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Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty" (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)




Visit Robert Beatty's Official Website Here




OVERVIEW: "Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there and they will ensnare your soul."

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There's plenty to explore in the shadowed corridors of her vast home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina's hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.



FORMAT: Serafina and the Black Cloak is a standalone children's mystery/thriller with historical fiction elements and supernatural twists. It stands at 304 pages and was published July 14, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion.

ANALYSIS: Sometimes in children's literature, especially the fantasy genre, authors try to overcomplicate books. It seems as if there is this fear that simple doesn't work or that readers will only read a book if it is overcomplicated, which isn't true. When done correctly, simplicity works and it is shown in Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Serafina and the Black Cloak is an adorable children's novel with a fairly straight forward plot. Yes, there are twists and turns along the way, but there isn't anything overly complex. Even though the novel's main plotline is simple – and I hate calling it simple because it makes it seem like the book wasn't good – it was captivating because of its characters.

I knew within the first few pages that this was going to be an enchanting novel. Serafina, our main heroine of the novel, is a young girl who has been hidden from the world and living in the basement of the Biltmore estate with no one the wiser to her existence. Serafina has this aura about her that makes her a bit loveable, yet mysterious.

Combine Serafina's mysterious storyline with her character development and you have a winning combination. It allows Robert Beatty to create a story that I would certainly read over and over again.

Serafina wasn't the only character to really pop out of the book and captivate my attention. Other characters, including the Young Master of the Biltmore Estate and Serafina's dad, were each captivating and unique in their own right. Considering the relative short nature of the book, it was amazing just how developed and unique every character became.

Another aspect of Serafina and the Black Cloak that I enjoyed was the mysterious or eerie plot. The entire plot revolves around not only discovering who this mysterious Black Cloak is and why he/she is stealing children, but it involves a haunted off-limit wooded area. It wasn't overly scary and really helped downplay what could have been a sugary sweet children's read.

In addition to the characters and eerie nature of the plot, the choice of having it set at the Biltmore Estate just felt right. I loved the way that Beatty really used the Biltmore Estate to his advantage when writing and created this whole mysterious maze-like world that kept me wanting to read.

I will admit that around the half-way mark, it was fairly obvious to me where the author was going with some of the plot elements. I wouldn't say the entire book was predictable, but some parts were – for adult readers. I do think younger readers, who are the main target audience, will not find it as easily predictable.

Overall, I will admit I enjoyed reading Serafina and the Black Cloak. It certainly wasn't overly complicated, yet the captivating characters and eerie plot/atmosphere created by the author made it an enjoyable read. It really shows that not every children's fantasy book has to have an overly complex plot to be good.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015

With Sword and Pistol by Edward M. Erdelac (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order With Sword And Pistol HERE
Order Andersonville HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Deadcore 
Read the Genesis of Andersonville by Ed Erdelac (guest post)
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Ed Erdelac

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ed Erdelac is the author of various books and is also a regular contributor to the Star Wars canonical universe. He is an award-winning screenwriter, an independent filmmaker, a chain reader, and a closet gamer. He was born in Indiana, pursued his education in Chicago and then moved to L.A. to pursue his career interests. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his family.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Collecting four incredible novellas in one volume, these are the writings of Edward M. Erdelac (Merkabah Rider) from some of his finest pieces to date.

• "Red Sails" is set in the year 1740 when British marine and a Dominican Blackfriar are hunted across a cannibal isle by a savage crew of shapeshifting pirates.
• "The Night of the Jikininki" is about a sadistic samurai sword tester who leads a pair of criminals in a bid to escape a prison filled with the ravenous walking dead.
• "Sinbad and the Sword of Solomon" is set in 796, where Sinbad the Sailor leads his crew to a monster-haunted island to retrieve a magic sword from its demon owner.
• And "Gully Gods" enters the modern era, where a South Houston gangbanger learns the utterly horrific secret behind the incomprehensible powers of a Liberian clique of ex-child soldiers.

Hundreds of years removed. Thousands of miles apart. But they all fight to the bloody end WITH SWORD AND PISTOL.

FORMAT/INFO: With Sword And Pistol is 281pages long divided over four novella parts. Narration is both in the third-person for each of the novellas. August 17, 2015 marked the e-book and trade paperback publication of " With Sword And Pistol " via Ragnarok Publications.

ANALYSIS: I am a fan of Ed Erdelac’s Merkabah series, and previously having read a couple of his short stories I was very excited about this new collection.

The author has provided a note before the start of each story and it’s very illuminating to read the origins of each one. The first tale of the book was the one which I was looking forward to the most called “Night of the Jikininki”. This tale is set in 1737 feudal Japan and features three remarkably dark characters, all of whom are stuck in the Fukuyama han prison for various reasons when a comet passes by and awakens the dead. Thereby setting off a horrid turn of events to which none are spared. The author has discussed quite a bit about the origins of this tale on his blog which makes for a fascinating read by itself however readers should be warned as it has minor spoilers for the story. Whilst keeping it horror-tinged, the author has very smartly also included commentary about the feudal situation in Japan and especially about the downtrodden class that is known as the “Eta”. Cleverly merging Japanese folklore and societal structure in a thrilling race to survive, the author’s efforts clearly make this tale a special one and one to be savored. Clearly this tale was my second favorite based on its inventive approach and suspenseful handling of its twists. The ending again in line with the collection is a very dark one and potentially underlines the cruel nature of fate.

The second story is titled “Red Sails” and features Jan a British Marine who has been shipwrecked along with a Dominican friar named Timoteo. The horrid part is that they are being cruelly killed in the water by a pirate crew. Jan challenges them and he and his friar companion are called for an audience with the captain. Things take a worse turn when the captain is revealed to be a vampire named Captain Vigoreaux and his crew is a group of Native American werewolves. They have taken the duo to hunt on a native island where the resident population and them will be their quarry. Sampari is the native islander who has her own plans for the island. This tale while being a dark one, has a strong thriller component and the author gives us two remarkable POV characters to follow. The story has quite a smooth pace to it and the readers will be racing all along to see how it all ends.


