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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)





OVERVIEW: A modern-day fairy tale set in a mysterious museum that is perfect for readers of Roald Dahl and Blue Balliett.

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

FORMAT: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a children's novel based off of the retelling of Anderson's 'The Snow Queen'. It has elements of magic and a whimsical fairy tale like quality to it. The novel stands at 233 pages and was published January 28, 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf.

ANALYSIS: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a partial re-telling of Anderson's "The Snow Queen", and with the success of Disney's Frozen, I thought it would be an amazing children's novel. Unfortunately, this novel just didn't click with me, but that isn't to say it won't click with its general audience.

There is really very little to set this novel apart from the dozens of other children's novels that have similar storylines. There is the girl who doesn't believe in magic, the mysterious boy from another magical land, and the fate of the world rests on making said girl believe. If she doesn't, the world will end. Change a few names, add a few quirky characteristics and you have Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.

One of the major things that make a novel strong is the author's character building. While I understand a 230 page novel can't have extensive background on the characters, this novel just didn't feel like it promoted the characters. They came across as very one-dimensional and really they were just vessels to move the storyline along.

Karen Foxless tries really hard to make the characters – or at least the main character – have all these little quirks that make her stand out and seem not so normal. For example, Ophelia is asthmatic. She takes 'squirts of her puffer' to calm herself down, when she's scared, when she's running – pretty much any time. Unfortunately, the phrase 'squirts her puffer' is used repetitively throughout the novel, to the point it lost its quirkiness and just became frustrating.

Another thing that really took away from the novel was the sections 'the marvelous boy' used to tell his story. When I first read his little story from his POV, it seemed fun, exciting and adventurous. After the second or third time, it seemed as if his stories became less a story and more information dumping sections so the reader could understand things.

The change in 'the marvelous boy's' story telling was a bit of a disappointment. I feel it was a missed opportunity to really change the story and make it shine and/or develop one of the main characters in the novel. Unfortunately, it did neither.

While there was a lot that didn't live up to expectations, there is one unique and 'fun' thing about Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy. It was the way it ended. I'm not really sure how I feel about the ending of the book, but it did make me really think – was what we read real or did we just take a trip through a young girl's imagination. It is this unique aspect of the book that I think will attract older readers to it.

Further exploring the ending of the book, it could be said on a deep philosophical level that the entire book was a metaphor for the grieving process that children go through. Sure, you can read this book as a fun, whimsical children's book, but there are certain elements that occur at the halfway point in this book that will turn it into a potential 'thought-provoking' novel.

Overall, I think Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy will appeal to its age range of 8 to 12. I don't think most readers in that age group will notice the major gaps in the storyline, the repetitive nature of some of the actions, or the lack of character development. To those readers, it will just be another novel to read. In fact, I don't think many of the readers in this age group will even get the whole metaphoric ending.

Adult readers on the other hand may struggle with some of the elements in this book. It may feel like just another children's novel filled with quirky characters and a fast-moving plot. I truly feel the ending is the best part of this book. I really liked the way it made me think – at least for a few minutes – about what I just read and I loved the exploration of the museum, but overall I don't think it is a book that will stay with me for years to come.  


Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed by A. E. Marling)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read the first seven chapters HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Blade Itself
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Before They Are Hanged
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Best Served Cold
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Heroes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Red Country
Read first Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie
Read second Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie

ORIGINAL BOOK BLURB:I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: If you’re looking for a gritty YA novel unburdened by romance, then you ought to read Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.

Prince Yarvi can’t wait to abdicate his right to the crown soon enough. His talents run more to making tea than impressing men. He will dodge the crown by joining a monkish order of advisors. Alas he would have, but for the murder of his father and brother that has hurled Yarvi onto the throne. 

He’d always been weak; but he never felt truly powerless until they made him king.”

His noble family treats him as if he’s not just a cripple but also deaf and dumb. His uncle says he would’ve made a fine jester. Yarvi’s mother tells him that between them both, “At least one of us must be a man.” And it’s her. A mastermind with eyes that spit icicles, she has plans to revolutionize coinage for her realm. If only her feeble son can stay in power. 

No one demeans Yarvi as much as himself. Like Tyrion in the books of A Song of Fire and Ice, Yarvi’s humor is self-deprecating. Every breath is embittered. He may be half a man, but he has a full man’s rage.

He swears an oath of vengeance against those who killed his father and brother. Then he sails to war on a boat rowed by slaves. The irony is not lost on him when he’s captured and becomes a galley slave himself. He escapes an assassination by scampering into enemy ranks. Pretending to be a nobody comes naturally to him, and the deception saves his life, which is sold for less than the price of a sheep.

I dislike having the protagonist in chains and powerless for so long. The most he can do with the iron collar around his neck is fraternize with his fellow bench mates. Rulf is a philosophical killer. “Life isn’t about deservings, so much as snatching what you can get.” Scar-lipped Sumael is a prized slave. A navigator, she reads the stars like a map and feels her way through the icy waters of the Shattered Sea.

The rest of the slaves are optimistic pink ducklings compared to the deck-scrubber. They call him Nothing. He shivers with hunger and rage. He’s forbidden to touch anything sharp. The last time he stole a knife, he killed more than one man and scarred the ship’s captain. 

The mistress of the merchant ship insists that the slaves are her family. How ungracious they would be to try to escape, how cruel to plot against her! With a sigh and a sweep of her plumed hat, the captain bemoans the weakness of her loving spirit. Generosity will be the death of her, she says, as she stomps over Nothing with her platform boots.

The captain reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s previous character, the dreadful mercenary Nicomo Cosca. Perhaps it’s her drinking or that both have such infuriatingly believable pettiness and self-love. Joe Abercrombie crafts his characters not as black or white but various shades of blood-stained grey. We learn that one slave who betrays his fellows only does so to secure the wellbeing of his family. It’s not easy to point a finger at evil in Joe Abercrombie’s novels, in part because there’s so many who’ll cut off your hand.

