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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Book review: Snow Angels by Jeff Lemire & Jock

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Lemire is a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author, and creator of the acclaimed graphic novels Sweet Tooth, Essex County, The Underwater Welder, Trillium, Plutona, Black Hammer, Descender, Royal City, and Gideon Falls. His upcoming projects include a host of series and original graphic novels, including the fantasy series Ascender with Dustin Nguyen.

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (March 28, 2023 ) Page count: 264 pages

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Review: System Collapse by Martha Wells


Official Author Website
Buy System Collapse

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series, The Murderbot Diaries series, and other fantasy novels, most recently Witch King (Tordotcom, 2023). She has also written media tie-in fiction for Star Wars, Stargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, and a Dragon Award, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, the Sunday Times Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. She is a member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and her books have been published in twenty-five languages. 

FORMAT/INFO: System Collapse was published by Tordotcom on November 14th, 2023. It is 245 pages and is told in first person from Murderbot's POV. It is available in hardcover and ebook formats.
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Book review: Slewfoot by Brom

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Over the past decades, Brom has lent his distinctive visions and artwork to all facets of the creative industries, from novels and games, to comics and film. He is also the author of a series of award-winning illustrated horror novels: Lost Gods, Krampus the Yule Lord, The Child Thief, The Plucker, and The Devil’s Rose. Brom is currently kept in a dank cellar somewhere just outside of Seattle. Visit him at

Publisher: Tor Nightfire; 1st edition (September 14, 2021) Page count: 320 Formats: audio, ebook, paperback Cover art & Design - Brom

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Invocations by Krystal Sutherland (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Book Review: The Invocations by Krystal Sutherland

cover of the book The Invocations by Krystal Sutherland

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Krystal Sutherland is an internationally published author. Her first novel, Chemical Hearts, was published in over 20 countries and was named by the American Booksellers Association as one of the best debuts of 2016. The film adaptation, produced by Amazon Studios, stars Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) and Austin Abrams (Euphoria); Sutherland served as an executive producer on the project. Her second novel, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, was published to critical acclaim in 2017 and has been optioned for adaptation by Yellow Bird US. In 2018, she appeared on the annual Forbes “30 Under 30” list. Originally from Australia, she has lived on four continents and currently calls London home. Her next novel for young adults, House of Hollow, is set for publication by Penguin in spring 2021.

FORMAT/INFO: The Invocations will be launched in January 2024 by Bonnier Books UK. It contains 400 pages long and told from multiple POVs.
Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Generation Ship by Michael Mammay (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Generation Ship by Michael Mammay

cover of the science fiction book Generation Ship by Michael Mammay

Official Author Website
Buy Generation Ship HERE

Read Caitlin's review of the book HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Michael Mammay is a science fiction writer and a retired army officer. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and is a veteran of more wars than he cares to count. His novels include the Planetside series, The Misfit Soldier, and The Weight of Command. His next novel, Generation Ship, is coming in October of 2023. Planetside was named to Library Journal’s best books of 2018 list, and the audio book, narrated by RC Bray, was nominated for an Audie award for best SF audio book. Michael lives with his wife in Georgia.

FORMAT/INFO: Generation Ship was released on October 17th, 2023 by HarperVoyager. It is 608 pages long and told in third person from multiple POVs. It will be released in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Generation Ship by Michael Mammay is a science fiction book that follows the space faring journey of the people on a ship on it's way to colonise a viable planet.

A big crew of people leave the Earth and go on a space voyage to find another planet to colonize. It's been 250 years, and their probes give them data indicating the possibility of a suitable planet, and what follows is this story. They left our planet behind, but not all of our problems. Micheal Mammay uses this premise to create a fantastic and engaging novel that follows five of them: a farmer, a scientist, a politician, a security officer and an engineer.

This book is not short by anyone's standards, but it is immersive. I read about a quarter of it before picking up another book, and when this happens, it's very difficult for me to be able to get back to reading the previous one. But in this case, that wasn't an issue at all. Once it got going, I read a big chunk of it in one go. What I loved the most was the tiny little details meticulously dropped in about everyday life on the ship, on the different things experienced by the characters that made it feel so lived in. I lapped up all those mentions, and while I generally express a preference for more compact books, I just want more. 

