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Friday, June 23, 2017

RE-REVIEW: The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.

Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.

The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He's best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it's often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.

As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.

FORMAT/INFO: The Heresy Within is divided into four sections with sixty POV chapters. The narration is in third person via Thanquil Darkheart, Jezzet Vel’urn and Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn. This is the first book of the Ties That Bind trilogy.

June 21, 2017 marks the worldwide e-book re-release of The Heresy Within and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Sigbjorn Pedersen, cover design was by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heresy Within is a dark fantasy debut with terrific characterization and a twisted plotline that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch.

ANALYSIS: This book was originally self-published by the author in 2013 and it completely blew my mind. When I first read it, I had no clue about this book but the blurb suggested a dark story and the excerpt that I read had me salivating as soon as I finished it. The story safe to say was far from a disappointment. This book has been re-released by the author after he got his rights back from Ragnarok Publications and readers can read more about that in this interview and over on the author's site. I'm reposting my review with a few edits and to espouse the new(ish) cover and re-release of the entire trilogy.

The story begins with Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart who is a member of the Inquisition that seeks to root out demons and those who practice the dark arts in the lands in and around the holy city of Sarth. They are an organization who based on the teachings of Volmar, and have dedicated their lives trying to burn heretics and forever stamp out the dark arts. Such dedication has given them the street title of “witch hunters” and it’s one that is actively discouraged as well. Thanquil however is not a typical arbiter and is just returning from a distant mission before he gets shanghaied into an even more dangerous one. 

Jezzet Vel’urn is a blademaster, she’s also a person who thinks more of day-to-day survival than anything else. Her troubles stem from a past friendship gone sour and before long she has to decide whether she will “fight or fuck her way” out of the troubles heading her way. Lastly there’s Betrim the Black Thorn, mercenary, rogue and all round deadly murderer. His name echoes throughout the wilds as a name to be feared. Having lost a few digits on his hands and feet have made the Black Thorn extremely cautious in trusting folk even those among his crew but come long he will have to decide whether he wants to remembered as just a vile mercenary or something more.

That’s the basic gist of all the POV characters however there are other characters as well and all of them crazier and scarier than these POV ones. If I had to pinpoint the one single strength of this book, I would say it’s the characterization. Very few authors manage to write such terrific characters in their debut, only a few such as Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Anthony Ryan come to mind but now I believe we have another addition to this list. Rob J. Hayes who has written about lowlifes and scoundrels but writes with such wonderful application that these very characters seem fascinating gems and before long have you hooked onto their antics. This is the best part of the story, and very reminiscent of Blake Crouch and J. A. Konrath’s serial killer thrillers wherein they explored the darker side of human depravity and power. 

Similarly the author herein focuses on people who frankly would be villains in most fantasy books however gives them three dimensional personas for the readers to enjoy reading about. Betrim, Thanquil and Jezzet are the main characters and they shine brightly through their chapters but it's also the side character cast such as Henry, Bones, Swift, etc that make the story so much more intriguing. The POV characters Thanquil, Jezzet and Betrim are all psychologically broken people however the way they cope with their problems is fascinating to read. Plus amid all the savagery, their semi-honorable actions seem even brighter as compared to the muck around them. Sure enough some of them are still reprobates, act crazy, commit violence in a wild manner upon each other and normal folk, however many of them become so interesting that the readers will be forced to turn the pages to get to know them better as well as their sides of the story. This was what I loved so much about this debut, the terrific characterization, the unpredictable plot-line with all the action and bleakness.

There are plot twists galore as the story hardly moves in the direction that the readers would expect and in the end the author makes sure that the rules of the world are obeyed in the sense that no character is truly safe. The author also subverts several fantasy tropes by not following conventional storylines Case in point the God Emperor of Sarth was a farm boy who was revealed to be a human incarnation of Volmar. However the author doesn't focus on this and mentions it and moves on to the juicy parts.  There are quite a few deaths and so I would recommend that readers not read the blurb of the sequel books so as to not spoil their reads. The ending is very Abercrombie-esque wherein situations are resolved but the characters are put through a psychological and physical grinder of sorts. All in all this is a kind of debut that you definitely don’t want to miss because as soon as you finish this book, you’ll want to start the next one and then the one after that. The nice news is that both the sequels are already out and therefore ready to be devoured. Lastly the cover art is also very apt and details a particularly fascinating scene from the book itself.

Now moving onto the parts of the book that seem to be a bit deficient, namely the worldbuilding front. Sure enough there is enough history and geography provided to make it seem three dimensional but because the story focuses so much on characters and action, some readers who might want to know more of the surrounding world might not be satisfied. This book is without a map and so for cartophiles (like me) it’s a bit of a negative. However the author has posted a world map on his website for those interested Lastly those who don’t like dark fantasy or grey characters please, please avoid this book at all costs as you definitely will not be able to stomach it for all its brutality, gore and graphic nature. There's also quite a few situations and characters that come on to the main stage without any explanation and so I hope their status and back-stories will be explained in the succeeding volumes.

CONCLUSION: The Heresy Within is an amazingly dark debut and like 2012’s Blood Song is an absolute gem. If you like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Mark Lawrence, make sure this is your next book. If you want a dark journey filled with action, betrayals and truly magnificent bastards of characters then The Heresy Within is the book that you should seek. DO NOT MISS IT!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

NEWS: The Ties That Bind Trilogy Cover Reveal & A Free Book by Rob J. Hayes (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Rob J Hayes has been a favorite of mine since first debuted his fantasy trilogy in April of 2013. The earlier covers weren’t anything that would catch most people’s eyes however his writing had that special quality that most readers including me took notice. Within a year of his indie success, Rob signed up with Ragnarok Publications to give his books a wider release and also got new cover art as a result.

Things however didn’t work out with Ragnarok because of their sheer unprofessionalism and the author has documented all of his pitfalls with them over HERE, HERE & HERE.