"Sinbad and the Sword Of Solomon" is a pulpy adventure story focusing on the fun and pulp aspect. We are introduced to Sinbad and his gang consisting of Rolf a Scandinavian viking, Henri a French archer & his trusted aide Omar a Sindhi seaman. Tasked with finding Solomon’s sword, Sinbad and his companions find themselves wondering who all can be trusted especially with a weapon that’s labelled as game-changer in the course of history. Flowing with snappy dialogue and action across the sails, this story was such a fun one that I genuinely wanted to know more of the characters once the story ended. This easily was the lightest in tone among all of the stories and the most fun to read.

"Gully Gods" is the last story and also the darkest one. It deals with J-Hoss or Joseph, a teenage gangbanger who arrives in Chicago after feeling Houston. He soon finds that gangs are virulent in Chicago as well and gets an invite to one. Trying to stay afloat of trouble and getting to know a Latina girl of his age soon lands him afoul of a Latino gang and J-Hoss has to decide whether to thrown in his lot with a bunch of Liberian ex-child soldiers who pray to a dark entity. He never quite knows the price for doing so. This story was a dark brutal one touching upon themes of gang culture, poverty and African child soldier initiation. One of the darkest stories that I have ever read, Ed Erdelac shows us through J’s eyes the darkness that is strewn throughout. I liked how he humanized J-Hoss by his love for his cousin, his remembrance of his Seminole ancestry and his efforts at trying to walk the straight walk. It’s a brutal read without much of a happy ending. I think the author meant to explore a lot in this story and mentions a few of these things on his blog.  An absolute stunner of a story that will wallop you in the gut and leave you in shambles which I believe is precisely what the author was aiming for.

With each of these stories, the author showcases a widespread look into humanity and I happened to enjoy his take on the adventure, zombie, pulpy & horror genres. Within each story, the characterization is something that shines through strongly. Be it with Jan's firm resolve or Sinbad's alacrity, Dog's stubbornness and J-Hoss' desire for revenge. All of them have sympathetic sides and because of the structure of these stories we only get a glimpse into their situation. But even a glimpse like such is stark enough to leave a mark and these stories will leave you thinking.

CONCLUSION: With this collection we get a magnificent glimpse at Edward’s talent as he bring various characters and genres alive and presents us with different facets of humanity & inhumanity. I for one was completely enthralled at the breadth of scope presented within. If you want to see why many consider Ed Erdelac to be a gifted storyteller, just grab a copy of this collection & like me you’ll be a believer.
Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest Review: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu (Reviewed by A.E. Marling)


Official Author Website 
Order Twelve Kings In Sharakhai HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Winds Of Khalakovo 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Strata 
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Bradley P. Beaulieu is a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award, while his short story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat”, was voted a Notable Story in the 2006 Million Writers Award. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: If you’d like a vacation with sand surfing and sipping rosewater lemonade, read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu. The desert-city setting will treat you to a banquet of caramel onions, kumquats, and paprika eggplant. You’ll hear music begin at night then spread in a chain reaction of sound as neighbors join the melody. In the arena, people scream in excitement when a viper winds its way between a combatant’s legs, signaling who will fight first.

Enjoy the city, but beware the desert. A god of sands and bleached bones roams here. His monstrous children prowl the dunes. Worse things than hyenas cackle in the distance. Black laughers, they’re called. That gut-loosening drone comes from stinging swarms of rattlewings. And resist the fragrance of the twisted tree. Its petals taste of divinity, but the poison of its thorns spreads blue death through the flesh.

An even more memorable tree can be found in the garden of the desert witch. Chimes ring in the branches of this acacia. Look up and see the future reflected between its boughs. A young girl, Ceda, does this, and she witnesses herself bowing before a king and receiving his ebon sword. She watches herself betraying her mother’s dreams of rebellion. All is not well in Sharakhai.

The Reaping King stalks the streets. He decides who’ll be taken on the next night when the two moons are full. Then the soul hunters come. Some people think it a blessing to be chosen, an honor to be sacrificed. Most still cower on the Night of the Reaping. When Ceda is caught outside and faces a hunter it smells like “a charnel, but there were faint notes of fruit like fig and plum, which made it all the worse.”

The reaper doesn’t drag her out into the desert. It kisses her brow then leaves her free. Ceda is fated in a way she doesn’t understand. Her mother raised her as a political tool. Now Ceda fights in the pits wearing the mask of the White Wolf. She runs errands for a smuggler. She bides her time until she can fulfill an oath made to her executed mother, to kill all the kings.

Her mother left her a cryptic book of poems. They speak of the twisted trees and the kings. Ceda wishes to learn more of the night they made a pact with the gods for the strength to protect their city. The kings became immortal, each with his own terrible power. The tribes of the Moonless Host would love to plunder Sharakhai. They’re only held back by the ruthlessness of the kings.


Twelve eyes taken for every blinded nobleman. Twenty-four citizens killed for every murdered guard. Thus is the kings’ justice. They rule through the power of their night reapers and their Blade Maidens. The latter are elite guards who wield ebon swords. The curved weapons are like “wicked smiles” and “pieces of night.”

Ceda might be closer to fulfilling her oath if she could be accepted into the Blade Maidens. Foretellings aside, this seems insane. The Jade-Eyed King can also see the future; the maidens are connected by a mystical bond; and the King of Whispers is always listening. How could Ceda hope to deceive them all?

You know, Ceda, one of these days, there’ll be no one around to protect you from yourself,” says Emre, her lifelong friend. He and Ceda have a nuanced relationship. Secrets are shared and withheld. Lives are saved. Feelings are hurt. Awkward sex is regretted. While she seeks to infiltrate the kings’ palaces, he works to burn them all down from the outside. She doesn’t approve of his methods, and he feels the same of hers. The perspective of the story changes from Ceda, to Emre, to the Honey-Tongued King, to Ramahd, who has his own oath to kill Emre’s master. Ramahd’s sister-in-law drinks wine mixed with her own blood, but her true vice is vengeance. She summons desert demons and doesn’t much care what her brother-in-law thinks.