I love the world building. Creepy messenger pigeons babble in human voices. A once-true-god was shattered into shards of divinity, each a minor being that can be worshipped. Even pillage-ready warriors stay away from the elf ruins. Their exhausted slaves gaze up to see constellations with evocative names: The Crooked Way, Stranger-Come-Knocking, and the Eater of Dreams.

Joe Abercrombie’s storytelling is more concise in Half A King and as sharp as ever with wit and deft prose. At one point, Yarvi has to wake up and “struggle on again with the splinters of his nightmares still niggling.”

To escape his imprisonment, Yarvi must also throw off his shackles of self-doubt. He grows as a character. He masterminds an ending so potent that I forgive his wallowing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sharpen my sword on the chains of lost kings, while eating a raw purple onion. Because I’m just that tough. I swear.


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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website  
Order “Nice Dragons Finish LastHERE
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

Rachel Aaron is an author who since the past five years has become one of our favorite authors. She also is very kind enough to talk about her recently completed Paradox trilogy & reveals certain secrets about the books as well as her forthcoming self-published work The Heartstriker series. Be warned that the below interview has some major and minor spoilers for the Paradox trilogy so avoid it if you haven't read the trilogy. For those who have read and loved her previous works, read and enjoy Rachel's thoughts...

Q) Sup! Since you have (now) become our most interviewed author & thereby one of our supreme favorites. How does it feel to ascend to this pedestal? ;) 

RA: A little nerve wracking, honestly! I’ve been at this full time author gig for just a month shy of five years now, and I still feel like I should be looking for a real job, just in case. All I can say is thank you so so sooooo much for the continued support and I will endeavor to continue being as entertaining as possible!

Q) With Devi’s trilogy now complete, do you feel that you have managed to hit all the points (action, romance, space opera, fantastical aliens, etc.) that you set out to write with this trilogy? 

RA: For the most part, yet. There are a few things I just didn’t have the narrative space to get to—more info on Paradox itself, the history of human expansion into the universe, that sort of thing. But there’s only so much room in a book, and at the end of the day, you have to go with what’s most important to the story you’re trying to tell. Plus, this leaves me with lots of fodder for future Paradox novels! In hindsight, I do wish I’d handled the love story a little more smoothly, especially in book 1, but overall I’m very pleased.

Q) I want to talk to you about the romance aspect of the story. I very much enjoyed how you made it an important part of Devi’s story without it becoming over or under-whelming? How did you achieve this fine balance? 

RA:  A lot of rewrites :D

I knew right from the get go that this was going to be a Romance “capital R”, but I also had a much larger story I wanted to tell, and balancing the two quickly became the central challenge of the narrative. The key, I discovered, was always to think of the books not as action or Romance, but as Devi’s story. Just like the rest of us, her personal relationship drama occupies a big part of her life, but not all of it. Similarly, struggles with her job and all the craziness that comes after disasters are massively important, but they’re not her entire world. This is how I tried to balance the books: a personal struggle to keep up with everything that is happening. Devi’s just trying to survive and do the right thing on many levels, which means a lot of narrative juggling.

A more singularly focused character would have been much easier to write, but that’s not how real people are. We’re messy, we worry about multiple problems at the same time, our personal lives impact our professional work. It was this balance—or rather, this struggle for balance—that I think made Devi’s story feel so real to so many people, and it was an absolute bear to get right. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the end of HONOR’S KNIGHT trying to make everything tick over at the right time. In the end, though, it was definitely worth all the work, and I’m very pleased with how the series turned out in that regard!


Q) Now like your previous interview after the completion of the Eli Monpress series, I want to talk about the deeper mysteries of Devi’s universe. Namely one area that was never clarified was the Terran-Paradox split in humanity’s history (or future). Could you talk us through what caused it? 

RA: This was one of those details I always meant to work in but just could never find the right place. Basically, when humanity first left Earth (about 1000 years before the start of Devi’s story), we did it on the very first version of the hyperdive. Unfortunately, we didn’t yet know enough about the drive to use gates, which meant a lot of ships suffered from massive time distortions, while others went much further than they’d originally planned. One of these far jumping colony ships crashed into an Eden-like planet that would become known as Paradox.

The original human settlements on Paradox were tiny. Only a few hundred people survived the crash, and those who did fought amongst themselves for the few remaining shreds of still-working technology. Many held out for help from Earth, but thanks to the incredible distance of their jump, there was no way the rest of humanity could possibly find them any time soon. Generations without contact later, Paradox had devolved back to a primitive agrarian society with little to no memory of the cultures they’d left other than stories and legends. Then, in a miraculous turn, a minor warlord named Stephen rediscovered the lost technology. Using it, he conquered all of his rivals in a matter of days, uniting Paradox under a single king for the first time.

This power, which he claimed was god-given, led to him becoming the first Sainted King. (It should be noted here that modern historians don't believe he rediscovered the crashed colony ship since the ship he used for his initial conquest was far above Earth technology of the time. Even saying that much is heresy on Paradox, however, and the mystery of King Stephen I's rise to power is not one the Royal Office permits investigation into.) All of this happened 700 years ago in Devi’s time. Stephen’s line has maintained their absolute rule of Paradox ever since.

It should also be noted that Paradox did not rediscover the rest of humanity, who’d been off forming what is now the Terran Republic, until barely a hundred years before Devi’s story. Before this time, Paradox was developing in virtual isolation, which explains why their culture is so radically different. Of course, after an initial period of excitement at finding other humans, the two powers began fighting almost immediately. These wars continued on and off until a final peace treaty was signed fifteen years before Devi joined the crew of the Glorious Fool. As can be expected from a century of war, there’s still a lot of bad blood between the two major human civilizations. There’s a lot more history here, of course, but that’s the basic gist.