The pacing is even, and all the characters are given equal(ish) page time, and while I have no affection for any of them, there were times when I did stop reading and ask myself "Is this person right?", and that is a testament to the skill with which the author deals with real people dealing with problems that are complicated by the implications of any stance they take, and the effect this has on a story that's mainly furthered by a balance of political and personal objectives.

From the beginning, it is clear that this story isn't really about the exploration of the new planet, and that a large part of it takes place in the ship. This I enjoyed, and it paved the way for some unfamiliar beats as the personalities clashed, bickered, made decisions in a way that brought disaster after disaster, as well as makes a lot of points for and against democracy, technocracy, autocracy, as well as the sustainability of a civilisation that wears blinders in its push toward extreme reliance on technology. At the end though, it's a little bit of an unexpected whirlwind with everything that happens, but in a way that makes sense to the characters we follow.

While I was able to appreciate all the manoeuvres of the clashing personalities, at the end of it all, I remember more vibes than plot in a way. For such an intricately woven story, this is not the aftertaste I wish for. While I understand the cases made by all the characters, I felt like I was following the story without any deep investments in any of their successes, and this was a slight dent in my enjoyment of the book.

CONCLUSIONGeneration Ship is a fantastic political drama about the different players and their motives, and how those can shape the future of a civilisation. I highly recommend this to fans of science fiction, and you bet I'll load all of Michael Mammay's work onto my kindle.
Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Never Send Roses by Craig Schaefer (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Pre-order Never Send Roses over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Neon Boneyard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Locust Job
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Down Among the Dead Men
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Sworn To The Night
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Detonation Boulevard
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Right To The Kill
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Black Tie Required
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ghosts Of Gotham
Read Fantasy Book Critic' review of A Time For Witches
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Loot
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Insider
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Any Minor World
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Harmony Black Series Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Double Or Nothing Cover Reveal Mini-Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Part I of Fantasy Book Critic's In-depth Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Part II of Fantasy Book Critic's In-depth Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the Wisdom's Grave Trilogy Completion Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the 2019 And Beyond Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read the Right To The Kill Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read the Black Tie Required Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read the Charlie McCabe series interview with Craig Schaefer
Read My Sworn To The Night Cover Reveal Q&A with Craig Schaefer
Read 2020 State Of Schaefer Interview with Craig Schaefer
Monday, November 20, 2023

Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig


Buy One Dark Window HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rachel Gillig was born and raised on the California coast. She is an author, with a B.A. in literary theory and criticism from UC Davis. If she is not ensconced in blankets dreaming up her next novel, Rachel is in her garden or walking with her husband, son, and their poodle, Wally.

FORMAT/INFO: One Dark Window was published by Orbit Books on September 27th, 2022. It is 392 pages and is told in first person from Elspeth's point of view. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook form.
Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Review: The Fractured Dark by Megan E. O'Keefe


Official Author Website
Buy The Fractured Dark HERE
Read Caitlin's review of Book 1, The Blighted Stars

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Megan E. O'Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She lives in the Bay Area of California, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.

FORMAT/INFO: The Fractured Dark was published on September 26th, 2023 by Orbit Books. It is 544 pages long and is told in third person from multiple POVs, including Naira and Tarquin. It is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.

Kraken Rider Z by Dyrk Ashton & David Z Estes (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Kraken Rider Z over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Dyrk Ashton is a writer, educator, filmmaker and former actor active in storytelling and media making. Born and raised in the Ohio, he spent his formative years in the American Midwest wherein he got a BFA, Masters & PhD in the field of filmmaking & Movie studies. Dyrk loves the outdoors and even more the genre of speculative fiction. He currently resides in Ohio, but the fantasy landscape is the place he calls his true home. 
Tuesday, November 14, 2023

SPFBO 9 Finalist Review: The Wickwire Watch by Jacquelyn Hagen

 Author website

Book links: AmazonGoodreads

SPFBO Finalist interview: Jacquelyn Hagen, the Author of The Wickery Watch

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jackie has never had enough of stories. This was perhaps foreseeable, considering that a good deal of her childhood was spent face-deep in books, writing short stories, and putting on goofy and/or dramatic theatrical productions. Then came a growing love for movies, folk music, and classic literature. She graduated college with a degree in Film and Television Production, which led to a brief stint in the entertainment industry. Finding this business incompatible with her super-introverted personality, she looked instead to what stories were being told in the wider world and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

Still, the stories never left her alone. In early 2009, in the confines of a small barracks room, a curious boy with a brash attitude and an oversized top hat came to announce that he had a fascinating tale of his own, and he wasn’t going away until she agreed to tell it. She was hesitant at first, but when other intriguing characters began to follow, she realized she had no choice but to welcome the unexpected commission. Their story is told in The Riverfall Chronicles.

