Book Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King

Faithless
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Author info: http://www.grahamaustin-king.com/

This book is as solid and kickass as the cover promises and then some. I loved Riven Wyrde Saga, which is the debut trilogy by Graham Austin-King. I expected high quality from this book, but Faithless exceeded my expectations by far. Riven Wyrde Saga books were great reads, and already on my re-read list (I can afford to re-read very few books given my swamped schedule) but Faithless is at a totally different level. I must give the trigger warning though: There are scenes involving child sexual abuse. Nothing graphic, but might be disturbing for survivors. Read at your own discretion.

The editing is top notch and superior to no small number of mainstream published fantasy books for one. The worldbuilding, realism, characters and action scenes blew me away.

The story is told from the perspective of two main characters, Wynn and Kharios. Both are compelling characters who grow and change through the book. The tale starts with Wynn being sold into slavery at the Temple of Forgefather and dumped into the underground mining city called Aspiration to do hard labor.

The Aspiration is a living nightmare. Law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. Wynn joins the first crew he encounters, it’s impossible to survive in this harsh place alone. Life is hard. The whole town is ruled by vicious tyrant. If you can’t make the tally,you are screwed. Sometimes crews who are unable to meet their tally go around robbing others. It’s the law of the jungle all the way. The place is fascinating to read with all the cool details, and the stark realism of it gives you the feeling of being trapped there along with poor Wynn.

The only way to get out of this hell is to go through difficult tests to become a temple novice. Few can qualify to apply for the test. Out of thousands, less than a handful can make it. But in the Kharios point of view chapters, it seems the temple isn’t so much better. Corruption, degeneracy and tyranny rule supreme, only it’s not filthy like the mines and the living conditions are better. But are they really? A different kind of evil plagues the temple and the bad gut feeling never leaves you.

Faithless is a gritty fantasy story, but it reads like horror in places. The story takes a sharp turn halfway through and the haunting darkness gives way to breathtaking action scenes. It would make such a great movie!

One thing I loved about Faithless is the exquisite detail about the mining work and smithing. Graham Austin-King has done an insane amount of research and it shows. The world is so realistic, not only the hyper-realistic setting but with its myths and religious beliefs, customs, culture and way of life.

The other thing I loved is the male-female friendship without romance. That was a real nice thing to see. I’m sick of every male-female friendship turning into romance, I have been wondering why the fantasy authors can’t take a page from the police procedurals where men and women work together as just colleagues, with absolutely no romantic interest. When I see such things in fantasy, I bounce with joy. Kudos to Graham Austin-King for that nice touch!

The smithing parts, with the touch of magic and religious rituals, were my favorite parts after the kickass action. They had just the right amount of suspense and tension, making the incredibly well detailed forge work so much fun to read.

The ending leaves the door open for a second book, I truly hope there will be a second book!

Faithless is a high quality book with amazing worldbuilding, neat character development, fast-paced action balanced with suspense and a bit of horror, well-written and realistic side characters. A great read overall, I highly recommend it. I think people looking for dark fantasy that isn’t too grimdark, fantasy books without romance, books with underground settings and religion politics.

As far as indie published books go, Faithless belongs to the top shelf with highly engaging storytelling, realistic characters, flawless editing and brilliant setting.

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Book Review: Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

Arm of the Sphinx
Genre: Fantasy/Steampunk/Magical Realism
Series: Books of Babel
Author info: http://www.thebooksofbabel.com

This is the second book of Books of babel, here is my review for the first book, Senlin Ascends.

Thomas Senlin’s desperate search for his wife Marya continues and the exciting adventure picks right up where it left off in Senlin Ascends. Now we get to discover the dark side of the tower and get inklings on what kind of purpose it may be serving, more facts of the complex political intrigue and the wars between the ringdoms.

Bancroft takes us to more ringdoms in this book, and they get more bizarre and alien as we climb. Worldbuilding shines here as it does in Senlin Ascends. Each ringdom has its own strange rules, machinations and political schemes, each one a new world if its own.

Arm of the Sphinx features non-Senlin POV’s and we get to see quite a lot from the eyes of the other characters. Getting a whole different perspective of Iren after seeing her as the invincible brute from Senlin’s eyes was great. Voleta’s POV chapters were quite entertaining to read and her relationship with her little pet is adorable.

