SPFBO4 Finalist Selection

For myself, Emma, and Timy, this was our first year as acting judges in SPFBO. Although we’ve followed the contest and read many of the entries in years past, we didn’t realize how challenging being a participant would be. The process of eliminating so many quality books was daunting. Our list of semi-finalists ballooned from six to eight, and there were still several books that we wanted to include that didn’t make the first cut (I’m looking at you, Dragonshade and Servant of Rage.)

Our semi-finalists ran the gamut of speculative fiction: urban fantasy, epic fantasy, grimdark, military fantasy, high and low fantasy, and a couple that laughed in the face of classification. We were lucky enough to draw books from both traditionally-published authors and self-published authors, and we were just as amazed by debut novels as much as those with predecessors. Some of our semi-finalists had hundreds of reviews, and others had just one or two. Regardless of the winner, we hope that our coverage has sparked interest for readers to seek out some of these lesser-known gems. And when you’re done, tell your friends! Write a quick review; a sentence or two will suffice. This contest is living proof that community word-of-mouth can help do a world of good, for writers and readers alike.

Thanks so much to Steve Rodgers, Josh Erikson, Scott Kaelen, Brian Anderson, Mitchell Hogan, Toby Bennett, Steve McKinnon, L. L. McNeil, and the rest of our thirty entrants for their tireless dedication to crafting these novels that we’re all lucky to have experienced. Thank you for getting your vision down on paper and sharing it with the world.

While we thought highly of all our semi-finalists, we agreed that there were two that were a cut above the rest. These two were Josh Erikson’s Hero Forged and Steve McKinnon’s Symphony of the Wind. Both were debut fantasy novels that did so many things well: they had rich, wonderful characters, exciting and unpredictable plot threads, and creative and immersive world-building. But one book had a certain “wow” factor that caught us all off-guard. It kept surprising us with how much it packed into one novel, and how well it was all executed. So, we at Fantasy Book Review would like to congratulate Steve McKinnon for his excellent, action-packed, and genre-defying novel Symphony of the Wind, our choice for the SPFBO4 Finals.

Symphony of the Wind
Our SPFBO4 Finalist!

My full review for Symphony of the Wind is forthcoming, but my elevator pitch would describe it as a “military post-steampunk fantasy with enough stirring action sequences to rival Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’ series. It deals with post-war PTSD, political propaganda and conspiracies, organized crime, celebrity culture, environmental threats, and a smattering of Greek mythology. It has characters you love who will die, and characters you hate that just won’t go away. And it’s funny as hell.” Emma Davis and Timy Takács have posted their reviews if you’d like to read more about it. Our official SPFBO score is 9/10.

We also loved Hero Forged and think it deserves a second chance in the contest. Therefore, we are pushing it forward as our Senlin Safety Net selection. This story, set in the infamous urban nightmare of… Nebraska…, is about finding and keeping your humanity amongst dimension-hopping demons that are trying to possess you. It features wonderful sexual chemistry between its two leads, and it’s also funny as hell. The tonal shifts in the story are handled brilliantly. This is the start of the Ethereal Earth series, and Erikson himself performs an excellent audiobook version. Read FBR’s reviews from Emma and myself, Timy’s review from RockStarLit Book Review, and check out what Esmerelda Weatherwax thought about the audiobook version on her blog.

Our ‘Senlin Safety Net’ selection

Congratulations and good luck, Josh!

Now I’m going to turn it over to Timy Takács and Emma Davis who will share some of their thoughts.

— Adam Weller

Back in the summer when I first checked out our group, I had an idea of which books would be favourites among us. Symphony of the Wind wasn’t one of them. Then Emma picked it out as a semi-finalist and I got intrigued, so jumped onto it. Probably because I had low expectations, but by the time I got to the halfway point, I was sold. The richness of the world, the many layers, the well-detailed characters were all jumping out to me. By the time I finished, I knew this is going to be our finalist. It totally blew my mind and even though I gave voice to some criticism in my review, I had no doubt Steven McKinnon has a great career before him. I’m really happy to see him succeed and I sincerely hope he’ll do well in the finals. 

Even though we are here to celebrate our finalist, I’d like to give a shout out to every one of the authors in our group! Especially our semi-finalists: Josh Erikson, L.L. McNeil, Mitchell Hogan, Brian Anderson, Scott Kaelen, Steve Rodgers and Toby Bennett. I especially enjoyed The Endless Ocean and Hero Forged which was a close runner up. Although I’m sad to see them go, I’m sure we will hear from them in the future! I would also like to thank every author I got to know through our correspondences and interviews. I really enjoyed being part of Fantasy Book Review’s team on the sidelines and I am looking forward to acting as a judge in the finals! Best of luck to everyone!

— Timy Takács

Boy, did I ever luck out. In a SPFBO group filled with memorable, imaginative, and accomplished writing, I got assigned both Hero Forged and our finalist: Symphony of the Wind. Each stood out in ways that simply demanded a place in the semi-finals.

In all honesty, I nearly put Symphony of the Wind aside. If I hadn’t been reading it for a competition, I might have. I don’t like airships. I don’t do steampunk/cyberpunk of any sort. I never used to read self-published fiction. I even said in my review that the book doesn’t start out as well as it might have. Now I’m thinking that might just have been my bad attitude…

So yeah, my narrow-minded self got a serious lesson this year. 

What I’ve learned beyond anything else during this SPFBO is that talent is everywhere and that I’ve been ignoring some of the best places to find it. Just because a book has a low number of Goodreads/Amazon reviews (Symphony had one before the competition I think) or doesn’t have a big-name publisher, doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. There are so many incredible people putting themselves and their work out there— give them a chance to wow you. Seriously. Some of these books aren’t just good, they’re truly bloody fantastic. Both Josh Erikson and Steve McKinnon went straight on my must-read list, as have several of the other authors I’ve discovered this year. And it’s been beyond thrilling to see other people in my group enjoying them as much as I did. 

Choosing was always going to be hard. In the end though, it had to be one.

And Symphony of the Wind is incredible. It smashes genre classifications. It’s funny and clever and so damn surprising. The world is a place you could fall into and never leave. Not literally because you’d probably die ridiculously quickly, but just because you don’t want to let these characters go. Take your eyes away for a minute and something dire will have happened, believe me. It’s a place with magic and tech and monsters, plots within plots, a whole wide world to explore. I have never read anything like it. I said in my original review that I flat out loved it and that feeling remains. I’m already looking forward to a reread. And don’t even talk to me about how excited I am for what comes next… So…

HUGE CONGRATULATIONS Steve McKinnon, your book is not only the winner of our group, it’s one of the best I’ve read this year. This is very clearly the start of something big.

— Emma Davis

Interview with Graham Austin-King

by Michael Gruneir

MG: At what point did you know you wanted to write full time?

GK: I think I’ve always wanted to write. When I was  younger it had that unrealistic feel to it though. A bit like wanting to be a movie star or and astronaut. Authors were special people. As it turns out we’re not that special. I started writing full-time when my kids were still home with me. Until they began school it made financial sense, things have just carried on from there.

MG: And you decided to self publish as well..was this a conscious choice from the beginning ?

GK: Not entirely. I finished my first book back in 2013. If I’m honest I sent it out to agents way before it was ready, which probably happens more often than you’d think. After a round of rejections it was obvious that the book needed more edits and I think it was around this time that I decided to self-publish. As it turned out the book was quite well received, enough to attract the attention of a small-press publisher anyway. Things didn’t work out there but I don’t have any regrets. the thing with self-publishing is that there is a momentum to it. I’d love to have a series out with a traditional publisher too, but to do so I’d have to neglect my s/p work, and if you publish something reasonably regularly then you may well be forgotten

MG: Your Fae series was a rather ambitious debut and it dealt with some very dark and mature themes, domestic abuse being one of them. What was your inspiration for the series, and did you have any concerns about how it would be received by Fantasy fans?

GK: Firstly, I don’t plot, at all. So an awful lot of the twists and turns in the book were as much as surprise to me as they were to anyone reading it. Things like the true nature of the ritual of the Wyrde, or the origin of mankind, just came off the cuff. So I didn’t really have the opportunity to worry about these themes as I didn’t know about them beforehand. I’d always wanted to play around with the notion of faeries and the fae, especially in a morally grey, self-interested, sense. I think most fantasy fans have moved beyond the epic pitting of good vs evil. Fantasy has evolved a lot in the last twenty years or so and I think a lot of readers are more interested in seeing characters they can relate to rather than paragons of virtue. We (and I include myself in this) want to see conflicted characters, people who fail, people who make bad decisions, or the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. Because of this I wasn’t worried about how the books would be received. I just worried I’d managed to pull it off as well as I hoped.

MG: Faithless was a huge critical success. Really a wonderful dark, claustrophobic nightmare of a novel. Did you know you had written something special once you hit publish? Did you expect such a response?

GK: I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect when you publish a book. I had done more rounds of editing than I usually do with this and had a HUGE crowd beta reading it. I knew the twists worked, but beyond that I had no idea it was going to get the response it did.