Q) Thank you for the background reveal about Paradox’s past, moving on to the Sainted King? When he makes an appearance, we only get a glimpse of his powers. What makes him so powerful? Is it faith or something more at work? 

RA: As I hinted above in the history, there’s a LOT more going on with the Sainted King than we see on the surface. I’m actually planning a second trilogy set in the Paradox universe focusing on the Sainted King himself and the darker side of Paradoxian culture that Devi never had to deal with as a simple, loyal merc who happily drank the Sainted King Kool-Aid. So I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the answer to these questions, but I promise you, they are EPIC.

Q) In an interview you mentioned that you rewrote Fortune’s Pawn seven times and also the sequel books also had a lot of changes. Can you tell us as to what some of the changes were or what were the previous iterations to the story? 

RA: As I mentioned earlier, this was the series of rewrites. I have never re-done my books as many times as I rewrote these. Funny enough, the plot itself never changed. Pretty much every event currently in the novels was always there, with one notable exception being that Anthony originally showed up again in the beginning of book two rather than book three. Other than that, though, there were no major plot changes. All the extensive rewrites I did were to address issues with information reveals and relationship progression.

This is a series with a lot of secrets and conflicting moral gauges. The reveals for who-knows-what-when were the most insanely intricate clockwork of secrets I’ve ever tried to write. Getting that right took a lot of tries, as did Rupert and Devi’s relationship. Progress too quickly and it looks like Devi caves or worse, insta-love. Go too slowly, and the relationship won’t be where it needs to be for the final sacrifices to be believable.

These are the primary issues I rewrote for, often writing the same scene from multiple different narrative angles until I found the right one. I’m not actually sure how many times I redid certain parts, but let’s just say it’s a damn good thing I’m a fast writer, or I’d still be working on these books!

Q) Devi as a narrator is unreliable to say the least as her view is prejudiced because of her upbringing. Throughout the story, this partially limits the readers from the minutiae & mystery that are unfolding via the plotline. How did you counteract this issue or was that something (the confusion) you specifically intended with this story? 

RA: Devi’s prejudice was actually a vital narrative tool for me. One of the big conceits of this series is that there is no real villain. With a few minor exceptions, everyone in the books is a decent person trying their best to make something good out of a terrible, terrible situation. But an action space adventure without someone to fight just don’t fly, so I used Devi’s prejudices and tendency to snap judge situations (a life saving habit in combat, but not so good with people) to artificially create perceived villains which I would then make understandable and sympathetic by showing their part of the story. But then, just when they’re starting to look sympathetic, I hammer in again that what they did was still really freaking bad even if they did it with the best of intentions, and so the morals quandaries of the novels get stickier and stickier.

This sort of good guy/bad guy bait and switch was only possible through Devi's first person narration. Since the reader only knows what Devi knows, I was able to put them through the same series of discoveries and realizations Devi herself went through. But Devi isn't a perfect lens. Sometimes, she gets stuff wrong, and that's where the story gets really interesting.

Fortunately for us, Devi has zero tolerance for bullshit. When faced with the aforementioned moral quandaries, she can always be counted on to cut right to the heart of the matter, which nicely keeps the narrative from getting bogged down in its own weighty questions. This is yet again why these books are truly Devi’s story. She’s the main show around here! And though her prejudices do get her in a lot of trouble, her ability to admit she was wrong and stubborn determination to do the actual right thing make her the only hero who can fix such a horrible and sad situation.

Q) As the trilogy ends, we see that there’s more to this universe & so when you return to this milieu & what other facets and personas will you be exploring? 

RA: Yes! As I mentioned above, my next target is the Sainted King himself, and the books will again be narrated by a female powered armor mercenary who is very different from Devi, though hopefully just as fun to read. I’ve already got the major plot points sketched out, and I think the new series will be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my plate is very full at the moment, but I promise more Paradox will be coming soon, hopefully with the announcements in 2015. Then all your questions will be answered! (And then replaced with new ones!)

Q) You also are self-releasing an urban fantasy series next month. Please talk to us about the Heartstriker series & what readers can expect from it? 

RA: The Hearstriker novels are a major gearshift from my Devi books (though I have every faith readers of one would still enjoy the other). They’re much closer in tone to my Eli books, also published as Rachel Aaron, though they’re not as openly farcical or as simple as The Spirit Thief began. Of everything I’ve written, I’d say Nice Dragons Finish Last is closest to The Spirit War. It’s full of fun, funny, slightly outrageous characters dealing with serious, complex, and dangerous problems that have no easy solution.

The books are Urban Fantasy, meaning they’re set in more or less the real world, only I’ve moved things a century into the future and added a cataclysmic event brought magic rushing back into our world, creating mages and awaking sleeping powers. The story centers on Julius Heartstriker, the youngest and smallest dragon of an extremely large and ambitious clan looking to seize power now that magic has returned to Earth and dragons rule over a cowering human population is a real possibility again. Julius, however, is completely unsuited for his family’s agenda owing to his extremely un-draconic niceness, pacifism, and fondness for humans. This is unendingly embarrassing for his powerful and ruthless mother, who’s threatened to eat him if he doesn’t shape up and start acting like a dragon should.

There’s far more to it, of course! This is me, after all, and I can't write a sentence without burying world secrets. Suffice it to say, things get epic. So if you liked my previous books and want more, but different, Nice Dragons Finish Last will probably make you very happy. But don't take my word for it, read the first few chapters free on my site and see for yourself!

