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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Interview with Craig Schaefer (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control

Craig Schaefer is an indie author who has burst onto the scene with his dark, pulpy urban fantasy thrillers titled the Daniel Faust series. I however got introduced to him via his Revanche Cycle books which are no less dark and have lots of political intrigue, fantastic characters and a tight, twisted plot.  All in all, it was something that I feel in love with immediately and devoured both volumes (of a possible four) ASAP. I wanted to know more about Craig and his thoughts on his self-published roots, his snazzy book covers and few other things about his work. So read on to find out all that and what readers should look out for in his books...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself and your past?

CS: Why become a writer? It's the only job that can make you a god. I'm joking, of course, but there's a core of truth to it: the act of storytelling is a beautiful, sublime thing. We create places that don’t exist, and breathe life into people who -- if we're doing our job well -- could be just as real as your next-door neighbor. We craft stories to make you think, make you feel, to take you on a journey and back again without having to leave your chair. With the combined power of my keyboard and a reader's imagination, a world is born.

Once I got my first taste of that magic as a child, both as an avid reader and taking my first clumsy attempts at storytelling (some might say I'm still making clumsy attempts…), I was hooked for life. I couldn't be anything else, not really.

Q] I read that you thought of giving writing a serious crack around your 40th birthday. Can you talk to us of this momentous decision and how you arrived at it?

CS: I've always written as a personal pursuit. The Long Way Down was actually my seventh completed novel; the first six are locked in a trunk, and when I die, hopefully they will be doused in gasoline and set on fire before they can hurt anybody. Writing professionally, however, always fell by the wayside due to career obligations and…I suppose you could call it a general failure to ignite.

Everyone knows you need a staggering amount of luck to get into the traditional publishing system. What people might not know is that, even if you're able to land that agent, land that publisher, land that contract, there's no guarantee you'll make any kind of decent living off your work (and odds are, you won't). You'd be amazed how many people with best-selling books have to work a day job to put food on the table. So while I dreamed of being a successful novelist and occasionally made the query rounds, that was more of a "buy a winning lottery ticket" fantasy than a realistic plan.

Then a friend took me aside and said "So have you done any reading on this self-publishing thing? It's not like it used to be, with vanity presses -- there are some real, serious, good writers doing this." This was right around the time I hit 40, and found myself confronting my mortality. I went to Vegas to celebrate my birthday, alone, and sat down to work out what the hell I was doing with my life. I told myself, "The decisions I make now, here in this hotel room, today, are going to shape the rest of my life. I always tell people to go for their passions. What am I passionate about? What do I want more than anything?"

Hotel 32 has these rain-shower faucets. They're these big squares on the shower ceiling, and they gush torrents of water down and it feels like standing in a thunderstorm. I stepped into the water, and I knew what I wanted. It was a baptism. When I got out of the shower, I sat down and wrote out a business plan. I had found my way.

Q] Since you began to publish your work, you have put out 6 books in a 12-month period. Could you kindly elaborate on why you choose to go with self-publishing and what advantages it afforded?

CS: I had a head start, which helped. When my first book launched, the second one had already been completed and edited, and the third was almost done. I wanted to get at least that much of a lead, to make sure the series had legs and that I'd be happy writing it for the long haul.

I'd never tell another writer what they should do, but for me, self-publishing is the only route that makes sense. My background is in business, and I enjoy entrepreneurial work, so that part of the job is fun for me. Storytelling-wise? Freedom. Complete freedom. The book I imagine is the book that gets delivered to you (for better or for worse, but the risks are mine to take), and I've assembled a great team that helps me to deliver the best work I can.

Q] Speaking about your books, all of them have such striking covers and are very eye-catching. Please talk to us about how they came to be? What input did you have for them?

CS: Quite a bit; James T. Egan does all of my covers, and we talk about themes, emotions -- essentially, what we want the reader to feel when they see my books. Trying to sell the same tone that you'll get from the story inside. Once he shows me the preliminary version, I either request alterations or we press on ahead to the final cover (and considering how skilled James is, changes are a very, very rare request).

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Daniel Faust Series and The Revanche Cycle?

CS: The Daniel Faust series  is low-magic urban fantasy that owes its roots to the hard-boiled crime genre. The protagonist is an unapologetic con artist and thief, equally comfortable with sorcery and gunplay, who tries to make a (dis)honest living in a shadowy occult underworld. They're fast, pulpy, roller-coaster reads.

