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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SPFBO: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Grey Bastards HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan French was born in Tennessee, and spent his childhood reading comics. He spent his childhood and teenage in the UK and US which fueled his curiosity and spurred his writing roots. His greatest literary influences are Robert E. Howard and Lloyd Alexander. He loves D&D and publicly speaking on topics that are dear to him. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, son and cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.” Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.



Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. 



When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. 

FORMAT/INFO: The Grey Bastards is 442 pages long divided over thirty-six numbered chapters. Narration is via third person solely by Jackal throughout. This is the first volume of the Grey Bastards saga.

16 November, 2015 marked the e-book and paperback publication of the book and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design by Raymond Swanland.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Grey Bastards is a book with a brilliant cover and an unconventional blurb that focuses on a half-orcs and their lives. It’s a fantasy book that’s different in every sense of the word and was a finalist selected by the Bibliotropic blog.

The story begins with Jackal, a half-orc who is a member of the Grey Bastards (one of the eight hoofs *read gang/tribe*) which are present in the lot lands. The Grey Bastards are a group of nine half-orcs who take care of their region in the lots and are on tenuous relationship with most of the other lots. Our protagonist is Jackal who along with Oats and Fetching are doing ranging rounds and we discover their friendly yet competitive relationship with each other. Jackal is a person with ambition in his heart but he needs votes and a plan to dislodge the Claymaster (the head of the Grey Bastards) from the hoof’s chair. His best friends are Oats a thrice-blood (three fourths of an orc and human) and Fetching who’s is the only female half-orc ever to be a Grey Bastard.

Jackal’s plans are gestating however they have to take a backseat as he encounters a sorcerer who’s also akin to their kind. While reeling from this shocker, he discovers that they are soon betrayed by someone who has no reason to do so. Plus there’s the whole mystery of the elf girl who might hold the answers but is unwilling or unable to provide them. There’s also the undercurrents about the hoof leadership which leave Jackal a bit tenuous with his bid. Ultimately all of this will boil down to a few events upon which the history of the Lot lands will be laid bare as well as the injustice meted out by Hispartha that gets uncovered in this opening volume.

Here’s why I enjoyed this story so much, beginning from its unorthodox roots, having half-orcs as the main characters and having biker gang culture shown in a dark fantasy setting is very, very impressive. Kudos to Jonathan French for writing such a different story and having the guts to follow through and not take any easy routes with his characterizations, world history and even politics. This is a murky world and someone has compared it to the biker gang crime drama Sons Of Anarchy which I feel is very, very apt. The characters are mired in shades of grey, there are betrayals, scheming and lot of background/historical details which are slowly laid bare. This is very similar to the Sons Of Anarchy saga and also hearkens to David Dalglish’s Half-Orcs series (but with a lot less magic). Jonathan French’s creations are tortured souls who are just trying to find a semblance of peace, power and parity in their lives.

Let’s talk about the first strength of the book beginning with our protagonist Jackal and all the characters introduced within. Jonathan French makes each one stand out with their unique personas. Jackal is cunning yet not Machiavellian, Oats is steadfastly loyal but not farsighted. Fetching is vicious but not cruel in her ways. The Claymaster and the rest of the hoof mates are equally intriguing as are the various other characters introduced. All of these characters are heroes and villains in their own ways and even though we aren’t given everyone else’s POV besides Jackal, I felt that each and everyone could have been a strong lead protagonist. Secondly the bawdry nature of the story and characters is very true and is constant throughout the storyline. I liked this aspect and while it might not be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind a solid dose of darkness and cursing, this tale will fit right in.

Thirdly the world-building is done very well and what I mean is that the author slowly unveils the world (first the Lot lands and later on Hispartha). Also this world has other races such as Orcs, Centaurs, Elfs and humans who all are far away from the classical epic fantasy tropes and share the darkness imagined by the author. The Centaurs are bloodthirsty and have an interesting way to express themselves via one night (titled the Ravager's Moon). The Elves are contrarians and are also reticent enough to kill folks who disturb them. The Orcs are deadly and war-mongering, not to mention the progenitors of the half-orcs and I believe the readers will learn more as to how they view each other via the story. There’s also the cool aspect of the hogs who function as trusty steeds, deadly battle machines and just are fun to read whenever they are featured in the story. The pace of the story never slackens and the plot twists are not that frequent however they come and shake up the story vigorously. The cover by Raymond Swanland is the icing on the cake and surely a solid reason to buy the book on its own.