Many characters begin their arcs. Much discord is sewn into the story, but little is resolved in this book, the first of The Song of the Shattered Sands. The series title is beautiful to the point of breathtaking, as are many of the names written by Bradley P. Beaulieu. However, readers who wish for a complete tale may be dissatisfied with Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. Despite the book’s length of around six hundred pages, it feels like only the first third of a story.

Impatient readers who still wish to enjoy the desert city have recourse, though the suggestion will offend completionists. Certain chapters can be skipped. Each one begins with a beautiful illustration identifying the viewpoint character. Ceda’s is portrayed by the flower of the twisted tree. The blossom is open or closed, depending on whether the chapter is in the present or a flashback. The narrative progresses further backward into Ceda’s history than forward toward her goal of fighting the kings.

Nothing makes me hate a character more than reading a hundred pages of her history. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed Twelve Kings in Sharakhai more if I’d read less. Readers of the same opinion should consider beginning the book on chapter four, which bears the closed flower of a flashback. It also features the witch’s chime garden, and the sensual writing captured me. At that point there was no escape. I was lost in the story, but I could’ve taken a more direct route to the end by skipping all Ceda’s following flashback chapters as well as those of alternate perspectives. The chapters with open blossoms advanced the plot. The others, not so much.

Is this reading suggestion an abomination? Absolutely, but I like to think the kings would approve. Many veterans of epic fantasy need not follow my advice. All the pages mean nothing to them, and they’ll delight in the setting. They will, however, run aground of a disturbing scene in a flashback chapter where Ceda receives a tattoo against her will. The men in her life tend to leave her skin bruised or worse.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to ride a sand ship out from the city. My surfing board is polished, and the dunes call.

*---------------*---------------*---------------*


GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: A.E. Marling is a fantasy writer, dancer, law-abiding citizen, human being (in that order). Discover his fantasy-appreciation blog and follow him on Twitter, @AEMarling, or the kitty gets it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Pre-order Pretty Girls HERE
Read an excerpt HERE
Listen to audio interview of Karin Slaughter with Steve White

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The world stops for you when you’re pretty. That’s why women spend billions on crap for their faces. Their whole life, they’re the center of attention. People want to be around them just because they’re attractive. Their jokes are funnier. Their lives are better."

Well, there might be some downsides. Pretty Girls is a white-knuckle thriller that will keep you turning the pages long after you should really have gone to sleep. Do not read this while on a train. You will miss your stop. The story is told from three alternating perspectives. Claire Scott, newly free of that nasty ankle-monitor, has a pretty good life. 38, in great shape, no kids, a studly, attentive hubby who makes much more than a decent living, cool digs. What’s not to like? After a celebratory dinner out, Paul wants to do the nasty in an adjacent alley, way out of character, but, whatever. But sorry, no nookie for you guys. An armed, tattooed criminal element sort robs them. Things go too far and Paul winds up on the sidewalk, tinting the pavement with considerable quantities of red, and the game is afoot. What Claire discovers in going through her late mate’s computer files after the funeral will rock her world.

Lydia Delgado’s life is somewhat different. Single mother, 41, struggling to get by, alienated from most of her family, runs a dog grooming business. Her past would not look very nice on a resume. She’d hit rock bottom a while back and lived there for a spell, with a pick and shovel. But these days she is respectable. Owns a dog-grooming business. Met her pretty nice bf in a 12-step program. Her teenage daughter is a peach. Lydia is on the wrong side of pudge these days, with an addiction to the sort of culinary drugs that come in crinkly bags at supermarkets. Life’s a bitch and then you diet. Lydia used to be a looker. Not surprising, really. Her sisters were easy on the eyes too, but one vanished when she was 19, never to be seen again, and the other one just saw her husband get killed.

Sam is a determined sort, bulldog with a bone. He never believed the official cop line that his Julia had simply run away. So he dedicated his life to finding out what had really happened to his eldest daughter. It cost him his marriage, and maybe even more. We see the progress of Sam’s investigation through his journals, from the time when he was on this quest. Claire and Lydia’s adventure takes place today. The two sisters join forces to continue searching for the truth about Julia’s disappearance, and must face the consequences of Claire learning some very disturbing secrets about her husband.

(Karin Slaughter – from her FB pages)

Karin Slaughter is not new to the best-seller lists, having sold more than 30 million copies of her crime books books in 32 languages. She was born in a small Georgia town and now lives in Atlanta, where Pretty Girls is set. Her bibliography include six in the Grant County series and nine in the Will Trent series, both of which are also set in Atlanta. She was working on another book entirely when the notion for this one occurred to her in dream, so she checked in with her publisher, put the planned book on the back burner and dove into this one.

There are several elements at work here. In a book of this sort, if you are not engaged by the characters, the rest does not much matter. Lydia certainly has had her troubles in the past, but she is pretty supportable now, finding her best self in this worst of times. Claire makes us wonder how she could have buried her head in the sand for so long, ignoring what look like warning signs to us. But in wondering, it is worth keeping in mind that we are all sand-dwellers, from the neck up at least. Maybe it is an innate and useful skill to be able to simply ignore warning signs of peril. If we recognize them then we might have to do something about them, which entails personal risk, of either physical or emotional harm. Most of the time most of us prefer to keep a lid on things. Thus we live to ignore another day. So it feels entirely credible that reasonable people can overlook behavior that might stand out to an external observer. Particularly in Claire’s case, as she has tried to keep her head down in most situations for most of her life. We can see her vulnerability, however cloaked it may have been, and can easily feel for her.

In addition we see the characters develop over the course of the tale, Claire moving from passive to assertive and Lydia moving from nobody to a sort of anti-hero. Family dynamics plays a major part in the sisters’ struggle, both to find the truth and to find a way back to sisterhood across a very large distance. Check.

The story must be engaging. Will Claire and Lydia find out what really happened to their missing sister? Does Sam? Do we care? If you can’t empathize with this as a driving force, it must be because you are too busy torturing kittens. Check.

