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Thursday, May 29, 2014

“The Immortal Crown” by Richelle Mead (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “The Immortal CrownHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Gameboard of the Gods

The Immortal Crown is the second volume in Richelle Mead's Age of X series, which is a post-apocalyptic (not dystopian) blend of science fiction and fantasy. If you're new to the series, you can actually pick this book up first and not be lost: Mead does perhaps the best job I've ever seen of getting you caught up in the first chapters without boring returning readers. You'll get more out of The Immortal Crown if you read Gameboard of the Gods first, and I highly recommend it, but the author gives you the critical information that you need to make sense of the story.

In short, I think the sequel is even stronger than the first book. The story is told from the perspectives of the same three protagonists: Mae Koskinen, a powerful upper caste warrior whose abilities are desired by everyone with power, be they man or god; Dr. Justin March, a Sherlock Holmes-esque investigator who has been saddled with Odin's ravens; and Tessa, a student from Panama studying abroad in the Republic of United America.

All of these characters grow in ways I didn't expect them to. My favorite part is that each protagonist is working first and foremost toward their own plot. There isn't a final showdown that everyone contributes to: although all of their plots intersect, and one character might help another, they are each the protagonists of their own equally-weighted plot arcs. I also love how active all of these characters are, how complicated their choices are, and how invested they are in the freedom to make choices for themselves.

In this book we get more glimpses of what the gods are about, what that means for the characters and the world. We explore the politics and technology of the RUNA more deeply with Tessa's media project, while Mae and Justin have to work in what's become of the former southern states of the USA, a place that went a very different direction after the apocalypse.

On a purely prose level, this book is very tight. And Mead doesn't shy away from serious issues raised in her world design, be it abuses of technology, systemic racism, or the dangers of misogyny.

In the end, The Age of X series is coming along beautifully, and once again Richelle Mead has ended the book with some very troubling circumstances to lead us into the third installment.
Friday, May 23, 2014

"Doon: Doon #1" by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)




Visit the Official Website of the Doon Series Here

OVERVIEW: DOON…

Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months.

But the Scottish countryside holds other plans.

Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt—and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for...or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

DOON is loosely based on the premise of the musical Brigadoon, with permission from the ALan Jay Lerner Estate and the Frederick Loewe Foundation.

FORMAT: Doon is the first book in a proposed series. It is a YA romance novel with a few fantasy elements in it, but it is mostly a romance novel. It stands at 368 pages and was published by Blink on August 20, 2013 and the paperback will be released July 29, 2014.

ANALYSIS: On paper – or the flap of a book cover – Doon sounds like an amazing and slightly unique book that was just perfect for me. It promised to be 'loosely based' off of musical Brigadoon and it takes place in Scotland. Unfortunately, what was promised didn't really meet up to what was delivered.

The entire idea behind the story was fairly original and had so much potential, but extremely predictable, almost boring main characters, a slow moving plot, and irritating conversations and 'cutesy catch phrases' really just ruined the whole book.

I'll start with the main characters. The novel switches between the POV of Veronica and Mackenna. These characters were extremely irritating to the point it ruined the whole book.

Veronica is this 'gorgeous' beauty who doesn't know how beautiful she is, but that isn't the worst. She spends the entire novel swooning over this mysterious guy and whining/crying about how broken she is as a person all because her daddy left her and her boyfriend dumped her. While I understand the need for this back story, we – as readers – are reminded of Veronica's daddy issues and boyfriend woes every 5 seconds.

Mackenna is the opposite of Veronica, except she too doesn't realize she's beautiful. She is supposed to be fun-loving, but comes across as snarky, mean, and extremely jaded. Now, here is the kicker. She loves Broadway and musicals. So, every few moments she is comparing life to some favorite musical or saying these really cheesy phrases like 'Holy Hammerstein!' and ' Sweet Baby Sondheim'.

Maybe things have changed since I was a teen, but I can almost guarantee that teenage girls would not repeatedly make these phrases an everyday occurrence, multiple times throughout the day. It just seemed unrealistic and very tiring.

If the bad characterization of the two main characters wasn't bad enough, we are given the secondary character of James MacCrae and Duncan MacCrae. These are extremely handsome guys who come equipped with eight-pack abs, because six-pack abs just aren't sexy/hot enough. Unfortunately, these characters lack personality and are only developed from afar because we are given a look into life from Veronica/Mackenna.

Another huge issue with the book was the writing. The team of authors seemed set out to make a point that Veronica/Mackenna are BFFs. To make their point, they tell the readers that these two 'share a brain' at least a dozen times. I get that it is a cute phrase and all, but it really was overused.

In addition to the issue of the overuse of cute phrases, the use of a rather frustrating Scottish dialect made this novel a difficult read. Every individual who is from Scotland speaks with an abundance of dinnas, kennas, tas, fers, and other random words. Every single time someone opened their mouth they had this come out of their mouths.

Overall, the entire book – which should have been great – was executed in an extremely juvenile way. This would have been great had two 13 year olds written this, but it wasn't. I understand it is a YA novel, but I really don't see this appealing to its main audience. And it certainly is not appealing to anyone outside of the main audience.