She resides wherever the Air Force needs her to be. In her free time, she continues to devour stories in every form (usually while hanging out with her two big fluffy dogs), but has also been known to play in folk bands, raise chickens, and try to improve her bread-baking skills. She is pleased and excited to finally release her stories into the wild. Above all else, she hopes her readers will be blessed by them.

Find Jacquelyn online: Webpage

The Wickery Watch links: AmazonGoodreads

Monday, November 13, 2023

Grievar's Blood by Alexander Darwin (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Grievar's Blood by Alexander Darwin

Grievar's Blood by Alexander Darwin book cover

Official Author Website

Buy Grievar's Blood HERE

Read Shazzie's review of The Combat Codes HERE
Read Caitlin's review of The Combat Codes HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Alexander Darwin is an author living near Boston with his wife and three daughters. Outside of writing, he teaches and trains martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). He’s inspired by old-school Hong Kong action flicks, jRPGs, underdog stories and bibimbap bowls.

Outside of writing fiction, Alexander has written for publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and SF Signal. His latest piece - "The Lost Diary of Anthony Bourdain" - was a featured piece in Rolling Stone’s January 2022 issue.
Saturday, November 11, 2023

Cover Reveal: The Blood Curse (Gardens of War & Wasteland Book #2) by Jessica McMinn

We are pleased to reveal the cover of the upcoming sequel to Jessica McMinn's The Ruptured Sky. The Ruptured Sky was our SPFBO 9 semi-finalist and it's a series worth trying!
Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Review: Calamity by Constance Fay

Official Author Website
Buy Calamity HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Constance Fay writes space romance novels and genre fiction short stories. Her short fiction can be found in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Catscast podcast, and other publications. She has a background in medical device R&D and lives in Colorado with a cat who edits all her work first.
Monday, November 6, 2023

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez

Buy What the River Knows HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Isabel Ibañez is the author of Together We Burn, Written in Starlight, and Woven in Moonlight. She was born in Boca Raton, Florida, and is the proud daughter of two Bolivian immigrants. A true word nerd, she received her degree in creative writing and has been a Pitch Wars mentor for three years. Isabel is an avid movie goer and loves hosting family and friends around the dinner table. She currently lives in Winter Park, Florida, with her husband, their adorable dog, and a serious collection of books. Say hi on social media at @IsabelWriter09.
Wednesday, November 1, 2023

SPFBO 9 Finalists, Our Approach, Stats


As avid fantasy readers, we love discovering new voices and hidden gems. SPFBO contest gives us such a possibility, and we’re thrilled to participate in it for the ninth time. The first stage of the contest has just ended, and ten blogs have picked their champions. We’re excited to read all of them and would love to encourage you to do the same. 

Here's GR LIST with all finalists. We encourage you to add them all to your Want to Read shelf.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock by Maud Woolf (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock by Maud Woolf

Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock by Maud Woolf

Buy Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Maud Woolf is a Scottish speculative writer with a particular focus on horror and science fiction. Her work has appeared in a variety of online magazines, including Metaphorosis Magazine where her short story ‘The Stranding’ was selected to appear in the Best of Metaphorosis 2020. Over the course of her life she’s worked a number of jobs including waitressing, comic book selling, sign holding and as a tour guide at a German dollhouse museum. When not exploring Glasgow’s labyrinthine system of abandoned tunnels she spends most of her free time watching old hollywood films and attempting to knit.

FORMAT/INFO: Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock is due publication on January 2nd, 2024 by Angry Robot books in paperback and ebook formats.
Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Review: THE QUEEN OF DAYS by Greta Kelly


Buy The Queen of Days HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Greta K. Kelly is (probably) not a witch, death or otherwise, but she can still be summoned with offerings of too-beautiful-to-use journals and Butterfingers candy. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband EJ, daughters Lorelei and Nadia who are doing their level-best to take over the world.

