouTube rabbit hole late at night? Research is the same! (laughs) I’ll often find myself studying up perhaps a bit too much, and I end up down a well of information for half an hour, or whatever, all over fine details for what may amount to only a few sentences.

 How did you come up with the title for the book? And how does it tie in with the plot?

The title aptly describes a sort of metaphysical transformation that happens to many characters in the story. I also wanted the process of transference to serve as punishment to some and as a reward to others. That’s a frightening proposition. The entire plot of course revolves around it, in some way or another. To say anything more would probably spoil it.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Transference's protagonists and antagonists?

Barrabas Madzimure is the main character, but I have never thought of him as the protagonist in the traditional sense. Some readers may think I’ve broken convention by having a “hero” who doesn’t grab the bull by the horns and take control of the situation. So, while it may seem like events are happening around Madzimure, you’ll see that the man’s been in prison for thirty years, light years away from Earth. He’s broken down, and weary, and I think in our own lives we can feel that way, and indeed become that way. Subsequently, we can get taken along for the ride, if you will, rather than carving our own way ahead by action or by choice. Madzimure’s story, if you bear with it, is still one of design. The primary antagonists are Corvus the interrogator, and a prophet named Jovian. They are the driving force behind the way the story plays out because they are the ones with the most power, or at least the perception of it. The second half of the book features what I consider the real heroes like Elisabeth, Terra, the Surgeon, and even Nav… all major and minor characters which flesh the narrative out in a better way than the claustrophobic start, which was done intentionally.

The book sounds very complex. Can you describe its tone? Is it violent? Scary? Comical? Hopeful?

Hey, you nailed it. It’s all of those things! (laughs). It’s violent yes, and vulgar in its language. And I really struggled with that. The first half of the story takes place in a prison, so the crassness is there out of necessity. I think it’s scary in the sense that it points a finger towards the dangers of blind conformity and gross intolerance. But yes, it’s absolutely hopeful, and by the time you get to the end, that becomes more apparent amidst the carnage of it all.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Transference?

The cover art had been doodled out in a sketch pad of mine dating back quite a few years. I had three or four ideas that I thought might work, and I took my thoughts to Damonza. The team there did an amazing job. I wanted to portray a sort of human cloning/frozen on ice type of feel. Duality with the split colours. The metaphysical aspect of the human soul. All those things. Damonza created several different mock-ups, and when I saw it, the one that it ended up being, I just knew. I knew that’s what it was meant to be.

Have you written it with a particular audience in mind? Who'll enjoy it?

The story is told from multiple points of view, so while that felt very natural to me, it might not be easy for everyone to follow. But hey, I don’t want to exclude anybody. I can say that I purposely wrote equally strong men and women, you know, so that it wasn’t all a male-dominated slug-fest? (laughs). I realize that not everyone is going to like it, and it’s not a perfect book. The story is driven forward by transference itself as a plot device, but I did also put my heart into it, so I think that means it’s also rife with deeper meaning. I think anyone looking for something substantial in a more “broad” type of sci-fi will get something from it.

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

The book is littered with a fair few pop-culture and historical shout-outs. Some of them have been picked up on quickly, others haven’t. So yeah, I really have enjoyed the fact that some readers have said, oh I liked that you mentioned this, or how you described that. I did that to give the story a grounding, and a past which would be relatable. But ultimately, the story is about family, and the love of family. And it’s also about asking questions. By the time you get to the last chapter, I hope that you are asking yourself some deep questions. If I did my job even half-right, then you will be. (laughs)

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

“Before I can get a word in edgewise, Doctor Rathbone pulls my nose hard to the right with a scientific but feral yank.”

What's your publishing Schedule for 2021/2022?

Wow, no pressure! (laughs) Well to be quite honest, when I wrote the book I was in a much different and more supportive place in my life. Now I find myself very distracted and lacking the energy to devote to doing the work, and I’m seeking out ways to be better at that. That said, I am writing the sequel to Transference. I would’ve liked to have had it ready this year, but I don’t want to put a timestamp on it. Fingers crossed for 2022, eh? If I can’t make that happen, I’d like to put out what is hopefully the first of many picture books.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

No way, thank you! Does my thank you cancel out your thank you?? (laughs) I don’t know about you guys, but man, 2020 and 2021 has been tough on us all. And sometimes I can be of the glass-half-empty sort right along with the best of them, but I’d rather just say to anyone reading, hey, keep going. Keep forging ahead even if everyone around you says you can’t do it. I’m hopeful that there’s still good things ahead of us.

NOTE: Many thanks to Justine, Timy & the Storytellers On Tours for giving us an opportunity to take part in this tour.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

THE JASMINE THRONE by Tasha Suri - Review

Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE: Tasha Suri is the award-winning author of The Books of Ambha duology (Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash) and the epic fantasy The Jasmine Throne. She is an occasional librarian and cat owner. She has won the Best Newcomer (Sydney J. Bounds) Award from the British Fantasy Society and has been nominated for the Astounding Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel. When she isn’t writing, Tasha likes to cry over TV shows, buy too many notebooks, and indulge her geeky passion for reading about South Asian history. She lives with her family in a mildly haunted house in London.
Monday, July 26, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andrew Weir

Official Author Website
Order Project Hail Mary over HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andy Weir built a two-decade career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.

