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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Review: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft


Buy The Hexologists HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Josiah Bancroft is the author of five novels, a collection of short fiction, and numerous poems. His books have been translated into eight languages. Before settling down to write fantasy full-time, he was a college instructor, rock musician, and aspiring comic book artist. When he’s not writing, he enjoys strumming a variety of stringed instruments, drawing with a growing cache of imperfect pens, and cooking without a recipe. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sharon, their daughter, Maddie, and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin.

FORMAT/INFO: The Hexologists was published by Orbit Books on September 26th, 2023. It is told in third person from the POV of Iz and Warren Wilby. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Warren and Iz Wilby are the Hexologists, a pair of investigators who use Iz's skill at drawing and casting hexes to solve whatever problems their clients bring them. This time, however, their client is the royal secretary, who comes with a troubling problem. The king, it seems, has become determined to be baked alive, trying to climb into whatever oven he can find. And as this behavior began when he received a mysterious letter, the secretary can only assume that the king is troubled by a secret from his past. As Iz and Warren begin to investigate who sent the letter and the king's history, they encounter many strange facets of the kingdom, from ghostly museums to deadly sorcerers, imps who catalogue bones and dragons who only occasionally eat humans. But someone else is on their trail too, someone who wants the king's past to stay buried - and isn't above killing to keep it that way.

The Hexologists is a delightful romp of a fantasy mystery, one that uses its premise to explore various weird and fantastical situations in the world of Berbiton. It's refreshing to see a happily married couple at the center of a story; I enjoyed watching a duo who were used to each other's quirks and moods, who operated like a well-oiled machine but also knew when to give each other space. Iz is the more logically driven of the two, as well as the one trained in the art of hexology, which requires precise drawing of sigils to call forth magic. Warren, on the other hand, is the affable muscle, one equally as likely to get them past a guard with his jovial charm as with his fist.

Together, Iz and Warren poke around the various corners of Berbiton, a fantasy world that shares a lot of touchstones with England and Europe around the turn of the twentieth century. Here, however, magic is commonplace, and pollution is caused by the burning of demonic coals as they are processed into a power source. Themes around the excess of the upper class at the expense of the struggling lower class ring throughout (and while important, occasionally in a manner a little too preachy as characters lecture royalty and nobles). All of this gives readers a familiar landscape, but one that is juuust slightly tilted on its head.

The make or break for many readers will be the distinctive writing style, which readers of Bancroft's The Books of Babel series will recognize. I found the author's writing to be charming and whimsical, especially as he occasionally veers into a tangent explaining this or that detail about the world. If, however, you don't mesh with the writing in the first few pages, you'll likely be better off picking up a different book.

CONCLUSION: The Hexologists is an especially wonderful story for those who care more about the ride than the destination. While there are plenty of reveals and twists in the mystery itself, the true joy is in watching how the Wilby's investigate the steps along the way. Will they use a hex to clarify long faded text? Journey to a ghostly underworld to peer into the mind of a witness long-deceased? Consult with a strange magical creature? The answer is yes to all of these, and it was my eagerness to see all these weird things that truly carried me forward. In short, The Hexologists has introduced me to an engaging new pair of sleuths, and I look forward to seeing them solve new magical mysteries in future adventures.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Interview: Kritika H. Rao, author of The Surviving Sky

 Interview with Kritika H. Rao, author of The Surviving Sky


Official Author Website

Order The Surviving Sky HERE

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of the book here


Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thank you so much for having me! I love FBC and it's great to be here. I am Kritika H. Rao, and I am a science-fiction and fantasy author, a mom of a beautiful, naughty toddler boy, an immigrant, and a general weirdo trying to make sense of life and adulting. 

the surviving sky book cover

Could you describe your book, THE SURVIVING SKY, in three words, and then in three sentences?

Competent people chaos.

Survival of the human species depends on one unhinged married couple; There are large creatures and jungle storms; This is a genre-weird but logically sound world. 