Pace must be maintained. Slaughter must have a metronome that is set for increasing tempo. Check.

The baddie must be truly scary, and up to some really awful stuff. You have no idea. Check.

The hero/heroine(s) must face believable peril. Is it possible that one or more of our core three might come to harm of the terminal sort? You betcha. Check.

A thriller is never without a bit of misdirection, a few fish-hooks hoisting red-herrings for us to consider. Yep. Get your scaling tools ready. Check.


And there is that old favorite, the twist. Let’s just say that Chubby Checker would be pleased. Check. Wait, what’s that? My advisors inform me that not everyone will appreciate my lame boomer refs, so, fine, whatever. For you kids out there, ok, rewind. Start over. Twists. Let’s just say that after reading this book, I was in need of a good neck brace. Ok? Sheesh.

Finally there is the issue of payload. That is the extra information one learns about the world in reading a work of fiction. I suppose there is a bit of that here. I have no idea if the awfulness that is depicted in Pretty Girls (aside from Paul’s questionable taste in décor and labeling) has a real-world basis. Although it does seem that if one can imagine a particularly grotesque form of depravity, there is probably someone, somewhere who is practicing it right now, and with so many folks on the planet, probably more than a few. So if the book is highlighting some actual form of human awfulness, then bad-a-bing. Check

Gripes. You knew there would have to be one or two. The title, Pretty Girls suggests that those on the "ten" side of life are more at risk than those closer to the "one" end of things. The theme of prettiness is noted with frequency early on, in comments on the attractiveness of some and the unattractiveness of others. Slaughter seems interested in giving some serious thought to how people react to beauty and to how the beautiful react to the world. Certainly there is peril about for those blessed with pleasing countenances, whether it comes from a wicked witch or the ravages of time. She keeps up the mentions for a while, sometimes offering actual insight. But then it seems to fade, as if she had run out of things to say about prettiness, until it is brought back into the spotlight for a final bow or two.

Like, oh, the title is Pretty Girls. I guess I should put something in here to give that some closure. It looked totally like an afterthought. I thought this could have been better handled, maybe spread out a bit more, maybe dig a bit more than skin deep. But that is a quibble. No one is going to read this book to get enlightened about beauty. My second gripe will have to be a bit clouded. I don’t want to spoil anything. I found the particular fixation of the baddie on the specific group that is targeted curious. Why did this person focus on these targets? I did not get that there was a particular reason why the baddie was so set on this particular subset of victims. Perhaps the significance of this is in the eye of the beholder? But no matter, really.

CONCLUSION: The bottom line here is that you will be ripping through this book, dying (well, almost) to see how things turn out. Pretty Girls is an outstanding thriller, a very engaging, entertaining, and disturbing read, and that is a beautiful thing!

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website  
Order “One Good Dragon Deserves AnotherHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Paradox Trilogy completion interview with Rachel Aaron/Bach

Rachel Aaron has been a regular author with us at Fantasy Book Critic, we happen to adore her books and also there's the fact that she's a fantastic person to boot. In this interview, she swells on some of the myriad details of her Heartstriker series. Plus she also exclusively reveals the title to the last book in this saga. So read on to find out what will be happening next plus lots more tidbits as well...

Q] How hard was it to write “One Good Dragon Deserves Another”? I recall you mentioning on twitter that you had to do several re-writes for this book? Could you talk to us about how and why your plans changed?

RA: Oh my God, this book…

I’ve been writing OGDDA on and off since before Nice Dragons Finish Last came out. My first draft (I have nine of them) is dated March 2014, which officially makes Heartstrikers 2 the most time consuming book I’ve ever written. It’s definitely the hardest I’ve ever worked on a book, and frankly it’s a bit of a writing miracle that (1) I actually finished the thing and (2) it doesn’t suck.

As is always the case in writing, the fault for this most epic of screw-ups falls squarely on my shoulders. When I first wrote NDFL, I had what I thought was a clear view of where the series was going to go. When it actually became time to act on those plans, though, I quickly realized that the direction I had in mind was not at all the direction the first book was pointing toward or a place where the characters wanted to go. A truth I learned multiple times as I ran into brick wall after brick wall trying to write these new scenes.

For example, my original plot centered on an escalating series of events that culminated with Justin being defeated by a human on national television. This embarrassment would cause Bethesda to command him to kill the human publically to redeem his honor, a task Justin couldn’t do because (1) she was actually better than him, and (2) he liked her, forcing him to ask Julius for help.

Now, this was a good plot in theory, and parts of it are pretty hilarious, but it didn’t connect to the main Estella plotline at all. Worse, it let Justin take over a story that isn’t about him. This is Julius and Marci’s story, and the way I had things structured turned them both into passengers in their own narrative. Also, Justin (funny as he is) just isn’t a character I care about as much as Julius or Marci or Chelsie or really any of the other Heartstriker siblings. So right from the get-go I was going in the wrong direction, and it’s a sad tribute to my progress as a writer that I was able to maul through nearly 200,000 words of draft scenes before I realized this.

Once I figured out what was going wrong, I started trying to save and re-purpose the scenes I’d written. This was a terrible idea in hindsight, though I can’t blame myself too much. Like I said, some of the scenes were really good, and even for someone who writes as fast and much as I do, 200,000 words (roughly 2 finished novels) is a lot of work to just throw away. After a few more failed drafts, though, it became painfully clear there was no salvaging this plot. It was well and truly dead, and if I was going to have a prayer of saving this book, I was going to have to start fresh.

This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my career. By this point, I’d been working on the book eight hours a day for eight hard, bitter months. I’d already missed my self-announced publication deadline of January 2015, money was drying up, and multiple failed drafts had left me with a sour resentment for the whole Heartstriker series. It was a dark place, and I very nearly scrapped the whole project just to get the albatross off my neck.