FORMAT: Published by Ballantine Books on May 04, 2021 | 496 Pages | Book design by Caroline Cunningham

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Interview with Andy Giesler, the auhtor of The Nothing Within

Today, we have the immense pleasure to host a Q&A with Andy Giesler whose genre-bending book, The Nothing Within, awed us last year. 

ABOUT ANDY: Andy has been a library page, dairy science programmer, teacher, technical writer, and healthcare software developer. He’s schooled in computer science, philosophy, and library science, and grew up in a town in Ohio Amish country. He’s a husband, father, and nonprofit web developer living in Madison, Wisconsin. The Nothing Within is his first novel.

Find Andy online: WebsiteFacebook

Order The Nothing Within: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Audible

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox review

Official Author Website
Order The Dying Squad over HERE

Monday, July 19, 2021

She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan review

Order She Who Became The Sun over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Sunday, July 18, 2021

SPFBO: The Third Diminution & Semifinalist Update (by Jen)

I am happy to return for my third SPFBO. I’d like to think that this part of the contest would get easier but every year the quality is upped a notch and it’s just as difficult as it was the previous year. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers - Review

Official Author Website
Order A Psalm for the Wild-Built HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Becky Chambers is a science fiction author based in Northern California. She is best known for her Hugo Award-winning Wayfarers series. Her books have also been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Locus Award, and the Women's Prize for Fiction, among others. She has two new works coming out in 2021: The Galaxy, and The Ground Within (the fourth and final Wayfarers novel), and A Psalm for the Wild-Built (the first of her Monk and Robot novellas). Becky has a background in performing arts, and grew up in a family heavily involved in space science. She spends her free time playing video games, tabletop RPGs, and looking through her telescope. Having hopped around the world a bit, she’s now back in her home state, where she lives with her wife. She hopes to see Earth from orbit one day. 

It's been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They're going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers's new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

FORMAT: A Psalm for the Wild-Built was published on July 13th, 2021 by It is 160 pages split over 8 chapters. It is told in the third person from the POV of Dex. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.  

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sibling Dex is at a crossroads in their life. They’ve taken up the calling of a tea-service monk, a person who travels from village to village, offering comfort and tea to anyone who wants it. If you need a shoulder to cry on, a person to vent to, or a quiet corner to meditate, Dex is ready with tea and a willing ear. But Dex can’t help but feel that their life is still missing something. But when they make an impulsive decision to take a new route, they didn’t expect to come across a robot, something no one has seen in two centuries. One day the robots woke up and decided to leave humanity to figure out their own existence, and they’ve been gone ever since. But this robot has come in search of what they think is a straight-forward question: What does humanity need?

A Psalm for the Wild Built is one of those books where not a lot happens, yet you still feel utterly content after reading it. Becky Chambers, queen of “slice of life” sci-fi, manages to perfectly capture an emotional state that I think many can identify with: that sense that nothing is really “wrong” with your life, and yet you still feel like it is lacking something. You go through the motions with your job, wondering why there’s an emotional hole that never quite fills. Chambers is just excellent at somehow snaring an emotional essence and distilling it into her writing, and I identified with Dex in a way I haven’t with other characters for a while.

Chambers also excels at creating idyllic visions of the future, where on the whole people are decent and humanity has figured out some big picture questions like how to best live in balance with the environment. This aspect is part of what contributes to the cozy feel of A Psalm for the Wild-Built. The conflict doesn’t come from other people, it comes from the characters wrestling with existential questions that are plaguing them. Dex and their eventual robot acquaintance cover a lot of topics as they converse, always in a way that feels natural and not like a textbook analysis of a problem. This little novella offers food for thought about ecology, personhood, the importance of comfort, and more, all within a conversation between two characters.

CONCLUSION: A Psalm for the Wild-Built is an intimate story of one person’s journey through the wilderness seeking answers. It’s quiet but never dull, and easily flies by in an afternoon. It’s a perfect escape from our chaotic world and offers a hopeful glimpse of a world that doesn’t have all the answers, but gives you the space to try and find them on your own.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Astounding Antagonists by Rafael Chandler review


Order The Astounding Antagonists over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Monday, July 12, 2021

Windborn by Alex S. Bradshaw

Order Windborn over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Sunday, July 11, 2021

Blogtour: Interview with Anela Deen, the author of In the Jaded Grove

ABOUT ANELA: A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, Anela Deen hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.