Thankfully earlier this year, Rob was able to get the rights to his debut trilogy back and decides to re-rerelease them with new cover-art. Okay so it’s new for books two & three and one slightly older cover for the The Heresy Within.

So here are the covers in all their glory and with new blurbs:

The Heresy Within (cover art by Sigbjorn Pedersen, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Order The Heresy Within Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.

Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.

The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He's best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it's often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.

As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.

The Colour Of Vengeance (cover art by Alex Raspad, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Order The Colour Of Vengeance Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: BEATEN, BATTERED AND DAMNED NEAR BROKEN WITH A BOUNTY ON HIS HEAD SO LARGE HE’S TEMPTED TO TURN HIMSELF IN, the Black Thorn finds himself on trial for the crime of being him. Despite the impending probability of death he has but one thought on his mind; taking revenge against the Arbiter who took his eye.

In order to carry out his vengeance Thorn must first escape Sarth and recruit a new crew, each one with their own designs on revenge.

The Price Of Faith (cover art by Alex Raspad, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Order The Price Of Faith Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: NOT EVERYONE HAS A DESTINY.

Separated and miserable, Thanquil Darkheart and Jezzet Vel’urn both have their reasons for wanting to leave the Dragon Empire. Jezzet flees from the wrathful fury of an Empress scorned while accompanied by the ever insidious Drake Morrass and Thanquil sets out to find and judge his one heretical loose end.


Plus to celebrate the relaunch of his debut trilogy, the author has also made the collection of his First Earth short stories FREE on both side of the Atlantic. So please download a copy  for FREE and enjoy an exciting introduction to the First Earth Saga

Order The Bound Folio Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: The world is full of heroes, villains, and all the shades in between. The Bound Folio tells their stories from the tortured childhood of the legendary Blademaster the Sword of the North, to the humble origins of the Queen of the Five Kingdoms, to the death of one of the world’s greatest assassins.

This anthology collects together eight dark stories of swords, sorcery, and seduction from First Earth, the setting of The Ties That Bind trilogy and the forthcoming Best Laid Plans duology.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Force by Don Winslow (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order The Force HERE
Read an Interview with Don Winslow by John Wilkins

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .

All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.

He is "the King of Manhattan North," a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of "Da Force." Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given carte blanche to fight gangs, drugs, and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "…he started out with his eyes firmly on the guiding star, his feet planted on the path, but that’s the thing about the life you walk—you start out pointed true North, but you vary one degree off, it doesn’t matter for maybe one year, five years, but as the years stack up you’re just walking farther and farther away from where you started out to go, you don’t even know you’re lost until you’re so far from your original destination you can’t even see it anymore" - Don Winslow

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - Henry IV Part 2W. Shakespeare

After eighteen years in the NYPD, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone has good cause for unease. The de facto king of Manhattan North has seen considerable upheaval in his kingdom. He may be, effectively, the head of this select unit, charged with going after gangs, drugs, and guns. “Da Force” may have unusually free rein to do as they see fit to accomplish their goals. But a turf war between competing providers of recreational pharmaceuticals is growing increasingly kinetic, with one of the combatants looking to purchase a considerable supply of death-dealing hardware. Not OK. The captain is pressing for a high-publicity bust. There is also the perennial political dance one must perform to keep the brass at One Police Plaza and the political suits from interfering with business as usual. Of course, what passes for business as usual might not look all that good splashed across the front pages of the local tabloids.

Bribery may be the grease that keeps the wheels of civilization turning, but it leaves a lot of cops with very dirty hands. Denny is no saint, and no Serpico. He may mean well for the community he is charged with protecting, but his methods often lack the soft gleam of legality. We first meet him as he arrives in federal lockup. The novel then goes back to show how he got there. Slippery slope stuff. See the greased wheels above.

"The street stays with you. It sinks into your pores and then your blood." 
"And into your soul? Malone asks himself. You gonna blame that on the street too? 
"Some of it, yeah." 
"You’ve been breathing corruption since you put on the shield, Malone thinks. Like you breathed in death that day in September."
"Corruption isn’t just in the city’s air, it’s in its DNA, yours too." 
"Yeah, blame it on the city, blame it on New York." 
"Blame it on the Job, It’s too easy, it stops you from asking yourself the hard question."
"How did you get here? Like anyplace else."
"A step at a time."

Lines are crossed here with the frequency of runners reaching the end of the NYC marathon. Early on, Denny and his crew take out a major distributor, whack the principal, and skim off a significant portion of the captured product, a bit of an extra retirement fund. Some people are a tad upset by this. It’s not exactly much of a secret, though, and there are those who would like to see Denny being saluted by the entire force in Dress Blues and white gloves while someone plays Taps.

One of the great powers of this novel is the perspective offered on diverse forms of human behavior. Is Denny a brute for roughing up a guy who beat up a kid? Definitely outside the law, but are his actions effective? Denny really does care about the people in his kingdom. He cuts slack when possible, and brutalizes when it is called for. But the law seems a lot more of a recommendation than an absolute.

Winslow offers a close up look at a dark element of police culture:
 - How does being on the take work?
 - Who gets what?
 - How is money distributed?
 - Who is it ok to accept bribes from?
 - What is allowed that would otherwise be justiceable?
 - And why do the cops here consider it ok?

He offers as well a moving look at the human relationships that make up police life, the code of honor, the power of partnership, the requirement that all members of the team partake of the ill-gotten, if only as a means of self-protection, the wives who turn a blind eye to where that extra cash may have originated, and what their breadwinner may be up to when the crew parties hard, up to a point anyway. The interaction between the police and people in their area is rich with real affection, as well as the expected cynicism. Some of these scenes are stunningly moving, tissue worthy.