Sadly, what could have been a wonderful novel with a few slightly typical YA quirks turned into something completely different. I kept reading hoping it would get better, but it didn't. I would not advice people to not read this book, I would just say to approach it with caution and a very, very open mind.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order Skin Game HERE 
Read the first two chapters HERE & HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ghost Story 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Welcome To The Jungle  

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jim Butcher is the bestselling author of The Dresden Files, which has been adapted into a SyFy television show and a series of comic book adaptations produced by Dynamite Entertainment. He is also the author of The Codex Alera epic fantasy saga. In addition to writing,  Jim Butcher is a martial arts enthusiast and live-action gamer. He currently lives in Independence, Missouri with his family.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it….

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….

CLASSIFICATION: The Dresden Files is an urban fantasy series that boasts of a fun mix of fast-paced supernatural action, humor and a dash of mystery/thrills. 

FORMAT/INFO: Skin Game is 454 pages long divided over fifty-one chapters. As usual, narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the private investigator/wizard Harry Dresden. Skin Game is the fifteenth volume in The Dresden Files and it’s highly recommended that new readers start at the beginning of the series since this book has a lot of revelations and builds up on the characters and plot arcs introduced in the preceding books.

May 27, 2014 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Skin Game via Roc. The UK edition (see below) will also be published on May 27, 2014 via Orbit Books. The cover art is done by Chris McGrath.


ANALYSIS: Writing this review is bit hard, as on the first read, Skin Game is pretty much awesome and after my not-so-fun rewarding experience of Cold Days, this was a fun read. After a second detailed re-read, the book still held out and was as much fun the first time around.

Here's what this book is about: Since Harry was forced to take the mantle of Winter Knight; he's been subjugated by Mab's wishes and intentions. Of course he's not going to bend to her whim as was demonstrated in Cold Days. Now Mab has him in a bigger quagmire when she loans out his services to Nicodemus and his Denarian followers. Harry is now at odds since he has to follow Mab's order and his conscience is revolting against the very thought of being in the same room as Shiro's murderer. Nicodemus has plans to raid Hades' vault and grab the most famous chalice in recorded history. Harry is back but has never had to take part in a heist and one in which his conspirators might just be more tempted to bag him rather than Christ's cup. Harry's in a bind and almost without any allies...

Now if you are reading this book, you know what to expect in a Harry Dresden story, Jim Butcher piles up the comedy (Parkour), terrific action sequences, crafty plot twists and some neat character reappearances. Firstly why I think this book rocks so much is because of Nicodemus and the Denarians. As far as the villains of this series go, Nicodemus and bunch are pretty much at the top of the sociopathic heap. What makes Nicodemus IMHO so intriguing is that he's a willing partner with Anduriel and so far has been the one guy who rivals Harry in his determination! Johnny Marcone is another fascinating rival for Harry but he's the subject for another book review.

Nicodemus and the Denarians are possibly one of the best creations that sprung from Jim Butcher's imagination. These folks kill, murder, and torture but ultimately they are all heading towards an unseen goal that Harry hasn't been able to decipher. Whenever they have appeared in the series, those books (Death Masks, Small Favor) have been fantastic. Lots of carnage, horrific deaths and rather cruel twists to our heroes but as with every hero (he/she) needs a formidable antagonist to make the story a memorable one. Nicodemus does that in spades for Harry, so far his despicable actions have made him a universally hated figure and with this book, he will go a few steps further.

In the last book, there were revelations about the Outsiders, the Winter court and what is happening on the outer fringes of our dimension/plane of existence. These were some huge revelations that shook up the story told so far. This book doesn't have that many revelations; to be fair it has almost next to none when compared with those of Cold Days. Then why would I say that this book was better than Cold Days?

Simply put this book has all that magic (literal and figurative) that the earlier books (White Night, Changes, Dead Beat, Small Favor, etc.) epic battles, shocking twists, snarky humor, and horrific events that make them all such gripping reads. This book does all that and marks a return to form by the granddaddy of urban fantasy. There have been various events that we have been waiting for:
- Will we get to see a new knight of the cross?
- What happens to Molly after Cold Days?
- Will Karrin and Harry ever get it on?
- Whatever happened to Lasciel and her coin?
- Will Harry survive the Winter knight mantle?
- And many more…

Some of those questions get glorious (and I mean Glorious) answers. There are a few new characters introduced in this one that I hope make a reappearance in the future (such as antagonist badass Goodman Grey) and plus with all the previous Denarian stories, there is the re-appearance of the characters whose lives were affected previously. This might be easy to figure out but you might get one character right and another one wrong. RAFO what I'm talking about when the book gets released. With the last couple of books the comedic aspect of the books was toned down as the plots didn't quite gel with it. This book however marks a fine return in that aspect & fans will definitely be glad for it (Parkour). Plus with the book's climax, fans will definitely be salivating for Peace Talks (the 16th entry in the Dresden Files) & the author has said that "it probably will be one of the more supernaturally violent books to date!"

