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Yesterday, Orbit Books revealed the cover for K.S. Villoso’s THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO. The book (which is awesome, by the way) is already causing quite a stir, and rightly so.

We’re delighted to welcome the author to the Hive today. Now, settle in for an in-depth chat between Kay and self-publishing legend Phil Tucker about the story behind THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO…

Phil Tucker: So, let’s kick things off with your title, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro: Chronicles of the Bitch Queen. It’s clear that you made some very distinct choices when picking it, and were entering right away into conversation with fantasy fandom about women, power, and their portrayals in fiction. Can you share what led you to pick that title and what you were hoping to achieve with the very first impression readers might get of your book?

Kay Villoso: It’s definitely a play on words and perceptions.

I was really interested in dog training for a time, and spent years discussing pedigrees/bloodlines online, so I’ve always had an easier time with the word “bitch,” which we use fairly often. I’ve also been using this word since I was little to mean exactly that: a female dog. It probably also helps that since English isn’t my first language, I didn’t realize this was considered a vulgar term colloquially until later on.

So within the context of the series, people use the title to mean a female wolf, as her family’s crest is the wolf. Why not use “she wolf?” Because “bitch” is the correct term for a female of any member of the dog family. I don’t like to pull my punches when I write; I always go for honesty wherever I can. In a genre that has series titles like “The Gentlemen Bastards,” it technically shouldn’t be a problem.

But it is. It is a loaded word, and the world is not fair when it comes to perceptions of women in power. As someone who has worked in a professional setting, and was raised by a mother who has also worked in a professional setting, it’s amazing the fine line women must tread on a day-to-day basis. You always have to watch how other people perceive you, and not just focus on getting the job done. You need to be nice so people will want to work with you, but also, you need to assert yourself! It’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario.

Fiction is no exception to this. Lots of people jumped into the work with pre-conceived notions of Tali even though her struggles, loneliness, and frustration have been made clear since Chapter One. The power of words is amazing. It’s sort of breaking the fourth wall, in a way…

…because this story, this whole series, is about a person trying to break free from her façade, from what she has been led to believe she “is” to what’s really inside. Note my use of the word “person.” This character is written as a whole person, not a statement; at no point did I write this story thinking “How can I make this book more feminist?” Tali is written with as much depth as any of my characters. Her challenges are the same challenges any of us would face in her position—balancing expectations with desires, trying to shake loose from her father’s shadow, learning to stand on her own two feet.

It’s amazing how the title alone can be enough to create this façade from the get-go. My hope is the contrast between this first impression and what really happens between the pages gives readers a pause. To get them to question their own gut instincts, and empathize. Because in the end, it’s really all about the people within.

Phil: That’s fascinating. There’s a history of oppressed groups taking the epithets that those in power have demeaned them with and claiming them for their own. Would you say that on some level you were trying to do the same thing with The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen? Claim the worst a reader could call your protagonist, and by claiming that term, own it, preventing your readers from using it casually in a way to dismiss Tali, and consequently giving her the necessary space in which to be herself?

Kay: You put that into better words than I could. Definitely. Which is a funny way to look at it considering she is a character in power, but I knew coming in here the challenge in portraying a woman (especially a woman of colour) in her position.

Phil: So tell me a little about the decisions behind Tali’s creation. What led you to want to write her as a character? How did Tali come into being?

Kay: I started planning this story a few years back. I was interested in exploring the Strong Female Character archetype, since the demand for “strong women” was already in full steam at the time. But I wanted to take it a step further—I wanted to see how this sort of character would respond to the same challenges that a male Chosen One character would experience. And then…what if this character had to learn weakness in order to learn true strength? So in my mind, she had to start out already in power—already a Queen, a mother, and a wife, daughter of one of the most powerful warlords in the land. But then I also wanted her to be a real person, to have flaws that prevent her from achieving happiness, and to have desires like most of us. This has resulted in probably the most overwhelming, frustrating, and ultimately intense character I’ve ever written.

Phil: That’s interesting that you wanted specifically to put your protagonist through the same challenges that a male Chosen One would experience. How do you think her being a strong woman as opposed to a strong man resulted in a different tale?

Kay: The most interesting part about this is exploring the perspective of a woman who didn’t have to choose between motherhood and marriage in order to be the hero of her story. She has all these things already; now she has to balance her every decision with her son’s wellbeing, her desire to maintain face while keeping her family whole, and her responsibilities. The stakes, I feel, would be different if she had been male; there would be much of the same search for identity (and in fact, later on in the series, this theme will be reflected with several other characters), but the focus would change.