The only thing which I thought was the drawback for this story was that the world history wasn’t revealed quite to my satisfaction. This was a very personal observation as the author does reveal a lot but I felt that more could have been unveiled. Of course the author might be waiting to unleash more in the sequel and I can’t wait to read it.

CONCLUSION: The Grey Bastards is a rough gem of story that’s certainly not for every reader however I believe most SFF fans should read it. Jonathan French has to be lauded for his plot ingenuity, bawdry charm and vicious characters. The Grey Bastards has instantaneously catapulted him into my must-read list and the sequel to the Grey Bastards (currently titled The True Bastards) is one of my most anticipated books for 2018. 
Friday, April 21, 2017

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray!




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Check out an infographic of the Defy the Stars universe.
What’s your place in the future? Take the quiz!
Read the first chapter on Entertainment Weekly!



Fantasy Book Critic is excited to offer you the chance to win a copy of the highly anticipated YA sci-fi novel Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray which was released April 4, 2017. Not only do you win a copy of this amazing book, but you will also win a prize pack that includes some wonderful ear studs and ear cuffs.

Before I give you an overview of the book and tell you how you can win this prize pack, I want to thank Little, Brown & Co. for partnering with us to offer you this giveaway. Without them, this giveaway wouldn't be possible! 



Summary of Defy the Stars:

Our worlds belong to us.

She's a soldier.

Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She's willing to risk anything--including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she's a rebel.

He's a machine.

Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that's begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he's an abomination.

Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they're not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they're forced to question everything they'd been taught was true.

Learn more about Claudia Gray:
Claudia Gray is the author of the bestselling Evernight series, Fateful, the Spellcaster trilogy, and the Firebird trilogy. She is also the author of the young adult Star Wars novels Lost Stars and the forthcoming Bloodline. She has worked as a lawyer, a journalist, a disc jockey, and a particularly ineffective waitress. Her lifelong interests include old houses, classic movies, vintage style, and history. She lives in New Orleans.

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GIVEAWAY RULES


1. This contest is open to the US.
2. Contest starts April 21, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. EST and ends April 30, 2017 at 12:01 a.m. EST. Entries after this time period will not be considered. 
3. Only one entry per person. 
4. To enter please send an email with the subject "DEFY THE STARS" to FBCgiveaway@gmail.com. Please include your name, email, and physical address you want the book sent to. 
5. One entry will be picked at random to win a copy. 
6. All entries will be deleted once a winner is picked and contacted.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

GUEST BLOG: Magic, Life and the God Complex by Jeffrey Bardwell (Author of Broken Wizards: The Artifice Mage Saga Book 1)




Visit Jeffrey Bardwell's Website Here 
 Find Broken Wizards on Amazon Here
Find Broken Wizards on Kobo Here

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to welcome Jeffrey Bardwell to our blog today as a special guest blogger. Jeffrey is the author of the soon-to-be released book Broken Wizards. Broken Wizards is the first novel in The Artifice Mage Saga. It is scheduled to be released April 15, 2017.

Summary for Broken Wizards:
Time's up for mages! 

The wizard purge is in full swing. Sorcery is illegal in the modern, steam-powered Iron Empire. The Magistrate's Black Guards hunt the uncivilized mages using mechanized armor and mysterious, clockwork weapons. The guards deliver their prisoners to the Butcher, Captain Vice. All wizards are tortured and executed as traitors to the state . . . with one exception.

That exception is Devin, an outbreak mage and ex artificer, a prince of machinery. The Magistrate exiles the youth over Vice's protests to the wild kingdom of wizards and dragons. Devin only knows gears and springs, but his savage magic offers salvation, if he can tame it. The exile must learn to harness his dangerous, new powers before the Butcher tracks him down to finish the job. 