I find it every hard to explain how, as a desi (Indian subcontinental) reader, I feel quite seen in the characters in THE SURVIVING SKY. You've said this yourself, that representation matters. The desi readers have found lots to love, and the others have received the book very well too. How has it been, since the big release?

This might be the nicest compliment an author can get. Why else to we write if not to see pieces of ourselves and the world in stories, and to have a shared common experience with readers--even though each interpretation is uniquely its own! It's been frankly amazing since the release - a few months have gone by and readership is still going strong. I've heard from fans who have admitted the same thing you just have - that the book has helped them see themselves (even when the readers haven't been desi), and find their creativity, and helped them through their own questions about identity. That is incredibly rewarding as an author to hear. I'm overwhelmed and humbled by it. 

You do not act as a tour guide for global readers. You unabashedly use concepts and terms from Hindu philosophy without feeling the need to write them in a Eurocentric manner, but at the same time, I think your book is extremely readable for everybody. How did you work towards this?

Mostly by writing the book for me and myself alone. I exist in this world as someone who has an understanding of Hindu philosophy, having studied it and lived within it. But any understanding is only one understanding, and that I think is the beauty of the philosophy - in its truest form, it is fluid and encompassing (no matter what fascists today are trying to reduce it to, which let's not get into that in this space). I also exist in this world as someone who has consumed and loved a lot of Eurocentric media, so there are certainly reflections of that in the book as well, whether they are genre conventions or tropes or whatever. I don't think I actively thought about how to blend the two. I told the story to myself for me, and I'm lucky enough that others liked it/ and that publishers picked it up for worldwide distribution. It's the dream. 

The ashram setting in the book is everything. It is a civilisation with a collective mindset, and one that glorifies those with certain abilities, and has rigid social strata. Where did you draw the inspiration for these structures?

Ashrams historically, in Indian mythos, were places of knowledge and meditation, where sages would go to be removed from the world and meditate--but they functioned as mini societies too, with students and councils and (in myth) often a husband-wife couple who were at the head of the ashram, leading and guiding disciples. The aim of the ashram was singular - to work with a collective mindset, being a part of society and being removed from it too. I imagined that in a dystopian futuristic science-fiction world, and Nakshar was born of that-- a part of the planet and jungle, but removed from it by floating above it too. Architects became, in a sense, like the main students of an ashram -- powerful but also removed. The way I interpreted all of it really was very much from a space of "here's a good idea gone wrong" and a lot of complications of the world arose from that.

Your magic system is based on an organic ecosystem, and stresses on the importance of ecological balance. Was this an intentional choice, and how did you arrive at it?

I cannot overemphasize how the ecological themes within the story were completely organic to the storytelling. It's interesting to me how that happened, because I think in so many ways nature does that to us all the time. It creeps in on us in our lives, it is omnipresent, we think we are walking away from it--shutting the outdoors--when we close our windows and doors and go to sleep, or work in our little offices; but that's a ridiculous way of thinking, isn't it? We are embedded in nature, it surrounds us. Any separation from it is such an illusion. In so many ways, nature crept into the storytelling too, and it formed its own balance - violently - just as it is doing with us in real life now. Whether the characters will survive it is another question, but nature and ecology are doing what they always do... participating. 

The end of the book teases us with a promise of a wide expansive world. I assume that a lot of attention will be paid to the natural world, but that the ashram setting will be important too. Could you tell us what we can expect?

I think there will be a lot of surprises, for the characters and by extension, for the readers. You're right - the ashram setting will be important, as will the natural world - but it won't be in the way you expect. One thing I've tried to do with the series is ensure there are so many layers to it, and new knowledge that comes to the surface with every changing notions of society, of the characters themselves, of the world and what they know of it. A lot of that will happen in Book 2. 

As someone who grew up in India, the way family relationships and expectations are integral to the functioning of the ashram resonated with me. The protagonists have a rocky marriage with one partner being given all the privileges available to individuals in the society, and the other is quite solely defined by their connection to their spouse, and are expected to aid them contribute to society in a prescribed manner. Even the cultural pressure to have children is depicted at some point in the book. Would you like to tell our readers more about this?