The Queen of Days was published on October 24th, 2024 by Harper Voyager. It is 384 pages long and is told from Balthazar and Tass's point of view. It is available in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats.
Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Book Review: The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater 

Official Author Website
Buy The Witchwood Knot here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Olivia Atwater writes whimsical historical fantasy with a hint of satire. She lives in Montreal, Quebec with her fantastic, prose-inspiring husband and her two cats. When she told her second-grade history teacher that she wanted to work with history someday, she is fairly certain this isn't what either party had in mind. She has been, at various times, a historical re-enactor, a professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, a web developer, and a vending machine repairperson.
Monday, October 23, 2023

Review: These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs


Official Author Website
Buy These Burning Stars HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Bethany Jacobs is a former college instructor of writing and science fiction, who made the leap to education technology. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading, trying out new recipes, and snuggling in bed with a TV show she’s already watched ten times. She lives in Buffalo, New York, with her wife and her dog and her books. These Burning Stars is her debut novel.
Thursday, October 19, 2023

Lord Of A Shattered Land by Howard Andrew Jones (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Howard Andrew Jones LiveJournal
Order “Lord Of A Shattered Land” HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Desert Of Souls
Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Book review: The September House by Carissa Orlando


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Orlando has a doctorate in clinical-community psychology and specializes in work with children and adolescents. In her “day job,” Carissa works to improve the quality of and access to mental health care for children and their families. Prior to her career in psychology, Carissa studied creative writing in college and has written creatively in some form since she was a child. It was only a matter of time before Carissa, an avid horror fan for much of her life, merged her understanding of the human psyche and deep love for storytelling into a piece of fiction.

Publisher: Berkley (Sep 05, 2023) Length: 352 pages Formats: ebook, audiobook, paperback

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft

the hexologists by josiah bancroft

Official Author Website
Buy The Hexologists here - U.S. | U.K.

Read Caitlin's review of the book here
Friday, October 13, 2023

Star Bound by Rex Burke (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Star Bound by Rex Burke 

star bound by rex burke, book three in the odyssey earth trilogy

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. That feeling of out-of-this-world amazement never left him – and keeps him company as he writes his own SciFi adventures.

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.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Review: Generation Ship by Michael Mammay


Official Author Website
Buy Generation Ship HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Michael Mammay is a science fiction writer and a retired army officer. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and is a veteran of more wars than he cares to count. His novels include the Planetside series, The Misfit Soldier, and The Weight of Command. His next novel, Generation Ship, is coming in October of 2023. Planetside was named to Library Journal’s best books of 2018 list, and the audio book, narrated by RC Bray, was nominated for an Audie award for best SF audio book. Michael lives with his wife in Georgia.
Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Book review: An Inheritance of Magic by Benedict Jacka


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Benedict Jacka is the author of the Alex Verus series, which began in 2012 with Fated and ended in 2021 with Risen. He’s studied philosophy at Cambridge, taught English in China, and worked at everything from civil servant to bouncer before becoming a full-time writer. For information about his books, settings, and releases, check his website at or his Twitter at @benedictjacka.

Publisher: Ace (Oct 10, 2023) Length: 384 Pages Formats: 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Review: The Fragile Threads of Power by V.E. Schwab


Official Author Website
Buy The Fragile Threads of Power HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO:  VICTORIA “V. E.” SCHWAB is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including the acclaimed Shades of Magic series, the Villains series, the Cassidy Blake series and the international bestseller The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Her work has received critical acclaim, translated into over two dozen languages, and optioned for television and film. First Kill – a YA vampire series based on Schwab’s short story of the same name – is currently in the works at Netflix with Emma Roberts’ Belletrist Productions producing. When not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, she lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.
Friday, October 6, 2023

Book review: The First Ancestor by J.D.L. Rosell (Ranger of the Titan Wilds #2)


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

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.

To check out his writing for free, pick up his series starter story bundle at

Publisher: Jdl Rosell (May 1, 2023)  Length: 362 pages Formats: ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook

Thursday, October 5, 2023

SPFBO9 Finalist: The Last Ranger by J. D. L. Rosell (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

SPFBO9 Semifinalist: Crucible Of Lies by Mitchell Hogan (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)

Order the book HERE
Wednesday, October 4, 2023

SPFBO9 Semifinalist: The Sparrow And The Oak Tree by Jamie Jackson (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)


Official Author Website
Order the book over HERE

SPFBO9 Semifinalist: A Gallery For The Barbarian by Taylor Hartley (reviewed by Esmay Rosalyne)


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

SPFBO 9 Announcement: Here's our Champion


We have chosen our champion, and we’re excited to announce the winner and runners-up.

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.


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