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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mihir's Top Reads of 2016

It does seem a bit weird to be posting these lists in January since almost everyone does them in December. I feel that our readers will forgive this idiosyncrasy of mine as I feel the start of the new year is a good time to reflect on the past one. Similar to last year I wasn’t able to review many of the titles I read but I did enjoy them a lot. The main reasoning for choosing these titles is the varied milieu of the plots, excellence in prose, characterization and the overall enjoyment they provided. And so without further ado, here are my 2016 top reads ...

Top Ten Reads for 2016:



1) The Killing Floor Blues by Craig Schaefer - The Killing Floor Blues is a book published in 2015, but I only managed to read it last year. This book IMHO is a perfect amalgamation of the urban fantasy and thriller genres. Think Prison Break mixed with a tad bit of Gladiator as well as a crime thriller. The Killing Floor Blues was an exhilarating read which catapulted it to the top of my list.

2) Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft Senlin Ascends was a surprising gem unearthed by SPFBO 2016. This weird mix of fantasy, steampunk and a lot more was the closest contender for the top spot. A fantastic read and one which made me a fan of Josiah Bancroft instantaneously

3) Dark Matter by Blake CrouchI’m a Blake Crouch fan since I happened upon his visceral gut punch of a story that was RUN. This book kind of broke new ground for him as it was a SF book and it had his trademark thriller twists. All in all a story that you MUST read and get yourself acquainted with one of the best thriller writers out there.

4) City Of Blades by Rob J. Bennett City Of Blades was the sequel to City Of Stairs which was my top choice for 2014. This sequel while focusing on a couple of different characters managed to further explore the complex backstory of the world while giving the readers a solid storyline that explores what is happening within. Can't wait to read how the author decides to end the story in City Of Miracles.

5) The Wheel Of Osheim by Mark LawrenceWhat do I say about Mark Lawrence, he’s been spectacularly gracing my lists since his debut and every year manages to give us a book that pushes the bar set by his previous titles. TWOO is not only the ending to his trilogy but also serves as a perfect capstone to the world introduced in his debut.

6) No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron This series has been a personal favorite of mine and Rachel Aaron definitely knows how to mix things up. The 3rd book upends the series mightily and makes sure that this series remains a top favorite of mine.

7) Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews  This is the penultimate volume of the series and this volume managed to make the series ender an absolute ravishing option. With its breakneck pace and multiple plot twists (plus an option for a new Curran short story/novella) I can’t wait to see how it all ends in to 2017.

8) Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo  Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Six Of Crows and one of the books that I was anticipating highly in 2016. This book doesn’t disappoint with its mix of high octane action, betrayals and a climax that left me hoping that the characters in this book get another book.

9) The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley – The conclusion to The Chronicles Of The Unhewn Throne is an epic doorstopper of a book as well an epic conclusion to a trilogy. Brian Staveley’s debut was one which had its shining points but also had its faults. The sequel though was better but it didn’t make my year end lists, TLMB though is a stunner of a conclusion and makes me very very excited for Skullsworn (the standalone sequel).

10) Brotherhood Of The Wheel by R. S. Belcher – I’m a fan of R. S. Belcher after reading his Golgotha series. This new series of his manages to combine urban fantasy, cosmic horror, & highway mythology in a fascinating way. It intrigued me enough and also ties into his Nightwise books. This new volume introduced an intriguing cast of characters and I loved how the author managed to tie in a lot of mythology of the US highways and served a good horror story.

10) Those Below by Daniel Polansky  This duology is a very different take than what Dan Polansky has written previously but also deals with the usual epic fantasy tropes of humans, elves, & war. I loved how the author deliberately went against what convention dictated and ended the story in a gruesome yet appropriate manner. Those Below is a fantastic capstone to this two book series and I hope more readers check this out.

Honorable Mentions:
 - Wall Of Storms by Ken Liu
 - Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell
 - The Guns Of The Empire by Django Wexler

Top Ten Debut Novels for 2016:



1) Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – Senlin Ascends is a 2013 debut that left me astounded with its ingenuity. Josiah Bancroft has written a mesmerizing story that defies genre and yet makes itself standout with the prose and characterization. Definitely a book that should be on everyone's reading lists.

2) The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis If not for Senlin Ascends, The Wolf Road would be my top-rated debut for 2016. This book combines a terrific protagonist, characterization and a dystopian setting to craft a story that is raw, dark and ultimately a story that will have the reader wanting more. More debuts should aspire to be such…

3) The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood This book was a surprise, most readers are well versed with Todd Lockwood due to his artistic talent. With this book, he proved that his talents run with the pen as well as the pencil. Combining traditional fantasy tropes with dragons, The Summer Dragon is a wonderful debut that manages to impress older as well as newer fantasy fans and for that reason it figures so high on my list.

