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Friday, March 31, 2023

Review: ROSE/HOUSE by Arkady Martine

 Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. Under both names she writes about border politics, narrative and rhetoric, risk communication, and the edges of the world.

She is currently a policy advisor for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, where she works on climate change mitigation, energy grid modernization, and resiliency planning. Her debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and its sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, won the 2022 Hugo Award in the same category. Arkady grew up in New York City, and after some time in Turkey, Canada, Sweden, and Baltimore, lives in New Mexico with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw.

FORMAT/INFO: Rose/House was published by Subterranean Press on March 30th, 2023. It is 128 pages. It is told in third person from multiple POVs. It is available in ebook format. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ever since the death of famed architect Basit Deniau, Rose House has been sealed to the public. Deniau's will decreed that only his protégé Dr. Selene Gisil could have access to the house, an order that has been enforced by the AI that is built into every wall and beam and tile of the building. It has been months since Dr. Gisil has visited Rose House, and yet one day, the police contact her to inform her that the AI of Rose House has reported a dead body on the premises. Only with Dr. Gisil's help can Detective Maritza Smith hope to investigate who managed to break into the house - and more importantly, who killed them.

Rose/House is an interesting premise that doesn't have nearly enough runway to deliver. I desperately wish this novella had been twice as long, because all the right pieces are there: a locked house mystery, an atmospheric and creepy AI, a detective trying to navigate its interaction with that AI to get the pieces she needs to solve the crime. Unfortunately, the novella is so overstuffed with plot elements that the dreamlike prose renders the story more muddled than haunting.

There were parts of this book I really liked. The author manages to deftly paint a picture of the state of the world a few hundred years in the future, describing certain automated services, an increase in water theft as the primary source of crime, and other little details that immediately gives you a sense of place. The detective's interaction with the AI itself is clever, first in how the detective convinces the AI of a loophole that gains her access to Rose House, and then in how the detective reads between the lines of what the AI is or isn't saying, or what things interest the AI to discuss. It reminded me a little bit of Alex Garland's movie Ex Machina, where a human and an AI have several conversations together, where the human is trying to feel out the rules for how the AI processes information.

But even those good moments feel rushed when there's another detective outside the house discovering new details about who could have been involved in the murder, a third party who is also trying to gain access to the house, and Dr. Gisil is processing some very complicated feelings about her relationship with the architect Deniau. Add on top of that some very flowery prose, and I struggled at times to tell where the book was going, what the end point or goal was.

CONCLUSION: Rose/House has a lot of promise, but for me at least, the pieces didn't come together into a cohesive whole. This felt like a book that needed more time to simply "sit" with the atmosphere, to let the strange, ghost-like AI unnerve you and get under your skin.  Instead, it felt like a rushed dream that didn't make its intentions clear.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Review: We Dream of Gods by Devin Madson

Official Author Website:
Buy We Dream of Gods HERE
Read our review of Book 1, WE RIDE THE STORM
Wednesday, March 29, 2023

SPFBO 8 Finalist Review: Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson


Read FBC's interview with Quenby
Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she spends most of her time writing, glaring at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chasing the cat off the kitchen counters. She lives with her husband and children, who do nothing to dampen her love of classical ballet, geeky crochet, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who. 




SPFBO Finalist Interview: Quenby Olson, the author of Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons

Read FBC's interview with Quenby
Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she spends most of her time writing, glaring at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chasing the cat off the kitchen counters. She lives with her husband and children, who do nothing to dampen her love of classical ballet, geeky crochet, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who. 



Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Book review: And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky

And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky review


AUTHOR INFO: Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed ten-book Shadows of the Apt series, the Echoes of the Fall series, and other novels, novellas and short stories including Children of Time (which won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2016), and its sequel, Children of Ruin (which won the British Science Fiction Award in 2020). He lives in Leeds in the UK and his hobbies include entomology and board and role-playing games.

Publisher: Solaris (March 28, 2023) Length: 208 pages Formats: ebook, paperback

Monday, March 27, 2023

Interview: Kyle Lockhaven


AUTHOR INFO:  KRR (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven started out writing humorous fantasy (hence the stupid name) but has found himself pulled in the direction of cozier writing. He lives in Washington State with his wife and two sons. When not writing or raising kids, he works as a firefighter/paramedic. A portion of all proceeds of his books goes to the Washington State Council of Firefighters Burn Foundation, which sponsors Camp Eyabsut, a summer camp for burn survivor kids where he has volunteered for the last 20 years.