Follow Devin's quest in Book One of The Artifice Mage Saga. Join the fantasy steampunk brawl of metal vs. magic where sorcery is bloody, science is greasy, and nobody's hands are clean.

To celebrate the release of his book, Jeff has stopped by to talk about magic, life and the God complex. Welcome him to the blog! 

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Magic, Life, and the God Complex by Jeffrey Bardwell
 
Easter is approaching and with it the annual celebration of the most famous instance of rebirth. Whether you believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, the story resonates because society is captivated with the archetype of instilling life in the dead or the inanimate, a need for which fantasy has the answer: magic. Authors have cloaked these powers in many different guises: lightning (Mary Shelly), magic powder (Frank L. Baum), a wish upon star (Carlo Collodi), prophecy (C. S. Lewis), or intercession of the gods (J. R. R. Tolkein) all restore or create life force. Whether acknowledged directly or not, such power has a whiff of the divine.
 
What effect does this magic have on the magician himself? For, in some dark, literary irony, the magician who creates life is always male. Surely, women have no place in tales of birth? Or perhaps the idea was too close to reality for fantasy? No, we have a man, a young man (typically a virgin), who wields this awesome power.  

I draw a distinction now between reanimating the dead and reanimating the lifeless. In the examples above, there are only two instances where life was gifted to that which was never sentient in the first place and both stories involve wooden simulacra: The Marvelous Land of Oz with Jack Pumpkinhead and the eponymous Pinocchio. This invokes even more of a god complex than before! We are not simply reanimating dead tissue, we are building a person from scratch (albeit not from the clay or mud of the creation mythos) or metal (let's leave robotics to science fiction), but wood. Granted, unlike mud or metal, that wood was once alive until we chopped it into pieces and fashioned it into a crude reflection of mankind, but it could not think before we magicked it so.  

The Jesus carpenter metaphor is somewhat more blatant in Pinocchio than Oz as we have the humble woodworker Mastro Geppetto, who creates a spark of life in his hand-crafted, wooden son. Does the creator take responsibility for his wooden progeny? In the case of Pinocchio, the desire for a son and the nature of humanity is at the forefront of the plot, and in Oz tossed off as a magic trick, as the ramifications of tin godhood are usually reserved for the tales of reanimation, such as Frankenstein. But in a world with devout citizens, and in the typical medieval second world fantasy, the role of the typically polytheistic faith and its representatives is paramount, unless the wizards are also the priests (whoops, I just gave myself an idea), then creating life would precipitate either a crisis of the faith or a god complex.
 
In my new novel, Broken Wizards, I bring together the creation of a wooden son (Pinocchio) with the existential questions of the responsibilities of godhood (Frankenstein) in a world where magic is fairly commonplace (Oz). My magician is a devout, gods-fearing youth who has discovered he now wields the power of the five gods themselves. The crisis is easy enough to rationalize in the moment. 
 He is not divine, but a mere agent of the gods. But the rest of it? The youth has just unwittingly created a son. His incipient fatherhood is a much more real, much more scary concept than piddly, abstract notions of divinity!

I invite you to discover (perhaps, even enjoy) the rest for yourselves.

About the Author:
Jeffrey Bardwell is an ecologist with a Ph.D. who loves fantasy, amphibians, and reptiles. The author devours fantasy and science fiction novels, is most comfortable basking near a warm wood stove, and has eaten a bug or two. The author populates his own novels with realistic, fire breathing lizards. These dragons are affected by the self-inflicted charred remains of their environment, must contend with the paradox of allometric scaling, and can actually get eaten themselves.
The author lives on a farm, is perhaps overfond of puns and alliterations, and is a gigantic ham. When not in use, he keeps his degrees skinned and mounted on the back wall of his office. Email at: jhbardwell@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

GUEST POST: Japanese Mythos and Fantasy by Annette Marie


Before I knew anything else about the Red Winter trilogy, I knew Japanese mythology would play a central part in the world and magic of the series. I’ve been fascinated with Japan’s rich, varied, and ancient mythos for many years, and I was so excited to tell a story with magic, creatures, and folklore that aren’t often drawn upon in Western fantasy.