4) The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee I nearly missed this title but thanks to a smashing review by Rob over at SFFWorld brought it to my attention. This book is a humdinger of a debut, it focusses on a lot of cool epic fantasy staples like gods, large character cast, and an extensive magic system. I’ve become a fan of Brian Lee Durfee because of the twists that he inserted and the story he envisioned.

5) All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders ATBITS is a strange but deeply, engaging book. On one hand it deals with the paranormal and on the other it also deals with the growth of a child into an adult and all that it encompasses. This book while being a mishmash of genres is definitely one worth your time.

6) The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp This was an interesting title, it combined horror as well as an autobiographical style by the protagonist. This book managed to combine dark comedy along with a ghost story and yet make it seem like a proper horror story.

7) Paternus by Dark Ashton – Dyrk Ashton’s debut is another hard one to classify. I got to read via the 2016 edition of SPFBO. This book while being urban fantasy is more like epic fantasy set in our world and kudos to the author for writing a story that takes into account most of the world’s mythologies and makes sense in a very convoluted way. Look out for my review soon and this book will be a top contender for the 2016 SPFBO title.

8) Hope and Red by Jon Skovron  Hope And Red is an interesting sword and sorcery debut that focusses on different settings rather than the usual medieval ones. I liked how the author managed to give a us a proper story showcasing the main characters’ growth from their childhood to their eventual adult avatars. Lastly technically this isn't a debut book for the author but it is his debut for adult oriented stories as all of his previous work has been YA related.

9) The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer – The Long Way Down is an interesting debut, it introduced the readers to the world of Daniel Faust and while it had its foibles, it was still a debut that made itself noticed. This book does end on a big climax and sets up the world and series nicely.

10) The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi  The Star Touched Queen is an intriguing debut and what caught my eye was that it dug deep into Indian mythology. I had previously read Roshani's short story The Vishkanya’s Choice and enjoyed it. With this book, Roshani gives us a story that while being a love story is also about a character discovering her world, is much more than what her horoscope prescribes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

GUEST POST: The Island of Misfit Toys by Michael J. Sullivan





Michael J Sullivan is a favorite guest at Fantasy Book Critic. In celebration of the cover reveal for The Age of Swords which occurred on December 14, 2016 right here at Fantasy Book Critic, Michael J Sullivan has decided to stop by and talk about where he finds the inspiration for some of his stories.

If you missed the cover reveal of Age of Swords: Book Two of the Legends of the First Empire, you can see the cover which was created by Marc Simonetti right HERE!

Without further ado, we welcome Michael J. Sullivan. 

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

The Island of Misfit Toys by Michael J. Sullivan 

 



People often ask me where I get my story ideas. My usual flippant answer is, “His name
is Eddie. He hangs out in New York’s Central Park, and if you pass him an envelope of cash, he’ll provide you the idea for your next novel.” I also point out that you don’t want to stiff Eddie, or his next tip will be a huge flop.

I should note that coming up with ideas has never been an issue for me. If anything, I have the opposite problem. I currently have twenty-two stories (many with full outlines) just waiting to be written. I just can’t get to them fast enough. In the time it took me to write the six books of the Legends of the First Empire, ten new books went onto the queue. All in all, a good problem to have.

Earlier today I was trying to answer a question a reader emailed me about the origin of Legends of the First Empire. Certainly part of the inspiration came from wanting to explore the truths of myths and how reality varies greatly than the white-washed histories recorded by “the victors.” But it also reminded me, particularly because now is the holiday season, that one of the biggest influence was Rudolf’s Christmas Special and specifically the Island of Misfit Toys.

For those not familiar with my writing, I must say I have a soft spot for duos: Frodo and Sam, Butch and Sundance, and Sam and Al from Quantum Leap. I think having two protagonists provides the opportunity to play one off the other. I delight in contrasting Hadrian’s optimistic viewpoints against Royce’s cynicism. I also enjoy getting fan mail explaining why x is more realistic than y, especially since I know such reactions are a kind of a Rorschach test, telling more about the reader than any intentions on my part.

For Legends of the First Empire, I went into that project knowing I wanted an ensemble cast. Having a wider set of characters is new ground for me; even Hollow World (my time-travelling sci-fi thriller) has a duo (Ellis Rogers and Pax). But I like a challenge, wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how attached I would become to so many extremely different people. In fact, some that were meant to be minor players turned out to take on larger roles. The flip side to that is I was able to play a bit with people’s expectations. I knew traditional fantasy readers would single out certain characters to be “the heroes,” and I could use that knowledge against them.