How about the relationship between cops and the local criminal element? You might be reminded of those cartoons in which Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote punch a time clock, go at it, then clock out at the end of the day, friends. The cops and criminals often seem cut from the same cloth, although the baddest of the bad guys are certainly much worse than the worst of the cops. And the bullets really kill. Winslow does not spare the one-percent, either, in his look at layers of amorality.

Don Winslow is a seasoned writer at the pinnacle of his craft:

"Malone drives past the Wahi diner and the mural of a raven on 155th. Past the church of the Intercession, but it’s too late for Intercession, past Trinity Cemetery and the Apollo Pharmacy, the Big Brother Barber shop, Hamilton Fruits and Vegetables and all the small gods of place, the personal shrines, the markers of his life on these streets that he loves like a husband loves a cheating wife, a father loves a wayward son."

There are wonderful nuggets of law enforcement intel in here. Like the notion of testilying. Or what is considered proper attire for a day on the stand. How about special celebratory nights for a crew? The upside of EMTs not taking a Hippocratic oath. Rules for note-taking on the job. How 9/11 saved the mob. Planning your crimes so they cross as many precinct boundaries as possible, increasing the likelihood that a paperwork snafu will botch a prosecution. On tribes within the force.

Winslow has a Damon Runyon-esque ear for character names. My favorites were a CI named Nasty Ass, and another the cops call Oh No, Henry, and a linguist’s appreciation for the local patois. Or maybe that would be another well-known teller of tales. (I think Dickens is one of the progenitors of noir fiction, writing as he did about the criminal underclass.) He peppers the novel with delicious small side-stories. Tales told in a bar by guys who have been spinning yarns for a lifetime. They give us occasional breathers from the breakneck pace.

He takes on topics that will resonate, from Blue on Black violence, and the resulting reactions, to how the jails are functioning as de facto mental hospitals and detox centers. From a consideration of God and the Church (Denny is not a fan) to the impact of the job on people’s lives. Denny recalls his father: "He was a cop on these streets, coming home in the morning after a graveyard shift with murder in his eyes, death in his nose and an icicle in his heart that never melted and eventually killed him."

From how cops cope with the daily horrors to how the crime numbers are cooked to support whatever preconceived outcome was desired. On the Iron Pipeline, the route on which legal guns from Texas, Arizona, Alabama and the Carolinas become illegal guns in NYC. The politics of police tactics and voting. The hatred and respect the cops have for the best defense lawyers. Their relationship with reporters: "You trust a reporter like you trust a dog. You got a bone in your hand, you’re feeding him, you’re good. Your hand’s empty, don’t turn your back. You either feed the media or it eats you."

Denny may be dirty, but you will be dashing along with him and hoping for the best. Maybe this whole situation can be fixed. He is a rich, multi-faceted character, and you will most definitely care what happens to him. Think Popeye (Gene Hackman) of The French Connection, or Lieutenant Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) on the wonderful TV show Shades of Blue.

You might want to secure your seat belt and make sure that your Kevlar is all where is it is supposed to be. This is a non-stop, rock’em, sock’em high-speed chase of a novel, a dizzying dash through an underworld of cops, criminals, and those caught in the middle, screeching stops, and doubling backs, hard lefts, harder rights, and Saturn V level acceleration. Once you catch your breath after finishing the final pages I expect you’ll find yourself realizing just what a treat it has been.

CONCLUSION: The Force is not just a great cop book, it is a great book, period, a Shakespearean tragedy of high ideals brought low, with one of the great cop characters of all time. The Force is an instant classic.

NOTE: This review originally was posted on Goodreads. Don Winslow picture courtesy of Milanonera.com
Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Castle Doctrine by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order The Castle Doctrine 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 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

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Out of prison and back on the streets, Daniel Faust returns home to a city on fire. The Chicago mob is making their play for control of Las Vegas, with an army of gunmen and a lethal shapeshifter on their side, while Daniel's friend Jennifer marshals the forces of the Vegas underworld. Staying on the sidelines isn't an option, especially when a Metro detective orders him to get the war under control -- and if he can't, he'll expose Daniel's secrets to the FBI.

It's a bad time for ghosts of the past to come calling, but Damien Ecko is on his way with a hit list and a legion of walking corpses. Marked for death by the courts of hell, the mad necromancer plans on making sure that everyone who framed him, Daniel first and foremost, dies along with him.

Hunted by the living and the dead, pushed to his limits, Daniel will have to be smarter, faster, and more ruthless than he's ever been. He'll need to call upon new, dark powers, and darker allies. His enemies thought they took everything he had. They couldn't take his hunger. When this war is over, Daniel Faust will rise like a phoenix...or go down in flames.


FORMAT/INFO: The Castle Doctrine is 310 pages long divided over forty-four chapters with a prologue, an epilogue and an afterword. Narration is in the first-person, via Daniel Faust solely and different third-person narratives for the prologue and epilogue. This is the sixth volume of The Daniel Faust series. 



September 27, 2016 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of The Castle Doctrine and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a cast of anti-heroes and with a magician con-man as the protagonist, the Daniel Faust series is Richard Stark's Parker crossed with The Dresden Files and set in Las Vegas. 



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Castle Doctrine is the sixth book and like The Living End brings to a solid conclusion one of the main plot arcs introduced in A Plain-Dealing Villain. With this being the sixth book, I'll have to discuss some plot and character details which will be spoiler-ific (in a mostly minor way) for the preceding volumes so be warned.

The plot opens after the events of The Killing Floor Blues when Daniel has returned to Las Vegas and is enjoying his newfound freedom. He plans to start with a new identity and is laying down the foundation for it when he finds out that Damien Ecko is gunning for him. Ecko has been slowly targeting those he believes to be special to Faust and he’s been making his way to Las Vegas. All of this while the Chicago mob is making moves on the Las Vegas scene and it's up to Jennifer and her fellow gang affiliates to thwart them. Faust is forced to take counter measures against Ecko, help out Jennifer and will have to finally take a stand and figure out what does he want to do with his life.