Hmm, again, those are things that kind of crept in the storytelling. I knew that Ahilya and Iravan must personify very different states of being, and belief systems, while also being complementary to each other. Otherwise, how else would their marriage have worked at all? The exciting thing for me with A&I is the ability to look at one thing, and then see through their lens totally different interpretations to it---so much so that it seems you're looking at entirely different things. Marriage, their differing privilege, their roles in the ashram -- all of that really came from putting them on opposite ends of the spectrum and seeing how those ends really look more like a continuum of a circle, when you zoom out a bit. LOL I'm sorry if that doesn't make much sense. 

Most desi storytellers derive inspiration from our biggest epic, the Mahabharatha. Your book does not reference it as much, but has strong undertones of our collective mythos. What are your favourite stories from the Indian storytelling culture, and which of those do you most often visit?

Honestly, anything to do with Shiva gives me comfort. If you look to see, his mythos along with that of Shakti is embedded all through The Rages Trilogy. 

Along the same vein, what characters in Indian epics seem most underrated to you?

I'm going to answer this question slightly differently and say, that there are tons of women, trans, LGBTQ characters in Indian myths that don't get enough screentime. I'd be here all day trying to list them, because it's always the big gods and myths that get their share, when there is so much rich story out there. On that note, stay tuned for an announcement in the near future - I'm doing my small part to highlight more women stories myself in Indian mythology. 

We are having a massive year with respect to desi inspired stories. What other books would you recommend to readers hungry for more?

I haven't read these yet myself, but Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty, The Pheonix King by Aparna Verma, are both desi stories which I've heard great things about. I've read R. R. Virdi's The First Binding, which is gorgeous and lyrical and talks about the shape of stories itself. Then there is Tasha Suri too, whose Burning Thrones Trilogy series ender I am super excited about. 

Before we wrap this up, let's talk about you as a reader. What books are you drawn to, and what genres do you read the most?

Mostly SFF, honestly, and lots of picture books, thanks to my son. The books that truly do it for me though are ones that delve deep into ideas - if there is an intriguing question at the heart of a book, about us as human beings or the nature of the world, or bigger things like consciousness and the universe - that's totally my kind of jam. 

In closing, do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?

Yeah, this is going to sound controversial, but I've always wanted to kind of say it - no book will be the perfect book for you. I mean, I get it, the thought behind needing books to come to us exactly in the way we expect them to, but books change their shape in the act of reading, I think they change us as readers when we're reading too. I think sometimes we forget... that it's okay to be surprised, and intrigued, and yes, even be confused by a book. It's okay to not understand it fully - and personally, I don't know that it takes away my enjoyment of that thing. I don't need to look up at the night sky and understand every bit of it to delight in it. It serves me well as a reader to bring that attitude to books I'm reading too.
Wednesday, September 20, 2023

SPFBO 9 Semi-Finalist Interview: J.D.L. Rossell

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: J.D.L. Rosell was swept away on a journey when he stepped foot outside his door and into The Hobbit, and he hasn't stopped wandering since. In his writing, he tries to recapture the wonder, adventure, and poignancy that captivated him as a child. His explorations have taken him to worlds set in over a dozen novels and five series, which include Ranger of the Titan Wilds, Legend of Tal, The Runewar Saga, and The Famine Cycle.

When he's not off on a quest, Rosell enjoys his newfound hobby of archery and older pastimes of hiking and landscape photography. But every hobbit returns home, and if you step softly and mind the potatoes, you may glimpse him curled up with his wife and two cats, Zelda and Abenthy, reading a good book or replaying his favorite video games.

Find him online: Webpage

The Last Ranger links: Amazon, Goodreads
Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Map Reveal: The Lands Of Namarr by Daniel Hasenbos

Order The Price Of Power over HERE

Book Review: Starter Villain by John Scalzi

Starter Villain by John Scalzi review 

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JOHN SCALZI is one of the most popular SF authors of his generation. His debut Old Man's War won him the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His New York Times bestsellers include The Last Colony, Fuzzy Nation,and Redshirts (which won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel), and 2020's The Last Emperox. Material from his blog, Whatever, has also earned him two other Hugo Awards. Scalzi also serves as critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.