Many of the mysteries from Senlin Ascends get solved and new mysteries emerge, and we get to meet some enigmatic new characters along the way.

One of my favorite things about this book was the little snippets in the beginning of each chapter, just like Senlin Ascends, and they make some of the best quotes from the book.

All in all, this book is a Steampunk wonder of high literary quality, featuring incredible adventures, top notch character development, beautiful scenes, entrancing imagination and, I must mention, supplemented with marvelous artwork on the author’s site and Instagram account. I highly recommend clicking the author web site and checking out the artwork. I am very much looking forward to the release of the third book, The Hod King. I can’t recommend this series enough, it’s one of the best indie gems that came out of Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) contest and I must thank the bloggers and Mark Lawrence for bringing this awesome series to the spotlight.

Book Review: Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends
Genre: Fantasy/Steampunk/Magical Realism
Series: Books of Babel
Author info: http://www.thebooksofbabel.com

I picked this book up on recommendation from Mark Lawrence and the SPFBO buzz when it made to the semifinals. It didn’t sound like my cup of tea at first (since I prefer pre-modern fantasy settings with lots of magic and epic battles) but I picked it up anyway -interrupting my Wheel of Time marathon- and loved it to death.

Senlin Ascends is a fresh new breath in the genre fiction. If I quote The Wert Zone, “In another universe, Senlin Ascends, which was originally published in 2013, would have already won the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Award.” and I agree with this statement. Senlin Ascends has a steampunk setting, with early modern pistols, airships, goggles and what have you. Steampunk lovers will become fans of it and the sequel, The Arm of the Sphinx.

I think Breaking Bad lovers will also greatly enjoy this book, since the main character is a school headmaster who is trying to survive in a hostile environment full of villains and criminals. He doesn’t become an epic bad guy like Walter White, but there are certain parallels.

The story starts with Senlin and his wife going to the Tower of Babel on their honeymoon trip, only to discover chaos reigns there and Senlin ends up losing his wife Marya in the crowd. He proceeds into the Tower to find her, but discovers the Tower is nothing like what he read in the tourist guides. Each level is a new ringdom, which is a realm with its own rules and unique environment. Some of them are run down, some are pretty and pleasant on the surface but with a dark side. Out of the numerous ringdoms of the Tower, we get to see four in Senlin Ascends and there will be more uncovered in The Arm of the Sphinx. I must say the worldbuilding is amazing and the alien qualities of the ringdoms shows great creativity.

The characters are brilliantly rendered and the prose is exceptional even for the mainstream published books, let alone an indie. The setting was so vivid and the prose so beautiful, I didn’t care the least bit about the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I have given harsh critique to other fantasy books for lacking fantasy stuff, but the steampunk here is so awesome I didn’t miss the high fantasy and magic at all. There are plenty of dark and creepy scenes in this book, which I greatly enjoyed as a grimdark fan. It’s not exactly grimdark, but has a dark atmosphere, with a bit of humor and uplifting moments spicing it up.

Senlin Ascends leans more towards magical realism than genre fiction, with high literary quality, but it’s a compelling page turner with plenty of adventures and intrigue. Josiah Bancroft is a genius for writing a book of incredible literary merit without making it boring for the genre fiction readers. I love Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, but most of my bookworm friends found it boring, including a couple of literary snobs. But no one can say Senlin Ascends is the least bit boring or dragging. If they do, they are smoking crack.

I can’t recommend this book enough, all the hype is 100% accurate and the most reputable reviewers of the fantasy scene loved it for good reason.

Josiah Bancroft does fantastic chalk art of his characters, you can check them out on his web site: http://www.thebooksofbabel.com/new-gallery/

Congratulations to the SPFBO Finalists

Final Ten has been announced, huge congrats to the finalists!

Announcement on Mark Lawrence’s Blog is here.

Here is the list of the finalists, along with the bloggers and Amazon links to the books:

Bookworm Blues – Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma‘ (Brian O’Sullivan)
Elitist Book Reviews – Larcout (K.A. Krantz)
Fantasy-Faction – Paternus (Dyrk Ashton)
Fantasy Book Critic – The Moonlight War (S.K.S. Perry)
Lynn’s Books – Outpost (F.T. McKinstry)
The Qwillery – The Music Box Girl (K.A. Stewart)
Pornokitsch – The Path of Flames (Phil Tucker)
Bibliotropic – The Grey Bastards (Jonathan French)
The Bibliosanctum – Assassin’s Charge (Claire Frank)
Fantasy Literature – The Shadow Soul (Kaitlyn Davis)

Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher – Cover Reveal!