With some of the past few books, amid the appearance of angels and questions related to Faith & Divine will. The books have taken a strong jump into Christian theology with regards to its mythos. With this book, that trend continues and it can get confusing as to whether the author is implying that this theological tract is the only correct one in this universe. In his most recent AMA, he did talk about getting the church stuff right & mentioned that he has had "a childhood with a much, much higher than median exposure to theological thought". Now whether he's going down the C. S. Lewis route, remains to be seen but I genuinely hope that the series maintains its previous ambiguity as in the case within the real world. 

Skin Game has a heist plot that runs along the line of most heist stories but what strongly differentiates this one is Jim Butcher. Jim’s characteristic writing skills have made The Dresden Files such a publishing phenomenon. Skin Game continues in that rich vein and if you are a Dresden fan then you will love it. If you aren’t a fan then this book won’t do much to change your mind. This volume didn’t have any deficiencies in my mind but then again I didn’t enjoy Cold Days and many others liked it.

CONCLUSION: Epic, simply epic is the adjective I would use to describe Skin Game, the fifteenth volume was a bit delayed but fans can rejoice as the book more than makes up for the wait. Jim Butcher is back, boys and girls and Skin Game will have you rejoicing and gallivanting like none other. Also if you were wondering why the word "Parkour" was mentioned in my review, that's another thing you'll have to wait until the 27th to find out.
Monday, May 19, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (Reviewed by Achala Upendran)


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The close of an epic fantasy series brings with it a great deal of heartache, some amount of despair and a certain portion of good old denial. We’ve stuck by the characters through thick and thin for so many books, after all, whether through the thirteen volumes of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, seven Narnia books or even the less-weighty but no less emotionally hard hitting (arguably, more hard-hitting) The Lord of the Rings. The seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, brought in its wake all three of the aforementioned emotions. In fact, the ‘denial’ factor took visual form, with the movie being split into two parts. Just to draw out the heartache a little longer, you know?

With the fall of Albus Dumbledore, the bastion of the ‘good’ side seems to have come crashing down, and no one is able to stop Voldemort and his minions from sweeping into power. Harry, Ron and Hermione have opted out of attending Hogwarts and are on the run, hunting for the remaining Horcruxes. With only two accounted for and five still out there, it looks like a tall order and one they have little hope of fulfilling, especially given that the forces of the government and Voldemort’s Death Eaters are out to get them.

The thing to remember about the Harry Potter books is where their enduring power lies. It is not, entirely, in the plot. It is not even in the intricacies of the world Rowling built. It lies, instead, in her characters. Even with this, the final book in the series and one where (most readers will assume) she is unlikely to surprise us, Rowling pulls out her stops and serves a delicious buffet of human emotion. This is it, the wizarding war we have been awaiting for six books, the moment Harry is expected to step out and shine at the forefront of battle. Rowling, however, opts not to walk down that tried and tested road. Instead, she sends her three young heroes on a lonely quest, out of the ‘main action’ and thus tests them in ways they never imagined.

I won’t lie; leaving Hogwarts out for a great duration of the seventh book was a big gamble for Rowling to take, and there are many of us (me included) who would have ideally liked to have seen more of the school that’s become, for us as well as Harry, a second home. But I do respect her artistic decision to push her hero’s limits rather than send him back to the predictable grind. Besides, given how events pan out, it’s probably a really good thing he didn’t go back after all.

Another thing that might get to you (as it did to me) was the lack of screen-time for many of our most beloved characters. This is the product of not-being-in-Hogwarts, but after six years of knowing them, it’s still rather sad that we didn’t get to spend many chapters with the Weasleys, the various professors or even, admit it, our favourite bully, Draco Malfoy. Instead, the book focuses almost solely on the trio and their adventures as they ricochet around the country, searching desperately for the means to destroy Voldemort. We also get to see Harry at his broody best, something we’d missed ever since Order of the Phoenix. That’s right, did you think Harry was going to be completely noble and silently suffer his heroic torments? He is a seventeen year old boy.


The tagline of Deathly Hallows: Part 1 reads: ‘Trust no one’. That’s a maxim readers should sear into their brains. You can’t trust anyone in this book to behave as they have before. Characters reveal shades that you’ve never suspected them of harbouring, once-trusted allies turn out to have hidden streaks of selfishness, perhaps some long-loathed villains will show unwitting decency. Even Dumbledore is not safe from Rowling’s intense scrutiny, and many of the former Headmaster’s secrets are nastily revealed to the wizarding world. Again, like most events in the series, these revelations serve as a profound test for Harry Potter. Again, readers have to wait and see how he deals with it and whether they leave him with the strength to continue his appointed mission.

Rowling’s stretching of her characters’ limits is, I think, a brilliant, brilliant stroke. Considering how on edge the wizarding world has been for the duration of Half-Blood Prince, considering the terrible blow that shook it at that novel’s close, it seems only natural that now with ‘evil’ so ascendant that the fighters seem to collectively fray at the edges. These are people who are undergoing severe stress, who don’t know who or what they can trust, and like normal, everyday people everywhere, they can snap and bend in ways you never thought possible.