MG:What were some of your main influences specifically when in case to Faithless, and it’s subterranean world and the society that inhabited it?

GK: Back in the early 90s there was a computer game called Dungeon Master. It was when computer graphics were first starting to move beyond blocky blobs and the sound effects began to be more realistic. Dungeon Master was groundbreaking, the monsters roamed about on their own and would often hunt you down when you slept. That’s where the initial idea for Faithless came from. I had just finished the Riven Wyrde trilogy and felt a bit burnt out. Faithless was supposed to be a fun little novella, a literary dungeon hack. Somewhere along the line things got more complex.

MG: From out conversations in the past you mentioned that a sequel for Faithless was not always in the cards. What’s the status on that now?

GK: My latest book comes out on November 30th and the real work on the Faithless sequel will begin after that but it’s definitely happening.

MG: So tell us a bit about the new one..which by the way I’m really enjoying and I suspect will be massive.

GK: The Lore of Prometheus is a massive departure from my usual style. It’s set in this world, present day, and tells the story of John Carver, a British SRR (special forces) veteran who struggles with PTSD and a gambling addiction. During his time in Afghanistan his team was ambushed and captured. Whilst being interrogated, and watching his men being killed one by one, Carver manages to stop a bullet in mid-air, by force of will, or by magic – he has no idea.

MG: Yea it’s quite different, and incredibly fast paced I’ve been reading it any chance I’ve had to read and it’s pacing is fantastic. Do you have bigger plans for this as a series or are we looking at a Standalone?

GK: There might be a sequel, or possibly a serial.

MG: What’s your writing schedule like? And when you aren’t writing what takes up most of your time?

GK: I write every weekday. Writing, editing and marketing take up a full eight hour day really. I tend to write in sprints of thirty minutes or so, unless I can get into a good zone. I have a small horde of children that ravage the surrounding towns and villages. If I don’t keep them in check then people tend to complain. You only answer the door to an angry mob brandishing torches and pitchforks so many times before you get the hint.

MG: So between writing and domestic duties have you had any time to read anything and if so , any recommendations?

GK: The last book I read was written by one of my editors, Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Blood of Heirs is her debut novel, an epic fantasy with worldbuilding that has been heavily influenced by her native Australia. Easily the best debut I’ve read in years.

MG: It’s been on my TBR for a while. Heard great things. So aside from the fantastic book you have coming out , can you talk in a bit more detail about your next year of writing and when we can expect more from you..maybe a bit of a Faithless sequel teaser?

GK: I expect to have The Godless (working title) out in 2019. The book will see the return of Kharios and Leesha as the ramification of what Ossan has done begin to hit home. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into it, particularly the world-building which impacts on a number of books. Depending on how things go with The Godless I should also break ground on the first of the books in the Riven Wyrde Legacy. We’ll just have to see.

MG: How important is a great cover to you? I notice you’ve worked with Pen Astridge who I am a huge fan of.

GK: A cover can be hugely important. I’ve been self-publishing for almost five years now and it’s something that simply can’t be under-stated – find talented professional and hire them. Editors, proofreaders, formatters, and cover artists. It’s a very rare person that can write and also do any of these things, and in my experience 9 times out of 10 any expenditure will be paid back in short order.

MG: And on that note, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

GK: Slow down. I’ve made most of the mistakes it’s possible to make when writing. Most of them have been caused by impatience or a perceived need to get things finished. Just about every book will be improved by tossing it into a drawer for a couple of months while you work on something else, and then returning to it with fresh eyes.

Interview with James Jakins

By Michael Gruneir

James Jakins is a self published author of both Urban and Epic Fantasy. His debut novel Jack Bloodfist: Fixer was a SPFBO 2017 top 10 finalist. He recently released his third novel Knights of the Dead God, and he has a massive year ahead of him. I recently talked to James about his ambitious plans for 2019.

MG:Hey man so how’s NaNoWriMo treating you? You getting out at all or just sequestered somewhere on a keyboard?

JJ:NaNo is going great. I’m cheating a little by working on a 20k word novella instead of the 50k words the event usually encourages. So it hasn’t been as much of a marathon.

MG:Yea because when you have Jack Bloodfist in your corner you can break the rules on these things right?

JJ:Yeah. Jack said it was okay. I don’t actually think he has that sort of authority, but he’s a big guy so people tend to let him get away with it.

MG: I want to write a novel man. I have this concept with seals and a Walrus and maybe beer…think that would fly with them?

JJ:I feel like beer and walruses-walrusi?-are a natural fit. They just got the look of someone that loves beer too much. Also, as anyone that’s read Fixer will tell you, seals make everything better. Just make sure the seals don’t turn into attractive redheads and I won’t accuse you of stealing the plot of Jack Bloodfist 3.

Seriously, though. Write a novel.

MG:Speaking of classic books, Congrats on Knights of the Dead God, it’s just brilliant. Talk a bit about it and how it falls in to the world of Jack Bloodfist

JJ:Thanks! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Knights fits into the World of Jack Bloodfist primarily through the two main characters. Both Arthur and Miki are introduced in Jack Bloodfist: Fixer. There’s also the world they find themselves in during that opening scene of Knights. In Fixer, Jack learns the story of where his family came from and how they ended up in Virginia. In Knights, Miki and Arthur are transported back to the orcs homeworld. So, while both books take place in very different settings, one that of an Urban Fantasy world, and the other one you’re more likely to find sitting around a table rolling dice, they both exist in the same, I think the best word would be: multiverse.

MG: Cool…I love when everything just connects somehow. I notice one of your Characters Jackson Smith seems to appear just about everywhere.

JJ:Ah, Mr. Smith. Yeah, Jackson has appeared in one form or another in almost every story I’ve written. He was originally intended as an easter egg that was really just for me. As a kid whenever I read books I had a game I played where I figured out which of the less important characters I could have replaced. Someone inconsequential enough that I couldn’t break the story, but still got to do something cool. Then, as I got older I learned of the phrase “Deus ex Machina” and that was when Jackson was born. He’s that character. Someone from outside the story who’s stepped into a minor role with his goal being to nudge the story in the right direction. He really was never intended to be as big a character as he ended up being, but while writing Fixer I knew I needed a wizard character and instead of coming up with one whole cloth I thought it would be fun to slot Jackson into that role. Then he got away from me a little and now he’s actually a pretty big player in that story.

MG:Yea he’s a total badass. That’s always a fun thing in your books like in Son of Thunder, They ride vehicles called O.R.Cs.

JJ: I love orcs, man. After Fixer I felt bad not having any orcs in Son of Thunder, so I got the word in there at least.

MG: Speaking of Orcs, I’m sure the drunk pink elephant in the room of SPFBO followers and fans of hilarious Urban Fantasy is wondering what’s going on with Jack. It seems like it’s been a while since he’s made an appearance. What’s up with that and when will he be back?

JJ: Good news, Everybody! I’m currently working on the second book(Titled Jack Bloodfist: Freelancer) and it is coming along very well. Took a little break from that for my NaNoWriMo project, but Jack is priority number one. The current plan is for an early 2019 release. Aiming for April. I got a neat little synopsis if you want to see it?

MG: I know a lot about it but I’m sure others will.

JJ: Yeah, cause you’ve got that sneak peek. Here’s the blurb as it exists now: “Jack Bloodfist is an orc that has been known to fix things. Now he’s working for anyone willing to sign a check.

When he’s not handling security for a werewolf pack’s monthly meeting he’s helping a dwarf find a stolen magic spear.

But sometimes a thief isn’t really a thief. Sometimes they’re a preacher’s wife who also happens to be a powerful necromancer with even more powerful friends: Rogue demons, extra-planar monsters, and the obligatory zombies.

From small Southern towns, to an elf king’s court, to the rooftops of New York City, Jack’s gonna have to call in every favor he has if he wants to make it out the other end in one piece.”

MG: That sounds like all kinds of chaotic goodness. It’s Jack turned up to 11! Love it! And from what I’ve seen and read this will be one of the big ones to look out for. Got any plans for the release?

JJ: I will finally sleep…

No, I’ve got some stuff planned. Biggest, and for me the coolest part, of every book is getting that awesome cover ready. For Freelancer I’ve got the amazing Pen Astridge working on this one.

MG: Awesome! I love her work. That’s massive. How did that come about?

JJ: Well, bit of an insider tip here. The secret to getting a professional to do work for you is to reach out and agree to pay them. For Freelancer, I’ve been debating doing a bit of a rebranding of the Jack Bloodfist books. I still love the cover for the first book but I’ve had a number of people express that they’re not big fans of it. The truth is that people judge a book by its cover, so I want to make sure they see something that their judgement deems worthy.

MG: I have no doubt that Pen’s covers will bring even more hype to the sequel. Sounds top class. So how many books do you have planned for Jack? And what else do you have in the works?