Q) You have mentioned to me in our correspondence as to why you went with the self-publishing track. Could you kindly elaborate on this decision for our readers? 

RA: There were a lot of reasons I made the decision to go it alone, none of which have to do with my publisher, Orbit, whom I adore and who has done a very stand up job with my titles. That said, I think my decision to go it alone could best be summed up as one of control. I'm the sort of person who likes to do things herself, but the very nature of a publishing house means an author has very little say over what happens to her book after she turns in the final draft. Cover choice, how my books are branded, sale price, even who gets to review my work early—these were all things I had next to zero control over, which is very frustrating for a control freak like myself.

Self-publishing is the exact opposite. I had total control over everything, which is a different sort of frustration but also extremely fulfilling. It was deeply gratifying to finally get to do everything just as I wanted it, and even if the whole enterprise flops, I'm happy I tried self-pub for that alone. Plus, the money in self-pub isn't bad either. Assuming I don't fail utterly, of course ;D

Q) Talking about the world you have created in this series. Why did you choose to focus the series around the Great lakes region? 

RA: I've always had a fascination with the urban decay of Detroit. Here we have this giant city just rotting away from neglect in the middle of America. Likewise, I've always been intrigued by the Great Lakes, which are larger than some seas when you put them all together. Also, I wanted an American city that hadn't already been done to death in modern UF, which ruled out LA, New York, and Chicago. Once you factored all that in, Detroit just felt like a perfect fit. Also, the weather there is very dramatic—cold winters, hot summers. Add in some crumbling infrastructure and magical environmental problems and you've got one hell of a dramatic setting!

Q) Also Dragons, I loved that you have chosen to go this way. As a reader I haven’t read about dragons in an urban fantasy series as main characters (if you discount PNR) or otherwise they feature as diabolical villains usually. How do you imagine your dragons to be and why would you say they are different from the usual fanfare? 

RA: The initial inspiration for my dragons actually came from the role playing game Shadowrun (third edition, for those who were wondering). In the game, there's an aspect you can take on your character sheet called “Pirate Family.” This means your character is related to a giant family network of hoodlum relatives that will either help you or make your life miserable depending on if you take Pirate Family as a positive or negative aspect. One day, years ago, my husband took this aspect on his character who happened to be a dragon (what? It's table top role playing! You can be a dragon if you want). We immediately realized this meant he had a Dragon Pirate Family, which is just about the best idea ever. Once I had that, everything else fell into place.

Personally, I think the best part about my dragons is their diversity. These aren't your D&D color coded dragons, or even Shadowrun dragons, which numbered in the dozens. My world has thousands of dragons of all shapes and sizes, all arranged into different clans that vary enormously by region.


For example, Julius's dragon clan, the Heartstrikers, are actually descended from the Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Meso-American lore, and they look like beautiful feathered serpents (and, for Bethesda especially, native Central Americans in their human forms). I tried to draw from dragons of all folk lore traditions, especially in appearance. I also tried to make them diverse as individuals. Dragons in my world have their own culture that prizes the typical draconic traits of ruthlessness, cunning, and lust for power, but the individual dragons who make it up are as different as you'd expect from smart, strong willed creatures. My main character Julius, for example, doesn't fit in at all with what's expected of him, and he's not alone (though, like any misfit, he certainly feels that way). 

The most fun part of the books for me was showing how few of my dragons are actually “typical” dragons. Oh sure, they all put on a show of being ruthless and cold and everything that's expected of them in an incredibly competitive dragon hierarchy, but under the facade, they're all just weirdos just like the rest of us. Once you get past the high stakes and the twisty plots, the whole series is basically one big dragon drama, and wow, was it fun to write.

Q) Talking about the story and the world it’s set in. I enjoyed the collaboration you showcased between magic & capitalism in the DFZ. Can you walk us through why you chose to combine these completely unrelated subjects? 

RA: It just felt natural. If magic suddenly returned today and people starting being born mages with the ability to control reality-altering power, you know corporations would be all over that. Corporate mages would start appearing on pay rolls and performing paid-by-the-hour miracles before the government could even convene to start arguing over magical legislation. In the books, we're sixty years out from the original return of magic, so the craziness has mostly worked itself out, but there was definitely a gold rush (and all the unscrupulous things that go with that) in the early days of magic, and the echoes of that linger still.

Q) How many books will you be writing in this series and what can you tell us about the second book? Also what will be the release schedule considering that you control all aspects of it? 

RA: Right now I'm planning on five, though it could be six depending on how long it takes me to cover some of the trickier aspects of the Meta plot. I'm hoping to put out one book every four months with the second volume, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, due out this fall. Probably November, barring disaster.

Honestly, I'd hoped to have the second book ready for release in August, but due to an onslaught of family emergencies (my grandfather's death, a medical emergency and lengthy hospitalization for my son, and then the sudden death of my father-in-law... 2014 hasn't been a good year for the Aaron/Bach family -_-) I've had to push the schedule back. But this is another place where doing it yourself works out. At last I didn't have to worry about deadlines!

If everything goes well, the whole Heartstriker series should be done by 2016. That isn't as fast as I'd hoped, honestly, but I'm determined to take my time, hire the right people, and do everything in my power to make sure these books are every bit as high quality as any of my New York books. Just because I'm doing it myself doesn't mean standards go down. My readers deserve nothing less than my absolute best.

Q) Talking about the Heartstriker and other dragon clans in your world? Are their physical characteristics corresponding to their geographical affinities? If so what location are the Hearstrikers from? 

RA: Yes! The Heartstrikers are originally from the former Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico, and though many of them look a bit odd now from Bethesda the Heartstriker's interesting choice in mates, they all have a Meso-American heritage. That said, they are dragons first and foremost, and that is the primary source of their culture and values. Their human forms are really nothing more than a form of magical camouflage, which is why they look like whatever humans were around the dragon's claimed territory at the time they were born plus any traits they inherit from their parents, such as Julius Heartstriker 's green eyes.