There's obviously a lot more going on but I can’t talk about it while spoiling the plot in a major way. What I can say is that this is the book that reveals so much more about background series arc that has only been hinted at so far. In fact I would say that this is the book that overwhelmingly ties together all of the author's published series so far (the Daniel Faust books, the Harmony Black series as well as The Revanche Cycle). Let’s start with the title: “The Castle Doctrine”, this specific precedent had been referenced in the earlier books and plays out grandly within this volume. So far within all of the previous books, Faust has been reacting to things and his failures have started adding up. This is the book wherein all of his mistakes comes to roost and Faust will have to determine what type of person he wishes to be. Whether he wishes to invoke the castle doctrine and defend those he loves and protect what he cherishes.

As always is the case, Danielis front and center of the story but we get to see him realize his mistakes. After five and half books worth of horrific shenanigans this book is ultimately about the first solid transformation that Daniel Faust takes. Sure it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Faust but as he hears from the Mourner Of The Red Rocks, he seems to be wasting his potential and this book heralds the beginnings of a new chapter in Daniel’s life. As a reader, it was exciting to read this and I can’t wait to see where the author takes Faust next. Characterization has been Craig’s forte and this volume also does the needful with us getting to meet new characters and older ones as well. The character cast is a suitably wide one and yet even with the singular, limited POV. The author is able to showcase a wide variety of folks with an equally wide variety of reasons for the things that they do. I thoroughly enjoy how the author is able to do this and it’s even better when we get to see the same characters from Harmony’s POV in her series. With this volume, the horror aspect is played down a little and considering how the author has been generous with this facet, this was a tad surprising.

This book also serves as the arc conclusion to the Damien Ecko plot introduced in book four (A Plain-Dealing Villain) and similar to the first three books, we get another trilogy ending that will sit right with most of the fans. This book is chronologically set after the events of Red Knight Falling and features a small clue about possible events occurring in Glass Predator (book 3 of the Harmony Black series) and it hints at further co-mingling of plots and characters down the line.  Another point of note, this book doesn't really bring to an end to the Cheshire Smile's plots  as I think he's going to be around for a longer while and possibly might be one of the ultimate big bad of the universe that the author is writing.

There's a subplot to this book that's very meta and is done splendidly. For me this part of the book was the best part as it revealed a lot of the future. I believe this section ties in to the whole grand plan for the series and so readers will have to be on the lookout for it. For most fans of this series, this book will be the big payoff as a lot of things get resolved while things are set into motion that will have plot ramifications further down the line. This book also features a nice tip of the hat to The White Gold Score which while chronologically being book# 1.5, was written along with this book. It reintroduces us to characters featured in the novella and readers who have read The White Gold Score will really love to the see the sequel to the fight featured in it.

Lastly this book brings to a grand conclusion to the events that have been in motion since A Plain-Dealing Villain. However one important plot thread regarding Caitlin is left hanging. This book also highlights an important point about a future trilogy that the author is planning and most readers of the Revanche Cycle should be able to spot it. This book though doesn’t work as a standalone as too many events, characters are referenced from previous books for it to be read on its own. That would be my only pseudo-complaint about the book. Truly though there’s nothing much to rant about this one.

CONCLUSION: The Castle Doctrine brings to a strong conclusion to the Damien Ecko trilogy and as for Faust, it heralds a new beginning for him. The Castle Doctrine is a slim volume which packs more of a punch than you might expect. It’s exactly what Faust would have planned in a fight so get ready and read this one ASAP. So like me you can then be hooked onto the wonderfully addictive universe that Craig Schaefer is crafting quietly and solidly.
Monday, June 12, 2017

Age Of Assassins by R. J. Barker (reviewed by Michael E. Everest)


Official Author Website

Order the book HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Read Michael's Interview with R.J. Barker

AUTHOR INFORMATION: RJ Barker is an author from the British Isles and a quiet one at that. He’s a stay at home dad who wrote the first draft of his debut book in about six weeks. Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. Previously RJ has also written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He currently lives in Leeds with his family and Age Of Assassins is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN . . .

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land's best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince's murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Age Of Assassins is a debut that does things differently and mixes fantasy with mystery tropes wonderfully.

The Good: Loveable first person POV, worldbuilding that weaves into the plot and the systems within the story, plenty of twists to keep you guessing, a grand reveal in the finale, and an intriguing combat style that in the hands of another would probably have fallen flat but RJ makes it dance like everyone’s watching.

The Bad: Despite being tagged as 'to catch an assassin, use an assassin' there are no fancies & flips assassin vs assassin face offs. To me, this isn't a bad thing as the book was phenomenal, but if you're expecting Assassin's Creed type of duels, leaping from rooftops and planting double footed kicks and hidden blade strikes, then you won't find that here.

The Ugly Truth: Age Of Assassins (AoA) is an Assassins' poison-store of fantasy and murder-mystery, with a touch of tainted coming of age. I definitely agree with the 'For fans of Brent Weeks and Robin Hobb', but Girton Clubfoot stands proud on his own two feet, club foot or not.

I like Assassins. Assassins are badass. Girton is an assassin. But is he badass? No.

He’s more than that.

And I love Girton Clubfoot for all that he is.

Think assassin and fantasy, and you think Brent Weeks' Night Angel series, Robin Hobb's works, Kalam from the Malazan books, and the assassins from the infamous Assassins Creed. Think assassin and history, and you think John Wilkes Booth, (et tu) Brutus, and the eponymous Hashshashins (sometimes written as Hassassins).

But Girton Clubfoot from Age Of Assassins? He's different. And no, I'm not referring to the fact that he is disabled as being different. In the author's own words: ‘He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him.' Girton is different because he has a whole lotta heart, hope, and with these goes hurt, hand in hand.