JJ: So, after Freelancer I have three more Jack books planned out. Two more in the series proper and then a stand-alone. I definitely plan on coming back to the world and characters often, that’s just all the Jack stories I have in my never-ending list of ideas at the moment. Other than Jack my biggest project at the moment is my new series, of which Knights of the Dead God is the first. I’m calling the series “Broken Redemption” and have a total of 7 books planned. After Freelancer I’m actually planning on just focusing on those for a while. I try really hard to make sure every book I release works as a stand alone with no cliffhangers, so I really hope that fans of either of my other series are okay with a little bit of a wait, again…I feel like I should also mention my Thunder’s War series. I’ve started the second book, Lightning’s Price, but it’s on hold at the moment. It’s definitely going to happen, but it’s been harder to write than I’d expected. Not because I don’t think I can, but for completely personal reasons. One of the main characters in the book is based on one of my best friends who committed suicide in 2017 and there are days where writing that character hurts a little too much, especially because that book puts the character through the ringer. So it’s definitely coming, I just ask that everybody be patient with me. But trust me when I promise that when it does come? It’s gonna be amazing.

MG: So I’m assuming it will require little sleep and a lot of coffee to handle this. 7 books? That’s immense! Do you know where you’re going with all this already ?

JJ: I do. I have every single one of the books plotted. Some more than others, but every single one has the bones in place and just needs the squishy bits layered on top. It’s going to be 7 books, each one just a little different from the others, all leading up to what I hope everyone agrees is an epic finale. And, yeah, definitely a lot of nights with less sleep than is probably healthy.

MG: Well take care of yourself my friend. If there’s ever been a time I wish I had a Delorean it’s right now. I can’t wait to read all of this . Consequently I’m very sorry to hear about your friend. I think you had mentioned something about an anthology dedicated to him in a past interview

JJ: Yeah. Man, how could I forget to bring that up? Myself and a few other writer friends put together an anthology that’s going to be benefiting suicide awareness and prevention. We have a seriously amazing group of writers who contributed. The Anthology is genre-less, meaning we have stories ranging from literary fiction to horror to bizarro to fantasy. It’s called “Where There Are Dragons” and all the stories at least have the word “Dragon” in them. There are some amazing stories in there and I think there’s going to be at least one story for every type of reader. That’s going to be releasing in February of 2019. I’m hopefully going to have an “official” announcement of some kind at some point.

MG: Busy year! That’s also an amazing cause. I hope you do well with it. What about some recommendations if you’ve actually had any time to read. What’s good?

JJ: I primarily do audio books these days because that lets me listen while I do the other stuff I have to do to not die. I have listened to a few good ones lately. Let’s see… Just the other day I finished Dyrk Ashton’s “Paternus,” and loved it. Sat on it for too long. I thoroughly enjoyed RJ Barker’s “Age of Assassins,” CT Phipps’ “Straight Outta Fangton.” If you’re in the mood for something weird and potentially disgusting, my good friend Austin James has a short story collection coming out next month called “Indistinct Conversations.” I don’t want it to go to his head, but dude’s good. I’ve actually been pretty lucky lately. Haven’t really picked up any books this year that I haven’t actually enjoyed to some degree.

Oh! And, if anyone’s looking for recommendations, the finalist announcements for this year’s SPFBO are starting to come in. You know I’m going to be watching that score board.

MG: Awesome! I particularly dug Fangton and Paternus as well. A couple of  last things before we wrap up, hows the podcast tour working out?

JJ: Having a lot of fun with it. I talked with Dani and Greg from Book Geeks Uncompromised last night and got to nerd out about DnD, so I call that a win. I also always enjoy talking about my books and writing in general, so I hope at least a few other people get something out of it.

MG: Totally. I’ve enjoyed listening. Well thanks for taking the time dude, but lastly, the good word is that you’ve created a new character for Freelancer that’s like Boba Fett but 5 times more badass. Any truth to that?

JJ: Well, some(one) readers are calling him that. But yes, there is a character introduced in Freelancer that many(you) are going to love. Michael Gunn is his name. No idea where I got that inspiration from… He’s basically just another excuse for me to write a bard into a story and that’s always a good thing.

MG: Well I for one can’t wait to read about him. I’m sure his spinoff series will be a crowning achievement. Thanks man, always a pleasure and super stoked to read it all.

JJ: Thank you! Appreciate the excuse to talk about my stuff. Hope it delivers!

Interview with Richard Nell, and read the first two chapters of KINGS OF ASH

Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to ‘write full-time’. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes sure he eats.

His debut novel Kings of Paradise is an epic, coming-of-age, low-fantasy novel, and the first of a three-part series. Book two, Kings of Ash, is set to release on January 17th, 2019. You can preorder it here, and read the first two chapters here.

So, Richard, tell us a little about how the Ash and Sand series came together. Have Ruka, Kale and Dala been banging around in your head for a while, or were they inspired by something in recent years?

Whew. Couldn’t have started with ‘what’s your favorite color’, or something, eh? Ash and Sand really started as the idea of two clashing cultures and people, one rich and geographically blessed, the other…not so much. I wanted to explore lots of themes about civilization, nature and culture and was really prepared to go anywhere the story took me. But pretty quickly I became obsessed with the characters. Ruka in particular haunts me still. I hear him when I jog, when I listen to music, when I read the news. He reminds me his story isn’t finished, and is kind of a pain in the ass.

There are quite a few cultures that this series explores, and a reoccurring theme is showing how these different cultures treat their criminals and prisoners. What real-life societies have inspired the creation of these cultures and the treatment of their citizens?

I love world history, so you can be sure almost everything is inspired by something real. The ‘Ascomi’ are a mix and mash of ancient Danes, Horse-tribes like the Scythians or Mongols, and a matriarchal people called the Miningkabau. The Pyu are a more straight-forward blend of polynesians and South-East Asians. As far as criminals and prisoners… I’m very interested in how different cultures handle the dispossessed, outcasts, rejects and rebels, which are almost inevitably single men. Even forgetting any discussion of morality, these men can be extremely dangerous to a society’s health, particularly if they grow too numerous, for all kinds of reasons. I think it’s a theme that remains very relevant.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you plan all the major plot points in advance, or let them grow organically? Has this process evolved over your writing career?

Basically a bit of both, but I prefer to plan. I have a theme or two, a question or two I want to explore, then I do a lot of world-building until I get a very good sense of the setting and can start dropping characters in my sandbox. I always have long-term objectives/plot points, but how I get there is really up to the characters, and how they develop is very open to change. If I get stuck, the answer is almost always ‘do some more world-building until this situation has a better framework’. But I’m quite careful about not ‘writing myself into a corner’.

Kings of Paradise has been growing in popularity since its launch, through word-of-mouth and lots of positive reviews. What takeaways have you learned since its release? Has it changed the way you’ve approaching writing or marketing, now that book two is set to drop?

If I knew just how much work this indie madness was before I started, I may never have tried. Building that word-of-mouth and the reviews is truly a sisyphean task, particularly in the beginning. Success builds on success, however, so once you’ve got good reviews or won an award or anything to help you stick out from the rabble, things get easier. Not easy, but easier. I have a lot more leverage these days and that takes a little pressure off, though I am still a very small fish. At least for book 2 there’s more than 0 people waiting for it. That helps a lot, too.

A lot of people were surprised that Kings of Paradise was eliminated in the first round of the SPFBO tournament. I had you picked for a finalist, if not the outright winner. Even so, have you gained any positive insights from being a part of the contest?

My favorite poem is ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, and amongst the many lines of good advice is a true gem: ‘meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same’. What he means is don’t rely on or worry very much about luck, good or bad. In an art contest with 300 participants and 10 judges, we are not talking about a 100 meter sprint with a clear winner. There’s lots of subjectivity, lots of personal taste. You win some, you lose some. Keep working, keep improving. I actually wrote a blog post about it. On Failure.

You’ve released a couple of flintlock novellas that take place in a separate universe than the Ash and Sand series. Do you have plans to write any more stories in this universe? Can you talk about any other projects you’re working on?

Yes! There’s a complex world of demons and gunpowder percolating, centered on a possessed immortal (but dying) god-king. This will likely result in 2-3 books, as well as leaving room for other novellas. But first, of course, I need to finish the Ash and Sand trilogy, with the final book (tentatively titled Kings of Heaven) likely arriving 2020. After that, all bets are off.

Why are you still answering these questions instead of working on book three?

You promised if I did I wouldn’t get the hose again?

PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASK – uhh, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for your time, Richard.



Read an excerpt from Graham Austin-King’s “THE LORE OF PROMETHEUS”

John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit. 

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.


Mackenzie sucked hard on the water tube, swilling it around in her mouth before she swallowed. The grainy paste clung to the inside of her mouth, sticking to the back of her teeth. She might have to eat the stuff to stay alive but, dear God, it would take a lot longer for her to actually enjoy it.

She’d lasted almost two days before she gave in and swallowed it down. For most of that time, she’d been too nauseous to feel hungry anyway. Eating had cleared away the last remnants of whatever drug she’d been fed, and the water had done the rest.

She figured she’d been in the room for about four days, but it was hard to tell with no windows to give her any reference. The lights came on right before she was blasted with water. She suspected they were on some sort of daily timer. It was impossible to know for sure, though. It could have been every eight hours for all she knew.

Sometime between the first water blast and the second, she’d given up screaming and started listening. Anyone within ear shot would have answered already if they were going to. Listening though; that had told her something new entirely.