Book Review: The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lavanya Lakshminarayan is the award-winning author of Analog/ Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future, featured on's Best Books of 2021 list. She’s a Locus Award finalist and is the first science-fiction writer to win the Times of India AutHer Award and the Valley of Words Award, and has also been nominated for the BSFA Award.

She’s occasionally a game designer, and has built worlds for Zynga Inc.’s FarmVille franchise, Mafia Wars, and other games. For more, follow her on Twitter: @lavanya_ln and Instagram: @lavanya.ln

Publisher: Solaris (March 28, 2023) Page count: 368
Friday, March 24, 2023

Book review: The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King review

AUTHOR INFO: Stephen lives in Maine and Florida with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. They are regular contributors to a number of charities including many libraries and have been honored locally for their philanthropic activities.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 10, 2019) Page count: 574 Formats: ebook, paperback, audiobook

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Ascension by Nicholas Binge (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Pre-order Ascension here - U.K. | U.S.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Wistful Ascending my JCM Berne (Reviewed by Matthew Higgins)


Official Author Website

Buy Wistful Ascending here - U.S. | U.K.

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO:  JCM Berne was a geek long before anyone thought it was cool. A youth spent immersed in E.E. Smith, Micronauts, Bruce Lee, and Conan the Barbarian led to a lifelong obsession with martial arts and shonen manga. As an adult he spent more time than was strictly healthy wondering why Luke Cage never learned kung fu from his partner and whether joint locks would work on the Hulk, occasionally taking a break to enjoy some Bollywood films. Java developer by day, by night he ponders the future and past of Rohan of Earth and associates.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book review: The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads
Monday, March 20, 2023

Interview: A.C. Cobble, author of the Wahrheit series

Book Links: Find links to buy the books here

AUTHOR INFO: AC Cobble is the author of Wahrheit, The King's Ranger, Benjamin Ashwood, and Cartographer series.


Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Welcome back to the Fantasy Book Critic, and I hope you’re having a good start to your year. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your ongoing series, WAHREIT?

Hello and thank you for having me! I’m AC Cobble, author of the Benjamin Ashwood, Cartographer, King’s Ranger, and Wahrheit series! They’re all what I think of as pretty classic epic fantasy. Think small parties going on big adventures, traveling expansive worlds, and facing impossible odds. I draw a lot of inspiration from 80’s and 90’s era epic fantasy that I grew up reading, as well as from personal experiences. If you pay close attention, you can see where some of my worldbuilding is taken from real places. My favorite hobby is travel, so my characters are always on the move! I also find ideas in history, modern politics, science, and other fields. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction, so why not use it!

In Wahrheit, the loose genesis of the story was the German 30 Years’ War. It began in 1618, and in parts of Germany, 60% of the population died off because of the conflict. It was mostly a civil war, though foreign powers were drawn in generally to their regret. Religious, political, and economic differences were all drivers. Basically, it was a horrible mess! But… what if there had been magic and dragons? That’s where I started, but Wahrheit has grown into something quite different. This series is certainly not a historical fiction or alternate version, but the roots of the story should give you an idea of where I’m going.

And while there are big battles, political intrigue, themes relevant to the modern age, and world-spanning conflicts, the books are focused on a small handful of characters and their personal journeys. From peasant to spy to dragon knight to queen, how do people deal with what is happening around them? If you like big stakes, political intrigue, adventure, and witty banter, this series is for you! Conspiracy, Book 1 in the series is out, and Revenge Book 2 is coming March 21st!

If you had to summarize the premise of your upcoming book REVENGE in five words or less, what would you say?

Conspiracy successful, cost was high.

Five words?? I write epic fantasy!! Grr. Let me try again.

Title is spoiler, people die.

 In the same vein, what three adjectives would you choose to describe the WAHREIT series?

Epic, intriguing, adventure.

This is not your debut series. How would you say the way you approach your writing has changed over all this time, and what themes and ideas will always be a part of your books?