Q) Will you be exploring other corners of the world? If so can you give us a hint or two as to what readers can look forward to? 

RA: The majority of the story takes place in the Detroit Free Zone because that's where Algonquin, the Lady of the Great Lakes, resides (and I don't think it's a spoiler to say she's going to be very important). But I do have a major arc planned for China and at least a few big scenes in magical Las Vegas (because how cool is magical Las Vegas?), so we'll definitely be seeing more of the changed world. 

Q) First epic fantasy, then SF action-romance & now urban fantasy, you truly are covering a lot of varied genres. Talk us about this wanderlust and what genre are you looking to conquer next? 

RA: Wanderlust is a good way to put it. I'm an agent's worst nightmare, always hopping from one genre to the next. That's another reason I wanted to try self-publishing. If I had to change my name every time I switched genres (which my publisher required when I signed for Fortune's Pawn), I'd never be the same person twice!

To answer your question, I've got a bunch of stuff in the pipe, including the previously mentioned new Paradox books and a gas light Alt-History adventure staring an artist who creates custom alternate dimensions and the spell breaker detective who has to help prove her innocence when people start turning up dead in her custom worlds. I'm also going to be trying my hand at a fantasy YA at some point, but this is where my ideas get ahead of my ability to write. There's just too much I want to do! For now, though, you can definitely expect new Paradox books and the rest of the Heartstriker series in the near future.

Q) Thank you very much for undertaking this long list. As a fan, I am glad that you are releasing new books. Any last thoughts or comments to share until your next visit with us? 

RA: Only to ask that people please consider following me on Twitter or Facebook or visit my site for my blog. I'm always doing something new with my books, and this is also where I put up information about sales, give aways, and other fun stuff. Or, if you don't want to bother with any of that and just want to know when I'm releasing a new title, I also have a new release mailing list that does just that—no spam, no bother, just lets you know when and where I have a new book available.

Thank you so so much again for having me and for asking such amazing questions! I hope you all liked my answers, and if you haven't read my stuff, I hope you'll give it a try. Thank you a million times over for reading. It's because of you lovely people that I can make a living writing, and I never forget that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Yours sincerely,
Rachel

NOTE: Quetzalcoatl picture courtesy of Genzoman. Shadow picture courtesy of Shadowthief.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Traitor's Blade by Sebastian de Castell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu & Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening… 

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they’ll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor’s blade.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Liviu): After an okayish start on the light side that gave a taste of the picaresque aspect of the novel, Traitor's Blade started getting darker and more interesting so it quickly pulled me in. By its end, the book turned out to be an excellent read - powerful narrative and many twists and turns of which some major ones are clear from long before, but they are still very entertaining.

Highly imaginative world building which has a little "iffiness" factor true as some things happen too quickly and of course our heroes escape quite a few deathly situations in sometimes unlikely ways, but that doesn't really matter given the rest of the goodies of the novel. Also for once a realistic view of "knights", chivalry and a medieval like society that reads real - brutal, no illusions, no mercy, the powerful oppressing the less powerful and those oppressing the weak.

Narrated in alternate present and past by Falcio val Mond, former First Cantor of the Greatcoats - both Cantor and Greatcoat have definite meanings here - who now a few years after his king's death when the high nobility rebelled against his reforms and King Paelis refused to allow a civil war and ordered Falcio to surrender his highly trained Greatcoats in return for amnesty, surrender that has the survivors now called traitors, tries to keep his last promise to the king and find the treasures the king has scattered throughout the realm and use them to restore a semblance of justice as opposed to the unending brutality of the nobility.

While a great fighter and having a highly developed sense of justice and morality, Falcio is not the sharpest intellect around, so he and his two companions, first sword Kest and first archer Brasti, kind of bumble in and out of mortal peril, are outwitted and manipulated at every turn by nefarious schemers, but in true picaresque fashion, manage to survive despite the odds.

Here is Falcio after killing a renowned knight in a quick battle:

 'I looked out at the night sky and the stars that winked at us as if they were all in on some great joke. ‘Five years ago, after the Ducal Army took Castle Aramor, they killed our King and hauled his corpse up to the top of the castle. They mounted his head on a pike. Some men cheered, some men looked away.’ I took another swig of my wine. ‘And some men just laughed.'

So Lynniac was there, was he?’

Lynniac was there,’ I said. ‘Commander of a division of Knights. I didn’t recognise him at first, but when he was pointing that crossbow at me and he started laughing …’

Feltock bit the inside of his cheek. Then he said, ‘And you think you remember everyone who was there that day?’ I thought about it for a moment. ‘Not everyone,’ I replied. Feltock was looking at me intently, trying to see if I knew, if I did remember. More trouble than it will be worth, I thought, but I was a little drunk and a little tired so I said, ‘But since you’re asking, yes, General Feltock, I remember you.’

Feltock’s eyes went wide for a moment, but then he gave a bitter laugh. ‘Not “General”,’ he said. ‘Not for a few years now.’

We drank some more in silence. ‘So,’ he said, uncrossing his legs with a crack. ‘Are you gonna come for me next, boy?’

I sighed. ‘No.’ ‘Why not? I was there, wasn’t I? I was one of those what took down your King, wasn’t I? So what’s the difference between me and Lynniac?’

You didn’t laugh.’

He just looked at me for a while and then said, ‘Huh.’ Then he stood up and started walking back to the wagons. 

‘Why “Captain” Feltock?’ I asked when he was a few paces away. ‘Why aren’t you a general any more?’ 