The faint whine of electronics was just about audible through the walls, though she had to hold her breath to hear it. Once, she thought she caught the sound of footsteps, but the most important sounds didn’t come until the second day: the faint sounds of shouting.

The shouts were like hers to begin with, the words indistinct, but the tone was clear. Whoever it was passed back and forth between outrage and fear, alternating between screams of fury then, later, a quieter begging.

She’d shouted back until her throat burned, not realising the futility of it at first. She’d only heard them when she was holding her breath and utterly silent, and even then, she’d just caught the barest hint of their shouts. Whoever it was had no chance of hearing her unless they were as silent as she was. She needed them to adjust to their situation. To accept where they were for the time being. To stop yelling and start listening.

The voice, when it came, was soft—almost tentative, and from a completely different direction.

“Are you real?” it asked.

“Yes!” she shouted her answer, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. “Yes, I’m real. I’m here.”

There was no answer.

She fell silent, concentrating on not making any sound that might drown the voice out. It had been louder than the distant shouting, loud enough that it could have been from the next room. Maybe it was.

Her patience ran out. “Are you there?”

No answer.



“Hey, arsehole. Answer me!”

“I thought I was dreaming again.”

Was it a man’s voice? It was hard to tell through the thickness of the walls. He, if it was a he, sounded either delirious or stoned, or maybe he’d just lost his grip on reality. Any of these were equally plausible in a place like this. She was barely keeping it together as it was.

“What’s your name?” she asked carefully, keeping her tone soft and level, as if speaking to a spooked horse.

There was a long pause before he answered. As if he had to wrack his brain for the answer.

“Armond. My name is Armond.”

French then. Or maybe German? It didn’t really matter. “I’m Mackenzie. Do you know where we are?”

He laughed then, the sound high and hysterical as it came through the concrete. “We’re in hell, Mackenzie. Hell on Earth.”

Probably better to just ignore that one, she decided. “Are we still in Kabul?”

“Where? No, but this room is dark most of the day, Mackenzie. I have no windows. I have no idea where we are.”

“Were you in Kabul, too?”

“Afghanistan? No. No, I was in Syria. In Damascus.”

Damascus? Syria was the other side of Iraq. It was thousands of miles away from Kabul. Where the hell was she?

He had a tone to his voice, an edge, like he was broken. It didn’t matter, it was enough that there was someone to talk to. Enough that she wasn’t alone. They spoke tentatively; like young lovers touching for the first time, each both excited and afraid of the other, but unable to stop themselves.

He’d been in Syria, with Oxfam, when he was taken; an administrator for one of their regional projects.

“How long were you there?” she asked.

“Eight months,” he replied, before his voice drifted into silence. “Before. You know, before this.”

“What did you do before that?”

“Iraq. Medecin sans Frontières for a couple of years. I don’t like going home so much these days. This job gets to you, and everyone at home just seems so blind to what they have.”

She nodded, despite the fact nobody could see her. He was right. The last time she’d gone home to Brisbane for Christmas it had been almost painful. The food left on the table was more than the street children in Kabul saw in a month.

Talking to Armond was hard work. He tended to fall silent for long periods, ignoring her when she called him, and she wondered if he was passing out. Or maybe he was being fed drugs. It wasn’t just that though. He was maddeningly guarded and refused to answer many of her questions about himself or what had happened to him.

It was another two days before she thought to ask the most obvious questions. “How long have you been here, Armond? Have you seen anyone?”

He’d fallen silent again and she forced herself to count to two hundred before she called out again. He was damaged, that much was obvious from his voice. Yelling at him would only make things worse.

“They still come for me sometimes,” he said, when she’d just about given up on getting an answer. “Not so much as they used to. Sometimes I think they forget I’m here.”

“What do they want?”

He laughed; a bitter, splintered sound that barely made it through the wall. “They want miracles, Mackenzie.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, but Armond had fallen silent again.


By the end of what she thought was the first week, she was fatigued and listless. She blamed the diet. The gruel was enough to keep her alive, but it likely lacked a lot of essential nutrients. She slept often, though how much of that was down to boredom was anyone’s guess.

Armond hadn’t spoken to her in days and in her weaker moments she wondered if he was still alive. She’d wondered more than once if he’d ever really been there in the first place. She marked the passing of time by the lights. Each time the spotlights blazed on, it was the beginning of another day. By her reckoning, she’d been in this prison for nine days.

The door was built into the glass wall, fitted so closely that it was invisible in the shadows that wreathed that end of the room. She gaped at it as it opened, an impossible thing that made her bolt up against the restraints. The figures that emerged were dressed in white medical garb. A man and a woman. They did not look at her, busying themselves with erecting a small stand a few meters from her. It was some manner of clamp, designed to hold something in place.

For the briefest moment she was bothered by her nakedness, a fleeting hangover from when she’d had a normal life.

“Hey!” she managed, her voice croaking. “Let me out. Please?”

The man glanced at her once. A plain, Middle Eastern man who could have come from anywhere. His eyes flickered over her bound form and then he turned back to the clamp, setting a large candle into it and lighting it before heading for the door.

“Let me go!” she screamed after him.

The door gave a pneumatic hiss, slid shut, and thunked back into place.

“Mackenzie?” A voice broke into the room through unseen speakers. “You are well?”

The question called for an answer, but it brought with it a realisation. They could hear her. The room must have a microphone in it somewhere. The thought that they had been able to hear her screaming for days on end, and just ignored it, passed quickly, smothered by the knowledge that they had probably heard every word she had shared with Armond. Somehow that was worse, and a spark of rage ignited in her chest.

“I’m tied up, you sick fuck! How the fuck do you think I’m doing?”

“Tell me about the fire, Mackenzie.”

“What?” She frowned at the glass wall across the room. “What fire?”

“You were nine years old, I believe?”

She stiffened against the frame, biting down the gorge that rose in her throat. “Fuck you.”

The voice ignored her, continuing in a calm voice. “The fire burned out your apartment complex in Brisbane. It completely destroyed everything above the third floor. What floor were you on, Mackenzie?”

“Go to hell!” She’d worked long and hard to bury that memory. It was why she’d left home in the first place. Tears pooled in her eyes despite herself, and she swore she’d cut the bastard if she ever got out of these restraints.

“But your apartment was different, wasn’t it? In the living room was a clear area. A circle untouched by the heat and the flames. That is where they found you, isn’t it, Mackenzie? But it was only you, wasn’t it? Your mother and father were killed, even your sister, died in those flames. How long did you spend in care homes, Mackenzie? How long was it before you were finally adopted? Was it until every child worth having had already gone?”

She bit down on her shaking lip, tasting blood. She’d be damned if she would answer him. The story had spread throughout the local news. It had followed her through counselling and into foster care, and then to two different schools when the bullying and name-calling had driven her out. They’d called her a freak. They’d thrown lit matches at her, and set her hair on fire, laughing as they told her to put them out.

“I believe it was you who held back those flames, Mackenzie.” The voice was relentless, droning on despite her tears and clenched fists.

“What do you want from me?” she grated from between clenched teeth. Maybe if she offered them something, they would leave her alone.

“Show me how you did it. Put out the candle.”


“Put out the candle, Mackenzie.”

She stared blankly at the glass. What was this? “How? I can’t reach it, you idiot.”

The voice turned hard. “Do not play with me, Mackenzie. Put out the candle and you will be treated well.”

The threat hung in the air, unspoken, but she heard it anyway.

She tried blowing, though she was easily three meters away from it. The best she managed was to make it flicker.

“I can’t,” she said, sagging back against the frame.

“Put out the candle, Mackenzie. Don’t blow it. Put it out.”

“I don’t know how,” she admitted.

“You do. You have tamed fire before. Put out the candle.”

She was going to die. The knowledge came slowly, creeping in like fog over a field. They wanted the impossible from her. Armond was right. They wanted miracles, and she had nothing to give them.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she called out again, pleading and hating herself for the weakness in her voice. “I don’t even know if it was me.”

“Put out the candle.”

The voice nagged and demanded for what felt like hours, repeating the order as the candle burned down, and wax dripped onto the floor. Eventually it fell silent, ignoring her protests as they turned to begging pleas.

She remembered so little of it. She’d been so young and what she could recall had a vague, dream-like quality to it. Sensations were all she could really remember.

The heat on her skin, and the roar of the flames in her ears.

She remembered the fear, so strong that it overrode everything else as she’d curled into a ball and pressed her eyes to her knees. Beyond that, it was just memories of the aftermath. The feel of the fireman’s jacket as she was carried out; rough and yet smooth on the hi-vis stripes. The smell of the smoke, and the way everyone looked at her—wonder mingling with a sympathy so sharp it cut into her.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t know…”

She let her voice trail off. They weren’t listening. They were going to kill her. It might take months, but eventually, when they grew tired of her failure, they would kill her. She let the thought grow, the certainty growing with it, until it overwhelmed her and the tears began again.

“Give them what they want.”

She looked up, tossing her head to throw her dark hair back from her face. “Armond?”