But every time I started to seriously consider admitting defeat, the Julius and Marci in my head wouldn’t let me. None of my characters would, because angry and tired as I was, the story wasn’t done. If I quit, then the story I started this series to tell—that you don’t have to be a jerk to get ahead, that niceness and kindness and ingenuity have intrinsic value—would be lost forever, and I just couldn’t do it. It also didn’t hurt that the fan feedback I got for Nice Dragons was the best of my career. If I gave up, I’d be letting everyone down: my fans, my characters, myself, everyone.

There is no amount of writing pain that is worth that level of failure. I simply could not live with myself if I abandoned these books, so I put on my big girl panties and got back on the dragon. My husband and I put our heads together and replotted the entire series. Nothing was safe or sacred. We redid the worldbuilding and magic and character arcs, we even redid the ending of the meta plot. Everything got a renovation from the ground up, and it was a very good change.

The Heartstriker series I have planned now is deeper, stronger, and has more to say than the original ever did. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but I think the project that benefited the most from this experience was me. Starting over and pushing through this project has been the most difficult and humbling experience I’ve ever had as a writer. Years from now, when I look back on my career, I think refusing to give up on this book will stand out as one of the watersheds of my life. It was my own knife test, the moment when I could have turned away and given up (or taken the easy way out and published what I had, good or not), but I didn’t. Against all odds, I made it work, and best of all, I ended up with a book I’m very proud of.

This last year has been awful and humiliating in a way I never knew writing could be. Clichéd as it might sound, though, pushing through those failures forced me to grow as a writer and as a professional in a way the successes never could. I wouldn’t wish my experience writing One Good Dragon Deserves Another on anyone, but I do think I came out stronger for it, and for that I’m grateful.

That was probably a lot more answer than you asked for, but it feels really good to get it out. Thank you for putting up with my oversharing!

Q] The sequel has Marci ascending to a central protagonist position and currently she shares this billing with Julius. Was this a planned move? Which other characters might be getting such treatment for the future volumes?  
RA: I always planned for Marci to play a huge role, but the situation I talked way too much about in the last question definitely moved her story development up in the timeline. This worked out very strong to my advantage, though! Marci is a vital balance to Julius in the story. She gives him a critical perspective on life outside of his family while he gives her someone to rely on and trust when the rest of her life falls apart. Also, they’re just genuinely cute and good for each other! <3

For these dynamics to keep working properly though, I discovered Julius and Marci’s character developments had to move in lockstep. If either leaves the other too far behind, things stop working. Normally, this would be a problem (developing characters in tandem can feel really forced, especially if it’s obviously only one person’s story while the other’s just tagging along), but given how crazy things are getting in the DFZ, the mutual development turned out really natural. You just can’t go through events like what happened in OGDDA without being changed by your experiences!

Will anyone else get this treatment? Sort of. The Heartstriker series is a character drama at its core, and as such, I plan for all the characters in the story to grow and develop through multiple stages as the series progresses. Chelsie, for example, will be getting her own major arc in book 3 (where we’ll finally learn what happened in China!). But Julius and Marci (both as individuals and as a team) are the heart and soul of this series, and the books going forward will always center on them.

Q] Let’s talk about that epilogue; it was a spectacular one which basically upended all that had been revealed in OGDDA so far. Was that planned from the very beginning or more of a spontaneous creation?

RA:
This is actually one of the few bits that was always there! I’ve always considered the world of the Heartstrikers novels to be one of three fundamental powers: dragons, spirits, and humans. Dragons and spirits have both made their moves, which meant it was time to bring the human power players into the picture (along with their elevated knowledge of what’s really going on in the world from the human perspective). That reveal was the entire point of the epilogue, and if you liked that, you’re going to LOOOOOVE how things develop in book 3! Let’s just say that Julius and Marci will have a very delicate diplomatic situation on their hands soon.

Q] I believe the 3rd volume is tentatively titled "A Dragon of a Different Color"? Could you please give us an inkling about it?

RA:
I’d love to! After the events of OGDDA, Julius’s position in the Heartstriker clan has fundamentally changed, giving him the power and position to enact changes to his clan that were only pipe dreams before. But to actually use that power, Julius is going to have to stand up to a lot of very scary new dragons who, unlike the rest of his family, don’t have to listen to Chelsie when she says “don’t eat him.” He’s playing in the deep end of the pool, now, and he’s going to have to really stand on what he believes in if he’s going to get anywhere.

But all this new responsibility is going to put pressure on the rest of his life, including his relationship with Marci, who is going to have a whole mountain of her own problems due to what happened with Ghost in book 2. Then we’ve got all the scheming dragons scrambling to exploit the changes to the Heartstriker clan, Chelsie dealing with dragons from her past, and a whole new (and unignorably powerful) human faction to deal with!

Yeah, book 3 is going to be a crazy whirlwind of politics, power struggles, and fundamental changes to life as we know it. Also, Bob is making some big moves now that the Estella situation is deal with. It’s going to be a pretty intense book!



Q] How many volumes do you think you would require to complete the Heartstriker series?

RA:
After the restructuring, we’re looking at five books total, with the last one (which I’m going to go ahead and title “Last Dragon Standing”) acting as the giant, climactic finish in much the same way Spirit’s End ended the Eli series. But, of course, that’s just what I have right now. Even the best laid plans are just one great idea from being completely redone! That’s what so great about creative writing, though. You can always rearrange things if you get a better idea.

Q] As I was reading this book, I strongly visualized the story and that got me thinking about it being adapted as a TV series? What are your thoughts on that and who would you cast as the various characters?

RA:
I’m actually terrible with actors! I’m primarily a reader/gamer/anime fan who watches an embarrassingly tiny amount of media featuring real live non-animated humans. So… I have no idea who I’d cast actually. Though I agree it would make a fantastic TV series. (Studios! Producers! CALL ME!)

I’ll just leave this one open to my fans, who are much better versed in this stuff than I am. Who would you guys like to see playing Julius, Marci, and all our favorite dragons? I’d really love to know if you guys have any ideas for Bethesda. Now that would be some stage presence!

Q] Ghost and Marci seem to have a strange connection which is expanded upon in this volume. Will we get to see the genesis of that partnership in the future volumes?