Another inspiration was to feature ordinary people doing things that were anything but extraordinary. Even typing that now, I realize that decision could make for a boring series. The saving grace, though, is that because of the times they lived in, their actions would have a significant impact on the shape of the future. While it’s fun to write skilled rogues like Royce and Hadrian who, admittedly have “a particular set of skills; skills they have acquired over a very long career.” It’s also fun, maybe even more enjoyable, when someone who is “broken” and commonplace can make a huge impact.

One of the reasons the misfit nature of the characters in Legends of the First Empire is on my mind (besides today’s email), is I just finished the final edit of the second book before sending it off to the copyeditors. Age of Swords is releasing on June 20th from Del Rey. Because I like a fast-paced story without a lot of stage-setting to drag down the action, I wasn’t able to give full justice to some of my misfit toys in the first book Age of Myth (released this June). In this latest installment, we get a much larger dose of Brin, Roan, Moya, and Gifford—four characters that we didn’t see much in the first book but whom I love, and I hope you will too.

Like Santa, winter is my busy time. In addition to going over the edits on Age of Swords, I’m writing a fourth Riyria Chronicle. I rarely have time for pleasure reading until the spring thaw arrives. Which leaves me with a question I’d like to pose to people reading this post. What is your favorite book with “misfit toys?” I’d love to have a nice stack of books to dig into when the snow melts and I have time to curl up with a book that isn’t one of my own. So please add yours to the comment section, and, like Santa, I’ll be making my own list.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Nobody knows the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas like Daniel Faust, a sorcerer for hire and ex-gangster who uses black magic and bullets to solve his clients' problems. When an old man comes seeking vengeance for his murdered granddaughter, what looks like a simple job quickly spirals out of control.

Soon Daniel stands in the crossfire between a murderous porn director; a corrupt cop with a quick trigger finger; and his own former employer, a racket boss who isn't entirely human. Then there's Caitlin: brilliant, beautiful, and the lethal right hand of a demon prince.

A man named Faust should know what happens when you rub shoulders with demons. Still Daniel can't resist being drawn to Caitlin's flame as they race to unlock the secret of the Etruscan Box, a relic that people all over town are dying -- and killing -- to get their hands on. As the bodies drop and the double-crosses pile up, Daniel will need every shred of his wits, courage and sheer ruthlessness just to survive.

Daniel Faust knew he was standing with one foot over the brink of hell. He's about to find out just how far he can fall..

FORMAT/INFO: The Long Way Down is 372 pages long divided over forty-four chapters and an epilogue. Narration is in the first-person, via Daniel Faust solely and Artie Kaufman in the third-person for a singular appearance. This is the first book of The Daniel Faust series.

April 25, 2014 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of The Long Way Down and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

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

ANALYSIS: The Long Way Down is the first book of the Daniel Faust series and while this book wasn't my introduction to Craig's books or even to Daniel Faust's world. It is a good place to start and enter the dark, crazy world that Craig has envisioned.

This book (as I've learned from reading all of the Daniel Faust titles released so far) have multiple plots running together. The story opens up with Daniel introducing the reader to his world in Las Vegas. This is a city that thrives on illusions and we learn that it just goes deeper than the ones that we see. Faust's world is one of magic but it's hidden and one can't really access it. The story follows the usual Urban Fantasy tradition of having a first person narrative. Faust introduces the readers to his friends in the Tiger's Garden, a hangout place which is only accessible to those in tune with magic & other supernatural latencies of the world. He then gets approached by an old Minnesotan man to find his granddaughter who previously had gotten into porn and has now gone missing. Further complicating matters is the fact that she was forced to participate in some heinous films and whose director is knee deep into seedier aspects. .

There's a few more plot complications (such as Caitlin's introduction, the main big bad, etc.) which further fuel the story and keep the readers guessing as to where the story might end up. All throughout this, the author keeps on laying the groundwork for the sequels as well as the character cast besides Daniel. We are given glimpses of his past and introduced to those whom he considers friends and family. We also get to meet the people he has associated with in the past as a criminal. He still does odd jobs and is a person who operates on the other side of law. But he has his rules and while he's not one to shy away from murder and deceit, he still tries to hold to a moral line of only killing folks who deserve it.