“It’s better to just give them what they want, Mackenzie,” he repeated. He sounded calmer than usual, more lucid.

“I can’t,” she said. “They want a miracle and I didn’t bring any with me.”

She snorted a laugh then, tears still fresh on her face. It started as a giggle and built until she couldn’t stop even if she’d wanted to. She laughed until her stomach hurt and it left her gasping. She’d been drugged and abducted, chained up in this room by mad men, and told to perform wonders or die. The whole situation was so absurd that it seemed like there was nothing else to do but laugh.

The Lore of Prometheus will be released on November 30th, 2018. You can preorder it now.

Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells. A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.

He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.

After meandering across both England and Canada he settled once again in the north of England  surrounded by a seemingly endless horde of children and a very patient wife who can arguably say her husband is away with the faeries.

The Lore of Prometheus is his fifth novel and draws on a foundation of literary influences ranging from David Eddings to Dean Koontz.

Connect with Graham:

Preorder link: mybook.to/TheLoreofPrometheus

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/graham.austin.507

Twitter: @Grayaustin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41943371-the-lore-of-prometheus

Making the Change (An Indie’s Transition into the Traditional World)


So you’ve written a few books, had them edited, paid for a cool cover, learned how to market, and as a result, had a great deal of success selling them online. You’ve even quit your day job. Maybe bought a house or a car…or both. Life’s coming up roses. You’ve achieved something special. Something spectacular. You are a professional novelist! Moreover, you’re an experienced indie, well qualified to pass on your wisdom to the never-ending river of up-and-comers dreaming of emulating your accomplishments.

That’s more or less how I felt a few months ago. For seven years, I have enjoyed a degree of professional success in indie fantasy. Not to say I was at the top of the heap. But I sure wasn’t at the bottom. I had an agent, had made a few significant audiobook deals, and been nominated for an award or two. But that’s where it stopped. I’d reached the limit of where I could go on my own. If I wanted to continue up the ladder, I had to find a way to break into traditional publishing.

My agent had submitted several times to the Big Five, without success. I was perfectly satisfied with my achievements as an indie, but the game was changing, and I was rapidly facing the possibility of fading away into obscurity. New indie talent was emerging, and they were hungry, energetic, and motivated. I’d been working at a feverish pace for seven years, and I’m not ashamed to say I was running low on steam. This new class of indies half my age could produce at a rate I simply could not keep up with. And their facility with social networking made me a horse and carriage to their self-driven car.

I decided that perhaps it was time to try something new with my stories, so I wrote The Vale, which is based on the tropes, plotting, and pace of RPG’s like Final Fantasy and Tales Of. I was aware of GameLit and LitRPG, but this was different in the sense that it read like a novelization of a game – no stats, no being sucked into the game world, no other criteria placed on the genre by its fans. I landed a substantial audio deal for the series, which basically crushed my chances to sell it to the Big Five. Still, my agent thought it was worth a shot.

As expected, they weren’t interested. However, an editor over at Tor (Macmillan) read it and liked it very much. And while unable to make an offer, asked that they be given first look at my next project. That alone sent me over the moon. By the way, I saw the lunar lander while I was up there. Take that, conspiracy theorists! I had a mountain of work to do, but I didn’t want to waste the opportunity. I had a new series in the beginning stages saved in a file, so I banged out the first few chapters along with a synopsis. Tor took a quick look and replied by saying that the complexity of the world was too much to make a decision without a complete manuscript.

So, defeated, I went back to my indie work and plodded on, forgetting all about Tor, the book, and transitioning to traditional publishing. Yeah, right! This is Tor we’re talking about. As a kid, most of the books I read came from Ballentine, Del Rey, or Tor. Becoming a Tor author would be the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy. So I shoved everything else aside and worked like my life depended on it.

After about eight weeks, The Bard’s Blade was finished. BEA (BookExpo America) was about a month away, and my agent contacted Tor, offering an exclusive look before shopping it to other publishers while she was in New York. Now, here’s where it gets weird…in a good way.

For anyone who has been through the submission process, you know how mind-numbingly, soul-suckingly, nail-bitingly long an ordeal it is. Aspiring writers can spend years finding an agent just to spend years more submitting to publishers. Tor seemed excited to read it and told us that they would have an answer ahead of the convention. While I wanted to believe this, I fully expected to hear back from them saying they couldn’t make a decision within the allotted time frame. I had mentally prepared for this likelihood so as not to drive myself nuts checking my inbox every five minutes.

Not only to my disbelief but to that of every traditionally published writer I know, this isn’t what happened. Tor received the manuscript on a Friday; on Monday they emailed my agent, stating they were interested and intended to make an offer. That alone had me grinning from ear to ear. I had three numbers in mind. What I would take; what I wanted; and the imaginary number that would not happen. There was, of course, the chance they would come back with a lowball figure that I would be forced to reject. That was the nightmare scenario. To turn down an offer from Tor would haunt me for the rest of my life.

But my astonishment increased when Wednesday arrived and my agent received a deal memo. It was to the dollar what I wanted. Sure, there was some tweaking pertaining to rights, but overall, I could not have expected better. It took a full day for me to absorb what had happened.

Once the contracts were signed, it was time for me to come to the realization that experienced as I was in the indie world, I had a lot to learn about working on a Big Five publication. To her credit as both a person and a professional, Lindsey Hall, Senior Editor at Tor, was understanding, and she bent over backwards to help me acclimate to new procedures and expectations. She was always available to talk and responded to my questions, no matter how silly.

After seven years of indie work, I’d ironed out a method of production that worked well for me. There is the first draft, of course, where I give little consideration to prose. This is for getting down the plot and fleshing out the characters. The second draft smooths out some of the rough edges. Then, depending on deadline constraints, one of two things happens. One: If pressed for time, the manuscript goes to my editor, with whom I’ve been working for five years. He knows my style intimately and can make additions and adjustment so close to the way I would write I can’t even pick them out. Or two: A third pass where I give it polish and pay close attention to detail. From there, I send it to my first editor.

Once I have it back, I give it a read through, then send it to my copy/line editor and proofreader. She’s fast, and has it back to me in a few days or a week at most. After another final read, I format it and then upload the manuscript to the online platforms.

During this period, I’m working with cover artists and interior designers for the paperback edition. I’m also busy on my social networking sites, getting the word out and prepping fans for the release. The details are many, and would take a book unto itself to explain. But from writing the first page to publication, I can produce a full length 100,000 word novel in roughly 4-5 months.

On the traditional front, though, things move at a different pace. The Bard’s Blade is not slated for release until January 2020. So the first thing I had to learn was patience. An indie making the transition must understand that this is not just a business – it’s a BIG business, with entire departments dedicated to aspects of publishing that an indie manages alone. Where I was the shot caller, now there were committees. Where I could make a choice and then act on it instantly, now even the discussions about making the decisions were scheduled months in advance. But this was not what had me screaming at my computer.

Switching to traditional publishing meant I was giving up the total dominion I’ve enjoyed over the content of my work. I was not the only one invested in the story and concerned about how it would be received by fans. There are good reasons editors pick some books and pass on others. They are there to pick winners. The books with which they are associated are closely watched by their superiors and the industry at large. How long will an editor keep their job after too many flops? In other words, my success is in a real way tied to my editor’s.

Knowing this did not make it any easier when I received the first round of revisions. Holy moly! I sat at my desk in a stupor for…I’m not sure how long. From my perspective, the entire book needed to be rewritten. Whole chapters – gone. New chapters needed.

But in the end, I set aside my ego and made the changes. And that’s really what it takes. When you make a success out of any endeavor, like I had with indie publishing, you begin to think you possess insights that you do not. You’re surrounded by people looking to you for answers on how they too can sell thousands of books and quit their day job. It makes you feel important; wise. Your association with other authors and the conversations you have can trick you into thinking it’s given you even greater perspective. But until you have experienced the pride-killing blow of being wrong about your own work; yelled at the comment box only to lose the imaginary argument; then looked at the end result and grudgingly admitted how much better it turned out, you really can’t know what it’s like.

That’s not to say my skill sets learned as an indie were wasted. I work fast as a necessity. When given a month, I’d only need a few days. When plot issues arose, I was three steps ahead with solutions. And it wasn’t as if Lindsey took over the book and changed what it was about. It felt a bit like that in the beginning, granted, but that was just a visceral reaction, like when an only child has to share a toy for the first time with a new sibling. I was still the one creating the plot points, shaping the characters, building the world. But now I had someone helping me stay on track who could see what I was too close to notice.

I’m still putting out indie books, and will be for some time. Tor, surprisingly, has encouraged this. But I intend to slow my pace considerably. Three novels a year for seven years has taken a toll. Now, thanks to Tor, I’m carrying more tools in the bag, and it’s making it easier for me to move forward. There’s still so much to learn; curtains to be pulled back.

And for the first time in a while, I’m eager to find out what’s next.





Brian’s Blog

“The Succeedinator”

written by Dark

It is a central principle of Buddhism that the source of suffering is desire, and the ultimate way to achieve enlightenment is to rid oneself of desires. Since most characters we meet in fiction however are not highly advanced Buddhist adepts, it is central to any story with a character, that the character has one or more goals or desires, and that a major part of that journey will involve trying to achieve those goals or fulfil those desires.