RA:
As I’m sure everyone noticed in my Eli books, I love the idea of the delicately balanced yet respectful partnership between a powerful human and an even more powerful natural force. That said, Marci is most definitely not Miranda, and her relationship with Ghost is way more sinister than any of the Spiritualist/spirit pairing in my Eli series.

One of the big themes in the Heartstriker books is that no one is actually how they appear at face value. Everyone is working their own angle, and Ghost is no different. He’s a major power of the series, and he and Marci still have a lot to go through and figure out before everything shakes out.



Q] The Three Sisters are supposed to be the oldest and biggest dragons in existence. I’m just curious as to how colossally big they are? Would they give Godzilla any competition?

RA:
Yes. I always envision the biggest, most ancient dragons (such as The Three Sisters) as being like kaiju: giant, city destroying monsters who are the reason dragon myths survived the magical drought. That said, dragons this big are definitely the top of the world. Since Bethesda herself is considered a young upstart, most Heartstrikers (meaning most of the dragons in the series) are relatively young/small, relatively being the key word. Justin—who, though overgrown, is only 24 year old—is forty feet long as a dragon. That’s two city buses! Not too shabby.

But yeah, dragons as a rule are BIG, which is why people are still afraid of them in this modern age of fighter jets and missiles.

Q] Bob is a favorite of mine and in this book we do get to know a bit more of his plans. How integral is he to the entire series and will we ever learn who the pigeon is and what’s their connection to each other?

RA:
Quite appropriately for a Bob question, it is impossible to answer this without spoilers. The best I can say is that this series is as much Bob’s as it is Julius’s. (Bob would say totally his, but I don’t think that’s giving our Nice Dragon nearly enough credit). Suffice it to say, all of Bob’s actions to this point have been working toward a very specific end that will become clearer as the series rolls on. Also, his pigeon is an important character and will be properly introduced very soon.

(Also, can I say how much I LOVE having a seer character?! It’s the most perfect excuse to cryptically feed readers important information/have coincidences ever.)

Q] Chelsie was another surprise in this story and I hope that we do find out more of her past. Is there any chance you would write a short story or novella with her as the protagonist?

RA:
She’s actually getting a huge chunk of the next book!! I shouldn’t have favorites, but Chelsie’s story is one of the first things I figured out about the Heartstriker world. It’s sad, it’s beautiful, and it’ll throw everything we’ve seen her do up till now into a new light. I’ve been dying to get it out for ages, and I’ll finally get my chance in A Dragon of a Different Color. I am stupidly excited about this!!!

Q] Is J the most recent brood that Bethesda had? How many hatchlings are there in every brood (on average)? Will we get to meet the other intriguing dragons from the Heartstriker clan? 

RA:
Yep! J is the most recent clutch and the babies of the mountain. As we’ll see in the very next book, dragonesses can actually control how many eggs they lay per clutch, ranging from two or three to twenty or more. Fewer eggs means the magic for each one is more concentrated, leading to more powerful dragons, while more eggs spreads the magic around, leading to more but weaker children.

Most dragons land somewhere in the middle, laying eggs that are powerful, but not so powerful they become a threat. Bethesda being Bethesda, of course, took quantity over quality. J-clutch, for example, had 22 dragons, of which Julius was the runt and the last to hatch. It’s also worth noting that it generally takes a dragoness at least 50 years to recover enough from one clutch to have another. With a few exceptions, even Bethesda spaced hers out by a century or more, but even that rate is considered absurdly fast by most dragon standards. There’s a reason they call her Bethesda the Broodmare!

(Pause while Bethesda eats the author alive for that comment.)

We’re definitely going to meet a lot more Heartstrikers and dragons in general in the next book. I try not to pile them on all at once since dragons are pretty intense and I didn’t want to overwhelm readers with an endless list of alphabetically arranged names. Also, most Heartstrikers ignore Julius on general principle, so they weren’t even around for the action of books 1 and 2. After the end of OGDDA, though, Julius is going to be getting a lot more attention from his family and from the dragon world at large, and that’s not a good thing.

Q] Thank you very much for your time and for answering all the questions. What would like to pass on to your fans both old and new?

RA:
My thanks!

When I decided to self-publish Nice Dragons Finish Last, it was just meant to be an experiment. I thought for sure that this series—with its nice guy protagonist, stupidly complex dragon drama, and unclassifiable mix of genres—was too way weird to ever be a major commercial success. As a writer who never colored inside the genre lines, though, I loved it. The ability to publish the book I loved exactly as I wrote it without having to make the compromises New York publishing requires to fit each book on one bookstore was actually a huge part of why I decided to go indie on this title in the first place. Writing this book was largely a labor of love for me, and I didn’t really expect it to sell more than few thousand copies.

Boy, was I wrong! The response to this series has been overwhelming. It’s sold incredibly well, and it’s my best reviewed series (both in terms of number of reviews and ratings) ever. You guys seriously blew my expectations for what these books could do out of the water, and I cannot express how humble and grateful I am that you’re enjoying it so much.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my readers! You are the reason I am able to live the dream and write these stories, and I cannot thank you enough for that privilege. You’re the reason I write, and I swear to do my absolute best to keep producing stories you’ll love!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

GUEST POST: Mixing Magic with the Mundane World by Tom Doyle


My most recent novel, The Left-Hand Way, is a contemporary fantasy thriller of magician-soldiers and psychic spies. It’s the sequel to American Craftsmen, but its new story expands the U.S. focus of the first book out onto a global stage. In this series of books, I’ve mixed magic with the modern mundane world. This creates certain problems that can usually be ignored in the pseudo-medieval and alternate world settings of much of fantasy. The main difficultly is the fantasy equivalent of Fermi’s Paradox--if magic is out there in our version of the real world, why don’t most people see it?

Some writers answer by not trying to hide the magic--the world shifts, or the supernatural comes out of hiding, and everyone finally knows the truth. But I would guess that secrecy remains the more common approach. So how can anybody keep such a huge secret?