A friend described one of the later books as "like the TV show Leverage, but they keep the money they steal, and a whole lot of people end up dead." This may or may not be an endorsement, depending on your tastes.

The Revanche Cycle is a different beast. It's a sweeping epic fantasy with multiple viewpoint characters, set in a fantasy world vaguely reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. It's about a lot of things. It's about conspiracies, political intrigue, and poison. It's about the relationship between church and state, and how religion is used (and abused) to shape policy. It's about faith, and culture, and overcoming the obstacles society throws in your path. It's a story about women.

It is also, as the title hints, a story about revenge. And how a single violent act, buried in the past, can have devastating, global consequences.


Q] With both your series, the urban fantasy as well the epic fantasy one, you have created some note-worthy characters (Mari, Livia, Harmony, etc.). Please talk to us about your thought process for creating and writing about them?

CS: I want to know everything about my characters, even – maybe especially – the things that don’t make it explicitly to the page. What they love, what they hate, what they’re afraid of. As a writer, I think you have to know your characters and more importantly, you have to care about them. You have to fall in love with them a little, even the bastards. Because if you don’t care, you can’t make your readers care.

Q: All four titles in the Daniel Faust series are written in the first-person, which is very common for urban fantasy novels. While your fantasy series is set in the third person. Why do you choose to delineate the POVs this way and what do you feel are the differences between first-person and third-person narratives?

CS: One could imagine that the Daniel Faust books are basically you riding along with Faust -- or him telling you the story over drinks at the Tiger’s Garden -- and getting the whole adventure (down to his thoughts and emotions) firsthand. The idea is to get you as close to the action as possible, and hopefully forge an emotional connection.

The Revanche Cycle books had to be multiple-viewpoint, because the size of the story -- and the nature of how each character is ultimately connected -- demanded it. Now, I could have done it first-person and written each scene in a different character's internal voice, but that really risks reader confusion ("Wait, who's narrating this chapter again?") and I don’t think I'm a skilled enough writer to make that work.

The takeaway here is that neither first nor third person is inherently superior; it's a question of what method is the best fit for the story you're trying to tell.

Q] You recently signed on with 47 North for a spinoff series set in the Daniel Faust world. Please tell us about the Harmony Black series and how many books do you have planned?

CS: Harmony was originally introduced as a foil for Daniel Faust: a spell-slinging FBI agent who knows all of his tricks, and is determined to see him behind bars. Her spinoff series will follow her adventures with her new team, working to take down occult criminals and supernatural threats all over the United States. Since the Faust books are almost all rooted in Las Vegas, it's a neat opportunity to broaden the setting and show all the weird, scary stuff happening everywhere else.

And in Faust's world, trust me: no matter where you live, there's some weird, scary stuff going on.

There will definitely be at least two books in the series, which makes its debut in January 2016; beyond that, we'd love to put out many more, but renewal will depend (of course) on how well they sell.


Q] Let’s talk a bit about your Daniel Faust series, there seems to be a grand design at work there. How many books do you have planned? What does your endgame look like?

CS: There is indeed. Right now I project the series will be about twenty books long, give or take. My notes are a rough, blocky road map: I have some stories almost completely outlined, while others are a paragraph or two of notes, and some just a title and a sentence sketch. I'm basically trying to have a clear picture of where I'm going, while leaving enough wriggle room so that if I come up with what I think is a fantastic new idea for a plot, I can make it happen.

The final paragraphs of the final scene of the series have already been written. I know where it all ends. Getting you there someday, and making sure that scene leaves the mark it should, is the hard part.

Q] You currently have two vastly different series ongoing, how do you go about writing them [do you delineate different time periods for writing them or do you write depending on how you feel each day] could you explain your writing methods? And particularly about the discipline required to produce 6 books a year!

CS: One book at a time. The tones between my two series are so different, along with the moods I try to create, jumping between them would cause total whiplash. I try to write 2,000 words a day, every day. Not all of that makes it to the final page: I always end up cutting great chunks of it, and my editor’s pen is crueler than mine.

It’s all about the discipline. Writing is just like going the gym: it’s hard until you make it a habit, but even then it’s never easy. And just like the gym, when you skip a day, it becomes that much easier to skip the next day. And the next.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

CS: Writing is my drug of choice. Piecing together a story, learning and honing my craft, the rush of drawing scenes and words from the air…my motivation is the joy of it. It's hard work, often frustrating work, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

I suppose my muse is my readership, in a way. When I know people are excited about an upcoming book, it gets me excited to make it the very best I can and try to deliver a great experience for them to enjoy.