Also not being Buddhist adepts, it is equally true that characters will suffer in pursuit of those goals, particularly because in fiction at least, suffering literally builds character, especially suffering in pursuit of their goals or because they cannot fulfil their desires.

It doesn’t matter what the actual goals are, avoid death by monster, defeat the evil empire, find love or hell just survive, it is the pursuit of those goals that gives characters their motivations and makes them interesting, especially in that most important aspect of a story, character development, I.E taking a character from one place at the beginning of a story to another place at the end. Of course, this isn’t to say characters automatically should achieve all their desires in every story, indeed the better stories are those where characters are complex and have various desires, some of which they may achieve, some of which they may have to give up, some of which might be not the thing they desired at all.

After all, its far more interesting to read a story about a young man who is not the legitimate heir to a throne, who struggles to find a place for himself, who loves a young woman but fears court politics might be a danger to her so is forced to leave her, and who practices a forbidden form of mind magic in addition to learning assassin skills, than simply a story about a handsome prince who just wants to marry a beautiful girl, indeed complexity of desires is often the hallmark of both a good author, and a story intended for an older audience.

Just having desires isn’t enough though, your character must do something to fulfil them throughout the story, and this is unfortunately one area where many characters get stuck.

Fairness is a fundamental human principle, if a person is going to get something good, we generally want them to have to work to get it, people who get good things without having to work are people who get on our nerves, we call them spoiled, and lazy, and thieving, and bankers and international business tycoon’s and lots of other derogatory things.

In stories the principle is the same. If our character has a desire which is to be achieved (or not; depending upon the cruelty of the author), then we want them to work to have to achieve it, indeed often the amount of work or suffering a character goes through in their desire is directly proportional to the vicarious satisfaction we as readers get through seeing them achieve it, I doubt anyone would’ve been so thrilled at Indiana Jones exploits if he sat down at his computer and bought the holy grail off eBay.

Suffering can of course take many forms. A person might do the right thing despite a strong desire not to, a person might have to undergo great danger, a person might have to endure actual physical harm, or a person might have to give up something else they desire in order to achieve their goal. All of these forms of suffering can make for wonderfully tense story sequences which both increase the value of the desire, and increase our empathy for the character trying to attain that desire despite their suffering.

Sadly, there is one type of character who sometimes crops up in fiction who ignores all these rules, that is the succeedinator. A succeedinator is any character who automatically attains their desires too easily without the requisite amount of suffering, a succeedinator is in effect a spoiled brat of a character with the author as their overindulgent parent giving them whatever they want. The most perfect example of the succeedinator was Richy rich from the old cartoon series. Any problem? Money, and where money failed there was always the gadget of the week, or (just to be different), sometimes he’d use the money to buy the gadget of the weak instead.

Of course, succeedinators rarely crop up in stories where they simply sit around and are given success, usually the author attempts to include some degree of suffering or danger the succeedinator has to undergo. The problem however, and what turns a character from someone who is merely successful into a full blown succeedinator is the legitimacy of the suffering involved in attaining their goals (richy rich suffered nothing worse than the odd gadget explosion, and even those were usually easily remedied by his butler or robotic maid.

By “legitimacy” here, I simply mean that the suffering needs to feel as if it might have a real affect on the character or their future.
It doesn’t matter if Dan Mcdashing is having to run across the top of a speeding train whilst a fleet of flying saucers pelt him with utter destruction bombs, and rabid crabs take swings at him from beside the train tracks. If Dan is so amazingly competent that there is zero possibility of this business going wrong, then there is no danger, and thus no suffering, and so when Dan finally catches up to the Mcguffin thieves at the head of the train it is more a question of simple fate than any kind of achievement.

The same is true for other sorts of suffering. If I do not actively feel that the fear which Pauline is feeling might actually have a chance of paralysing her with inaction or causing her to fail in her confrontation with the big nasty, then I probably am not exactly going to be on tenterhooks whilst she explores the scary abandoned house.

Of course, being that this is a book and we frequently get inside characters heads, there are a lot of tools at an author’s disposal to ramp up the suffering their character goes through in pursuit of their goals.

One is what I have seen referred to as Chekhov’s skill. Similar to the eponymous gun, this is the facility of giving your character a requisite skill to achieve their desire by showing they have attained the skill previous to that desire’s occurrence in the plot. For example, if we already know that Pauline is a master thief and has spent years perfecting the art of unlocking, then when she picks the lock on the cellar of the haunted house we don’t have reason to believe she attained her goal without trying, especially if the author can give us an idea of the tortuous years Pauline spent practicing lock picking, and include the possibility that even though she possesses the skill she may still not be able to pick that particular lock.

This principle of showing the suffering and work inherent in character goes especially for occasions in which one character’s skills are tested against another’s.

Note, that this testing isn’t about the difficulty of the task itself, but the possibility of character failure.

It doesn’t matter if a character is fighting a thirty foot tall, fire breathing, zombie mecha dinosaur skeletal necromancer from hell, if we know simply because the main character happens to be the hero and thus the best fighter in literally the entire universe; or at least the universe the author has created, that they are bound to win.

Aside from physical or emotional conflict, another major form of suffering is conflicting desires. Duty or love, personal vengeance or letting go, one relationship over another, indeed sophisticated characters may hold our attention specifically because of the way they navigate these sorts of decisions, keeping us guessing which way they are going to jump. Here again however, if the author does not adequately give us a possibility that the character might choose one option, then the choice becomes no choice. After all, if there is absolutely no possibility Dan McDashing is actually not Going to relinquish the Mcguffin to Count Von Cloakenstache and let him slaughter innocent bystanders, Von Cloakenstache is hardly a credible threat and said innocent bystanders aren’t in much actual danger.

Of course, not all of a character’s success has to come directly from the character’s skills or determination. Sudden incites or even changes in luck are a twist on occasion, however if these happen too often, or a reader can always rely upon them happening, again we are steering too close to succeedinator territory.

This also goes into the phenomenon which my brother has dubbed “emo fire” in which emotional suffering is directly translated into an explody magical get out of trouble free card, especially if said emotional suffering doesn’t really feel like suffering at all since its chief affect on the main character is simply said blast of emo fire rather than the possibility of negative emotions having negative effects.

Of course, another major tool in an author’s arsenal in avoiding the succeedinator is writing style, that is using the rhythm, choice and flow of words in a poetic or evocative manner to increase the realism of their characters.

After all, there is a huge difference between just saying “your character is afraid”, and describing the fear in detail, the sudden starting at shadows, the dry mouth, the intensive clench of muscles etc. Style is the reason why one author’s description of a soldier finally conquering their fear to go into battle might fall utterly flat, and why another’s of a similar scene might be hailed as one of their finest moments.

One important question of course, is why is the succeedinator actually bad? After all we often live in a world where our desires are not directly achieved, where we must struggle and suffer to get what we want and rarely get it, so what is wrong with seeing a character tramp unstoppably onwards getting everything with ease?

For me at least, the two very major problems I have with the succeedinator are tension and identification.

If I know someone will succeed in attain their desires, I have no vested interest in waiting to see whether they will succeed or not.

In the TNG episode “the game” (otherwise a cute story with a genuinely appealing guest star), the main part of the action ends with an Enterprise full of crew members enslaved to an alien game. Though Data is able to knock out the bridge crew Picard simply explains in a log entry that “doctor Crusher was able to restore us with her usual skill”

This is probably the best example of a tension killer I’ve seen. We know the episode is over, we know the Enterprise crew must go back to status quo for next week’s instalment so Picard simply tells us that everything resolved.

It is a credit to the writing of episodic TV shows like TNG that they actually managed to achieve any tension at all on occasion despite us knowing that status quo is king and things are probably not going to change unless an actor wants to alter their contract.

The Succeedinator is very much like this style of episodic tv. We know they will always succeed, especially if the conflicts they’re going through in achieving their desires are so obviously formulaic ones (see my previous article). Maybe for some people this for knowledge of success is comforting, to me however, it’s quite the opposite, something which makes me actively lose interest in a character’s fate.

The second reason I do not like succeedinator characters, is lack of identification. As I said previously, we have all sorts of horrible names for people in real life who succeed without trying, and usually the less we’ve succeeded ourselves, the more we dislike these sorts of people, especially if their success also comes with a snobbish or arrogant attitude.

I have encountered some characters who succeed so much that frankly I spend most of the book wanting them to fail just to learn a little humility.

For myself, the characters I am interested in, and those who I feel a real connection with are the precise opposite of the succeedinator, those who must struggle, and suffer, and frequently don’t get what they want, since it is in seeing those characters succeed that I feel hope for myself, and the rest of us none succeedinators out there, since if a person who is as human, fallible and prone to failure as we are can succeed, or even be heroic in their endeavours, well we just might be too.

Addendum, the Mary Sue.

People might have noticed that my concept of “the succeedinator” bares some resemblance to that of that much maligned lady Mary sue, and her lesser known brother Garry stew.