Yes, so this is my fourth series, and Revenge will be my seventeenth book. I like to think they keep getting better! I’ve got some really dedicated fans to my older books, but the reviews are actually better on this series, so hopefully I’m doing something right. When I think about what’s improved, or if not improved at least changed, it’s that I’ve acquired a lot more confidence in what I’m doing. On some levels, it’s basic grammar. I spent a lot of time on the first books learning how to effectively communicate, knowing the grammar rules so my writing was clear, and figuring out when to break them so it was interesting. On a deeper level, I’m also more confident with my storytelling. I’ve wrapped up several series, so I know I can do it again, and that encourages me to take bigger risks.

The nuts and bolts come easier, I trust my gut on structure of the overall story, and I’m comfortable creating threads, knowing I have the ability to tie them off. That lets me focus a lot more on building in themes that are relevant to the story, and to our modern lives. Truth, for example, is a key theme in Wahrheit. Which matters more, truth or belief? And how can political leaders use the power of “truth” to their own advantage? It’s a topical theme, but outside our modern context still an interesting exploration in a fantasy setting. My confidence also gives me a chance to gamble a little on story choices which push the reader in unexpected directions. I think that’s what people are responding to in recent reviews. The stories are most importantly fun, but they resonate on other levels and take you to unexpected places.

Big, epic, adventure books have been a part of the fantasy shelves for decades, and while they occupy a large section any SFF shelves, there are other kinds that are now also as popular. What keeps you attracted to writing these, and could you tell us something about your early influences, as well as the books you loved growing up?

For sure, I’m attracted to this because it is what I grew up with. I was either going to write epic fantasy or thrillers! But what’s kept me writing epic fantasy is two things. First, really supportive fans and a robust community that’s always hungry for more. People ask for more stories, and I’m here to deliver! Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fans, I wouldn’t be writing. I shouldn’t say this, but I’m not one of those authors who would write no matter what. The first book was fun as a hobby, but it’s too much work to churn out seventeen of them in my lifetime without a lot of encouragement from people! Two, with epic fantasy, you’re only restricted by the bounds of your imagination. I mention thrillers, and think it’d be a blast to write one someday, but I’m having too much fun dreaming up worlds and magic systems and all of those extra layers that go into fantasy. Those elements keep writing an enjoyable exercise, rather than work. I don’t always use the ideas, but I’m always thinking of crazy things I could put into a book.

Speaking about your reading, what do you think are your most quirky reading habits?

In the last five years or so, I’ve only been reading the first book in a series. That means I almost never get closure on a story, but there are So Many Good Books! I have dozens of author friends, and of course as an author active in the community, I see hundreds of other books coming out each year. I want to read them all. I’m intrigued by premises and writing styles and new ideas, so to absorb as much of that as I can, my compromise is never seeing the end. I realize this is weird, and I don’t recommend it to others, but I just cannot pass up some of the stories other authors are putting out there.

On the writing side, what do you think they’ll be shocked to find out is a part of your process? How do you envision a book or series, and what do you find to be the hardest part of publishing a book?

At the start of a series, I do a lot of brainstorming on characters and worlds. Around six months before I write the first sentence, I’ve got an idea of who is in this story, and what sort of world they’re going to be up against. I flesh out all of that long before I think about a plot. And to a lesser extent, I do the same with each book in a series. To me, the plot is just the natural course of each character’s actions based on whatever situation I put them into. It’s rare I’m structuring plot first, and modifying the characters to go along with it. That means I know the beginning of a story really well, but I don’t know the end!

As far as the most difficult part, it’s the physical writing & editing of an entire whole ass book. Ideas, worldbuilding, dreaming of your characters, all of that is easy! Putting it onto paper takes months for me—a thousand hours or so—and no matter how excited I am about a story, there are parts of it that are a slog. Maybe because it’s a necessary element which isn’t as fun to write, or maybe because I’m just tired that week, or that I’ve already read the thing three times but I’m still finding typos, but each book involves a little bit of struggle. The way to think about it, this is my job. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I never want to stop this job, but the actual writing & editing is still a job.

If you have would give younger you, or aspiring authors any advice, what would make the top three on that list?