Q] Can you tell us more about the world that the Revanche Cycle is set in and some of the series’ major characters? What are the curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

CS: The world of the Revanche Cycle is a delicate net of power, a dance between the banks and the masters of commerce, the keepers of a vast and unified church, and an expansionist empire with dreams of a grand crusade. And, as the story begins, it's all falling apart. The banks are collapsing, a beloved pope is on his deathbed, and the empire is on the verge of spending itself into bankruptcy.

For some, it's a time of great peril. For the power-hungry, it's a time of opportunity. Conspiracies and strange alliances are in motion, aimed at taking advantage of the coming chaos -- and for one man, to enact an apocalyptic plan of revenge twenty years in the making.

And there is magic, in the shadows, though you'd be wise not to go looking for it. Walk through the wilds alone and you might stumble upon the reveling witches of the Pallid Masque, or the swampy haunts of the Sisterhood of the Noose. And you would witness wonders, then…wonders paid for in pain and blood.

Q] Themes of PTSD, patriarchy, racism & cultural disparities seem to play an important role throughout the Revanche Cycle. How much of this was gleaned from history? And how much of it was from other sources?

CS: Civilizations rise and fall, but people don't change so much, and today's problems look a lot like yesterday's problems. Bringing up PTSD is a great example. A modern-day Marine and a fourteenth-century Condottiere have a lot in common, from bearing the scars of battle (physical and mental), enduring survivor's guilt, and trying to reintegrate into a civilian world that doesn't understand what they've been through.

I use history as a jumping-off point, but I try to evoke historical issues that we're still dealing with today, and that readers might personally relate to. It's an interesting way of thinking about problems and challenges (without turning it into "message fiction," which is no fun for anybody. A good story is a discussion, not a lecture).

Q] You have released Winter’s Reach & The Instruments Of Control within 6 months. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

CS: Right now we’re on track to release book three, titled Terms of Surrender in December  and, tentatively, the fourth and final volume in mid-2016.

Q] In Winter’s Reach, Felix has quite a traumatic sea experience and the description you have used for the sound that precedes the sequence was quite something. Do you have any examples of what that sounded like in your mind?

CS: Imagine a massive pipe organ at the bottom of the sea, twenty stories tall. A mottled finger reaches out and presses down on a single key. The organ plays a sound that could shatter the earth, sending it roaring up to the ocean's surface. It's a message, just for you.

Letting you know that you're about to see the organ-player.

Q] Who are your literary idols and which books are your favorites amongst some of the genres that you read in?

CS: Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Masters of noir. Chandler dragged you through worlds of corruption, and Hammett made language dance. Ernest Hemingway: stripped-down, brutally sparse prose like a boxer's punch. I love Clive Barker's erotic grotesqueries, and the bleeding-edge futurescapes of early William Gibson.

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

CS: What do you love? Find it, go for it, and take your life by the horns. Don't wait as long as I did. We only get so many summers.

Also? You need more books.
Monday, August 3, 2015

GUEST POST: Justis Fearsson Character Interview by David B. Coe


DBC: Today, we are fortunate to have with us Mister Justis Fearsson, a private detective here in Phoenix. Mister Fearsson served for six years on the Phoenix police force before going into business for himself. He is here to speak with us about a few of his recent cases, and also, perhaps more intriguingly, about his magical abilities. Mister Fearsson, welcome.

JF: Thank you. And you can call me Jay.

DBC: All right. Jay it is. You’re a weremyste, aren’t you, Jay? Can you tell us what that means?

JF: [Shifting in his chair.] I suppose. Weremystes are sorcerers -- wizards, if you will, though that’s a term few of us use. I guess you could say that the magic comes from the “myste” part of the word. The “were” part refers to the phasings. Every month, on the night of the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after, we . . . well, we go a little crazy. And our magic gets stronger.

DBC: I see. And by crazy, you mean . . .

JF: Just that. Delusions, hallucinations, only the vaguest sense of who and what we are. We basically go temporarily insane.

DBC: That sounds terrible.

JF: It’s no picnic.

DBC: But it’s temporary.

JF: Yes . . . But not surprisingly, putting our minds in a cosmic blender every month has long-term consequences as well. Almost all weremystes wind up permanently nuts.

DBC: Like your father.