Girton is the apprentice to Master Merela Khan, an assassin who saves him at a young age and raises him as an assassin. But rather than raise him in hardship and in harm’s way, Merela has raised him with love and care. And this can be felt throughout the story.

We join Girton and Merela as they sneak into a castle upon invite - yes, sneak in, upon invite. Assassins aren't overly welcome in the Tired Lands, and their host wants their presence to remain unknown. No sooner than they arrive, they find themselves trapped, taken captive, and tested, before their real task begins - to catch an assassin who has been hired to kill the heir.

And so, the tag line comes into play - to catch an assassin, use an assassin.

The story plays out as, again, in the author’s own words: ‘a whodunnit with a bit of swordfighting and magic in it.’ But there's a lot more to it than that. I've said it once I'll say it again, there's a whole lot of heart in this book. And whilst by no means is it YA or epic fantasy of the noblebright, it is neither grimdark. It's a coming of age story told from the first person POV, that person being an old head on a young man’s body. It deals with such themes as acceptance, bullying, the ‘isms’ of diversity, love (both romantic and familial), friendship and growing up.

It’s both this mix of old wisdom/youthful wonder, and the fact that Girton is a professional guised as an amateur that makes this so intriguing. In disguise, Girton has to pretend that he is a clumsy, unskilled cripple, when in fact he is a trained assassin, who can more than handle himself (and others).

That brings me nicely to the fight scenes, which harks back to the ‘swordfighting’ above. Anyone who has read enough fantasy will recognise the comparative draw between swordfighting and dance in fantasy books, or ‘names’ for certain moves e.g. the Eagle Stance. AoA draws these two together, the dance and the ‘moves’, and combines them to create the Assassin’s ‘iterations’ – a repertoire of drilled-into-you- until-they’re-instinctive dodges, grapples, defences and attacks. Something like this can either work or fail (big time), but I’m glad to report than the author introduces and interweaves then in such a way that reading and recognising them becomes instinctive, and because of that, the combat is more alive for it.

And to tie-up the other aforementioned loose end – magic! When a sorcerer uses it, she/he/they draw upon the life around them to wield their power. This ties into the world building AND the plot, which brings the whole world to reality, rather than just a ‘oh, I need magic, here have a spell book’.

I’d like to highlight the tag line again, but this time to dispel any determinations. AoA is not an assassin story of leaping from roof tops, hidden blades in gauntlets, garrotte wires in throats, and cold-blooded murder. And if that’s what you came looking for, you’ll be disappointed. But if you came looking for something more…then welcome to team Girton!

CONCLUSION: Before I close out, I’d like to say one last thing about Age Of Assassins and its author, the wonderful RJ Barker. When I read a book, I like to look for the little bit of the author left behind. The best books, or so I believe, are the ones that the author puts themselves into. AoA is one of those books. Whilst I won’t labour the point, because RJ said it himself (‘He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him), I would just like to say that RJ Barker might just be one of my new favourite human beings – he IS different, in that he is eccentric, witty, fun, and full of life. Reading AoA, you can pick up on the hurt, but as I said above, it goes hand in hand with heart and hope.

I’m delighted to say that each of the 2017 debuts I’ve read this year have been as equally awesome as they are diverse. Looking to the future, and after THAT epilogue, I’m even more delighted to say that the future of fantasy is looking bright – and I for one am excited to see where Girton, and RJ, takes us next.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

SPFBO Cover Contest & The Top Three (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Last year Mark Lawrence added an extra component to the SPFBO contest by also having the bloggers select the three best covers in each of their groups. The aim was to find the best covers according to the bloggers as well as the general public.

So with this edition, we are also having a similar run and the covers are even more gorgeous this time around. At Fantasy Book Critic, we decided to go with the top five covers in our lot and invited each of the authors to talk about the genesis of each of them. So here are our TOP 5 (in random order):


Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick:
The short version of how the cover for Where The Waters Turn Black came about is that I found a kick-ass designer, and got the hell out of her way.

Here’s the slightly longer version:

There was never any doubt that Jenny from seedlingsdesign.com would be doing the cover for this book. Her cover for They Mostly Come Out At Night did wonders for my debut, and she has already created an iconic look for the Yarnsworld series. The trick with Waters, however, was linking it with the previous book, but somehow also suggesting that this was a very different story than Book One. Whereas TMCOAN is a dark fantasy set in a mysterious forest, WTWTB is a fantasy adventure on a remote ring of tropical islands. This was Jenny’s first suggestion:


The idea here was to have the line of the taniwha on the cover of WTWTB (that giant monster with the swirls all over its body) to replicate the s-like curve of the Magpie King on Book 1. Much like that book, the font for the title was also going to be the same, and the seaweed attached to the taniwha would interplay with the title, much like the feathers on Book One. However, the colours on the new cover are lighter, suggesting a more optimistic story, and the volcano in the background hints at the Pacific island theme. As you can see, aside from reducing how wolf-like the taniwha seems, the final cover did not veer too far away from the first concept. My favourite part? I love the gradual change in colour of the water, eventually turning… well, turning black.

Thanks again for putting the cover forward - Jenny and I are excited to see how it does!

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The Heartstone Thief by Pippa Da Costa:

The Heartstone Thief cover, created by James at Bookfly, was designed with an overall grimdark feel in mind. While the novel is told from a single character’s point of view (the thief) we also have a very strong supporting character (the sorceress) who is integral to the plot. However, adding two characters to the cover of a fantasy novel could have proven tricky and muddied the message. James and I agreed we needed the cover to portray - at a glance - the genre and elements of action. With that in mind, the designer took the darker elements of the genre and used them to hint at these two strong individuals and ‘frame’ the main character of the thief. The movement of the running thief hints at the book’s roots in action and adventure, and of course, the sorceress' flaming hands add that much-needed magical flair. We kept the typography simple and again, on genre, so as not to detract from the design. The final cover does a fantastic job of representing the adventurous grimdark story inside its pages. I hope my readers agree.