First, be honest with yourself what your goals are. You have to know where you’re going before figuring out how to get there. Do you want this to be your career? Do you want fame & awards? Do you just want to tell your stories? See your book on shelves? Be part of the community? Have people recognize you as an author? Go to cons? Buy an airplane? None of those have wrong answers, but they steer what decisions you need to make. Second, have realistic expectations. Writing a book is hard. Selling that book is even harder. The odds are against you, even if all you want is a few strangers to pick up and enjoy your story. Know the scale of the challenge going in. It’s easy to get discouraged as an author because you put so much into it, but it’s more manageable when you’re expecting the speedbumps. And third, find your people. I have a good group of author friends, and I rely on them for so many things. Whether it be grammar questions, marketing, emotional support, sharing a laugh, spitballing about the future and AI, or sharing recipes and reading recommendations, I chat with some of them every day. I can’t fathom trying to tackle this long term without a support group.

Do you have any authorial goals that you’d like to tell us about?

This is probably a boring answer, but I want to continue to improve my craft. I know I’m a better writer than I was when I started. I hope in five years, I can stay I’ve improved again. I hope I never find a plateau where I think, “ah, that’s good enough.” The challenge is making each book better than the last, and if that goes away I’ll probably stop writing.

Thank you for answering all these questions! If there is one thing you’d like our readers to take away from this interview, what would it be?

Every once in a while an author has to be shameless. So… I hope fans new or old check out my Wahrheit series. It has my best reviews—by a lot. And every fan I’ve spoken to agrees it’s my best work! Conspiracy: Wahrheit Book 1 is out right now in all formats, and on March 21st, Revenge: Wahrheit 2 drops on ebook and audio (narrated by the legendary Travis Baldree!). If you’re a fan of my previous series, or a fan of big epic fantasy series, then I honestly believe you will like these books. So go on, check it out! And if you’re still reading, thank you so much for taking time to read my silly answers  Happy reading!

Friday, March 17, 2023

EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL + Q&A: Truth Of Crowns by Carl D. Albert


Official Author Website
Pre-order Truth Of Crowns over HERE
OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Carl D. Albert graduated from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts with a B.F.A. in Writing for Screen and Television. When he is not writing, you may find him gallivanting around Hollywood, whinging about back pain, or calling his dogs obscene things for barking at the ghosts in the walls. Carl currently lives in Los Angeles, California.
Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Carl. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place?

CDA: Thanks for having me! I’m a big fan of y’all’s blog. You really give so much to the fantasy community.

To be honest, I’ve been pursuing a career as a writer since I was a pimply twelve-year-old writing anime fanfiction. First and foremost, it’s an emotional outlet for me. I’ve told stories my whole life, from comic book masterworks drawn in crayon to imaginary “seasons” played with my childhood friends to the fanfic where I honed my craft to film school and now to this, my first full-length novel. My goal – the Mt. Everest I’m trying to surmount – is to become a full-time writer.

Q] Why did you choose to go the self-published route with Truth Of Crowns?

CDA: The truth (no pun intended) is I queried a couple dozen agents in 2021 and most never read more than my query letter and the first five/ten pages of my manuscript. While I think the draft I was working with at the time was in much rougher shape than the one I have now, it was immensely frustrating to be locked in “prologue jail.” I don’t blame the agents really. They’re incredibly busy. But that doesn’t change the fact that I felt the book hadn’t been given a fair shot. 

After writing consistently for well over a decade, receiving a formal education in screenwriting, and independently studying the craft (shoutout to Brando Sando’s lecture series), I felt I had finally written something worth putting out there, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I knew I had to take the process as seriously as I would if I was trad pubbed, so I sought out a fantastic (pun intended) editor in A.P. Canavan of Malazan and Booktube fame, and I got a cover that looks worthy of your bookshelf.

Q] The artwork for Truth Of Crowns is very striking. What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?
CDA: It’s worth mentioning that I used the website 99designs where you can run a contest for artists to try out for your cover. Now admittedly a lot of the submissions were AI-generated, which I wanted to avoid, but the site also connected me with the kind, timely, and talented artist •ckmr• who created the winning design. The prompt I gave basically asked for a stylized dark fantasy cover that was decidedly adult and had a limited color palette. I provided some ideas for imagery and let the artists go wild. I wanted something that was commercial, but also distinct. The notes I gave for the winning design were honestly minor tweaks. Ivan (last name unknown) sent a first draft that was 90% there.