I keep trying to imagine what it must have been like to be J. K. Rowling on the eve of Deathly Hallows’ release, to know that children and adults around the world are waiting at bookstore doors, dressed up in homage to characters you created, terrified to know who would live and who would die at your command. Imagine what a sense of power that must have given her, but at the same time, what kind of helpless fear weighed at her. To know that you had created a universe filled with people so complex, so loved and hated that they seem real to millions around the world; to know that millions still read and watch and live in the world you created.

The lure of Harry Potter is impossible to describe, define or contain. Even now, seven years after its close, I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is about this world that keep me and millions like me hooked, returning to them time and again whether through the books, movies, fanfiction, role playing games, whatever. Through these reviews I’ve tried, scraped the surface perhaps in an attempt to lay out what it is that is so compelling about each one. In each volume, Rowling works on a little detail of her world, fleshes it out just a tiny bit more. And yet, through all the magical ups and downs and in-betweens, she retains her focus on what really, in my opinion, makes her books magical: Harry Potter and his fellows.

That’s it for me, really. It’s not the spells or the monsters or even the classic good versus evil fight. There are plenty of fantasy authors who have done those, and done them better. But find me a writer whose characters have inspired the kind of lifelong devotion and sense of immediacy that Rowling’s have. Even now, a decade later, you’ll find people sitting around and debating the merits of Dumbledore’s decisions, whether or not Sirius’s ‘prank’ could ever be excused, if Ron and Hermione really made a better couple than Harry and Hermione.

CONCLUSION: For the truly crazed readers (and there are many of us) these are almost real people, not just characters who close the covers on at the close. Harry and his peers are a part of the everyday for most Potterheads in a way that few other characters from any book can claim to be. And it’s for that reason that Harry Potter, no matter what befalls him, will always be the Boy Who Lived.

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GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

NOTE: This ends Achala's massive undertaking of reviewing the entire Harry Potter books, we at Fantasy Book Critic would like to extend our thanks for her detailed analysis & fascinating insight into books that will stand the test of time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Three Upcoming Titles (Ilona Andrews, Anthony Ryan & Rob J. Bennett) To Watch Out For (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Since I'll be reviewing all three of them closer to their release dates. I thought it would be a good idea to post my Goodread thoughts on Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan, Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews and City Of Stairs by Robert J. Bennett. These are my informal thoughts and the main reason for posting them is that I believe that these three have been the standout SFF reads for me so far in 2014...


First up is Tower Lord and I've been anticipating this book since 2012. So here's what I thought:

I would love to rate this one six stars if GR would allow me! In my review for Blood Song, at the end I had written "give this book a read if you want to read a story that’s closest to those written by David Gemmell." With Tower Lord, he not only proves that in spades by giving the readers a siege situation similar to that in Legend and also many more memorable events and characters. This book easily is the best heroic fantasy of 2014 (bettering the high of City Of Stairs by a hairsbreadth) and now all others have to overcome it.

Let's begin with the story, in Tower Lord, we get 3 new POV characters besides Vaelin who was the sole narrator in Blood Song. Another funny aspect of the story is that this book also follows the same narrative format as Blood Song wherein the events begin in the near past and interspersed between five accounts of the royal Alpiran chronicler Verniers Alishe Someren. As to why the story is set in such a format and what is Verniers doing will be up to the fans to RAFO, safe to say it's quite shocking to meet Verniers.

We find Vaelin Al Sorna back to the Unified realm and seeks to find his relatives who might be surviving. The 2nd POV character is Reva a young woman with tremendous martial skills who seeks revenge on Vaelin for a past crime. She's not Asraelian and seeks his death single-handedly, who she is and why she hates Vaelin is spoiler material and so I won't comment on it. Safe to say for people wanting to know her identity can take guesses and I might just give you tell if you are correct or not in the comments...

The other two POV characters, I won't name until closer to the book release, safe to say there are characters from the first book and I, as a fan was expecting them to be POV characters. This book also enlarges the world situation by showcasing the continent east of the Alpiran & Unified realms, namely the Volarian empire. The story begins by detailing an attack on the unified realms from many fronts. Vaelin is faced with a new responsibility when he's made Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Malcius.

Another highlight of this book is that nearly every character who made a major & minor impression in its predecessor is back in this one (except the dead ones). We get to see all of them & see different shades to them, this was an extremely pleasurable thing to read, a couple of mysteries from Blood Song, namely who attacked Vaelin in the Test Of the Wild as well as who was behind it get clarified. Many other bigger revelations also abound but that's a topic for the full review.

Secondly going on to the characterization, Anthony Ryan shines brighter in his sophomore effort by giving us many brilliant characters. Lastly the pace and action sequences are amplified across all the four POV sections, we get to see our favorite characters face odds that they have never thought of and the fun is seeing how it all ends.

Coming back to my original statement of this book being similar to Legend, David Gemmell's epic debut. We get a siege wherein legends are forged and this was a highlight to read. Lastly the climatic chapter ends on a such a note that you might not want to wait a whole year for Queen Of Fire, Rest assured I'll be diligent to ask Anthony about Queen Of Fire and many other questions in his forthcoming FBC interview.