Here's what James had to say about the creation of the cover: 

"I wanted the sorceress to be dominant since she plays such a key role, plus the power balance between her and Curtis drives the story. Since she manipulates him into stealing the stone, I thought it would be appropriate for her to be in almost a puppeteer position over him, and the difference in scale between them hints that she may be more than she appears without spoiling anything."

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


Miss Landon And Aubranael by Charlotte E. English:

This cover was created by my favourite artist, Elsa Kroese, with whom I also co-write an online graphic novel. We’ve been working together for years, and she’s done many wonderful covers for me in that time, but Miss Landon And Aubranael is my very favourite of them all. It is not just the sheer beauty of the art which makes me love it so - though that is, of course, part of it. What sets Elsa apart as a cover artist is her diligence; she reads every word of the book before she begins work, and portrays the characters beautifully and dynamically.

We see Sophie Landon escaping from her trials into an adventure with Aubranael - who waits for her, though he hides his face from us all. And by her side is Thundigle, her staunch friend, dressed in the clothes Sophie herself has made for him. Elsa always seeks to produce art which reflects the atmosphere of the story, and her work for Miss Landon And Aubranael really does that. It’s a sunny, colourful, heart-warming tale, and just looking at that cover makes me feel better about my day.

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


Nefertiti's Heart by A. W. Exley:

Even though I'm a corset wearer, right from the beginning I knew I would go against the trend of steampunk books having a woman in a corset on the cover. I'm simply too aware of the difference between quality custom corsetry and costume corsetry to ever find a stock photo to satisfy me! Lol Since this book revolves around the search for an artifact, I had a very simple image in my head of what I wanted - a hand holding Nefertiti's Heart.

I sent digital artist Ricky Gunawan a very crude stick drawing of a hand and a cartoon heart and a one line description – a heart shaped diamond with strange mechanical workings that is activated by a droplet of blood at its centre. Then I bit my nails worrying about the idea being too simple or plain. I needn't have worried. Ricky took the brief and ran with it, producing an image that exceeded my expectations. For me, the mechanical heart has become far more than a book cover. Today it's an instantly recognizable author logo for readers and is also representative of the wider theme of my books – there's heart, but it has a twist.

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


Night Of The Chalk by Samuel Gately:

I really wanted the cover for Night Of The Chalk to be something special. I needed the readers to know at a glance they were stepping into a medieval swords and sorcery novel, but I wanted it to also nail the moods and flavors unique to the story. It had to convey a dark, complex, and claustrophobic city that is a character of its own. It needed to invite curiosity about the story’s protagonists. They are spies, and what they see, know, and what they do with the knowledge they gather is as interesting as the characters themselves. Finally, I needed a central scene which drew the reader in and stimulated their imagination. Night Of The Chalk draws on many elements of a cloak-and-dagger mystery and I wanted the reader to feel the tension of an unfolding drama seen through hidden eyes.

I solicited the artist Tomasz Chistowski for the original illustration. I was drawn to him by the wonderful cityscapes and vivid characters he’d done in the past. He exceeded my expectations, bringing a wealth of imagination to the project. We worked a couple of fun Easter eggs into the image as well. If you look closely at the watcher’s shoulder, you’ll see a white handprint. The titular enemy, the Chalk, have found their way closer to him than even he realizes. And in the distance, above the rooftops and the murders of crows, you’ll see a flight of four dragons patrolling the city.

The typography was done by James at Humble Nations, who did a great job invoking a crime noir slant without losing the swords and sorcery medieval vibe. I’ve found collaboration with visual artists to be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of writing and I lucked out with Tomasz and James. I’m hopeful that this cover invites you inside, to take a walk through the city of Delhonne, where the skies are no longer safe and the streets never were.

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

Both Cindy and me had a easy time selecting these five titles however selecting the top 3 among them was very, very hard. It took a lot of time and quite a few email exchanges debating the awesomeness of them all but we managed to narrow it down to three and so apologies to our two runner-ups. 

The main factor though each of our finalists have is their eye-striking nature and kudos to all the designers & artists for their amazing efforts. So here are our top three who will be going forward and honestly there's very little to differentiate between them:



1) Nefertiti's Heart by A. W. Exley
2) Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick
3) Night Of The Chalk by Samuel Gately

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cover Reveal and Mini-Q&A with Craig Schaefer (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
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 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 Interview with Craig Schaefer
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Harmony Black Series Interview with Craig Schaefer

Craig Schaefer has rapidly become one of my favorites due to his amazing books that feature three-dimensional characters who are grey and yet striking, terrific world-building, and twists that will leave the readers wanting more. Recently he unveiled the cover for his upcoming Daniel Faust book Double Or Nothing (see below).

Craig was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine about his upcoming title and hopefully it will amp up your appetite for Double Or Nothing as much as it did mine...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and congratulations on the spectacular cover for Double Or Nothing. In the Daniel Faust series, cover art has always been a shining point and this one is holding that trend up wonderfully. What were your main pointers for your cover designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

CS: For every new cover (the ones for my self-published work like Double Or Nothing, I don’t have a lot of input into the Harmony Black series which is published by 47North), I sit down with James, my designer, and we run though the synopsis of the novel. I highlight the important themes, key scenes, and imagery that might be useful. From there, James does the bulk of the real work, coming up with a preliminary design from my notes. He has an uncanny knack for drawing out key details and capturing a story’s mood in a picture. I believe the results speak for themselves

Q] In each of your book covers, there's a central pointer towards the main plot or an aspect of it. With certain books like The Living End, A Plain Dealing Villain & The Castle Doctrine, it was rather straightforward whereas with the others, it wasn't so direct. Double Or Nothing seems to be in the former category with the featured dagger, what would you say?