Q] Let’s talk about how Truth of Crowns came to fruition? What was your inspiration for this fantasy story?
CDA: I’m embarrassed to admit that the original idea was just “what if Game of Thrones, but Renaissance?” It’s evolved a lot since then, but that was the first seed of the story. This series as a whole is my love letter to epic fantasy, deconstructing, reconstructing, and playing with all the tropes I love…and some I consider, ahem, dumb. The inspirations are many and varied, but the most obvious ones are probably A Song of Ice and Fire, Dune, Realm of the Elderlings, and – I feel pretentious admitting this – Shakespeare. There are also semiautobiographical elements. Not a self-insert per se, but personal events and traumas adapted to this secondary world fantasy setting. To be frank, I ripped my heart out and put it on the page. Kali Ma!
Q] With Truth of Crowns being the first book of a series, what can you reveal about your plans for the series (number of books)? Is there a series title?
CDA: The series is titled The Ash Eternal. It’s currently planned to be anywhere from 5-7 books, depending on how certain arcs play out. I’m largely a gardener, try as I might to outline, so the plans can change on a whim. It might be split into two distinct trilogies or arcs a la The Stormlight Archive. Regardless, I know how it all ends and I have several core events planned for the middle books.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Ash Eternal series is set in? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?
CDA: The world of Terkir is in a pseudo-early Renaissance period (think late 14th/early 15th-centuries), although none of the nations map perfectly onto real world countries. They’re all ethnically diverse and a confluence of different cultures, like the nations in Malazan or the Wheel of Time. For centuries, magick has seeped out of Terkir, and now certain events will lead to its rebirth (aha, Renaissance, get it? …I’ll walk myself out). Most magick is viewed as heretical by the Faith of Trinitos. Monsters have been hunted to extinction, supposedly. POTENTIAL SPOILERS: there are subtly mystical trees, rune-enchanted blades, curses, immortals, faeries, fomorians, dormant kaiju, and at least one giant fuck-off dragon.
Q] Can you share something about Truth of Crowns that is not mentioned in the blurb and why should readers should be excited for this new story?
CDA: There are several POVs, not just our main hero, Eogan. This first novel is structured as a classical five-act tragedy. I’ll let you intuit what that means, though it’s made explicit early on in the book. It’s character-driven, but it has its fair share of twists and turns and mysteries to keep your interest. It also features several queer and disabled characters. (This was important to me as I am both queer and disabled.) Expect politics, friendship, humor, wholesome sibling bonds, less-than-wholesome sibling bonds, and lots of fucked up shit.

Q] For someone who has not read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write?
CDA: Everything I write is rather dark and philosophical, but it’s also important to me that it has heart and a (sometimes juvenile) sense of humor. Even Billy Shakespeare wrote dick jokes! I hesitate to call my work “grimdark,” because I aim for bittersweet more than bleak. The night is always darkest before the dawn, yada yada yada. You can expect some horror elements, as well.
Q] Who are your literary idols? Which books are your favorites amongst the genres that you read in?
CDA: OK, again, I’m a pretentious hooligan, so I have to mention the Bard. Robin Hobb is my number-one-I-wish-I-could-write-like-her author. The list also includes: George RR Martin, Tamsyn Muir, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Damon Lindelof, Jesse Armstrong, Mike Flanagan, Hiromu Arakawa, and Eiichiro Oda. Ooh, and Stephen King! Love that guy. The list goes on…
As for books, A Storm of Swords, Fool’s Fate, and Toll the Hounds are my go-to fantasy faves. I gotta give a tip of my hat to Fullmetal Alchemist, too.
Q] What do you do when you are not writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you? 
CDA: I play D&D almost every week with a number of my best friends. My current career is in film, so needless to say I’m a cinephile. Surprise surprise, I also read a lot. I game a little, mostly RPGs. I like to party, dance, play board games, cuddle with my dogs – pretty standard stuff. One of these days I’ll get a sexy hobby, like wood-cutting.
Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
CDA: Truth of Crowns comes out on May 26th! I hope you read and enjoy it. I’ve been working on this book off-and-on for almost six years now. It’s the definition of a passion project. And thanks for indulging my silly little thoughts by reading this interview! *blows kiss*.