Craig Schaefer really effuses the story with lots of twists and the best way I can think of describing this book and the series is Richard Stark's Parker meets The Dresden Files. The main character and the rest of the characters that are introduced aren't heroes but they sure are heroic in their deeds. They regularly work as thieves and are often the type that would be featured as antagonists or at least working in the shadows. But to the author's credit, the story works and Faust is an absorbing narrator. I loved how the author goes about expanding the story and world while keeping the narrative tightly focussed.

The main mystery gets resolved however the other plot twists get introduced and the story takes a whole new path, leading on to a frightful climax. The story does end on a somber note and there's enough potential shown within that I wanted to read the second book immediately. The action is more on a personal level and the big battle towards the end does make up a lot for the start. However this book does have some inertia, particularly in the first third wherein the plot is set up and all the characters are introduced.

The author tries his best but considering this is his debut, there's some rough spots in the book which might slowdown the read for many a reader. For me, this book was a decent  but slightly slow read but since I had read THE WHITE GOLD SCORE previously. I soldiered on knowing that the once the plot finds its groove, it would be worth it and it definitely was.  The story has a good mix of action, plot twists and character drama, and the author hints at certain things that might play out in future books. There are some plot threads and twists which just seem to be resolved easily but this is done with the long haul in mind and something I as a reader could overlook.

Craig Schaefer ends his debut admirably as he leads up to a big climax which does solve most of the plot threads while setting up the sequels. The epilogue is a kicker and hearkens back to very first plot thread and brings it to a solid, fitting conclusion. Still I would rate this book as a three & half star effort, because after reading the sequels I know how good they are and in comparison, this book while absorbing, does its job of introducing the series, characters and world appropriately.

CONCLUSION: The Long Way Down is an admirable debut that introduces the readers to a world wherein the heroes aren't really heroic but charismatic nonetheless, the bad guys are evil but not entirely misguided and the stakes are truly world-shattering.  It was a debut that left me admiring the author's ingenuity & writing skills in spite of the flaws within. Give this book a shot if you love urban fantasy and want to read something darker than most titles that have been published so far.
Thursday, December 22, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing History & Thrillers by Michael Bolan


I was drinking cheap Beaujolais at a cocktail reception for corporate lawyers, when an unexpected question caught me off guard. Why would you use the Thirty Years War as the backdrop for a thriller and not write a ‘normal’ historical fiction book? I looked so shocked that my interlocutor frowned, concerned that she had caused offense. I hadn’t even realized that anyone there knew that I was an author (I have an alter ego who’s a businessman), let alone knew anything about my books. Scrambling to refocus my mind on the question, I blurted the flippant response, “Why not?” and realized I would have to come up with a better answer than that.

The Devil’s Bible Series is set at the end of the Thirty Years War, perhaps the most violent conflict in history, and yet desperately under-represented in the English language. The war started with a bang: three men were thrown out of a seventy-foot window because of their religion. They survived, thanks to a soft landing in a dungheap, but aggrieved Catholics began arming for war with their Protestant neighbours, like the Empire going after that pesky Rebel Alliance. So there are immediately two sides to the story and a basis for conflict, which as Donald Maass (just google him) points out, is the number one ingredient for any thriller.

The 17th century itself was a century of discovery. The Reformation allowed even devout Catholics to challenge the Church’s repression of science. From astronomy to anatomy, to zoology and zymology, the next few generations saw the life expectancy of the common man more than double. This spirit of innovation was driven (slightly ironically) by the desire for more sophisticated ways of killing one another. The advent and development of the gun led to the decline of the sword as the weapon of choice, but the middle of the century was a heady mix of pistols and muskets, swords and halberds. And cavalry. Lots of cavalry. And cannon. Lots of cannon.

With this change underway, there would have been an advantage in mastering all forms of weapon and tactics. We know there was a competitive industry in mercenary companies: most were formed on a military basis, and often led by noblemen. In the services sector, training of staff is key to success – the companies which performed most consistently were those that invested in their people and other assets. Just like The Sons of Brabant, who are ready to kick ass at the drop of a hat.


And as for the scene-setting, I can’t imagine a more exciting backdrop. In the time of the Devil’s Bible Series, there was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium, just a big Spain and a big Austria. The Netherlands was divided: brother fought brother as half the country struggled for independence. Tensions in England led to the Pilgrim Fathers epic voyage to colonise America, and ultimately to a bloody Civil War. They chopped the king’s head off! You don’t get much more thrilling than that.

But all was not rosy. The average life expectancy was approximately 30 years. Continuous war led to chronic famine across the continent and displaced millions from their homes. Cities became the only home for hordes of refugees, who eked out a living in abominable squalor. With hundreds of thousands crammed into tiny spaces, it’s small wonder that rats were able to spread the Great Plague, which caused millions to die in agony.