Publisher: Tor Books (September 19, 2023) Print length: 272 Formats: ebook, audio, paperback

Monday, September 18, 2023

Review: The Salvation Gambit by Emily Skrutskie


Official Author Website
Buy The Salvation Gambit HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Emily Skrutskie is six feet tall. She was born in Massachusetts, raised in Virginia, and forged in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She holds a B.A. in Performing and Media Arts from Cornell University, where she studied an outrageous and demanding combination of film, computer science, and game design. She is the author of THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US series, HULLMETAL GIRLS, and the Bloodright Trilogy, starting with BONDS OF BRASS. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.
Friday, September 15, 2023

Book review: The Ghost with a Knife at Her Throat by Kevin Hincker

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHORKevin Hincker is a programmer and writer based in Los Angeles, where he develops award-winning mobile applications and web sites. His theatrical works have been produced in NY and LA, and he is recognized in the film industry for his screenplay writing and consultation. Mobile applications, web based properties, books, movies and music are allsimply software, and Hincker’s deeply felt creative passion is the source of his success in each of these domains.

Publisher: Kevin Hincker (August 13, 2023) Page count: 276 Formats: ebook (Amazon exclusive), paperback 
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch, by Melinda Taub

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub

Order The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Melinda Taub is an Emmy- and Writers’ Guild Award-winning writer. The former head writer and executive producer of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, she is the author of Still Star-Crossed, a young adult novel which was adapted for television by Shondaland, who also made Bridgerton. (She also wrote that thing about the Baroness in The Sound of Music that your aunt likes.) She lives in Brooklyn.
Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Review: Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree


Read Shazzie's review
Buy Bookshops & Bonedust HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO:I love stories, and I love telling them.

I’m the author of Legends & Lattes, a low-stakes cozy fantasy novel. I’m a narrator too, and I’ve loved the art since I first heard Frank Muller’s legendary work. I’ve lent my voice to hundreds of books (including my own). I live with my wife, two kids, and dog in Washington State, and I get up every morning excited and grateful to do this job.

I’m also an erstwhile veteran game developer, and it’s possible you’ve played something I’ve made. Torchlight, Fate & Rebel Galaxy have sold millions of copies on desktops and consoles. I remain the co-owner and CEO of Double Damage Games.
Monday, September 11, 2023

Book review: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simone St. James is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel and The Broken Girls. Her debut novel, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada.

Simone spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives just outside of Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled rescue cat.

Publisher: Berkley (March 15, 2022) Page count: 352 Formats: ebook, paperback, audiobook

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: LABYRINTH'S HEART by M.A. Carrick


Official Author Website
Buy Labyrinth's Heart HERE
Read our review for Book 1, THE MASK OF MIRRORS

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan (author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Buy Thornhedge here - U.S. | U.K.

OFFICIAL BOOK INFORMATION: Thornhedge is the tale of a kind-hearted, toad-shaped heroine, a gentle knight, and a mission gone completely sideways.
Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Graphic novel review: Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ted Naifeh is a writer and illustrator of comics for readers of all ages. He's best known for COURTNEY CRUMRIN, a multi-volume horror-fantasy adventures of a tween curmudgeon witch and her warlock uncle. In 2014, Ted created PRINCESS UGG, the adventure of a barbarian princess going to princess finishing school. Courtney Crumrin has been nominated for several Eisner awards, and remains a popular mainstay on the shelves of discerning comics shops. Princess Ugg has garnered much praise from the comics community and beyond.