My research began with Shintoism and kami. A kami is a god-like being, but the term is far more encompassing than you might expect—it includes anything with a spiritual nature and supernatural powers. A defining characteristic of kami is that they embody both good and evil, equally capable of nurturing or destroying. It’s even said they possess two souls, one gentle and one assertive.

Many principal kami of folklore became characters in the Red Winter series, and I wanted to stay true to their dual natures. Figuring out where to hold fast to the original stories, and where to deviate into fantasy, was tricky at times. Some characters seemed to leap straight from their mythos and onto the pages of the book—from a playful kitsune shapeshifter with fox ears, to a crow lord called the Tengu, to the irascible god of storms Susano.

However, though the Red Winter series is fantasy through and through, when it comes down to it, even my wildest imagination couldn’t match some of the tales from Japanese mythology. From incomprehensible to hilarious to just plain weird, some of the folklore had me shaking my head in confusion. Melding that hint of “bizarre” with the mystical atmosphere of the series was a fun challenge.


Susano the storm god, as an example, has an origin story I chose not to include, where he was banished from the heavens after throwing a flayed horse through his sister’s sewing room in a fit of bad temper. His role as the slayer of a great eight-headed dragon I did include, but I skipped over the manner of the dragon’s defeat—where Susano only claimed victory by getting the dragon drunk first. As much as I wanted to honor the original mythology, I wasn’t sure that particular tale would win his character a lot of respect.

Japanese mythology includes the yokai, a term often translated to “demon”. But the yokai, like the kami, possess a dual nature—not necessarily benevolent, but rarely are they irredeemably evil. Even a yokai as seemingly despicable as the Kappa, a water ogre known to drown children and horses, isn’t all bad. Kappa are said to be obsessed with politeness, so if you bow to them, they will always bow in return, and you can befriend them with gifts and offerings—though beware, as their friendship might not be as beneficial as you would hope.

In Red Winter, the idea of kami and yokai as both good and evil, capable of benevolence and destruction in equal measures, is a prominent theme, and a lesson the human heroine Emi must come to learn as she delves into the worlds of the spirits. In both Shintoism and Red Winter, the concept of harmony is crucial—harmony with nature, balance between light and dark, and the pursuit of sincerity, honesty, and purity. But above all, Red Winter is an adventure—a journey through magic, myth, and the worlds of kami and yokai.

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Official Author Website
Order Immortal Fire HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling Steel & Stone series, which includes Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night, and fantasy trilogy Red Winter. Her first love is fantasy, but fast-paced urban fantasy and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She lives in the frozen winter wasteland of Alberta, Canada (okay, it's not quite that bad) with her comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.



Immortal Fire Official Synopsis: Once, Emi believed the heavenly gods were righteous and wise, while the earthly yokai spirits were bloodthirsty and evil. But with a traitorous deity poised to destroy her world, and the yokai standing as humanity's only defense, the lies of her upbringing have toppled to reveal a far more terrifying reality.

Despite the looming threat, Emi can't escape her greatest distraction: Shiro, the fox yokai who has so deftly claimed her heart for his own. Soon—too soon—she will have to break the curse that binds his magic and memories. And once the ancient power inside him awakens, the yokai she loves will be changed forever.

As the earthly gods gather to wage war against the heavens, Emi and Shiro must gamble everything to turn the tide against their immortal, all-powerful foes. Together, they will find a way to save her world— even if it means losing each other.

NOTE: Susano artwork courtesy of Japanmeonly
Monday, April 10, 2017

GUEST POST: The Pressure Of Writing A Series by Elizabeth Vaughan (Author of the Warlands Chronicles)



 Visit Elizabeth Vaughan's Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Elizabeth Vaughan to our blog today as a special guest blogger. Elizabeth Vaughan is a USA Today bestselling author for her Warlands Chronicles series. Her recent book, titled WarDance, is the fifth book in the Warlands Series and is scheduled to be released April 11, 2017. 