Grimdarkians, good news for you: The sequel to the wonderful grimdark masterpiece Beyond Redemption (read my review here) is on its way!

I must say this cover is awesome. There’s a half-naked berserker dude wielding an axe, what’s there not to love? Mirror’s Truth is going to be self published and it’s delightfully grimdark. If you haven’t read Beyond Redemption, check my review and if you love gritty books with witty and dark humor, remarkable characters and fast paced action, you will definitely love it and want more.

Mirror’s Truth should be out before Christmas, oh and I almost forgot to mention Mike Fletcher posted an excerpt from Chapter 1 on his blog along with the cover image. Head to his blog for more info: http://michaelrfletcher.com/2016/10/01/the-mirrors-truth-cover-reveal-and-excerpt/

Mirror's Truth

Guest Post by Brandon Draga: Why YA?

– “Why YA? Why Not?”

*Grabs a cup of coffee*
*Sits down*
*Sips*
Hi everyone, my name’s Brandon, and I write Young Adult Fantasy.
Hoo, okay, that felt good to get off my chest.
I guess you could say it started innocently enough, with my sister urging me to write something en vogue, something with a young female protagonist set in a dystopian society. Naturally, my inclination was to figure out how to do this in a fantasy setting.

Also, to make sure that I wasn’t writing a YA novel.
Denial was a huge part of a number of the creative decisions I made with The Summerlark Elf. I made Enna twenty years old solely so she wouldn’t be a teenager. I left out any trace of a romance subplot, never mind even broaching the idea of a love triangle. I kept the female protagonist and the dystopian setting though (sort of).

After the book was released, I was steadfast in my belief that it was decidedly not a YA book. I made sure to tell everyone who asked that it was meant for an adult audience, though I made sure to add the caveat that it could be read and enjoyed by someone as young as twelve.
Definitely not YA, though. Not at all, thank you kindly.
“But why not?” my girlfriend and cover artist asked on more than one occasion. “What’s wrong with YA?”
“I want to be taken seriously as a fantasy author.” I would reply, with a surprising lack of irony. “I want my books to appeal to a wide range of people!”

And they have, I’m proud to say. I’ve spoken to teens for their library book club, received fan mail from people well into their senior years (of life, not school), been read by the most hardcore genre fans and people who have never read a fantasy book in their life. But then, the same can be said of a lot of people who write books billed as YA, especially genre YA.
J.K. Rowling?
Suzanne Collins?
Veronica Roth?

Hell, look at people like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, or Raymond Feist. You cannot tell me that, had their respective series’ been released today, they would not be pushed as YA titles. Let’s take it further and admit that most post-Tolkien fantasy up until the mid-90s or so fits the most basic tenant of Young Adult fiction, in that the protagonist is a young adult.

Which, if the media is correct (I know), is anyone between 18 and 25. Not unlike Enna Summerlark.

So, that being said, what was my issue, and what changed my mind?
I think we can chalk a lot of it up to me, frankly, being an elitist jerk, and assuming that most fantasy readers are the same.
You see, a funny thing happened when I released The Summerlark Elf. For the first time since I started reading fantasy way back in the before times, I was interacting with other fantasy readers, readers who put my credentials to shame. Readers who, by and large, were perfectly happy to read a YA book, provided it was good. Not just that, but the more people read the book, the more they would tell me it felt like a YA book, and not derisively.

Moreover, something else happened this past year. For a tenure of about eight months, my books were being published by the ultimately ill-fated Realmwalker Publishing Group, and damned if they weren’t selling better that I had hoped. A large part of that, upon careful examination, was the fact that RPG had opted to start billing Summerlark, and its follow-up The Missing Thane’s War as Young Adult Fantasy! Apparently, the best way to broaden my readership was ultimately to narrow my work’s genre classification – who knew?!