Publisher: OniPress
Monday, September 4, 2023

Cover reveal: Glenda the Veg Witch by Keith Dickinson

 Glenda the Veg Witch by Keith Dickinson

keith w. dickinson author photo

Friday, September 1, 2023

SPFBO9: The Last Attenuation & Semifinalist Update (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Read FBC's First SPFBO9 Update

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Sons Of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

Order Sons Of Darkness over HERE
Disclaimer: I did receive an ARC from Head of Zeus however this has in no way influenced my review

Ruins of Smoke by João F. Silva (Reviewed by Lena)

 Book Review: Ruins of Smoke by João F. Silva

Ruins of Smoke by João F. Silva

Buy the paperback of Ruins of Smoke here

This ebook is freely available on signing up to the author's newsletter

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: João F. Silva was born in a small town in Portugal but now lives in London, with his three feline co-workers/bosses. He writes Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror and has been on the jury for the 2020 and 2022 editions of the Best Newcomer Award at the British Fantasy Awards. His short fiction was published in Grimdark Magazine and Haven Speculative.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Usharian Empire rules the Known World with an iron fist. Imperials protect their world from the tainted hand of the Deceiver, but he is back with an avatar capable of breaking the Empire and grounding humanity into ash.

JEHA is a sentinel of the Empire, willing to fight and die for kinship and duty.

AGOR is an imperial general. Disgruntled by the darkness he sees seeping into everything he loves, he makes his move.

MATALA is a young smokesmith who sees his courage tested as Ushar burns.

ALAMAKAR is the world’s most powerful man, but even strong blood ties can hold him down and tear him apart.

As the Deceiver threatens the Usharian Empire’s heart, fiends walk the streets of the capital. Men and monsters clash in a battle fit for gods. And the smoke follows them.

FORMAT/INFO: Ruins of Smoke is the prequel novella to Seeds of War (Smokesmiths Book 1), debut novel written and published by João F. Silva. The publication date is August 27, 2023. It has four points of view characters and 130 pages in the paperback version.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ruins of Smoke is the wonderful prequel novella to Seeds of War (Smokesmiths Book 1), debut novel by João F. Silva.

I absolutely love this novella. It has everything I love in themes, plot, world building, magic and pace.

There are four points of view characters. Battle sister and sentinel Jeha, Smoke Rider Matala, Agor (Red Sun King's brother) and Alamakar (Red Sun King). I absolutely loved each one of them. Jeha is an amazing character, her love for her sisters and their world, and her decisiveness in the face of terrible odds made her the perfect first point of view. 

I think everyone could relate to Matala inner conflict, specially being an apprentice and having to face the destruction and beasts he does. Agor is one hell of a point of view. I found him very relatable as his conflicting emotions defied his own reasoning and his actions contradict themselves. Alamakar is a very interesting character, his relationship with the Essence and with the world around him is wonderful to see through his eyes.

I can't shake off the feeling of how small the scale of what we see in this short novella is. How these two brothers (this family) were pawns in a much larger power play that has existed for who knows how long, and how everything and everyone around them becomes collateral damage in the face of either of them crushing the other.

CONCLUSION: This is an absolutely brilliant novella that gives you a taste of what this author has in store. Through a fantastic fast paced plot, brilliant magic system, great characterization and amazing world building, Silva leaves a great impression in so very few pages. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Book Review: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma

The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma

Buy The Phoenix King here - U.S. | U.K.

Read an interview with the author along with the cover reveal here

OFFICIAL BOOK INFORMATION: In a kingdom where flames hold magic and the desert hides secrets, an ancient prophecy comes for an assassin, a princess, and a king. But none are ready to face destiny-and the choices they make could burn the world.
"If we carry the burdens of our fathers, we'll never know what it means to be free."

For Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she'll never be accepted as queen.

For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown-there's still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he'll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.

For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon's most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family-the very people he once swore to eliminate-will earn him that, he'll do it no matter what they ask of him.

But the Phoenix watches over all and the fire has a will of its own. It will come for all three, will come for Sayon itself....and they must either find a way to withstand the blaze or burn to ash.

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Aparna Verma was born in India and immigrated to the United States when she was two-years-old. She graduated from Stanford University with Honors in the Arts and a B.A. in English. The Phoenix King is her first novel.