Official Author Website
Pre-order Truth Of Crowns over HERE
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Secrets, secrets are so fun. Secrets, secrets – cut my tongue.”

Eogan Grey has a secret that will see him killed. He is the heir to the Horned Crown of Dagdar, and he secretly married a woman forbidden to him – the crown princess of the Holy Queendom of Corice. When duty called, they went their separate ways. Years passed. Now, whispers of revolution haunt their respective realms, threatening to end a decade’s peace. As the tides of politics shift, Eogan receives news that the princess is betrothed to another man. Can he abide that?

Caught in a conspiracy of cursed children, machiavellian monarchs, riotous rebels, and iconoclastic immortals, Eogan must contend with the cost of secrets – his enemies’, his allies’, and his own.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

World Running Down by Al Hess (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Official Author Website

Buy World Running Down here

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

SPFBO 8 Finalist Review: Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Abbie Evans grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, and spent many years travelling the world before settling back down in a small New Zealand seaside town. She writes queer-centred fantasy stories that have been described as adventurous, fun, chaotic, and “too gay to function.”

SPFBO Finalist interview: Abbie Evans

Book links: AmazonGoodreads
Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Book review: The Fisherman by John Langan

The Fishermab by John Langan Review

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: John Langan is the author of two novels, The Fisherman (Word Horde 2016) and House of Windows (Night Shade 2009), and two collections of stories, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus 2013) and Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime 2008). With Paul Tremblay, he co-edited Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (Prime 2011). He's one of the founders of the Shirley Jackson Awards, for which he served as a juror during its first three years. Currently, he reviews horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine.
Monday, March 13, 2023

The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan (Reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

Official Author Website

Buy The Justice of Kings here - U.K. | U.S.

Read Caitlin's review of The Justice of Kings here
Read Caitlin's review of The Tyranny of Faith here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Richard Swan is a Sunday Times bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction. He was born in North Yorkshire, and, thanks to a childhood spent on RAF bases in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, now has an unhealthy interest in fighter jets. 
In 2010 he moved to London, where he spent the better part of ten years litigating multi-million pound commercial disputes. He now lives in Sydney with his wonderful wife, Sophie, their two very loud sons, and a very large container of sunscreen.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The Justice of Kings, the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy, follows the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. As he unravels a web of secrets and lies, Vonvalt discovers a plot that might destroy his order once and for all – and bring down the entire Empire.
As an Emperor's Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt always has the last word. His duty is to uphold the law of the empire using whatever tools he has at his disposal: whether it's his blade, the arcane secrets passed down from Justice to Justice, or his wealth of knowledge of the laws of the empire. But usually his reputation as one of the most revered—and hated—Justices is enough to get most any job done.
When Vonvalt investigates the murder of a noblewoman, he finds his authority being challenged like never before. As the simple case becomes more complex and convoluted, he begins to pull at the threads that unravel a conspiracy that could see an end to all Justices, and a beginning to lawless chaos across the empire.

FORMAT/INFO: The Justice of Kings is the first book in the Empire of the Wolf series. It was published in August 2022 by Orbit in the U.S. and the U.K, and is available in hardcover, kindle, paperback and audio formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Richard Swan’s The Justice of Kings is a finely tuned fantasy read that will delight readers of SFF in all the best ways. It slowly builds its palpable sense of ethereal tension until, with the climax, all hell breaks loose. The growing level of intrigue throughout the book does not distract from the character centred approach and holding these two in tension was very effective for most of the book.

Although we focus mainly on the character of Helena, through whose eyes we view the world and its events, all the characters bring something to the table here. Whilst I was slightly disappointed with the central murder mystery being rather linear which made it difficult to feel involved in the investigation at times, this is a minor criticism in what is sure to be one of my favourite books of the year.

Justice of Kings shocked me in all the best ways, being a rare read that not only met the richly deserved hype, but vastly surpassed it. For the full review, stick around below.

‘It is a strange thing to think that the end of the Empire of the Wolf, and all the death and devastation that came with it, traced its long roots back to the tiny and insignificant village of Rill’

Thus opens the esteemed Empire of the Wolf trilogy with a fantastic first line full of intrigue and foreboding. We are thrust into a Germanic inspired world, which although not unique in the realm of fantasy, is given enough flair by Swan to set itself apart, especially with the central focus on justice, the law and jurisprudence.