Summary of WarDance:
Spring returns to the Plains, and with it, the Time of the Challenges, when warrior fights warrior in a contest for rank and status. For Simus of the Hawk, now is the time to raise his challenge banner, to fight for the chance to finally become Warlord.

But his deadliest challenge does not come from other warriors, or even the sundered Council of Elders. For on the first night of the Challenges, a mysterious and deadly pillar of white light scorches the night sky—instantly changing everything for the People of the Plains.

Now a warrior-priestess, Snowfall, stands before Simus, who dares to speak of peace, of reconciliation. Her knives are sharp, her tattoos alluring, and her cool grey eyes can look through Simus and see…everything.

Now Simus and Snowfall must solve the mystery of the pillar of white light, and protect their people from all the destruction and chaos it brings. Snowfall fights for her place beside Simus, despite resistance from friend and foe.

The warrior-priests have abused their power for many years. Can Simus face the challenge of trusting Snowfall with his honor? And perhaps . . . with his heart?

To celebrate her book release, she has stopped by to talk with us about the pressures that come with writing a series! Welcome Elizabeth to our blog!  
 
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For my first publishing contract I wrote a trilogy. My publisher called it ‘The Chronicles of the Warlands’. I thought I was done.

So I started a new series - a new trilogy. We called it ‘The Star Series’. Clever me, or so I thought. But that creative spark in the back of my brain? My muse, my inspiration, what ever you want to call it. Yeah, half way through the second book of that new trilogy it woke up and said, very clearly “The two series are linked.”

And then it laughed. Evilly.

Linked? In the same world, the same time frame? No way, said I.

But the ideas persisted and grew. And to my horror/pleasure I realized that they were. Wonderfully, horribly linked. Yikes, I thought. What am I going to do? Can I really pull this off?

Thankfully, I remembered two pieces of writing advice from Dennis McKeirnan. The first is a quote: “When things change, the story begins. But when things go wrong, the adventure begins.”

Of course, I am fairly sure that Dennis was talking about plots, not the actual writing of the book, but it helped me. Because writing, in its own way, is the adventure of a lifetime. At least, it has been for me.

The second piece of advice from Dennis is found in the foreword of his book ‘The Dragonstone’ wherein he refers to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books.

This is getting kinda convoluted, you say?

Stay with me.

See, what Dennis points out about Conan-Doyle’s stories is that at times, Watson will make reference to a relic in the room, a reminder of the Singular Affair of This, or the Adventure of that, or the Mystery of the This-and-That. Now, that is not the story that Watson is going to tell you, mind. Instead, the vague reference to the past is left to taunt you with the possibilities.

Dennis refers to this while writing as ‘dropping red slippers’ i.e. ‘loose ends’ and then going back and finding them and using them to knit the story together in a way that even the author could not have foretold.

I would love to tell you ‘why yes, I planned this all from the start, and aren’t I the clever one?’ But the truth is that vagueness is an author’s best friend. Loose ends are an author’s bestie best friend.

Especially when writing a series.

So I went back, re-read my books, and sure enough . . . I had to run some time-lines, re-plot from events in other books, but Lord Almighty I almost cried when I realized there were lots of red slippers that I could use in very convoluted, evil author ways. Ways that made the story stronger and far more powerful. Ways that linked the two trilogies together, and brought the characters together in ways that kinda left my mouth hanging open.

Of course, part of the problem, as Dennis pointed out in the foreword of his book Red Slippers, is that once you pick up one red slipper, more just seem to fall out on the page. Some of them are now deliberate on my part. Others, not so much. Regardless, whether their stories get told or not, the reader must discover for themselves. By reading all our books [insert evil author grin here].

This is one of the strongest joys of writing - the ‘AH!’ moments that catch an author by surprise. Usually there is no one around when I make these discoveries in my writing room, or in the shower, or driving to work. But the pure pleasure of these moments keeps me writing.

Which is to my benefit, and hopefully, to yours.

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the USA Today bestselling author of the Warlands Chronicles series. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has played Dungeons and Dragons since 1981, both table-top and the online game. Her most recent book, WarDance, comes out on April 11. You can learn more about her books at www.writeandrepeat.com.

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