When she is not writing, Aparna likes to ride horses, dance to Bollywood music, and find old cafes to read myths about forgotten worlds. You can connect with Aparna on Twitter and Instagram at @spirited_gal.

FORMAT/INFO: The Phoenix King is the first book in The Ravence Trilogy, and is published by Orbit books (29th August 2023 in the U.S. and 31st August 2023 in the U.K.) in paperback, ebook, and audio formats. It was previously self-published as THE BOY WITH FIRE.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma is the first entry in an Indian-inspired adult epic fantasy series set in a desert kingdom. There's a tyrant king, an assassin, and an heir about to be coronated, all at odds with each other in some way, but forced to work together.

Have I already told you all that I'm not an epic fantasy person? And that I was not one for books longer than 450 pages? Maybe a few million times. But none of that really mattered when I read this book because the pages flew by so quickly. I missed a squat workout so I could read this, you guys. If that doesn't tell you how engrossed I was, I doubt the rest of this review will. But from here goes what I liked, and what I want to see done in the next books in the trilogy.

This has to be one of the most original and creative books I've read. It's bloody, full of conflicted characters, and moves fast. The narration is in third person, and the story is told from the perspectives of Leo Malhari Ravence, the king of the Ravani kingdom whose reign is coming to an end, his daughter and heir Elena Aadya Ravence, and Yassen Knight, an infamous assassin willing to do anything to secure his freedom. It is primarily set in Ravani, the desert kingdom ruled by the Ravence dynasty, and the story of how the kingdom is founded is slowly revealed to the reader over the course of the book.

Leo was my favourite character to follow. He's seen as a tyrant, Elena and he don't necessarily see eye-to-eye when matters of governance is concerned, and he's a complicated man with a tragic backstory. Elena and Leo carry some shared trauma, and it was fascinating to see them deal with it, because they don't talk about it, and it was only exacerbated in the days leading to her coronation. It is a difficult parent-child relationship, they have some unspoken understandings and some degree of trust in each other, but there's a believable amount of friction, specially with Leo's misguided attempts to keep information from her because he believed it was in her best interests. There's a lot of room for Elena to grow/change, and I eagerly wait to see what she does in the sequel. She has her own misgivings about her abilities, but her determination to do what's best for her kingdom makes her very easy character to root for. She can be brash, violent, but also kind and considerate.

Yassen's character, however, fell a bit flat for me. He's gentle, silent, and compliant, but with a backstory that's also quite compelling. But, a lot of what he's involved in was off-page, and even at the risk of increasing the word count, I wish it was explored, along with the reasoning for some of his actions. There's also a subtle enemies-to-lovers arc that I wished was built better, but I liked that the author unapologetically indulged in portraying a large part of it using iconic Bollywood moments. If you like a tense sword fight that's just the right bit of playful and sensual, or her accessories caught in his garments, it's all right here. I loved it.

The setting is a smooth blend of science fiction and fantasy, in a world where an group of people are trying to challenge and change the world order by toppling kingdoms ruled by dynasties and establishing a different form of governance, but the Ravani kingdom has an entire lineage of kings and queens that work with the eternal fire, whose authority is based on the myth and legend that surrounds it. Most of the locations featured seem quite cosmopolitan in nature, and the author relies on excerpts from various sources to dispense some information to the reader, and the rest is delivered through the narration, without any expositions. Now that I think about it, I wish the author was slightly more indulgent in her descriptions of the setting. The way certain scenes were set made it easy for me to feel immersed in the world, and for the desi (Indian subcontinental) reader like me, the bonus would be that it feels like a setting close to home, with all the South Asian elements woven in. How often will we see a powerful, well-trained protagonist ready to get into a fight when wearing a nath and a lehenga, or a God reminiscent of the often misunderstood Kali from our own myths, who can ravage and create, and risk destroying what she loves when she goes on a rampage?