The problem though, is that the term “mary sue” has become more loaded than a fully loaded load of breach loading rifles loaded onto a front end Loader.

The debate usually runs something like this:

Person A: I think that such and such a character is a Mary sue.

Person B: How dare you say that! Don’t you know the term Mary Sue is sexist! Its sexist to call anyone a Mary sue, so begone with you you great big sexist!

Person A: I was not being sexist! I just meant this character is a Mary sue. Why do you have to be so sensitive you idiotic marshmallow!

Person b: Marshmallow is it! You only call me a marshmallow because you are sexist! Don’t you know that calling someone a marshmallow is sexist you great huge sexist!

Person A: Why is calling someone a marshmallow sexist? That doesn’t even make sense!

Person B: How dare you not know why calling someone a marshmallow is sexist! This just shows how sexist you are!

And so on and so forth, and thus any discussion of the actual merits or flaws of a given character are entirely lost in a storm of accusations and sweeties.

Was Mary sue a sexist term in the past? Quite possibly.

Is Mary sue a sexist term now? I do not know, I certainly wouldn’t use it that way, and I have heard other people who do not, but there might well be people out there who do.

Is describing a character (especially a female one), as a Mary Sue a sexist dismissal of that character? Well again, it may well have been in the past, but these days, maybe not, or at least certainly not all of the time, after all when I use the phrase “my wife” I simply use it to refer to the wonderful woman whom I am married to, but when someone else uses the phrase “My wife” they use it in the sense of “the wife that I own”

The difference here is the attitude of the speakers, not an inherent problem in the word “Wife”

This is the reason I suggest, in best philosophical tradition, that we drop the term “Mary Sue” as one with far too much cultural baggage to be of valid use, and instead employ a similar term, my proposed “succeedinator” which can essentially fulfil the same function without any specific gender bias, rather the way “stewardess” on airlines has been replaced with the gender neutral “flight attendant”

I’ll also say, in my own experience I’ve run into not a few Succeedinators of both genders, so the concept, if not the term seems to be pretty gender independent, which is another reason why a gender neutral term of critique might be helpful here, since unfortunately with an ever increasing amount of corporate storytelling and committee thinking with little creativity behind it these days, (especially in cinema), Succeedinators are now more common than ever, so having a term to identify them whenever they rear their ugly heads seems like a good idea.



We are proud to showcase an exceprt from T. Cook’s latest novel, SPINNING SILK, available now.


A brilliant weaver; a conscience stricken gardener; and a journey through deadly ancestral secrets.

An orphan’s weaving genius ignites the envy of her peers, the possessiveness of her mill, and the hopes of an unborn nation. 

Furi knows she was born to create, but the fabric of her life otherwise weaves mysteries. These things are more than they appear: 

Shin, the gardener, with his unlikely power over life and death;
A mysterious illness with a selective death route; 
Kitsuke artist Madame Sato who would fashion Furi into a reincarnation of her own dead daughter; 
A superstitious overlord with a fist of iron; 
The princess of a figurehead emperor, who has strange loyalties to a humble gardener; and
The vaporous rumor of war with no apparent aggressor. 

Spinning Silk is a light novel with a second generation twist on Japan’s traditional Tanabata tale.


LEGENDS SPEAK OF the language of the bones. They tell how all we ever do or say or think is etched like script on a tablet in the dark cavities of our own mortal frames. Mysteries of life and death and love, which cannot be understood by mortal minds, are known, deep down in the marrow. My life, my work, and all of my doings combine into a puzzle of impossible reckoning, but my bones know it, and if you incline toward me, your own frame may hear and answer the song of its telling.

It was a white night, clear and luminous, as only the first night following heavy rains can be. The thrumming song of the cicadas and the percussion of the bullfrogs rose above the sound of our movements between the furrows.

“Careful with that one,” Shin whispered and I started when his giant hand covered mine. He lifted a heavy leaf and revealed a large orb spider crouched below. “You were about to disturb one of my best workers.”

I released a quiet gasp, and peered upward, studying Shin’s eyes. How had he even noticed the spider? Shin seemed to know the placement of every mysterious thing. His movements were quick, yet perceiving. He was gentle, distant, and exquisitely restrained. Here was a man of no rank, no wealth, and yet, somehow…Again, I remembered Tatsuo’s suspicions of his immortality, and I could not look away from him.

When we finished in the garden, I sank low into a parting bow, but before I retreated a step, Shin’s hand caught my shoulder. “I can’t let you go inside like that.”

I glanced down at my cotton robe. “Damp earth stained the hem and the area where I had knelt on the ground. I had also managed to soil my hands and knees and could not return directly to the house.

“It will be hard to wash the robe and yourself without anyone’s notice.”

I instantly understood he was right.

“Wash at the spring, and I’ll take your clothing and return it clean.”

I nodded, and followed him to the spring deep inside the garden. Shadows of the sculpted trees cast strange shapes across Shin’s face, hiding his eyes, but I could feel his gaze upon me notwithstanding. Surrounding the milky mineral pool, my mother-of-pearl tile work shone under the moonlight like lightning, and seemed to ignite me with an electric current that I was sure I couldn’t long withstand.

“Your work?” Shin said.

I gave a shy nod.

“I bathe here in your mother-of-pearl bath often.” A small smile touched his lips. “You’ve ruined me for scrubbing over a bucket for the rest of my life.”

I smiled at this. It seemed to me that my ambition to attract the gods had been realized after all, but I had never imagined myself bathing among them, and the thought of it froze the breath in my lungs.

The pool was small and deep, fed by an underground current. It was unsuitable for drinking, but although not quite warm, it made quite a good home bath.

I stole a last glance at Shin, who stood silently by. There was wisdom, and not seduction motivating the bath proposal, I knew. And yet, Shin was a man unlike any I had ever seen, and we were alone.

Had the time now come? Would he make his request of me now? If so, I told myself I was prepared to answer him. I ducked behind a juniper, shivered as I dropped my soiled garments, then slipped into the pool, gasping as I submerged my warm skin up to the neck. My gaze searched to the pool’s edge, where Shin stood.

The poolside was vacant.

I scanned all around. Shin had disappeared.

I waited some minutes, scrubbing my knees and hands with a handful of green maple leaves, but Shin never reappeared.

I checked myself against the disappointment that gripped my stomach. Wasn’t Shin an immortal? Would he make an illicit request? I trembled with the realization that he wouldn’t. After all, it was against his character. His every action had always been protective—yes, towards me, but he had reserved an uneasy distance for himself and something made me uncertain it was for my sake alone.

Floating on my back, I peered into the night sky. The iridescent glow of the abalone shells lent the bath a dream like quality. I almost thought I could have been dreaming. Had my creative genius fabricated Shin? I had dreamt of him before, and recently, my dreams had been so vivid.

I closed my eyes against the real possibility of my own madness, blinked, and flinched. One shaku from my face, stretched between two low hanging branches of the nearby maple, spread the silken threads of an enormous spider’s web. In the center crouched an orb spider, identical to the one I had saved from Cook several weeks before. He seemed to watch me with the same intensity reserved for a flailing moth.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I said, speaking aloud. “I saved your life…or that of a family member. You owe me a debt of gratitude.” I paddled slowly backwards toward the pool’s edge. The spider’s eyes seemed to follow me. As I peered back, a mysterious voice flooded my mind with breathtaking force.

You did save me. And I will never forget it.


T. Cook’s SPINNING SILK ebook is now available on Amazon for $2.99

— Adam Weller (@swiff)

SPFBO4: Semi-finalist Selections & Eliminations

This is my first year as a SPFBO judge, and I’m grateful to Mark Lawrence and the FantasyBookReview team for letting me voice my opinions on their forums. I’m especially grateful to all of the incredibly talented authors that have submitted their work for this contest. Regardless of who wins, I hope everyone who participates walks away with something positive — whether it be more readers, new writing ideas, or new contacts in the fantasy community.

I was given a batch of ten random books and agreed to select two to move onto the semi-finals. This process was much more challenging than I had predicted. Several of the eliminated books could have easily been swapped into a semi-finalist position, and I would still be happy with the results. My final decisions were drawn from a combination of personal enjoyment, originality, and lasting appeal, along with a few other factors. Although the following books have been eliminated, I truly believe there’s a large audience that would enjoy many of these selections. If any of them sound interesting, I encourage you to give them a shot!

Below are mini-reviews of each of the seven eliminated books. I have also linked their full reviews if they exist.

Vincent, Survivor

Vincent, Survivor by O. L. Eggert
This story is an apocalyptic urban fantasy/horror novel about a family dealing with a race of minotaurs that have appeared on Earth with plans to decimate the land and annihilate mankind. The titular Vincent and his ex-con brother Dante team up with their grandmother and a newly-discovered relative to discover why our world is suddenly going to Hell. This book started off intriguing, but as I progressed, two main issues irked me: the characters were completely unlikeable and quite dense, and there were too many confusing plot points that broke the narrative. The mind-numbing choices that the characters kept making became too frustrating to read, and the dialogue was oddly mean-spirited. I’m not sure if it was intentional sarcasm that flew over my head, but the family members kept weirdly insulting each other as they traipsed through their neighborhood’s genocide. The tone shifts were odd, the plot holes kept getting bigger, and I didn’t find myself wanting to root for any of the protagonists. So, this is one of the few books that I didn’t finish.