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Next up is Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews. Now this book was originally going to be climax of the series, but that's no longer the case (and thankfully so). The authors had previously announced that this book will be the end of the first arc of Kate's journey and would also introduce Roland. Safe to say this book didn't disappoint but also managed to overcome my sky-high expectations and Roland got an epic introduction:

For all Ilona Andrews fans, this has been the book that we have been waiting for. Magic Breaks is the first time when Roland makes an appearance and is about the introduction/confrontation of him & Kate. However this is not the FINAL book in the series, we are assured of three more (atleast)...

Magic Breaks is set after the tumultuous events seen in Magic Rises and after the cross-Atlantic journey, Kate is not sure what to expect next. Things have settled comfortably with the Atlanta pack as Curran goes to work with Panacea and is able to fortify his territory. Things are going well as much as they can but when Curran is suspiciously called away for a hunt, Kate is forced to attend a conclave meeting with the People. The plot thickens when a high ranking master of the dead is found murdered. With all signs pointing towards a shape-shifter, things get tense as Kate's most hated adversary returns to give her 24 hours to hand over the murderer or Roland's war comes to Atlanta. From then on it's a race against time as Kate and the pack have to figure what really happened and how to clear this mess.

What can I say, Magic Breaks has been a very fast-paced & superbly satisfying read. Infact I'll go ahead to say this book will be in my top 3 of my year end lists. If you love the previous books then prepare to have your mind blown. This book has all the positive attributes of the series that we all love. Awesome action sequences, terrific characterization and a great cast of characters, lastly the humor never truly fails to stop the story from becoming abysmally dark. Kate and all of our favorite characters are back in this one and so many others from the previous works make some memorable appearances. Their presence however is entirely justified and unlike the last Sookie Stackhouse book, wherein everyone just showed up to bid adieu. The authors make sure that the tension is never completely resolved and the readers will be flipping pages to see what all is encompassed within this tale.

For me, I loved how the authors melded a murder mystery, their version of "the mines of Moria sequence" which just simply will blow most reader minds and lastly a confrontation between a father and daughter. If you think that you can predict what will happen, I'll gladly inform you that you will be wrong. The action sequences are amped up and there's some new additions to the rich were mythology that the authors have built up so far. Then there are further revelations about Kate's past, Roland, her magic and some subjects that are highly spoilerfic to eve mention. Safe to say that this book does everything but bring you to the edge of a mental orgasm before tipping you over savagely of course.

This is truly Epic Urban Fantasy & Ilona Andrews are just the best (watch out Jim Butcher) when it comes to writing in this under-appreciated genre. Plus as a freebie, the authors have also included MAGIC TESTS, a short story about Julie which I have previously reviewed HERE.

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Lastly there is City Of Stairs which just came out of nowhere and was the first standout out book of 2014 for me: 

This is one of those books that I was intrigued about when the author spoke about how history affects perception and the lives of those living in a city that previously affected the whole world, oh and also the bodies of dead gods being used as WMDs!

I'm usually a sucker for stories that sound weird and have cool blurbs such as the one above. To back it up, the author also spoke a bit more about the story's conception over HERE & HERE. Plus I had read the author's previous work which was excellent (American Elsewhere) & not-so-good (Mr. Shivers). This was the author's first stab at something other than what he had written so far.

The story is set in Bulikov, the aforementioned City Of Stairs and erstwhile de-facto capital of the world (or atleast that's what the citizens would have you believe). Bulikov is situated in the continent with several other divine cities, it however is conquered by Saypur, a crumbling outpost which nearly 80 years ago did something so outrageous that it shook the foundations of history and literally changed the world.

A man titled Kaj, slew a god via his machinations and thereby sailed onto the continent wherein he further slew the remaining gods besides the ones mixing from a long time ago. Thereby destroying the continent's rule on the world and establishing Saypur's ascendancy as the supreme power.

The story begins in 1719 wherein in Bulikov, the murder of Efrem Pangyui has caused upheaval and led to the coming of Shara Thivani, a middling diplomat who comes to the City of Stairs to find out the real reason behind the murder. She however is not one without any mystery of her own and should her real identity be revealed, then the continent will truly erupt.

The author has taken pains to create a world that is magical, technologically oriented and sincerely refreshing in more ways than one. Six gods there were Olvos, Kolkan, Jukov, Ahanas, Voortya, and Taalhavras, their wonders elevated the continent but now their age has gone and it left to diplomats and spies to manage the world. The world-building and the current state of the world is the remarkable part of the story possibly even better than the terrific characterization. Kudos to the author for eschewing pseudo-European templates and creating a world that's complex as our own and incredibly diverse.

Rob J. Bennett brings us down to the action as Shara and her secretary (this is a complete misnomer for him) Sigrud try to figure out what is happening behind the scenes. By the way Sigrud truly is a memorable secondary character, his actions and past truly make the scenes come alive whenever he's featured and I sincerely hope in the future books that the author dwells into his past and future. Shara is a remarkable protagonist as it's through her eyes we come to experience the disheveled state of diplomacy and the many sacrifices it demands. I honestly feel that this book has so many dimensions to it and the more you re-read, the more you find.