CONCLUSION: The Phoenix King is a snappy sci-fantasy debut with themes of love, loss, resilience, sacrifice, and the importance of balance in power. There's political scheming, morally grey characters, and a kingdom just ready to fall to shambles. A highly recommended read.
Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Graphic novel review: The Massive by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After graduating from the prestigious Parsons School of Design, Brian Wood spent several years in video game design with Rockstar Games, most notably for the Grand Theft Auto franchise before moving full time into writing. Brian’s comic book work has been published by DC Entertainment, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, Dark Horse, Boom! Studios, and others.

Publisher: OniPress
Monday, August 28, 2023

Review: Ethera Grave by Essa Hansen


Read a review of Book 1, NOPHEK GLOSS
Buy Ethera Grave HERE
Saturday, August 26, 2023

SPFBO 9: The Fourth Diminution & Semifinalist Update (by Adam W.)


Thursday, August 24, 2023

Book review: All Against All by Alex Paknadel & Caspar Wijngaard

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Paknadel is a writer and academic from London, England. His first comics work, the dark sci-fi thriller ARCADIA from Boom! Studios, met with critical acclaim and led to additional projects with a range of publishers including VAULT COMICS (GIGA), Marvel Entertainment, Valiant Entertainment, Lion Forge, and Titan Comics. He is also a founding member of White Noise Studio alongside fellow writers Dan Watters, Ram V, and Ryan O'Sullivan.

Publisher: Image Comics (July 11, 2023Page count: 144 p

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Starter Villain by John Scalzi (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Starter Villain by John Scalzi

starter villain by john scalzi

Buy Starter Villain here - U.S. | U.K.

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: JOHN SCALZI is one of the most popular SF authors of his generation. His debut Old Man's War won him the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His New York Times bestsellers include The Last Colony, Fuzzy Nation,and Redshirts (which won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel), and 2020's The Last Emperox. Material from his blog, Whatever, has also earned him two other Hugo Awards. He lives in Ohio with his wife and daughter.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Inheriting his late uncle’s business proves complicated. It’s also way more dangerous than Charlie could ever have imagined. Because his uncle had kept his supervillain status a secret – until now.

Divorced and emotionally dependent on his cat, Charlie wasn’t loving life. Although they weren’t close, news of his Uncle Jack’s death didn’t help. And that was before Jake’s rivals (seriously vengeful ones) ambushed his funeral. Now Charlie must decide if he should stay stuck in his rut, or step up to take on the business, the enemies, the minions, the hidden volcano lair . . .

Even harder to get used to are the sentient, language-using, computer-savvy cats – and the fact that in the organization’s hierarchy, they’re management. If Charlie does say yes, this lifeline could become a death wish. Because there’s much more to being an Evil Mastermind than he suspected. Yet could this also, finally, be his chance to shine?

FORMAT/INFO: Starter Villain will be published by Tor Books and Pan Macmillan in hardback, ebook and audio formats on 19th September 2023.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Starter Villain by John Scalzi is a clever and fun contemporary science fiction book that's an easy sell.  

The protagonist Charlie, is an ex-journalist down on his luck, now an absentee teacher. He's at odds with the siblings who co-own his parental home, which, explodes. Suspiciously, at the same time, finds himself inheriting his absentee businessman uncle's legacy, which he is told was "parking lots". Only, Uncle Jake wasn't just into parking lots, he diversified his investments and endeavours, which is how Charlie finds himself the brand new owner of a super-villain empire.

The premise might sound over the top and ridiculous, but Scalzi has it all well thought out, and makes his points well throughout the book. Whatever you think a supervillain does, you're likely wrong. By the time Charlie comes around to accept his new situation, he realises it's more corporate than he would think, and apparently the money can't just be liquefied because he has it. His induction to the empire was fraught with over-the-top revelations, as well as unionising dolphins, and boring presentations, something I thoroughly enjoyed. Through all of this, his reactions and responses were priceless, but the author keeps the story moving at a brisk pace with his tongue-in-cheek writing style.