The prose I found to be an effective mix of style, without holding back the story and the key information needed for the reader to be enveloped within the tale. One such description that struck me was a reference to ship masts as a ‘forest’ which I found an incredibly inventive way of describing such a scene.

The voice of Helena is so distinctive throughout, and just compels you to keep reading. I would argue its quite a bold choice to use Helena as the entry point into this world rather than Vonvalt, which might’ve been the case in a different, more traditional narrative.

But who are these enigmatic characters you ask? Well, the book is really about the exploits of Sir Konrad Vonavalt, Justice to the King, and his apprentice Helena, along with his assistant Bressinger, and the town sheriff Sir Radomir who joins their crew in the investigation.

Whilst out exploring the Empire and responding to the needs of justice within it, Vonvalt, Helena and the gang find themselves drawn into wider conspiracies which threaten the continuation of the Empire. What begins as a small-town murder mystery soon becomes a symbol of something greater; an revolution which won’t just engulf the Empire itself, but also into many realms beyond. 

To say anymore would be a very big spoiler, and I certainly wouldn’t wish to spoil anyone’s experience of reading this book. In fact, I think my experience was enhanced by having a lack of knowledge of the book going in, so when things took a surprising turn (trying so hard to be careful with my word choices here!) it completely shook me. Not to say any of the twists were mind blowing, nor were they blasé. It was just such an unexpected tonal shift that it has really stuck with me ever since, hauntingly so.

There’s almost a wild west feel to the book. At its heart it’s a murder mystery but more than that, it’s a character mystery. Vonvalt is fairly enigmatic, rarely revealing his true self to even Helena, which makes the point at which the cracks do start to show all the more terrifying. He is also pragmatic, as a justice he only says the necessary. His singular focus is on the law and meting it out in proper fashion, and his discussions of jurisprudence with Helena were really interesting to read, as well as rather telling.

Helena herself is an unreliable narrator, also giving us future insights as she narrates the tale through reflections on what is now her past. She is a troubled young woman, torn between her duty to Vonvalt, and discovering what her heart truly desires. This is all she has known since Vonvalt took her under his wing, but as the investigation continues she starts to question what she truly desires. Her narration is fascinatingly revealing and really allows us to dive deep into her fears, creating a vastly compelling character arc. Seeing Vonvalt through her eyes is also a really intriguing way of showing us character; we see through the lens that she does and that in itself is rather revealing. My only critique would be that the forewarning of Helena works at some points, whilst at others it feels a little too on the nose with fairly consistent reminders of the Empire’s fate.

The pacing itself is very consistent, with a nice blend between the overarching storyline of fears for the Empire, and the ongoing investigation complementing each other well for the most part. At times it did start to feel a little like one plotline would be paused in favour of the other, however over time they do begin to converge which helps set things back on track.

The central murder mystery did work as well, with the minor addition that it was incredibly linear, learning the information as our characters did. That’s all well and good, and actually prevents the issue of an easily solvable mystery. However, it did go a little far the other way, as I don’t think anyone could have possibly put it all together until the same time or just before the characters. I do find that a bit of a shame because as a fan of crime books, I do love to involve myself in the investigation as I read, and that couldn’t happen here as much because we were so reliant on the story being doled out to us.

The last 40% of this novel truly was what made it hold a special memory for me, with an absolutely insane turn that I never saw coming. I fear to say too much about this in case I spoil anyone’s journey with this book, but let’s just say I found it to be an incredibly well-balanced genre mashup, which felt very at home in the world Richard had built. Having started book two and seeing this tone influence more of the narrative, it really leaves me with chills and continues to be a constant highlight of this trilogy.

Perhaps the best thing I could say in this review is that this book made me care. I cried and that’s not easy for an author to do with me. The relationship between Vonvalt and Helena is professional but beautiful. Vonvalt puts law above all, but he knows when to be personal.

He's not cold. He just pretends to be. Bressinger and Radomir have much deeper characters than by first appearances. Throughout, Richard weaves these characters inner turmoils into the book and it truly made me grow to care about what happened to them.