Feltock turned and gave me a sour grin. He tossed the rest of his wineskin back to me. ‘Because, boy, when they put the King’s head on that pole, I forgot to laugh.’

In the episodes taking place in the past, we see Falcio's journey from boy to young and happily married farmer, to man on a vengeance quest, to justiciar in the king's elite Greatcoats, to his last order in the name of the king and the slow revelations of that thread are added to the mix well indeed.

Magic is subtle here and nobody is necessarily as he or she seems, while the main characters - villains and heroes of both genders - are in the best fantasy tradition. A great ending which promises much more and a series that already by its first volume vaulted to the top level, so I really want more.

Overall Traitor's Blade is the first "new" fantasy of 2014 that met and even exceeded my expectations and for the reasons above takes its place in my top 25 of the year to date.


ANALYSIS (Mihir): This was a debut, which came to my attention via Liviu, he had mentioned on Goodreads how much he was enjoying this classical sword & sorcery tale. Once I got hold a review copy, I dove in with high expectations and was rewarded for the most part.

The story begins with our sole narrator Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, and his two fellow greatcoats, Brasti, an expert archer, and Kest, the best blade among the Greatcoats. The tale begins when the order of the Greatcoats has been thoroughly disgraced. Forced to lay aside their arms by their King’s orders and watch his execution soon afterwards, has given the order a new name of Trattari or Tatter-Coats. The Dukes were the ones who engineered this coup but the biggest fall was taken by Falcio’s order. When we meet our three remaining Greatcoats, things seem dire as they have just witnessed murder but due to certain magical ministrations are painted as the murderers. Fleeing with their lives and martial reputations intact, our trio will have to uncover this new mystery as well solve the tasks given to each of them by their deceased king.

All in all, things are looking dastardly and that’s where the fun comes in for the reader. Falcio as a narrator is an engaging one as he reminisces of his past life before joining the order. We witness his personal accolades as well the event that lead him to meet King Paelis and later on to the formation of the Greatcoats as well. These flashbacks are nicely ensconced within the present wherein our Greatcoat trio are traipsing through the kingdom of Cristia trying to find the murderer and absolve themselves of the murder charge.

This was an absolute delightful read, combining the charm of the Three Musketeers story along with the twists and turn found in the best of sword and sorcery. Beginning with the pace of the story, which will keep readers engaged as well as the plot twists that will keep them hooked. The author has made this story a very relatable one via his protagonist Falcio who is an everyman hero. Facing rather horrible odds, he and his friends try to stick to their honorable ideals but are occasionally forced to walk the morally gray path. The author makes sure that the heroes are very sympathetic by giving them horrible scenarios and making the villains as evil as possible. After reading a lot of grimdark as well as morally ambivalent fantasy, Traitor's Blade as a debut left me delighted as soon as I finished it.

For readers who are looking for a fun read, Traitor's Blade hit the spot nicely. Not to say that there's no gruesomeness or darkness to the tale. The author does manage to portray a very grim picture for our heroes and makes the story take a few bleak turns. However not every situation is completely explained in regards to the story such as the Ducal insurrection as well as the villains' main plan. I'm hoping further clarification will be provided in the sequel but as far as stories go, this one kept me pretty intrigued with its plot and characters.

CONCLUSION: For all those who enjoy fantasy stories with a light-hearted feel to it, this debut is something that you must take a look at. Combining action and light hearted banter in a simplistic manner; Traitor's Blade is a debut that hearkens back to days of epic fantasy when grimdark hadn't become so widespread.
Monday, July 14, 2014

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website  
Order “Nice Dragons Finish LastHERE
Read the first three chapters HERE 
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: As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: stay quiet, don’t cause trouble, and keep out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn’t cut it in a family of ambitious predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove to his mother that he can be a ruthless dragon or lose his true shape forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are seen as monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes that humans are more trustworthy than dragons.

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: Nice Dragons Finish Last is 315 pages long divided over eighteen numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Julius Heartstriker, Chelsie Heartstriker, Marci Novalli, Svena White Witch, Estella the Northern Star, and Bixby. This is the first volume of the Heartstriker series.

July 15, 2014 will mark the e-book publication of Nice Dragons Finish Last and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Anna Steinbauer.

ANALYSIS: Once Rachel Aaron mentioned this book to me in one of our email correspondence, I begged pleaded with her to let me read it in its draft form. To my joy, she agreed and I was able to read it a year ago. To say I was pleased with the book would be an understatement. But first I was curious as to why she was going the self-publishing route and she wonderfully explains this decision in this blogpost over at Civilian Reader. Go take a read or otherwise wait for my interview with her to know more about it.

Now on to the book, from the blurb, one can surmise that this is an urban fantasy, but here's what's slightly different about it. Rachel Aaron brilliantly weaves some post apocalyptic and SF threads into the story while also making sure that it has magic and dragons in it. The plot begins with our protagonist Julius Heartstriker, who is a very undragon-like dragon. Due to his lackadaisical nature & apparent un-interest at dragon activities/ambition, he gets banished by his mother Bethesda into the DFZ or Detroit Free Zone. He's supposed to prove that he's fit to be called a spawn of the Heartstriker clan and has less than a month to prove it or else it's curtains for him. Oh and also he stuck in his human form for his Detroit jaunt and can’t avail of his dragon form or powers as well.

That’s the first hook; secondly we have Marci Novalli, a Thaumaturgic mage who is running away from her past in Las Vegas for reasons revealed later in the story. The main point is what happens when their paths cross and how much drama occurs in the DFZ? There are also a bunch of other characters who will strike the reader’s attention like Bob who is Julius’ elder brother and the Heartstriker clan seer. Not to mention he seems wacky and is a constant source of comedy at Julius’ expense whenever he appears on the page. The other siblings introduced are Ian, Chelsie and Justin and they are terrific and scary in their own way. Another funny thing about the Heartstrikers is that Bethesda names her clutches alphabetically so not only is Julius literally the runt but also in the story everyone does their best to remind him of that.