JF: [Bristling.] I’m not talking about my father. And I’ll thank you not to either.

DBC: I meant no offense. But he was a weremyste, wasn’t he? And now--

JF: First of all, he’s still a weremyste. Second, yes, he has psychological problems now. Just like I probably will when I’m his age. And that’s all I’m going to say about him.

DBC: Very well. Tell me about the magic you do.

JF: What about it?

DBC: What kind of spells can you cast?

JF: How much time do you have? I can craft all sorts of spells. I can heal wounds, move things and even people from one place to another. I can throw a punch with a thought and catch glimpses of the future. I could light your hair on fire or tip over that chair you’re sitting in. Namid would tell you that the number of spells available to a skilled runecrafter is limited only by his or her imagination.


DBC: Namid?

JF: Namid’skemu. He’s a runemyste, the spiritual reincarnation of an ancient runecrafter, who, along with the rest of his kind, helps to protect our world from practitioners of dark magic. He was once a shaman of the K’ya’na-Kwe clan, the water people of the Zuni nation.

DBC: The water people are extinct. Their line died out centuries ago.

JF: Yeah, go figure.

DBC: [After a brief pause] Okay. What is dark magic?

JF: I cast spells using whatever power I carry within me, and I tend to try to do good with my spells, helping people in need, solving and stopping crimes, that sort of thing. But some other weremystes are more concerned with helping themselves, even if their good fortune carries costs for other people. And a few of them use blood, their own, blood from animals, sometimes even blood taken from innocent people, to enhance their magic, make it stronger. Those of us who follow the teachings of the Runeclave, oppose them. And Namid helps us with that, by teaching us, training us.

DBC: you ever done dark magic?

JF: I haven’t. Until recently, I haven’t been as diligent as I should be in learning the rudiments of runecrafting. I’m learning, thanks to Namid, and I’m getting stronger all the time. But I’ve stayed away from the dark stuff, not only because it’s wrong, but also because it always seemed to be more than I could handle. I suppose I could see myself using it in an emergency, if I ever found myself up against a dark conjurer I couldn’t defeat any other way. But I hope that never happens.

DBC: Let’s talk a bit about your history. Why did you quit the police force?

JF: It’s not something I like to talk about really. The truth is, I had to quit. The phasings were taking a toll on me, keeping me from doing my job effectively. My old partner on the force, Kona Shaw, who’s a great cop -- she tried to protect me, to cover for me. But there was only so much she could so. And some of the higher-ups on the force remembered my father, and figured I must be just like him. I suppose they were right to a degree. Anyway, in the end I had no real choice. Either I could quit, or they would fire me. My resignation seemed like the best thing for all concerned.

DBC: Do you miss being a detective?

JF: Every day. But Kona still comes to me when cases crop up that involved magic and spells, which is more often than you might think.

DBC: Can you tell us about those cases?

JF: Well, there was the Blind Angel serial murder case, which you might have read about. And more recently a case involving a possible terrorist plot and some ritual killings here in Phoenix. We’re still working that one, so I can’t say much about it. But perhaps before long you’ll be able to read about those events, too . . .

DBC: Wait, that’s all you’re going to tell us?

JF: I’m afraid so. [Standing] It’s time I got back to work. As I say, if you’re curious, read about the cases.

DBC: Well, there you have it, readers. Justis Fearsson, weremyste and private detective. If you wish to know more, it seems you’ll need to read about the man on your own.

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


Official D. B. Jackson Author Website
Official David B. Coe Author Website
Pre-order His Father's Eyes HERE
Order The Thieftaker Chronicles HERE
Order The Case Files Of Justis Fearsson HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which will be released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway





Fantasy Book Critic is celebrating the recent release of The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway by offering a giveaway of this new fantasy/horror book! We have three copies to give away to three lucky winners!

If you haven't stopped by to see Robert Brockway's guest blog post last week at Fantasy Book Critic, you can do so by clicking here!

About The Unnoticeables

 There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns, they remove the redundancies, and the problem that is you gets solved.

Carey doesn’t much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching the strange kids with the unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn’t care about the rumors of tarmonsters in the sewers, or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene—all he wants is drink cheap beer and dispense asskickings.

Kaitlyn isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there’s an angel outside her apartment.

Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left of it.

There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It’s up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands.

We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.