The Harry Potter books deal with this problem by having wizards mostly off in their own version of reality, not usually accessible or visible by muggles (but there’s still some spillover into our reality from Hogwarts). In contrast, for my version of the modern world, magic has always been very active in mundane events yet also hidden in the background. My soldiers and spies have to act constantly in war and peace and change the direction of history--everything from the American Revolution to the D-Day landings to recent developments in Ukraine.

To make this cryptohistory plausible, the magic should be such that it’s not usually noticed even in plain sight. That means the scale and scope of powers should allow for natural and statistical explanations. For example, altering the local weather for a finite time is probably the biggest scale power that any craftsperson has, yet it’s also an event easily attributable to chance, as many of the temperate regions of the globe have changeable weather within wide norms. So, the unlikelihood of the bad weather that saved George Washington’s army at Brooklyn Heights or the brief window of good weather than allowed the D-Day invasion to go forward may draw historical interest, but few would assert magical intervention.

But most of the magic in my books is not on the same level of magnitude as changing the weather. Instead, it’s oriented to providing advantages in personal combat. These supernatural skills allow soldiers to fight at a level just beyond normal human, but they can’t fly about like superheroes, and craftspeople in all-out combat will exhaust themselves within an hour at most.



It aids secrecy that my magician-soldiers are not detectable by scientific means. Craftspeople aren’t different physically from normal humans, and I have no supernatural creatures except for the spirits of the dead. To keep magic covert, the folks in the know should be highly motivated to keep the secret. Despite our present-day problem of constant leaks, there are recent historical examples of hundreds of sufficiently dedicated persons keeping a secret to their deaths--for example, the British codebreaking operations at Bletchley during World War II. For my characters, it helps that nondisclosure is a normal part of their jobs--special ops and intelligence. It also helps that there’s a historical pattern of persecution if the craft secret is known, and that the fear of such behavior remains a consideration even in our more tolerant age.

Finally, I have a big stick: governments don’t want these supernatural powers to be widely known, since their use often violates or at least circumvents international and domestic law. To this end, they will silence leaks and leakers by any means necessary. As my characters like to say, any public display of magical power outside of government service is Ex-22, as in Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

During normal periods, my characters view their world as functioning smoothly under an inverted form of Clarke’s Third Lawany sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology True, their covert power can be elitist and anti-democratic in a way that parallels certain techno-elitist strands of SF, but modern societies seem big and resilient enough to cope with their hidden presence. But in the crisis of The Left-Hand Way, an ancient evil stretches the system to the breaking point, and magical secrecy begins to fail along with the other arrangements between mundane and craft authority, with potentially devastating consequences for my characters.

A big thank you to Fantasy Book Critic for inviting me here, and if you’d like to see more of my work, please visit my website.

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Official Author Website
Order The Left-Hand Way HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of American Craftsmen

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Tom Doyle is the author of The American Craftsmen series. He grew up in Michigan and did his undergrad at Harvard, while completing his law degree at Stanford. He writes science fiction and fantasy in Washington, DC. He has also won the WSFA Small Press Award and the Writers of the Future Award.
Monday, August 17, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order The Girl On A Train HERE
Read The Girl on the Train: how Paula Hawkins wrote ‘the new Gone Girl’
Read Entertainment Weekly interview with Paula Hawkins by Clark Collis 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: While this may be the first novel by Paula Hawkins, it is not the first novel that Paula Hawkins wrote, or published. She got work writing chick-lit under the name Amy Silver, an experience that she says was great training. Hawkins, born and raised in Zimbabwe, was 17 when her family moved to London. She had wanted to be a foreign correspondent like her father, but decided that war zones were just too scary.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I read this one out of curiosity. Aware that it had been a huge market success, I wondered if it merited the sales. According to Riverhead, The Girl on the Train is, or was, the fastest-selling adult hardcover fiction debut ever. And that is a shame. With so many great books being published every year that do little or no business, for this one to have secured a first class ticket on the book-sales express can only be dispiriting to the good and great writers everywhere toiling away in third class on the oft-delayed local.

I do not mean to say that The Girl On The Train is a bad book. Although I believe it to be seriously flawed, it is most definitely entertaining and will no doubt help hundreds of thousands of readers while away a few hours of their (our) lives, getting from this station to that. But if you want a psychological thriller that doesn’t disregard red signals you would do better to book a seat elsewhere.

(Paula Hawkins picture by Kate Neil)

Rachel Watson has had a tough go of it. When her hopes of having a baby with hubby Tom did not work out, she landed in a trough of post-hope depression, and self-medicated with a steady flow of what seemed happier spirits. It did not work out. Now, divorced and unemployed as a result of her drinking, growing larger and pastier by the day, Rachel rides the commuter train to London on weekday mornings, pretending she is still working, pretending she still has a life. The ride takes her past her old neighborhood, offering a nice, mood dampening view of a stretch of railroad-edge homes. She used to live in one of those, before her ex bought out her interest. A few places away from her former home there is a couple she sees most days. She imagines lives for them, nursing this fantasy for quite some time, until she learns that the woman has vanished, and the game is afoot.

The notion for the story occurred to Hawkins on her regular train ride in London some years back. She calls it “Rear-Window-ish,” noting that it is hardly unusual for train riders to be curious about the lives being lived in the houses they pass, and just as likely for those on the ground to wonder about those passing by.

"I used to go to college on the District line,” she said. “It goes very, very slowly and you can look into people’s houses. I did idly wonder about what you would do if you saw an act of violence or something suspicious. It’s quite normal, everyone is curious about other people’s lives.” – from an article in the Standard

This irregular Watson will not make anyone forget the investigative Doctor, let alone his illustrious partner, but Rachel feels compelled to find out whatever she can, using the knowledge she has gleaned from her daily observations. We expect our investigators these days to be a bit down on their luck, and to throw back maybe more than their share of amber liquid. But Rachel Watson doesn’t have a drinking problem, she has a drinking catastrophe. How is she to figure out whither the missing lady has gone, or perhaps who made her go missing, how is she to judge whether the lady’s anger-management-challenged husband, the other man she saw at her place, or someone else might be somehow involved, if her drinking causes her to have more blackouts than London during the blitz.