Mabus by Dean Rencraft
I am struggling to come up with something positive to say about Mabus. The plot follows David, an orphan of potentially mythical circumstances, who has been accepted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) along with his foster brother. They immediately treat all women as sexual conquests and refer to them as “stalkers” and “bitches.” May I remind you that these boys are MIT students? David eventually starts working with his professor to develop a new, powerful artifical intelligence, but the dialogue between these apparently genius minds was unconvincing, and I found myself struggling to stay interested. There were no female characters of any agency, and the behavior of its male characters left a bad taste in my mouth. This was an uncomfortable read, so I decided not to finish it.

A Season of Pure Light

A Season of Pure Light by CJ Erick
The prologue of this story reeled me in immediately: a brother and sister are attempting to emigrate from an oppressive, fascist-like planet to a new world with “golden opportunities.” The siblings experience a harrowing ordeal that sees them barely make the escape ship as they head toward the newly-settled planet, but they must face various conflicts, both domestic and alien, in order to survive. Erick’s writing is gripping and intense, and the story hums with tension right out of the gate. Unfortunately, I had to eliminate this book from contention because it is purely science fiction, and this contest is for fantasy novels only. I would like to return to this book, as I think Erick is a promising writer and I’m curious how the story will continue. This is a book I’m quite comfortable recommending to fans of adult science fiction. It has gleaned many high marks from reviewers on both Amazon and Goodreads.

Angel of Destruction

Angel of Destruction by Virgil Debique
This story is about a human assassin with selective amnesia who is trying exact revenge on a rogue Angel who is responsible for various tragedies in the assassin’s past. The book incorporates multiple planes of existence, faeries, dwarves, elves, battle arenas, disturbing pleasure houses, cloud kingdoms, and other fantastical elements both familiar and new. Although this book was well-plotted, it needed some (any?) female characters with agency. All females either needed to be saved, or their sacrifice served as a plot device to further the goals of a man. This book in its current form is also in dire need of editing. Spelling and grammatical errors adorn every page, and it made some passages difficult to interpret. I wasn’t quite sure what the author was trying to say when parts of the sentences repeated itself, or it trailed off into something unrelated. I do think that there are the bones of a good story here, but I can’t recommend it unless it undergoes another revision.
Full review:

Scrooge and Marley, Deceased: A Haunted Man

Scrooge and Marley, Deceased: A Haunted Man by Jonathan Green
A short but engaging sequel to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” picking up a year after the original ended. Ebenezer Scrooge reunites with the spirit on his dead accounting partner Marley on Christmas Eve, but this time, Marley wants Scrooge to help him grant peace to the wronged spirits that haunt London’s snowy streets. They immediately find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery, with a culprit that borrows heavily from another famous 19th century tale of gothic horror. Green does a remarkable job of emulating Dickensian prose, which is no small feat. This story felt like a natural continuation of “A Christmas Carol” and Green impressed me with his ability to paint the London setting and its various characters with familiar detail. The driving mystery of the story, and its resolution, came very quickly and a bit too conveniently. However, this is a very short read, clocking in at under 70 pages. Anyone curious to read a modern take on “Dickensian fan-fic” with a horror-crossover twist would certainly appreciate this story. Although it initially seemed like this book would be outside my wheelhouse, it ended up being a wondeful read. I strongly recommend it, though its brevity and niche subject matter prevented me from pushing it forward to the next round.
Full review:

Servant of Rage

Servant of Rage (Bloodrage #1) by A.Z. Anthony
This is another book that just missed the cut. I described it as “Highlander meets the Dothraki.” When a god-like immortal decides to end his own life, his terrible lightning-based power is divided up across the world amongst various horse lords, nomads, and all sorts of dangerous warriors. ‘There can be only one,’ as the last survivor of these gifted warriors will reap the power’s full benefits. But as each challenger falls, the rage that resides within the remaining heirs grows stronger, and harder to control. Is ultimate power worth the sacrifice of your humanity? Anthony keeps this entertaining and violent story moving at a breakneck pace, setting up the long game early in the story and jumping right into it with both feet. There’s not a ton of nuance or deep characterization of the supporting cast, but if you enjoy fights to the death, quickly-evolving magical abilities, and more than a touch of the ole’ ultraviolence, this book is a ton of fun. I’ll be checking out the sequel.
Full review:


Dragonshade (The Secret Chronicles of Lost Magic #2) by Aderyn Wood
I’m more than bit sad to eliminate Dragonshade. This book is exquisitely detailed, with rich characters and a fully-realized setting. Clocking in at 864 pages, Wood takes her time in describing family histories, cultural developments, warrior clans, enemy kingdoms, cutthroat politics, royal hierarchies, prophetic dreams… and even a full chapter dedicated to duck farming. While I enjoyed reading this epic, high fantasy story about several kingdoms teetering on the precipice of war, I found that its progression unfolded very slowly. Wood is a skilled writer and it’s easy to see how much love and care she has put into this book, but I think its plot could have benefitted from a bit more focus and efficiency. At times, the relentless dearth of information, expansive world-building, and huge cast of characters felt like too much to digest. I enjoyed the plot, and Wood has some wonderful and original ideas, but ultimately this came down to just liking a couple of other books a bit better. However, if you enjoy epic standalone stories that are immersive, and you have the patience for it to blossom, then this is story you will likely enjoy. This book was a strong contender for a semi-finalist spot, and it would not surprise me if other reviewers would have chosen this to advance in my stead. Out of all the books eliminated, I believe this one to be the most impressive.


And now, the winners! Since there were so many excellent entries, I decided to select three semi-finalists instead of two. My three semi-finalists are:

City of Shards

City of Shards (Spellgiver #1), by Steve Rodgers
This was the first book I randomly selected to start my SPFBO4 reading journey, and it took me by complete surprise. It is a book that focuses primarily on a boy who is forced to choose between two awful fates for his country, while attempting to survive in a city that is slowly being taken over by a disturbing religious sect. There are wonderful, lifelike supporting characters and an imaginative race of ‘others.’ This is a sweeping epic of a story that has all the right elements. The world-building is intense from the get-go, so be prepared to highlight passages for later referencing. But there’s an excellent balance of action, mystery, and lore that kept the chapters flying by. Chapter 12 in particular is still stuck in my head, many months later. I had to pause my reading schedule to immediately dive into the sequel after finishing this book.
Full review:

Revenant Winds

Revenant Winds (The Tainted Cabal #1), by Mitchell Hogan
In my full review, I called this book “an impressive and intriguing start to a series that deftly weaves magic, religion, and demonic vengeance into a story about seeking your identity and true purpose in life.” This is a grim yet compelling tale that tells a story through three interesting protagonists: a conflicted yet dedicated warrior-priest-healer-sorcerer (whew!), a near-immortal mercenary who wants to transcend to godhood so he can fulfill his love for his goddess, and a runaway noble’s daughter who is a gifted thief-for-hire. These characters find themselves inextricably bound to seek out an ancient cave for very different reasons. What they find could save or doom their world. My money’s on “doom.” This series has excellent potential, and Hogan is one of self-publishing’s rising stars.
Full review:

The Endless Ocean

The Endless Ocean (The Inner Sea Cycle #1), by Toby Bennett
A thrilling and imaginative tale that weaves pirate battles, Earthen mythology, multiple realities, hive-mind witches, and so much more into something truly unique. Brother and sister orphans are gifted students, learning telekinesis and sea navigation, when they are pulled into a series of terrifying confrontations that are linked to an ancient, rising evil. I think it best for the reader to discover each development on her own, so I’ll leave the remaining plot description sparse. While the character development is overall a bit on the shallow side, the story makes up for it with its originality, thrilling set pieces, and engaging mysteries. This book is constantly pushing new ideas, shifting environments, and compelling story arcs with each chapter. It has a certain “wow” factor that has struck a lasting chord with me. I believe this to be one of the first published novels of Bennett’s writing career, and he has since written a sequel that I will be reading in the very near future.
Full review:


Congratulations to Steve Rodgers, Mitchell Hogan, and Toby Bennett! I’m excited to share these books with the rest of the FBR review team. Why not buy copies for yourself and tell us what you think?

— Adam Weller (@swiff)

COVER REVEAL: Ben Galley’s CHASING GRAVES: Book One of the Chasing Graves Trilogy

We at FantasyBookReview are thrilled to announce the start of a new trilogy by resident favorite Ben Galley, and we’re able to share its cover today.

Presenting CHASING GRAVES, coming December 7th, 2018 (eBook and paperback.)

PREORDER now available!

Chasing Graves cover by Ben Galley


Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to rule is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is only the beginning.

Cover Art: Chris Cold (https://chriscold.artstation.com)

Cover Design: Shawn King (http://www.stkkreations.com)

Website and more info: www.bengalley.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/bengalley

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bengalleyauthor

Keep on the lookout for an official review in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

– Adam Weller