******************************************************

Rules for Entry into the Giveaway


  1.  This giveaway is open to US and Canada addresses only. 
  2. Three winners will be chosen at random. 
  3. Contest starts August 1, 2015 at midnight PST and runs until August 8, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. PST.
  4. To enter please send an email with the subject UNNOTICEABLES to FBCgiveaway@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.
  5. Only one entry per person! Duplicate entries will be deleted.
  6. All entries will be deleted upon completion of the giveaway.
  7. Winners will be notified via email.
Thursday, July 30, 2015

"Book Scavenger" by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)


Visit Jennifer Chambliss Bertman's Website Here



OVERVIEW: A hidden book. A found cipher. A game begins . . . .

Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold's attackers make them their next target.
 

FORMAT: Book Scavenger is a children's novel. It has mystery, adventure, friendship, and a scavenger hunt with clues and codes to break. It is very similar to Westing Game and Egypt Game, but a modern literary version of it. 

Book Scavenger is part of a proposed series of books, but it can be read on its own. 

Book Scavenger was published on June 2, 2015 by Henry Holt and Company.

ANALYSIS: What if there was a worldwide scavenger hunt that involved all your favorite novels? Think of it. You take a favorite book of yours, read it, review it, and then go out into the world and hide it. Once hidden, other book lovers will hunt for your book (and thousands of other books hidden in the wild) using clues and codes you left on the website. It is like allowing your favorite books to go 'into the wild' where other readers can find them, read them, and enjoy them.

The above scene is exactly what happens in Jennifer Chambliss Bertman's newest novel Book Scavenger. Emily, a 12 year old book lover and avid player of the book hunt game Book Scavenger who has moved around from state to state, finds herself in the middle of a mysterious, yet epic book-themed scavenger hunt. She truly believes that Garrison Griswold, a Willy Wonka version for the literary world, has created this epic version in an effort to help someone win the ultimate prize.

Unfortunately, Griswold was attacked and lies in a coma in the hospital. Could his attack have something to do with this new game or is it unrelated? Emily embarks on a quest, along with her new friend James, to unravel the clues that are found in this epic game. But time is running out, as it appears other, stronger and dangerous individuals are after the same clues and want to get to the big prize before Emily does.

Book Scavenger is one of the best books I've read in 2015. It is the perfect blend of The Westing Game and The Egypt Game, but for book lovers and those that love to crack codes and mysteries. I view Book Scavenger as a modern version of these books, but with its own twists and turns.

I loved that while the actual game of Book Scavenger was played online, the majority of the book relied on good old fashioned thinking/team work. Many modern books try to shove the technological aspect in your face and go overboard. But Book Scavenger has the perfect blend of modern technology and adventure/clue scavenging. It is this ability to not rely on technology (and some of the other aspects, such as timeless plot and great characters) that gives this book the potential to be a timeless classic.

Book Scavenger has everything that a reader could love. There is humor, a solid friendship between children, family bonds, mystery, and codes to crack. Readers will love playing along with Emily as she searches throughout the city to find the ultimate prize. The writing is tight and well thought out, the characters enjoyable, and there are just enough literary references to satisfy readers of all ages. Even though it is a children's novel, it really appeals to everyone's inner child.

Book Scavenger is one of my 2015 reads. I could read it over and over again. The only problem I have is I really wish Book Scavenger was a real thing and people all over would take part. Maybe someday!
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website  
Pre-order “One Good Dragon Deserves AnotherHERE
Read the first three chapters HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Aaron lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also posts regularly on her blog about publishing, books and several other intriguing things.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top.

Refusal to play along with his mother’s plans means death, but there’s more going on than even Bethesda knows, and with Estella back in the game with a vengeance, Heartstriker futures disappearing, and Algonquin’s dragon hunter closing in, the stakes are higher than even a seer can calculate. But when his most powerful family members start dropping like flies, it falls to Julius to defend the clan that never respected him and prove that, sometimes, the world’s worst dragon is the best one to have on your side.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heartstriker series is an action-packed urban fantasy series with a strong dose of comedy, post-apocalyptic SF themes and dragons.

FORMAT/INFO: One Good Dragon Deserves Another is 463 pages long divided over twenty-one numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Julius Heartstriker, Chelsie Heartstriker, Marci Novalli, Justin Heartstriker, Estella the Northern Star, and Bob “Brohomir” Heartstriker. This is the second volume of the Heartstriker series.

August 1, 2015 will mark the e-book publication of One Good Dragon Deserves Another and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Anna Steinbauer.