This book is the overwhelming favorite for 2014 (or was until I read the aforementioned titles) and all other will have a hard time to eclipse it in my list. I'm glad Robert J. Bennett is also writing a sequel to this, because I truly can't wait to read more about this strange world and the three-dimensional characters that inhabit it.

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So you can look forward to all three of them and be assured that Liviu, Casey and me will do our best to further elaborate why we loved them so much in the full FBC reviews.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

RE-REVIEW: A Dance Of Shadows by David Dalglish (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Mirrors 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cloak & Spider
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish
Read "Sequels And Satisfying Endings" by David Dalglish (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Dalglish is the author of the popular Half Orc fantasy series and the Paladin series. He was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 2006 with a degree in Mathematics and used to work with Special Education students. He lives with his family in Missouri; A Dance Of Cloaks was his traditional publication debut.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS:"Prove that you can stand against the darkness and live." 

In book #4 of the Shadowdance series, Haern is the King's Watcher, born an assassin only to become the city of Veldaren's protector against the thief guilds.

When Lord Victor Kane attacks the city, determined to stamp out all corruption, foreign gangs pour in amidst the chaos in an attempt to overthrow the current lords of the underworld.

And when a mysterious killer known as the Widow begins mutilating thieves, paranoia engulfs the city. Haern knows someone is behind the turmoil, pulling strings. If he doesn't find out who -- and soon -- his beloved city will burn.

Light or darkness: where will the line be drawn?

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world wherein there are multiple factions at work, the Shadowdance series is a dark, character-driven, gritty fantasy story in the vein of David Gemmell, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance Of Shadows is 437 pages divided over thirty-five numbered chapters with a prologue, epilogue and an author note. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Zusa, Lord Victor Kane, Guild lord Thren Felhorn, Grayson of Mordeina, Antonil Deathmask, Nathaniel Gemcroft etc. A Dance Of Shadows is the fourth volume of the Shadowdance series.

This book was first self-published by the author under the title "Blood Of The Underworld". May 20, 2014 marks the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance Of Shadows via Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: As with the previous three books that have been self published by the author.  A Dance Of Shadows was previously reviewed here upon its release. This book is slightly different from its previous incarnation as "Blood Of The Underworld" and I'll try to highlight the non-spoilery changes as much as I can. A note of caution for readers, since this is book 4, there will be minor spoilers for the preceding titles so venture ahead only if you have read the previous books or if you don't mind spoilers.

David Dalglish’s previous books were a revelation for me as it introduced me to the author as well as his dynamic storytelling prowess. The series was supposed to focus on Haern’s origins and explore his need to become the person he is currently. It was a dark and unforgiving series that was tough on all of its characters, ruthless in character deaths and perhaps the author’s homage to  Batman's beginnings. The third book however didn’t complete the arc as set by the first book and the author has spoken a bit about it in this guest post.

The trappings of the first trilogy was that a son rebelled against his father’s wishes and that was the underpinning that powered the main character as well as galvanized the readers as they wanted to see how it would end. While the trilogy didn’t exactly end on that note, the current trilogy plays out to that very end. It also serves as a bridge between the Half-Orc series, the Shadowdance trilogy as well as the Paladin series. The main theater of action would be set in the city of Veldaren primarily and also focusing on other regions as per the story dictates. The book also aims to bring together all the characters and infuse the story to make it an explosive one.

The story begins the king of Veldaren receiving a letter of intent from Victor Kane, lord of a nearby region who wishes to accomplish a task that no one has attempted so far. He wishes to rid the city of all its thieves, murderers and other scum. To do so, he has brought his own private army and is ready to start his mission. Alyssa Gemcroft has recovered from the events of the city of Angelport nearly two years ago and she has learnt to be more cunning while also growing in her economic strength. She however is unprepared for a new surprise that awaits her in the mansion of a fellow trifect member. Zusa is resilient and has constantly been the pillar of support for Alyssa in many ways however she will have to face demons and problems from her past as well and this time it might just be enough to break her. Then there’s Thren Felhorn, the greatest and most feared guild lord who is still trying to regain his lost glory and lastly there’s the Widow who is going around on a killing spree motivated by reasons stranger than most men can fathom.

Thus begins the fourth volume of the Shadowdance series which attempts to fuse the character driven storyline of its preceding titles with the epic action and intrigue of the sequel Half-orc series. This powder-keg is all set to explode and explode it does, in a spectacularly brutal onslaught. The prologue opens with a riddle and a murder and then quickly the plot threads and characters are introduced with enough of a background presented for all new readers to get caught up adequately and for returning readers to whet their memories. The highlights of David’s previous books are spectacularly present, beginning with rapid pace of the story, multiple plot lines, intriguing characterization and sharp plot twists. There's also some strong ties to "Cloak & Spider" as Thren's past history comes into play and for readers who have read the prequel novella, will gain further insight about Grayson, Thren & their common love. 