This is literary popcorn at its finest, and takes every opportunity to take shots at our capitalist world. There are talking dolphins, C-suite cats, and assistants with compelling backstories and relationships. There are multiple explosive events that just cement the unpredictability of this lifestyle, and while the protagonist is a fish out of water, he finds that some of his skills as an ex-journalist serve him in his new role, especially when forging alliances are concerned. As for me, I did not know which way to turn, but the book ends in a way that makes sense for his inclinations.

CONCLUSION: Starter Villain is a short book with a ton of fun packed into it. There are thugs, genetically engineered animals that negotiate for contract amendments, clever banter, as well as a plot that is one hell of a ride. It's a book you'll want to read in one sitting, and while I write this review, I already want to crack it open a second time. Highly recommended to all readers alike.
Thursday, August 17, 2023

SPFBO 9: Third Batch & Semi-finalist Update (reviewed by Chels)


Here's a video post on Chels' mini-batch of six books and a semi-finalist update. Enjoy!

Chels books were:

Crucible of Lies by Mitchell Hogan
Curse of the Fallen by H.C. Newell
Red Mage by H.D. Woolf
Volcano City by Grace Bridges

Book review: Barnaby The Wanderer by Raymond St. Elmo


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Raymond St. Elmo is a programmer of artificial intelligence and virtual realities, who has no time for literary fabrications of fictitious characters and world-building. And yes, that was meant to be ironic. 

A degree in Spanish Literature gave him a love of Magic Realism. Programming gave him a job. The job introduced him to artificial intelligence and virtual realities; as close to magic as reality is likely to get outside the covers of a book. And yes, that was meant to be cynical.

The author of several first-person comic accounts of strange quests for mysterious manuscripts, mysterious girls in cloaks whose face appears SUDDENLY IN THE FLASH OF LIGHTNING. And yes, that was meant to be dramatic.

Publisher: St. Elmo Literary Labs (July 15, 2023) Page count: 801 pages Formats: ebook, paperback

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Book review: The Shattered Sphere (Sol's Harvest #4) by M.D. Presley


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

Series (Sol's Harvest) links: 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Never passing up the opportunity to speak about himself in the third person, M.D. Presley is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. Born and raised in Texas, he spent several years on the East Coast and now waits for the West Coast to shake him loose. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night.

Publisher: M.D. Presley (August 15, 2023) Length: 455 Formats: ebook

Friday, August 11, 2023

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski (Reviewed by Daniel P. Haeusser)

Book Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Order Blood of Elves as part of the new paperback edition Witcher Boxed Set HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Andrzej Sapkowski was born in 1948 in Poland. He studied economy and business, but the success of his fantasy cycle about the Witcher Geralt of Rivia turned him into a bestselling writer. His work has received Poland’s Janusz A. Zajdel prize five times, as well as Great Britain’s David Gemmell Award for Fantasy, in 2009. In 2016, he received the World Fantasy Award—Life Achievement. The Witcher has been adapted to a successful video-game franchise, and is now a series on Netflix.
Thursday, August 10, 2023

Book Review: The Glass Dagger by M.D. Presley (Sol's Harvest #3)

Book links: AmazonGoodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Never passing up the opportunity to speak about himself in the third person, M.D. Presley is not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. Born and raised in Texas, he spent several years on the East Coast and now waits for the West Coast to shake him loose. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night.

Publisher: M.D. Presley (July 13, 2022) Page count: 435 Formats: ebook, paperback

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Interview with David T. List (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Review: Sword Catcher by Cassandra Clare


Official Author Website
Buy Sword Catcher HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.

Since her family moved around so much she found familiarity in books and went everywhere with a book under her arm. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates, including an epic novel called “The Beautiful Cassandra” based on a Jane Austen short story of the same name (and  which later inspired her current pen name).

After college, Cassie lived in Los Angeles and New York where she worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina’s world travels and Britney Spears’ wardrobe malfunctions. She started working on her YA novel, City of Bones, in 2004, inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. She turned to writing fantasy fiction full time in 2006 and hopes never to have to write about Paris Hilton again.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Book review: Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon ny Wole Talabi

Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon ny Wole Talabi review

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads


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