The climax of this book leaves us in a suitably exciting position with which to open book two which has just released, whilst still closing all the necessary plotlines in a sufficient manner. There are no major cliffhangers here, but be in no doubt that you will still be compelled to read on!

CONCLUSION: Overall, I can already tell this will be one of my favourite reads of the year after having absolutely bombed through this book. The combination of character and plot driven tension was really exquisite and helped make this book what it was, a rare gem in which the hype was easily surpassed. With book two now in my hands, I’m sure it won’t be long before I return to tell you why this is one of my favourite ongoing series within the fantasy genre right now.
Thursday, March 9, 2023

Orphan Planet by Rex Burke (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Pre-order Orphan Planet HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rex Burke is a SciFi writer based in North Yorkshire, UK.

When he was young, he read every one of those yellow-jacketed Victor Gollancz hardbacks in his local library. He’s sure there are still thrilling SciFi adventures to be told – even if he has to write them himself.

When he’s not writing, he travels – one way or another, he’ll get to the stars, even if it’s just as stardust when his own story is done.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Book review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Gillian Flynn was the chief TV critic for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and now writes full-time. Her first novel SHARP OBJECTS was the winner of two CWA DAGGERS and was shortlisted for the GOLD DAGGER. Her latest novel, GONE GIRL, is a massive No.1 bestseller. The film adaptation of GONE GIRL, directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, won the Hollywood Film Award 2014.

Publisher: Crown (May 10, 2010) Page count: 349 pages Formats: ebook, audiobook, paperback, hardback

Don’t read Dark Places if you believe people are good. It pulls no punches and explores the dark side of the human experience. I absolutely loved it. It’s been a while since a book captured my attention so completely.

Dark Places tells the tragic story of the Day family. In January 1985, someone slaughtered Libby Day’s mother and two sisters. Libby’s testimony sent her brother, Ben, to prison for life.

Years later, Libby’s financial situation becomes dire; not surprising since she has no work and lives off donations and insurance cashed years ago. Desperate for money, she gets involved with the Kill Club, true crime enthusiasts interested in famous murder cases. They believe Ben was innocent and share wild theories with Libby who, subsequently, questions what exactly she saw the night of the tragedy. They're also ready to pay for family memorabilia and further investigation of the case.

The story moves fluidly between the present-day first-person narration of cynical and selfish Libby and the hours leading up to the murders seen through the eyes of Patty Day (Libby’s killed mother) and Ben (Libby’s brother sentenced for murders). The narrative is addictive as it slowly and methodically reveals the chronology of what happened on that tragic day. Flynn provides pieces of the puzzle along the way, but I assure you that whatever you suspect is wrong (unless you have a really twisted mind!) I won’t spoil it, but wow, just wow.*

Every character here is nuanced and feels real. I wouldn’t call any of them likable, but their distinct voices kept me glued to the pages. They’re all survivors ready to make selfish decisions to remain on the surface. Especially when the money is short.

Take Libby, who literally fed off the murder of her family all her life, living on donations made by compassionate donors moved by the history of a lone survivor of a family massacre. Libby, whose testimony sent her brother to jail for life and who’s not really sure what she saw (or didn’t see) on a feral night. If she hadn't run into financial difficulties, she might never revisit her tragic past. Still, it was refreshing to get a heroine as complex and psychologically scarred as this.

Ben? Well, I don’t find angry and brooding teenagers who get mixed up in devil worship relatable. But that doesn’t mean his voice didn’t engage me. Quite the opposite.

I loved this book. It’s genuinely disturbing, suspenseful, and full of surprises.

* It's genuinely surprising. Probably in both a good and a bad way. Some readers may be disappointed. Some will appreciate it. I definitely appreciate it.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023

A Witch's Guide to Fake Dating a Demon by Sarah Hawley (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Order A Witch's Guide to Fake Dating a Demon here - U.S | U.K

Monday, March 6, 2023

Review: THE FAITHLESS by C.L. Clark


Official Author Website
Buy The Faithless HERE
Read our review of Book 1, The Unbroken
Friday, March 3, 2023

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Order The Housekeepers HERE

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Review: Emperor of Ruin by Django Wexler


Official Author Website
Order Emperor of Ruin HERE
Read Caitlin's review of Book 1, Ashes of the Sun

Cover Reveal: Orphan Planet by Rex Burke


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