The best part however, is the characterization beginning with Haern and his troubled past, this series is basically about the confrontation that has been ordained between Haern and his father. The seeds for the confrontation were laced in the first two books of the Shadowdance trilogy and it’s in this book can the reader see them coming to fruition. There’s also Alyssa, Zusa, Thren, Victor Kane and a few other characters who each have their own plans and work towards their own ends. The equally awesome part is that while the series is about the Watcher, in this book the focus is shared by many characters each of whom can be confidently considered as a compelling protagonist or antagonist (depending on how you view their story).

This multifaceted character approach makes this story come alive tremendously as the reader is kept guessing on all fronts and something is happening in each POV character thread to keep the plot tension high strung. In this regards, the plot confusion and the thriller aspect of the story really shine through. The pace of the book also seems to make the book more akin to a thriller and this is another plus point in regards to the book. I can’t say that this book has no drawbacks to it but for the type of story I like to read, it had everything; tense mystery, believable characterization, epic action and lastly a strong authorial grasp on the story. All of this along with the book’s humor that is present but in minute amounts and is character specific which makes this story a fantastic read. 

Lastly while this is book 4, newer readers should have no problems jumping in and picking up the story, and for the older, returning readers this book is a crossroads of all the three previously written series thereby giving them a big crossover high. The author has commented upon this aspect in the afterword and it shows in the book as we come across a wide array of characters that confabulate and conflict to give the readers a rousing tale. The plot threads come to a reasonable conclusion at the end of this book and the reader is left with a big hint of the story direction of the next book A Dance Of Ghosts.

CONCLUSION: David Dalglish is an anomaly of sorts, his books while seeming generic are turning out to be a unique combination of dark fantasy and exciting thriller modes, thereby giving the readers a potent story and making sure they are left wanting more. I was hooked with the previous trilogy and this one does more of the same in spades. If you truly wish to discover a fantastic new author, give this book a try or if you want, start with book I of the Shadowdance trilogy and experience the origin story as its unfolds epically.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

GUEST POST: It Took A Muse by Timothy Baker


Inspiration comes and inspiration goes. When Muse walks out the door without packing its bags, you know she's messing with your head. "You'll be back!" you cry. "Who's gonna take you in?" You harrumph and turn around to your keyboard and go to work, because that's the only way to get through the pain. You create, despite the loss of your fickle muse. And as you hammer away, a fluidity comes, the creative machine is up and spinning, and without warning, Muse is back, looking over your shoulder, whispering in your ear. Muse needs you more than you need her.

Knowing this, and of Muse's brief drive-by boosts, you latch on like a hungry tick to a juicy cow.

Writing is work, 99% of the time creating without inspiration, with only the drive and knowledge of the craft kicking it out. But sometimes, you just gots to have her; Muse and her intoxicating touch to keep you in love with the work. Without her (she knows what I like) I would never had written my debut novel, Hungry Ghosts: Path of the Dead, or even touched the zombie genre.

You see, I'm not a huge fan of the zombie genre. And when I do fall in love with a zombie work, it has to be damn good, with a thoughtfulness and care of character that is becoming rare in the genre. I have to hear the unique brain--or brains--behind it. That why I remain an avid fan of George Romero's work. Though the series of films are uneven (Day of the Dead is my favorite, and I don't wanna hear it, just keep your opinions to yourself), I can see Romero's one of a kind mind at work, and his genius is very evident. His zombie tales always interest me. So too, The Walking Dead TV series, keeping their characters in an ever evolving state, and shocking me with ever increasing, original, zombie horror. (Who can forget the zombie filled pit, or the attack of the smoking, fire consumed undead?)

Over the years though, the zombie films I've seen and the books I've picked up, have been disappointing. Well written, yes, but the plots are just retreads and adaptions on what's come before. In the past year, I've only braved two zombie novels: one was a boring, shallow, hideous retread (no names), the other, fun, chilling, and engaging (check out Those Poor, Poor Bastards). The latter gives me hope for the undead tale. And now we have zombie comedies. I seem to recall Mel Brooks talking about the western genre, so huge for thirty years, and saying that when we start seeing the parodies of a genre, it's a signal of the end of that genre. And Blazing Saddles certainly put the final nail on the western genre's coffin.

Saying all that, you can see I had little interest in writing a zombie novel. What could I bring to it that hadn't already been done? And don't the writing sages say that one shouldn't write to what is currently popular, because by the time you're done with it, and spend the time trying to sell it, or if you're a self-publisher, putting it together alone with your own confident hands, the bubble on the genre will have already burst.

But I did see writing a zombie story as sort of a writer's passage. All my writer friends were doing it or had done it, to widely varying successful degrees. I also saw it as a challenge, a writing line drawn into the sand. And I love a challenge. Still I needed Muse. I wasn't going anywhere with zombies if I couldn't create something at least partially original. It had to capture my interest and curiosity, so much, so that it wouldn't leave my head unless I wrote it down. And she came. Muse breathing here words of power to my pleasure center. "It's right there in front of you, idiot."

I've been a student of Buddhism for many years. Buddhism, particularly the brand that saturates Tibetan culture, takes a polar opposite approach to death than the predominantly Christian western mind. They actually talk about it, and lack the revulsion we have when viewing the dead. In the hard, rocky places of Tibet, they disarticulate the bodies of their loved ones and feed it to vultures. And they watch it. It's not an end of life, but a portal to the next life. They simply don't have the angst and fear we have towards death.