It took me longer than I care to admit, but it doesn’t matter who I think my writing is supposed to appeal to, but rather who it does appeal to. Calling my books Young Adult doesn’t change the story in any real way; I’m still writing the books I want to write. And really, YA is a ridiculously large market with a really ridiculously large fan base. If my books sell as Young Adult books, then who am I to say no?
Still not crazy about love triangles, though.
I’m looking at you, Wil Ohmsford…

Author Bio

Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history at York University from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of Olhean, the setting for his “Four Kingdoms Saga” novel series, compared by critics to the works of Terry Brooks, Michael J. Sullivan, and R.A. Salvatore. Brandon has also proven that SF/F can be made accessible at any age, writing the lauded picture book “Dragon in the Doghouse”. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.

You can learn more about Brandon’s work on his web site: http://www.brandondraga.com/

Guest Post By Claire Frank: The Appeal of Characters With Questionable Morals

Assassin's Charge

Assassin’s Charge

Morally Questionable Characters

Thieves, assassins, bounty hunters, smugglers. We love books that feature characters who lead darklives, living on the edge of acceptable society. What makes stories about characters with morally questionable professions so intriguing?

The vicarious experience

Let’s be honest—most of us don’t actually want to steal things or kill people (or do we?). But in a book,we can experience things we’d never do in reality. The thrill of the chase, the fear of getting caught, theconfidence of being a badass. Morally questionable characters provide us with the opportunity toindulge in situations and actions we’d usually avoid.

Reading is an out-of-body experience, no matter the subject or genre. We can safely enjoy the illicit andforbidden, from the comfort of our couch—without the dire consequences.

The character’s growth

At the heart of a compelling story is usually a character who changes. As they navigate their waythrough the plot, the events leave their mark, forcing them to face their flaws and inner demons. Oftenthe protagonist grows, and becomes better. Sometimes, he or she doesn’t. Either way, the characteryou meet on page one is not the same character you say goodbye to when you turn the final page.

Characters leading dark lives pull you through the story, enticing you with the possibility for change. Will they do the right thing in the end? They keep us on edge, wondering what they’ll do, because we know their standards. They’re as likely to betray as to save, to embrace the dark rather than the light. The potential for a satisfying character arc is strong when the character begins as a thief, rogue, or killer.

The character’s competence

Often the thieves and killers in a story are remarkable at what they do. They can scale a wall, pick a lock, hide in the shadows, or talk their way out of anything. Whether the story includes the character learning these skills, or they already possess them from the beginning, reading about a badass is fun. There’s a deep satisfaction in seeing characters pull off the impossible, and a delicious sense of anticipation as we watch the story unfold. We know that this time, their skills might not be enough to get them through in one piece.

Writing an assassin

As an author, writing about morally questionable characters proved to be as much fun as reading them. I always enjoy exploring a character who views the world very differently from me. Writing a book from the perspective of a cold-hearted assassin was fascinating. What would she do when facing a challenge?

How does she interact with the people who cross her path? How would she react when her own life is threatened?

Pairing an assassin with an innocent child took the story in an intriguing direction. The main character is faced with saving the life of the person she was hired to kill—which sends her on the run, pursued by her fellow assassins, and a notorious bounty hunter. A moral hero would handle this adventure in one way—an assassin takes quite a different path. Throughout the story, she’s able to use her skills to help her along, often facing odds that are stacked against her. And the events that unfold challenge not only her worldview, but her view of herself. All in all, it made for a very satisfying story to write, and I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Assassin’s Charge: An Echoes of Imara Novel

What if you were hired to kill the only person who could save you?

Rhisia Sen is one of the Empire’s highest paid assassins. Living a life of luxury, she chooses her contracts carefully, working to amass enough wealth so she can leave her bloody trade. She is offered a new contract on the outskirts of civilization, and almost refuses—until she sees the purse. It could be the last job she ever has to take.

But when she reaches the destination, she discovers her mark is a child.

The contract, and her reputation, demand she kill the boy—if she can banish his innocent face from her mind. But another assassin has been sent to kill her, and a notorious bounty hunter is on her trail. She doesn’t know why the boy is a target, or why her former employer wants her dead. Saving the child could be her only chance at survival.

Claire Frank is the author of the epic fantasy series Echoes of Imara, and the brand new novel, Assassin’s Charge, a stand-alone story set in the same world. By day, Claire is a busy mom of three. By night, she writes, giving voices to the characters who clutter her mind during the daylight hours. Her husband David is her co-creator and collaborator, adding his ideas and feedback to her work. Together they banter ideas, craft worlds, create characters and develop stories, usually over too much coffee. Learn more at www.clairefrankbooks.com