So upon reflection, my blithe “why not?” is actually a measured response. With a wealth of characters, world-changing discoveries and events, two sides at war, and yet enough freedom to bend the rules slightly, the 17th century seemed like the perfect place to set a thriller.

What do you think?

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


Official Author Website 
Order The Stone Bridge HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, "The Sons of Brabant". An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was. Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom. Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boƫ, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing Fantasy and Science Fiction by F. T. McKinstry


"Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible." - Rod Serling

Way back when I had a respectable job, I took some college courses in software engineering. One of them was on compilers, a software program that transforms programming language into machine language used by a computer processor. I sat in there amid a serious bunch of guys wielding thick glasses, pocket protectors and computer science degrees, and I felt like an impostor. For my final exam, I wrote the front end of a compiler in AWK (anyone who knows what that is gets an Award of Excellence in Geekery). I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had imagination and a lot of nerve. I also feared the worst. When the instructor handed me my graded final, I expected him to say, “Who are you and what are you doing in this class?” Instead, he said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” He gave me an A.

Turns out, this is an obscure metaphor for my take on fantasy and science fiction.

I spent the better part of my childhood reading not only speculative fiction but also the esoteric things that inspire it. I was the kind of kid who would do a book report on Hermetic occultism or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I was more somewhere else than here, but oddly, this taught me about reality. I never bothered to define the difference between fantasy and science fiction; now, I couldn’t say how many novels there are mixing strong elements of both. It's challenge to mix them without throwing out the definitions. Genres tend to blur over time, and then split into sub-genres, because gods forbid we can’t conveniently define something.

For the sake of argument, let’s call these genres distinct and go with classical definitions. To my mind, Science Fiction starts on a foundation of what’s known and provable, usually involving technological advances, the state of civilization, etc., and goes from there. Think Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke or Becoming Human by Valerie J. Freireich.


Fantasy deals more in the realms of myth, fairy tales and the unreal, usually involving magic or otherworldly forces—and that’s not to say it has to be soft or without rugged themes or realities. In this context, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings is definitive; the Legend of Drizzt series by R.A. Salvatore, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle are exemplary.

In fantasy, within reason, you can do anything if you can imagine it. This is probably why I’ve always leaned towards this genre, particularly the epic or high sub-genres where nearly everything is made up aside from basic references that serve to ground us in the story; for example, a medieval setting. I’ve written some science fiction, but it’s not my first love and despite a long and varied high tech career, I avoid writing it for the same reason I hid beneath an invisibility cloak in compiler class: Impostor! It’s a world full of geeks and somebody will call me out.

And yet, by way of my aforementioned nerve, I went there.

After writing Outpost, which is decidedly fantasy—if not epic or high fantasy if we want to get persnickety—I wrote this little tag line: “Epic fantasy entwined with Norse mythology and a touch of science fiction.” I must have taken out and put back in “a touch of science fiction” a dozen times. Finally, I removed it, but it left a stain. No science fiction here! I grumped, and then I thought about it—an inter-dimensional portal with specific dimensions and geometry built by extraterrestrial warlords to travel to and from other planets without having to wait for rare planetary alignments, humans trained in the principles of light, crystals, and energy so they can maintain the power source—Yeah yeah, ok. A touch of science fiction.

But it’s subtle. Said warlords are immortal, like elves, they are essentially Vikings—albeit highly evolved ones—and walk alongside warlocks, goblins, draugr and gods. Reprieved! The idea here touches on Arthur C. Clarke’s venerable quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In other words, what’s real? There is a seeming chasm in our society between science and magic; what’s acceptable as real and what’s not; and this is evident in these genre definitions. There’s a feel to it. However, as the advance of quantum theory is showing us, this chasm is itself an illusion.

Ergo, I can write the front end of a compiler in any language I want. Hold my beer.

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Official Author Website
Order Outpost HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: F.T. McKinstry grew up studying classical music, reading books, drawing things, and searching the skies for aliens. With a background in computer electronics and software development, she wrote and illustrated technical documentation for many years, during which time she created fantasy worlds. Among other things, her work is inspired by Northern European mythology and folklore, fairy tales, swords and sorcery, medieval warfare, shamanism, psychology, mysticism and plant and animal lore.

F.T. is the author of the fantasy series The Chronicles of Ealiron and a short story collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. She lives in New England with a patient husband, a pile of cats, a couple of live-planted aquariums and a lot of gardens.

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