ANALYSIS: Ever since I got my hands on The Spirit Thief, the debut book by Rachel Aaron, I’ve been enchanted by the worlds she imagines and the characters that inhabit them. When she announced this new series, I was very much looking forward to it with a lot of curiosity. After reading Nice Dragons Finish Last, I was thrilled to bits with the new series.

One Good Dragon Deserves Another or OGDDA as the abbreviation goes is the brilliant follow up to Nice Dragons Finish Last (NDFL). It's a cracker of a sequel that basically starts within a month of the climax of NDFL and basically widens up the world, and story in every way possible. I’ll be discussing some plot points of the story which will be spoiler-ish so please be forewarned of it.

The plot opens up with Julius and Marci happily forming a partnership and being able to do their job as curse-removal specialists. The problem arises when Bethesda returns to the DFZ and grabs Julius to go with her to a special meeting. Which turns out to be the upcoming nuptials (of sorts) of Ivan Heartstriker and Svena White Witch of the Three sisters. While this happy event is a very perfunctory one, it turns out Bob being a seer has invited a special dragon to this ceremony. That dragon being Amelia, who is the only surviving member of the A clutch and a mighty dragon in herself. While Julius is unaware of who she is, he does get to know her and is bemused by her interest in him.

Things however take a horrible turn when Estella, the oldest daughter of the Three sisters returns and hatches a plan to defeat Bob at his seer game. It will be up to Julius, Marci, Bob and the rest to help the Hearstriker clan survive the coming onslaught while also trying to survive Algonquin’s hunter who has a special interest in killing dragons.

This book in a word was magnificent and here's why:
a) It gives us the whole backstory about the dragons and why there seems to be so much infighting among dragon clans
b) Why Algonquin the lady of the lakes and other spirits hate the dragons so much
c) How does mankind fit into the magic equation

All of the above and much more is laid bare for the reader and the author truly gives us two protagonists to root for. This time Julius shares the spotlight with Marci who is frankly fantastic as a protagonist. The previous book focused on Julius and while it was a fun read. With OGDDA, Marci takes center stage and we get a stronger, multi-faceted story. The book’s cover kind of highlights this new shift and Marci also learns so much more from her association with Ghost. How and when this happens, is possibly the most surprising twist and only the second most shocking part of the story.

The story also focuses on Bob, Justin, Chelsie, Ghost and couple of other major characters. The character cast is suitably widened and I loved this aspect of the story-line. Bob, I believe is a character that is such a hit and in this volume, we get to know more about him and his powers. This just made me love Bob more even when he’s at his most infuriating. There’s also a strong light shined on Chelsie who has so far remained in the shadows and we kind of get an inkling why that is. Lastly the plot reveals the magical history of the world as well as the backstory of the Dragons. This revelation makes so much sense from a world-building point of view and has me intrigued for further exploration.

The story takes a suitable dark turn within a few pages of its start and Rachel Aaron does keep the tension evenly strung throughout the story. This book very much reads like a Jeffrey Deaver thriller wherein the entire plot unfolds over two to three days and the twists come left, right & center. This book possibly is the most twisted story-line that Rachel has written so far (among the 10 fiction books she has written so far). I couldn’t quite keep with all the happenings as there’s a seer battle going on as one of them reiterates “you can never be too sure with a seer”. The story unfolds at a wicked pace and the readers will be racing along to find what truly is happening.

Lastly while the book ends on a very surprising note, it’s the epilogue that’s the real stunner and I mean it. After all the twists and revelations that the main plot has in it, the last few paragraphs of the epilogue reveal so much more and further deepen the world and magic system so to speak. After finishing the book, I can only imagine the amount of email that Rachel will be getting about the epilogue.

As for any drawbacks, this story is definitely not a standalone; one cannot just jump into it. It needs to be read after Nice Dragons Finish Last, so that’s the only point I can think which detracts from this sumptuous thriller. On all other fronts, it aces its characterization, plot twists, plot pace, etc.

CONCLUSION: One Good Dragon Deserves Another is a first rate sequel that completely outshines its predecessor in every department. It reads like a thriller, is a urban fantasy, Sci-fi mashup in its plot and is a fantastic read overall. When it comes to books from author that we love, I don’t think we can ask more than that. Be sure to read One Good Dragon Deserves Another as it absolutely cements Rachel Aaron's reputation as a gifted storyteller.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GUEST POST: Robert Brockway: Author of The Unnoticeables




Visit Robert Brockway's Website Here
Watch the Book Trailer for The Unnoticeables Here



Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to welcome Robert Brockway. Robert is a Senior Editor and columnist for Cracked.com and is the author of the latest urban fantasy/horror novel, The Unnoticeables. The Unnoticeables was released by Tor on July 7, 2015.