The world settings are a curious mix of urban fantasy, science fiction and apocalyptic dystopia. Take for example; the world is such because a comet caused magic to return in 2035 and since then spirits have taken over several parts of the world. One such persona is Algonquin, the Lady of the Great Lakes, who unleashed a tidal wave and destroyed Detroit. In its place she has built the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ) that is a unique mix of magic and unbridled capitalism wherein dragons are forbidden to enter and humans find themselves to be quite low on the Lady’s interests. But DFZ has flourished beyond imagination and led the world in the unique combination of magic & business coming together like none other. This situation of a city state within a country is very similar to Hong Kong and China circa pre-1997.

There are many more details that I'm glossing over and I’m hoping the readers discover in their own reading, but suffice to say for all lovers of urban fantasy, this book will be a welcome addition to their shelves. Rachel Aaron brings her charismatic humor and superb characterization to this story while also developing a very unique world (urban fantasy wise).  She gives us a story that will have you rooting for Julius and his "friend" within a few pages of their introduction. Beginning with Julius and Marci who are both quite adorable in their interactions with each other. They reminded me a lot of Barry & Felicity from Arrow. Both Julius and Marci are focal points of the story and they carry the plot forward with Julius’ mission to become more dragon-like and Marci’s mystery of running away from Las Vegas. 

The things I also loved were the side characters especially Bob and his prophecies and Chelsie with her stoic ways. There's also the world building, which only hints at certain things and as the series progresses, more revelations are sure to arise. I can’t wait to read more about the Dragon clans and the intricacies that surround the Heartstrikers. There’s also the world that has been affected by magic. I would love to see the author explore other world parts like Las Vegas, China, Europe, etc. Another plus point is the wonderful cover which I believe would look fantastic in physical form.

Also the plot twists and pace are neatly done and will have you flipping pages to see how it all ends for Julius, Marci and the other characters introduced. What I absolutely enjoyed was how much fun was infused within the story, similar to the first couple of Eli Monpress titles wherein the story presented us with funny characters and a curious world. And as the story progressed, the world became stranger and wider. I believe there might be something similar brewing here as well. The only drawbacks for me about this story are that the wider world implications of the reappearance of magic haven’t been quite discussed or shown but with the comic angle of the story, they might not quite be clarified entirely.

CONCLUSION: Nice Dragons Finish Last is a hilarious story about a dragon who is locked into his human form and will have to learn to trust his dragon instincts to survive in a world wherein his kind is hated and hunted. Be sure to keep an eye out for this book, as Rachel Aaron is back in prime form with this comedic urban fantasy series.
Saturday, July 12, 2014

GIVEAWAY: Tomorrow And Tomorrow by Tom Sweterlitsch



Tomorrow And Tomorrow is Tom Sweterlitsch’s debut that combines post-apocalyptic themes with cyberpunk and crime noir to give readers a unique thrilling read. Putnam books and Fantasy Book Critic are giving away a hardcover copy of “Tomorrow And Tomorrow” to One Lucky Winner!!! 

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: Tomorrow. Giveaway has ENDED and was open to participants in USA & CANADA ONLY.

Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:
 1) Open To Anyone in USA & CANADA ONLY
 2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
 3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
 4) No Purchase Necessary
 5) Giveaway has ENDED
 6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
 7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Books To The Winner
Friday, July 11, 2014

GUEST POST: Civilization Beneath The Ashes by Carrie Patel


For me, the most interesting parts of stories and worlds are the portions most often left unseen. This is what The Buried Life is about. It’s the foundation of the city of Recoletta and the characters who inhabit it.

Recoletta is a city built on secrets—it exists beneath the ruin of a world that was destroyed generations ago, and its history has been happily forgotten by most of the people who live there. Casual corruption, back-room deals, and false fronts are the order of the day. Just as the city underground is covered by a layer of ornamental buildings, so the residents hide their scheming with tact and decorum.

The characters on the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy often make the keenest observers of these tensions. Stories about grand maneuverings and political machinations often focus on characters in positions of status and authority because they’re the ones with agency. I wanted to tell a story about what happens in the margins. Some characters must stoop to trickery and deceit because their own meager power turns out to be hollow. Others must tread carefully because they never had any power to begin with.


The Buried Life is a story about people trying to understand and survive a period of monumental change, but it’s also about the shifts within the city.

Recoletta exists at an indeterminate point in the future, centuries after a world-shaking catastrophe. It’s post-post-apocalyptic—it’s what springs up after society has long since crumbled and rebuilt again. Starting with those fractured building blocks, it was fun to try to piece them together, extrapolate forward several hundred years, and imagine how they might settle over time.

For example, they might leave large gaps between the social strata. If survival in the early days depended on rigid adherence to specific roles and duties, that might persist as class structure. The individuals at the top would have had the most useful skills and would have come from a broad mix of white-collar and blue-collar professions, including medicine, engineering, mining, metalworking, and plumbing. In many cases, they would have performed high-level and supervisory roles while those with less-useful skills got their hands dirty digging fresh tunnels. As a result, Recolettans at the top of the food chain are known as “whitenails.”


Similarly, habits and fashions would adapt to suit the circumstances. By the time of the events of The Buried Life, living underground is a matter of custom rather than one of necessity, but it has nevertheless reshaped notions of propriety and good taste. The most disreputable members of society are the surface-dwellers whose agriculture feeds the city. Most Recolettans have never traveled outside their city, and some of the most status-conscious avoid the surface roads altogether.