This begged my zombie question:
- How would a devout monk, intent on Nirvana, view the walking dead?
- What questions would he ask?
- How would this phenomenon shake his world-view?
- Would it send his beliefs crashing down, or would he become more intent in his spiritual goals?
- And why the hell have I not seen or read a zombie tale not located in urban/suburban areas outside the America's and Europe?

This is supposed to be a global disaster, right?!

And there it was. All I needed. Thus was born Hungry Ghosts: Path of the Dead. Muse came, said her magical words, and made me go, "Ah hah!"Then I sent her out the door. "Go get me some coffee and a carton of smokes." It was time to go to work.


Order the book HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Timothy Baker is a retired firefighter and an aspiring, perspiring, horror writer. He is published in Fading Light: Anthology of the Monstrous by Angelic Knight Press, and the forthcoming Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed from Tor. Tim has also received a commendation in the Australian Horror Writer’s Association 2009 Short Story Competition.
Monday, May 12, 2014

“The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison (Reviewed by Casey Blair & Mihir Wanchoo)


Order “The Goblin EmperorHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Casey): To be blunt, I adored this book.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (aka Sarah Monette) is a standalone fantasy novel. On the surface, it appears to have familiar fantasy tropes: goblins and elves, court intrigue, and so on. In practice, the author subverts the familiar so thoroughly and brilliantly it resembles nothing I’ve read before.

Because I am a total geek about story structure, what struck me right off is how in many ways Addison is flipping the archetypal hero’s journey on its head. Becoming emperor means Maia will never leave the city again: he is effectively trapped at court. He isn’t leaving home to go on a heroic quest and destroy his enemies; he’s learning to make a home, to build bridges, to create a space for power that is not dependent on physical might, to choose compassion with assurance in the most difficult of situations.

Archetypally speaking, that sort of journey tends to be associated with the feminine, and Addison plays with those parallels in very interesting ways. Memorably, Maia tells a female relative, “We were not considered worth educating, either.”

The court politics are Byzantine and fascinating. Addison develops all of Maia’s relationships (with family, friends, political opponents, priests…) fully, and one of the ways she complicates them is with Maia’s unexpected compassion. The author effectively avoids projecting our societal worldviews into her characters’: people in Maia’s world are absolutely scandalized that he would consider those beneath his dignity.

In terms of world-building, Addison went all the way where it comes to language, and there is definitely a learning curve. She has three different levels of diction depending on formality: I am one of those nit-picky readers who gets irritated by misuse of “thee”s and “thou”s, but she nails it. The naming structure is incredibly involved, and on one hand, the sounds and complexity of ranks and styles lends verisimilitude to the world. On the other, there are so many ways to refer to the same person that it took a long time before I felt sure I had the distinctions down. Her attention to language detail doesn’t merely extend to clever turns of phrase and idioms that flesh out the world; she plays with language and makes it work for her, and there are numerous offhand comments that hit like a punch in the gut.

Although the world feels very high fantasy-esque, I hesitate to call it “high,” since there’s very little magic in the book and the little that occurs is not really visible nor explained. If anything, steampunk fantasy is more accurate: there are airships in this world as well as advanced clock technology. The exact level of technology isn’t completely clear, but it didn’t concern me: I understood enough for the story to work, and that’s what matters.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is a very special kind of coming-of-age narrative. I almost wish it were intended as the first in a series so I could read more, but it is perfectly complete as-is.

OVERVIEW (Mihir): The Goblin Emperor is Sarah Monette’s pseudonymous effort and a book that has had a lot of praise going for it. It is a standalone novel (as of now) and is the story about Maia, the half-goblin son who is now catapulted to become the emperor of the Elflands as he’s the sole male member of the Drahz bloodline. The book begins with the readers being introduced to Maia as he’s taken aback by the news that the crown has now passed on to his head, due to a fatal accident.

Maia is soon forced to entangle him within the courts and the all the politicking that goes along with being an emperor. Here’s where the author really shines as she showcases how Maia, a simple person learns to become an emperor and how he strives to untie all the mystery and threats to his throne. The author has lovingly constructed this world and it shows with all the names and use of the English language. This aspect has put off some reviewers but I rather enjoyed it and it was a bit Tolkienesque in its approach and structure. So if you want to read a story that has a rather different take on elves, goblins and courtly intrigues without any dark touches then The Goblin Emperor is the book that you shouldn't miss.

There are a couple of things that also detracted from the read and firstly it’s the pace of the story, which unfortunately is on the slower side. The author takes her time to establish the world and her characters so some readers might not be willing to drudge through all of it. Also those looking for action and magical battles will not find it here, this story is far removed from the likes of R. A Salvatore or Paul Kemp. Not that it’s a bad thing but be forewarned those who might mistake elves and goblins and go in expecting something else.

This book is a different type of gem and those who enjoy story structure; impressive language usage as well as trope subversion will enjoy it much more than the general fantasy reader. As for me, it was a decent read that merits three and half stars and should the author ever return to this world, I’ll be willing to see what new tale she unleashes.

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