CS: Absolutely direct, this time around. Series readers will recall that in A Plain-Dealing Villain, Daniel was hired to steal an antique dagger from Damien Ecko – kicking off a string of tragedies and Ecko’s murderous vendetta. The dagger itself was handed off to Daniel’s client and vanished from the story. Until now, that is. That relic wasn’t just a MacGuffin to move the plot along; it’s got a purpose and a history, and we’re about to learn all about it. For the first time in his career, Daniel is out to steal the same loot twice.

Q] Talking about the blurb, this book also focusses strongly on Caitlin besides Daniel (unlike the previous 6 volumes). Was this coincidental or purposefully done? Also is this the volume wherein we get to know all about Caitlin's past?

CS: This is a Daniel-and-Caitlin story from start to finish. Their relationship has come a long way from its stumbling beginnings, and they’ve learned to work together as lovers and as partners. In Double Or Nothing – thanks to an unseen enemy who knows exactly how to strike where they’re most vulnerable – that partnership will be put to the test.


Q] This book is also different in the way that the Cheshire Smile is also the focus in the story and his arc has lasted more than 3 books unlike previous antagonists Lauren Carmichael & Damien Ecko. Does this mean that he will continue to be a persistent thorn for Faust or will Daniel be getting some respite?

CS: Carmichael and Ecko were heavy hitters, but the Man with the Cheshire Smile – also known as the Enemy – poses a genuinely cosmic threat. He also has a knack for drawing powerful players into his sphere of influence, most of whom have good reason to want Daniel dead. That trend continues in Double Or Nothing, though readers will have ample reason to wonder who is really pulling the strings.

After all, who’s more dangerous: a man who can rewrite history with a touch of his ghostly hand, or the servants he trusts and listens to?

Q] With Double Or Nothing, are we heading out to newer locations like A Plain Dealing Villain did with Chicago (and The White Gold Score with Los Angeles)? Or will the action be centered around Faust's usual stomping grounds?

CS: Double Or Nothing rambles the country a bit, including a Dan-and-Caitlin road trip from Vegas to Albuquerque to Denver. (Yes, Albuquerque. Terrible things are happening in Albuquerque.) There’s also a return trip to Chicago (and a visit with some of Faust’s windy-city allies), and the climax…well, that’s set someplace the series hasn’t been to yet. Shh. It’s a surprise.

Q] In the recent past you have hinted at a big announcement that's coming down the pipeline for all us fans? Any word on that or can you give us an idea as to when can we expect it to land?

CS: The announcement is regarding a new project, one I’ve been working on for the past year (and planning for longer than that). I can tell you that it’s a trilogy, it’s directly tied to my previous books, and a few sharp-eyed readers have already got an inkling of what (or who) it’s going to be about. It’s also the darkest thing I’ve ever written and I suspect it’s gonna be a love-it-or-hate-it story for a lot of people. I’ll be spilling the beans sometime in July, I think, and we’ll be looking at a debut of the first book in January of 2018.

Q] Thank you as always for your time, I can't wait to read more about Faust and the rest. I'll look forward to speaking with you more after DON's release and hopefully the announcement as well. Lastly what can we look forward to with this book and for the series ahead?

CS: More heists, more double-crosses, more gunfights, more occult horrors, more gourmet food, and more deeply-questionable life choices.

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



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Daniel Faust – sorcerer, thief, and newly-minted Las Vegas crime boss – has debts to pay. One of those debts has just come due, an IOU to be paid in the form of a high-risk heist, and it’s a job he can’t refuse. The mark? Faust’s arch-nemesis, a man with a Cheshire smile and the powers of a living god. The score? A sacrificial dagger buried under layers of electronic, occult, and human security, snug on the far side of a custom-built deathtrap.

Normally, a heist like that would be the end of Daniel’s problems. This time, it’s only the beginning.

Caitlin, Daniel’s lover and the right hand of a demon prince, faces her own threat. She’s adept at navigating the politics of Hell, keeping the peace with diplomatic grace and a whip, but a plan years in the making has left a ticking time bomb under her feet. When it explodes, it will send shockwaves through the infernal courts – and expose one of Caitlin’s darkest secrets. A hidden enemy has targeted Caitlin and Daniel for destruction, and aims to lure them into an impossible snare. For one of them to escape, the other must die.

The only way out is through a maze of demonic bounty hunters, psychic assassins, unlikely enemies and even more unlikely allies. Daniel Faust has spent his life as a trickster, defeating his enemies with the art of the con. He may have finally met his match. Las Vegas is the ultimate chessboard, and his opponent is already two moves ahead.

 Double Or Nothing will be released on June 27th, 2017 and I've recently read it, can confirm that fans won't be disappointed. Infact fans will be clamoring the author for the next Faust book immediately. 
Monday, June 5, 2017

The Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order Where Loyalties Lie over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

Rob J. Hayes is an author who really  made a mark with his writing style, superb characterization and a fascinating world that offers many secrets. I've been following his career over the last four years and have gotten to know him a lot. In this interview, we talk about the long delay behind the sequel to his debut trilogy, the reason for focusing on pirates & the lack of pirates in the epic fantasy genre. Read ahead to get to know more about Rob and enjoy.

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, it’s been a long wait for you since your last release. How are things with you?

RJH: Thank you for having me back. I am quite well, though my fingernails are bitten down to the quick as always seems to follow a new book release.

Q] You have spoken a fair bit about the troubles you have experienced with the release of this duology due to Ragnarok Publications. Can you give our readers a breakdown of the events that lead you to part ways with them?

RJH: Well there were a number of issues that led to my decision. The first and foremost was definitely their handling of Where Loyalties Lie. They originally planned to release the book in December 2016 and it was delayed time after time without any real signs of progress towards. In fact they never even edited it. They also passed the unedited manuscript on to Audible to produce the audio version. This was a big deal to me because it means that version of the book, that is out in the world, is not a true representation of my work. It's not the finished book I wanted to release.