The tale is told in staggered chronology, from three perspectives. Rachel’s, the missing person’s, and Anna’s, she being the woman with whom Rachel’s ex cheated while he was still with Rachel, and whom he subsequently married. Or she said, she said, and then she said. The timelines converge at the end. Most sections are divided into sub headings of morning, evening, afternoon, that sort. It makes for many short passages, good, appropriately, for reading on a train.

(This is an example of the S stock used on the District line Hawkins once rode)

The pace of the tale is quick, clickety-clacking along without exceeding posted limits, advancing nicely to the big climax. Truthfulness comes in for some attention, as it seems everyone has something to hide. If you are looking for likeable characters, you might try the Hogwarts Express. The folks here tote enough baggage to merit their own cars. I suppose Rachel is sympathetic, but seems almost as much an agent of her misery as a victim. Making her pathetic and annoying was, I expect, a way to make her real, make her sympathetic, and that works, to a point.

Will Rachel find out what happened with the missing woman? Will her ex take out an order of protection against her, as she keeps calling and showing up at his place? Is the missing person merely missing? or worse? Can Rachel stay sober long enough to figure anything out? You might very well care. Clearly, judging by sales, many do. But, while I did, a little, I felt pushed away by this book. I felt cheated, as an actual audience member, as if riding on a disoriented express. I do understand that the unreliable narrator is simply a story-telling mechanism and that Rachel falls into the Madman classification within that, but when she changes her story about a significant piece of information the story went off the rails for me.

CONCLUSION: So, while there is plenty to enjoy about The Girl on the Train, while there is plenty of tension-release-repeat, and while many readers are bound to be transported by the story, relating to or rooting for one or more characters at least some of the time, the one thing a reader demands from an author is honesty, and when trust is lost so is the benefit of the several hours we spend together. The locomotive was transformed, for me, into a hand-car trapped in a siding. It’s elementary.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog.
Saturday, August 15, 2015

SPFBO Round One: Under A Colder Sun by Greg James (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Greg James is a Fantasy author based in London, England. He has been writing stories since he was a child and still maintains that his pre-adolescent adaptations of The Wizard of Oz featuring Godzilla and the Transformers have validity. He studied Literature and Media at university and spent a year in the Far East teaching English as a foreign language. He enjoys long walks around his home city of London as well as reading, writing (of course) and thinking up new imaginary worlds to entertain readers with.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Khale the Wanderer: dark warrior of legend, a reaver with a demon’s soul.

King Alosse: ruler of Colm, willing to risk everything to save his city and its people. Princess Milanda: an innocent, kept pure since birth, unknowing of her fate.

Neprokhodymh: the cursed city of sorcerers where Khale must make a choice that will scar him for life, or fall into darkness forever.

FORMAT/INFO: Under A Colder Sun is 215 pages long divided over twenty-five chapters, and an epilogue. In this book, narration is in the third-person, via Khale, Leste, Princess Milanda, and Timoth. Under A Colder Sun is the first volume of Khale The Wanderer series. The book also contains the following short stories "Timestone" and "Each Dawn, I Die".

August 28, 2014 marked the paperback and e-book publication of Under A Colder Sun and it was self-published by the author

ANALYSIS: Under A Colder Sun is Greg James’ dark tribute to Robert E. Howard’s Conan and perhaps a credible hat tip to Kane by Karl Edward Wagner. The story is perfectly set in the grimdark mold and captured my imagination the most among the entire set of books that were in my SPFBO line-up.

The story begins immediately in a land of Colm where Khale is widely reviled and the soldiers sent to give him a royal invitation share the same disgust. King Alosse has summoned Khale with a request and being that they were once friends, Khale does come to see his friend. Tasked with a strange request, Khale agrees, as is his wont however he soon finds himself feeling a strange sensation that he hasn’t felt in centuries. The other POV characters introduced are Princess Milanda who is a virgin and a simple person. Lastly there’s also Leste who is a common soldier and completely baffled by the king’s orders and deference towards Khale.

What got me hooked was the main character of Khale, he truly is a villain so as to speak. Heinous deeds are his legacy and this story is that of his conversion to an anti-hero at best. The author makes no qualms that his main character is a vile person and the world is a dark, foreboding one. The author perhaps takes a page from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight by never quite revealing how Khale acquired his immortality. But often we find some characters telling different stories with regards to his ascent towards immortality. I found that a nice throwback to the Joker and his several different stories of how he got his facial scars.

While the author shows the dastardly side of his story with Khale, we are given two good characters in Milanda and Leste. The author delightfully explores this dark dichotomy and has Khale’s evil balanced by Milanda’s earnest nature and Leste’s simple-minded focus. I enjoyed this aspect of the story and often found myself what would happen when they met with each other. This story is also on the shorter side and has quite some pace to it. There’s not much action sequences in the story however the author makes sure that something interesting and deadly is happening throughout the pages. There’s a tiny thread introduced with a minor character named Timoth that’s perhaps to be explored in the sequel.

One of the major drawbacks of the story is the lack of worldbuilding. We are presented with snippets about the land and its history but the readers won’t get a true immersive experience as the author never quite reveals much about the world and its denizens. Another aspect that perhaps seemed a tad overdone was the darkness of the story and what I mean is that the world is shown to be a desolate one. But there’s no clear reason shown as to why that might be the case. Sure there’s proclamations about a blight on the land and some evil slowly taking over but it’s more said than shown.

CONCLUSION: Under A Colder Sun is Greg James’ grimdark debut and it has many reasons as to why most grimdark fans will like it a lot. Of course it isn’t without its faults and readers will have to give it a read to see which side they fall towards. I enjoyed it quite a bit and would recommend it certainly to all grimdark fans looking for a quick dark read.

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Book Scavenger”
Review HERE

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Click here to find out more about “The Instruments Of Control”
Review HERE

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Click here to find out more about “Queen of Fire”
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