Robert Brockway has stopped by to talk about his love of sci-fi/fantasy and his latest book. 

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My favorite part of sci-fi/fantasy is the world-building. I love coming up with premises and extrapolating out the rules of that world, its environments and creatures. It’s great fun.

If you’re lucky, you might even figure out a good story to tell in that world.

If you’re unlucky, somebody will then come along and ask you to explain it.

I wrote a book called The Unnoticeables — a weird genre mash-up somewhere between horror, sci-fi, and urban fantasy - and for some reason people keep asking me what it’s about. Did you know they do that, when you write a book?

If I had known, I would’ve written a book about divorce, or battleships, or something else that could be explained away in a word or two.

Instead I wrote this strange trilogy about angels, monsters, faceless kids, punk rockers, and stuntwomen that spans decades and jumps back and forth in time. I really screwed myself here.

Honestly, it all went awry from the central premise, which started like this: There’s a theory that everything can be described with sufficiently complex numbers. Given enough space and time, you could map every particle in the universe — assign it a space on a grid, describe its functions, behaviors, composition, etc. — and if you can do that, well, then everything is basically just numbers, right?

Oof, already you see the problem.

Let’s try again: There’s a thought experiment which says that everything that could possibly exist is described within pi. Pi is, as far as we know it, a non-repeating infinite number. Since it goes on forever without reliably repeating itself, somewhere in that string of numbers there’s eventually going to be a bit that describes something real. Let’s say it describes a small rock. In a non-repeating infinite number there will be a string of digits that describes the shape of the rock, the weight, how old it is, etc. Eventually, because we’re talking about infinity here, there will be a string of numbers that describes that rock and the beach it sits on — how many grains of sand, their relative positions to one another, the strength of the waves. And so forth. Carry that thought far enough, and you’ll come across a string of numbers that describes that rock, that beach, and you, stubbing your toe on it - the number of cells in your body, the series in which your neurons fire to form your thoughts, the wrinkles at the corners of your eyes, the intensity and volume at which you screamed when you kicked this stupid pebble.

Somewhere in pi, our entire universe is mapped out. Not only that, but every possible universe is described as well — infinity is infinite, after all.

Yeah, I know. My next book is going to be about ‘a down on his luck airline pilot trying to find love’ or something.

Working from the premise that the universe and everything in it can be described mathematically, I came to the conclusion that, for most things, there’s probably a simpler way to express those numbers. There are probably bits that cancel each other out, more efficient algorithms that could model the same behaviors, redundancies in the code. In short, everything is a math problem.

What if something could solve it?

That’s how I got my villains: things my characters call angels — bright balls of light that sound like screaming static and exist solely to maintain the purity of the universe. They’re problem solvers. And the problems they’re solving are human beings.

Hopefully you followed my thought process down the rabbit hole far enough to see how I came up with this world. But then there was the whole mess of coming up with characters. For that, I had to think about who would hate this premise the most: Who is least amenable to a universe where we’re all just numbers, waiting to be neatly solved and filed away? I came up with two wildly different types of people united by a shared concept: Punk rockers, and aspiring actresses. Punks despise the idea of conformity, of doing what you’re told just because you’re told to it. Aspiring actresses, by their very nature, have to believe  that they’re so inherently talented and special that they can make it in a field where literally millions are trying and failing every day. Despite how awkward they would both find each other’s company, those two types of people share one defining character trait: They love and treasure individuality.

That all follows logically, right? The premise, the world, the monsters, the characters, the conflict — it all just sort of fits together. I was confident of that, in writing the book. Perhaps too confident. Because it all came crashing down the moment somebody asked me the big, impossible question:

“In one sentence, describe your book.”

If you figure out how to do that, email me. I’ll buy you a coke. 

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 More about The Unnoticeables 

There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns, they remove the redundancies, and the problem that is you gets solved.

Carey doesn’t much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching the strange kids with the unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn’t care about the rumors of tarmonsters in the sewers, or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene—all he wants is drink cheap beer and dispense asskickings.

Kaitlyn isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there’s an angel outside her apartment.

Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left of it.

There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It’s up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands.

We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.
 

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