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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


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


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


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


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


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


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