Find Anela online: Website, TwitterInstagram

In The Jaded Grove by Anela Deen; Published: March 21, 2021 by Literary Wanderlust; Genre: Portal Fantasy; Pages: 330; CW: Violence, Trauma, Torture, Grief, Death of a loved one (in the past – not on the page); Diversity Tags: Author of color (biracial), POC rep (Filipino MC), Queer secondary characters

Book links: Goodreads, Amazon

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Guest Post: How embracing all my favorite tropes saved my mental health in 2020 (by Virginia McClain)


Author Info

Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games, and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

SPFBO: The Second Reaping & Semifinalist Update (by Jonathan Pembroke)


Hey everyone! It’s that time!

Monday, July 5, 2021

Blogtour: Interview with Damien Larkin the author of Blood Red Sand


ABOUT DAMIEN: Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA Award for Best Novel. His next novel in the series Blood Red Sand will be released on 6th July 2021. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his current writing project The Truceless War.

Find Damien online: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram

Interview with Michael R. Fletcher & Clayton Snyder (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Michael R. Fletcher Website

Official Clayton Snyder Website

Order Norylska Groans over HERE

Today we have the dual pleasure of welcoming Clayton Snyder and Michael R. Fletcher as part of the Norylska Groans blog tour organized by Storytellers On Tour. Be sure to checkout all the other spots highlighted below and grab a copy of this standalone story. I’ll be reviewing Norylska as part of my SPFBO lot in a few weeks. So be sure to check that out as the book is an excellent combination of low fantasy, crime & ultra-violent action.


Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim - Review

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Elizabeth grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, "Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that's kinda cool!" But after one of her teachers told her she had "too much voice" in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English. Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and she turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel—for kicks, at first, then things became serious—and she hasn't looked back since. Elizabeth graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. in music and a secondary in East Asian Studies, and she completed her graduate degrees (MM, DMA) at The Juilliard School. She grew up in Northern California and Tokyo, Japan, and now resides in New York with her husband and two daughters.

FORMAT/INFO: Six Crimson Cranes was published on July 6th, 2021 in the US by Alfred A Knopf Books for Young Readers. It is 464 pages split over 40 chapters. It is told in the first person from Shiori's point of view. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Princess Shiori has a secret: she can use magic, something that her people believe is only used by demons and those who work with them. Shirori’s kept her secret for years, until the day Shiori and her stepmother Raikama each discover the other’s magical abilities. To ensure Shiori can never tell another person of her secret, Raikama turns Shiori’s six brothers into cranes and places a curse on Shiori: for every word she speaks, one of her brothers will die. Magically transported to a far corner of the empire, Shiori finds herself alone, unable to speak, and enchanted so that no one can recognize her as the princess. But every curse can be broken, and Shiroi won’t rest until she finds a way to break this one – even if she has to steal from a dragon to do so.

Six Crimson Cranes is a wonderfully enchanting East Asian fairy tale retelling with a fierce heroine that will win your heart. Shiori may not be able to talk for most of the book, but that doesn’t make her an idle protagonist. She’s constantly working towards ending the curse, whether that’s scraping together a living as a maid at an inn or stealing magic roots from a dragon. She’s not perfect: she’s impatient and can get into trouble, but never in a way that makes you aggravated at the character. And Shiori never finds a task beneath her. If she has to scrub dishes or work with plants that burn her hands, she will. Whatever helps accomplish her goal.

The author does a wonderful job of balancing Shiori’s inability to speak out loud with the need to drive plot and character growth forward. The first person POV gives Shiori an internal monologue, and an enchanted paper bird can communicate with Shiori telepathically, giving her a way to talk through her problems with another character. But these workarounds never come at the expense of the tension that exists with the knowledge of what will happen if Shiori ever talks. It’s a testament to how well Lim crafted the story that every time I put Six Crimson Cranes down, I found myself unwilling to speak, because my brain had internalized that speaking out loud was a danger. And it isn’t just words that can kill her brothers; uttering a single sound can trigger the curse as well. That makes some of Shiori’s ordeals extra fraught, as she can’t yell out a warning or shout in sudden shock.

I also really enjoyed the mysteries that help drive the story forward. Shiori eventually arrives at the keep of an allied warlord, one whose political situation is tied to that of Shiori’s family. So while Shiori is trying to find out why Raikama cursed her and how to break that curse, she’s also drawn into unraveling a plot within the keep itself, one that is connected to a larger plot in the empire.

Tying it all together is a slow burn romance in the background. It’s not the dominating thrust of the story, and it’s slightly predictable, but in a way that makes it all so satisfying when it comes together. You know what’s going to happen and you get to have a big ol’ cheesy grin when it finally does.

CONCLUSION: Six Crimson Cranes is a worthy first half of a duology, and has absolutely hooked me for the sequel. Those who enjoy YA fantasy (or really fantasy at all) should give this a read without hesitation. My only small complaint is that I wish that more time was spent with Raikama to better explore her character and motivations, but the author still accomplishes a great deal in the small time spent with the character. Six Crimson Cranes has a fantastic set-up for book two, and honestly it cannot get here soon enough.

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