All of the what-ifs make for a fun intellectual exercise, but a setting is nothing without a story and characters that shape and are shaped by the environment. So it’s no surprise that the story of The Buried Life is about uncovering Recoletta’s secrets and upsetting its delicate and centuries-old balance. The central characters are the ones positioned close enough to the heart of the conflict to see the cracks form and watch the structure crumble. As for what they do after the dust settles, that’s the story of Cities and Thrones


Official Author Website
Pre-order The Buried Life HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she also studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She acquired her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and previously worked at Ernst & Young for two years. She currently works as a narrative designer and resides in Irvine, California.

NOTE: Netherworld Capital City art by Jesse Van Dijk. Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.
Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Snake In The Grass by K. A. Stewart (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official K.A. Stewart Website 
Order A Snake In The Grass HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Wolf At The Door” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Devil In The Details” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “A Shot In The Dark” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with K.A. Stewart
Read "El Chupacabra" (short story) by K.A. Stewart 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kari A. Stewart has a BA in English with an emphasis in Literature from William Jewell College. She lives in Missouri with her family and is the author of the Jesse James Dawson series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Jesse James Dawson never wanted to find himself in the middle of a demonic war. However, with the addition of 275 extra souls to his life, he’s got a target painted on his back in the most literal sense. With his apprentice, Estéban Perez, in tow, he heads to Mexico where the boy’s mother, a powerful bruja, will hopefully be able to extract the souls without harm to any party involved.

Champions for generations, the Perez family knows all there is to know about magic and taking out demons. But, like every family, there is drama bubbling beneath the surface. Add to that an ancient evil that has been waiting for just this chance, and of course, things are all going straight to Hell.

FORMAT/INFO: A Snake In The Grass is 284 pages long divided over eighteen chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Jesse James Dawson. The plot is self-contained, but contains a few spoilers for anyone who has not read the previous three titles.

July 8, 2014 marked the Mass Market Paperback & ebook publication of A Snake In The Grass and it was self-published by the author. Cover art & design is provided by Robin Ludwig.

ANALYSIS: After reading the third volume of the Jesse James Dawson series, I was excited about the direction of the series. However to mine & everyone’s disappointment, the publishers choose not to continue with the series & left the author in a slight lurch. The author though courageously promised that she would continue the series and hopefully self-publish the rest of the books (which at the moment is looking to be two books more). 

Which brings us to the fourth volume titled A Snake In The Grass. It begins within a few weeks of the events in Los Angeles as Jesse is back in Kansas City & mighty conflicted about sharing his body with the 275 other souls. This soul addition has wrought havoc with his body’s status psychologically (to a minor degree) & physiologically (majorly). Not sure with what to do & being a target for demons, he decides to go away to Mexico with his protégé Estéban to visit Carlotta Perez who herself is a Bruja & try to extract the souls without any harm coming to either parties. Joining him as his entourage are Svetlana & Terrance who add to the magical firepower along with physical strength.

What he doesn’t count upon is facing problems from the familial elements in Estéban’s life. An older cousin has some resentments about Estéban taking up the family machete and might be getting a little other-worldly support as well. It falls upon Jesse and gang to figure what truly is at stake and who’s puling the actual strings in Mexico.

As far as middle volume titles go, there a re a lot of issues for the author to overcome. The back story most importantly, how much to reveal and how much to make it a standalone. With this volume, the author makes it more of a standalone nature and we get a story that focuses more on Estéban and his family in Mexico. For some that will be a plus, for those looking more of Jesse, you’ll get him but with a side of Mexicana. For those following the previous titles, we know that there’s been a lot of underground dealing with Axel in the middle. This book almost gives us all the clues as to what is truly happening and also reveals the major big bad for the future big books.

As compared to the previous two books, the action and mystery are a bit toned down as this book mainly deals with family issues. Not that it should be boring, if handled correctly, it can be quite nail biting. That sadly is not the case over here, in the first quarter of the book, the pace of the book is on the slower side as the readers are introduced to the life down south and the Perez familia is introduced. What helps is Jesse being his quippy self along with a huge dry side of Svetlana who while being deadly is a constant source of dry, dark humor whenever she appears on the pages. The book’s humor content does not take a back seat and that was a huge positive. With the series getting darker with each volume, it often helps that the author manages to level the grim nature via the protagonist’s quips as well as certain sardonic characters.

Another wildly entertaining character who makes a cameo debut is Henry & I can’t wait to read more of Jesse’s and Henry’s interactions. With Jesse being the sole narrator, its very hard to get a proper view of the other characters and in this book, I would have enjoyed a look into Estéban’s mind as there are several things that occur that become bothersome and only so much can be attributed to teenage immaturity. While we don’t get much insight into his thoughts, his actions and the explanation provided do offer some succor. But again I believe this issue could have been neatly sidestepped with simply allowing Estéban his own POV.

Overall this is a good fourth entry and kudos to the author for continuing this series for us fans. Lastly another positive factor is the cover art and design which is very much inline with those of its predecessors published by ROC. In this regards, the author has to be commended for giving us OCD fans (who would like the covers to match) a freaking fantastic look to her first self-published effort. Now the only things that didn’t work for me were the slow pace in the start, Axel's negligible presence and that we didn’t get an all too-clear reveal about the events that have happened before. While the slow pace does impede the read in the first quarter, once the plot picks up the reader will be flipping pages constantly to see how it ends. The reveal which occurs only to the characters, I would have liked to know but I trust the author & will eagerly await the fifth volume to see what happens next.

CONCLUSION: A Snake In The Grass is a commendable self-published effort from Kari Stewart, not only does it match the look of the previous titles externally, for those awaiting Jesse, Axel and the rest of the gang. You won’t be disappointed with the direction being taken & now I believe the final two volumes await, wherein there will be a glorious and bitter battle.

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