There were also consistent issues with late royalty payments and a general silence from those in charge. When all those issues combined, I decided it was time to jump ship rather than be dragged under.

Q] Talking about Best Laid Plans, your follow-up to your successful debut trilogy, The Ties That Bind. Why did you choose to follow up with completely new characters (excluding Drake & a couple who made cameo appearances)?

RJH: Well The Ties that Bind was a sort of spaghetti western style of series. It focused on that Wild West feel and the idea of witch hunters traveling the world and looking for heretics to burn. Best Laid Plans was always meant to be about pirates. It's pretty much all about the pirates. Most of the main characters simply wouldn't have fit within the story I wanted to tell.

I also have this plan for the world. There will be four separate series and one stand alone novel, each will contain its own narrative, but will tie in to a much larger overall narrative. Characters will cross over from series to series, but the focus each time will be on new characters.


Q] For fans who are loathe to start a new series or a new one set in the same world as the author’s previous work, what can you say to draw them in? To clarify my question, can this book (Where Loyalties Lie) serve as a jumping point to your written work?

RJH: Where Loyalties Lie can certainly start as a jumping in point. In fact a few early readers who haven't read The Ties that Bind have said they didn't feel like they were missing out from not having read it, but they were certainly planning to check it out afterwards.

As for drawing readers in, I would say the biggest selling point is the fact that Where Loyalties Lie is piratical fantasy. So if you feel like pirates are sorely missing from fantasy as a genre, this is the book for you!

Q] Let’s talk about Drake Morass, possibly the centerpiece of this duology. In the The Ties That Bind trilogy, Drake was a behind the scene player but his actions caused many a ripple and none the stronger than in The Price Of Faith. With this series with him becoming a POV character what do you think can readers expect to be revealed about him?

RJH: Drake is certainly one of the major players of Best Laid Plans. This series gives a lot more of his back story, showing some of the things he has seen and done, and hopefully that will give a better insight into why he is the man he is; always planning and plotting and willing to use just about anyone to see his goals complete. You'll also get to see Drake in different circumstances, such as what happens when things don't go to plan. It's fair to say he was an interesting character to write as Drake is very much a villain as well as a hero.

Q] In my previous interview with you, you had said this about ThanquilOnly Thanquil isn't really a chess piece so much as a board flip.” So considering what Thanquil did in The Price Of Faith, how would characterize Drake?

RJH: Well Drake certainly believes he's a player. In his eyes he's moving the pieces around the board, and out-maneuvering his opponents. In reality I would say Drake is much more like a Queen, the most powerful piece on board, but not a player.

Q] You introduce many new characters and quite a few of them are bound to become fan-favorites. I know I certainly share a strong fascination for Elaina Black, Beck & T’ruck Khan. When you started wiring these books, did you plan for any of them to have such strong roles or did they take a life of their own?

RJH: Elaina certainly did. In many ways she started off as a bit part character, but I found her so compelling I kept giving her more and more chapters through the re-writes. It's fair to say she is now one of the major players in Where Loyalties Lie.

Arbiter Beck was always planned to have a subtle, yet powerful role to play in the challenges the Pirate Isles face. She is, after all, a witch hunter surrounded by thieves and criminals.

As for T'ruck. Such a big man with such a big appetite needs a big part.

Q] You have written a short story titled BLACK BLOOD which features characters from the Best Laid Plans duology. In your estimate, should fans read it before or after Where Loyalties Lie? What was your main reason for writing it?

RJH: BLACK BLOOD can be read either before or after reading Where Loyalties Lie. It's a fun swashbuckling adventure starring Captain Elaina Black and Arbiter Beck teaming up to find buried treasure.

I actually wrote it prior to starting Where Loyalties Lie in order to get me in the piratical swing, but it works as a nice introduction to both the characters and the Pirate isles as a whole.

Q] This duology ends with The Fifth Empire Of Man which is set to release in the next couple of months. Why only two books and what should the readers expect from the ending?

RJH: I know the accepted norm is trilogies and in the planning stages I had it thought out as such. But when I came to actually sitting down and writing it I soon realised it would be two books. I didn't want to pad out the events or slow down the pace so making it a duology just seemed natural.

What can people expect from the ending? Well The Fifth Empire of Man has tons of magic, pirates visiting a ruined city in search of treasure, angry spirits, tenuous alliances, and probably the biggest naval battle ever to appear in a fantasy book.


Q] You are also re-re-releasing your debut trilogy with brand new (atleast for The Colour Of Vengeance & The Price Of Faith) cover art. Please talk us through the process of creation of all three of them and why you wnt for pivotal book scenes?

RJH: The creation of them was surprisingly simply. I contacted Alex Raspad, told him what I wanted, and he knocked it out of the park. Well, at least for The Colour of Vengeance and The Price of Faith. The artwork for The Heresy Within I actually had done years ago, but have since lost touch with the artist unfortunately.

The idea for having scenes from the book is a personal preference for me. I'm actually not a big fan of having detailed character art on a cover as it tends to influence how I see the character even before I've read about them. Stunning vistas or action scenes, however, have my jaw dropping.

Q] What comes next in the First Earth saga after the conclusion of the Best Laid Plans duology? What are you planning to write/release next?

RJH: Next for First Earth, after the completion of Best Laid Plans, is a stand alone book called City of Kings. It's pretty much a direct sequel to the events of The Ties that Bind, though once again is designed to be read even without having already read any of the other books. It will feature The Black Thorn as he attempts to bring an outlaws peace to the Untamed Wilds.

But before that I will be releasing a sci-fi noir book called Drones.

As for what I'm currently writing... It's a secret.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions, any parting thoughts for your multitude of fans worldwide?

RJH: Just like to say a big thank you for sticking with me despite the delays that have hit Where Loyalties Lie. I know I originally promised the book about two years ago, but it is now here!

NOTE: Hellstorm art work courtesy of Anastasia Bulgokova.

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