For example, would a king’s ability to rule be doubted if his queen had walked away from him the same way Tali’s husband did in the beginning of the story? Queen Talyien is feared, but also disrespected; would a ruthless king garner the same response? Stripped off his rank and power, would he be taken advantage of almost immediately? Would he have the same hang-ups about pursuing his own happiness as she does? Obviously everything would still be challenging for him, but would he be as exhausted by the pressures? Most importantly, would he have to make the same sacrifices as she did?

I can’t say for sure. Every character is different. In my Agartes series, I have a mercenary leader whose primary motivation is his daughter, whereas the mother, who had a difficult time accepting her pregnancy and role as a mother, is more absent in her daughter’s life. But I think the narrative has to reflect why these characters make these sort of decisions, how they think and react. Their gender is part of their character makeup, and so it provides more nuance to their decisions and how the world responds to these decisions.

Phil: Did your understanding of what ‘strength’ meant for Tali change over the course of the series? Did she surprise you in how she tackled her challenges, in the decisions she made, and how that reflected her character and her ‘strength’ as it were?

Kay: One of the most surprising things for me over the course of three books is seeing her own voice and perception to events change, even when she remained this strong-willed, force of nature-type woman. Tali from Book One is rigid, abrasive, refusing to bend to outside forces—this is the armour she’s had to wear to survive, what “strength” used to mean for her. But as she sheds her naivete, her rigidity gives way. The story is framed to allow simpler moments of courage and sacrifice to shine through, which Tali begins to notice more as the series progresses.

To be able to support a story like this is one of the things I’ve always appreciated about the epic fantasy genre. Deep inside, we all want to know how we can survive the darkest night before the dawn; this is just one woman’s journey to reach that.

Phil: That’s motivation to read the next two books right there. Book 1 features another wife and royal figure in the mad prince’s wife. Can you talk about her, what her perception of strength might have been, and whether you were purposefully setting her up as a foil for Tali?

Kay: Ah, yes, Zhu. She is definitely a parallel character, and a bit of foreshadowing. “There but for the grace of God, go I,” as a dear friend and reader once phrased it. Throughout the series, we see a number of characters deal with the same situation in surprisingly different ways; Zhu is someone whose strength lies in acceptance, in maintaining her dignity even while knowing she is probably doomed.

Phil: Let’s talk different cultures. Would you say that there is any significant difference between Philippine and American definitions of ‘strength’ or what a ‘strong’ woman should be like? Given that you drew heavily on your home culture for this series, how did those differences (if any) play into your writing?

Kay: There is, definitely. The Philippines, at its core, is a matriarchal society (although several hundreds of years of colonialism under two very patriarchal cultures did its part to muddy that). In our ancient past, women shamans were seen as some of the most respected members in society. Many of our ancestors would get tattoos to celebrate their accomplishments, but women automatically “earn” tattoos by virtue of being born. It doesn’t mean men don’t have power, either, but it’s a society with established roles for both genders and where women hold great influence.

There is a lot—arguably more—pressure put on daughters, especially eldest daughters, for instance. Not only are you expected to be able to compete academically and professionally, you’re also expected to be a “rock” for your family, to be the primary caregiver for your children, to take care of the household, and to keep the peace. You have on one hand this society with established gender roles, but is also comfortable balancing these roles with power.

So while in some cultures, a woman is often pressured to shed traditional gender roles in order to be seen as competent in a position of power, that is normally not the case in a society where grandma is easily the voice of authority in a family. The Philippines is a country that elected a “housewife” for a president some 30-odd years back, for example—a woman who used her femininity as the core of her campaign. A woman so respected that when she died, her son, who wasn’t running for president, somehow made it to the race…and won. In comparison, America has yet to elect a woman president. Being a woman, being a mother, being a wife, being a daughter… I’ve never gotten the impression that these things stand in the way of accomplishing my dreams. They can make them challenging, of course, especially with the way society is set up to make things harder for a woman, but Filipino culture in particular has taught us to take some hard punches. Being a woman is hard, our elders tell us, but you bear it. You bear it, and therein lies your power.

The theme of the series isn’t then about a woman trying to prove herself as good as a man. That’s already established—when you already hold that power, when you already know your strength, you don’t have to prove anything. Tali’s father never wished she was a son. But this opens up other challenges for her. Exploring strength in this case revolves around this resilience, in weathering the storm, in sacrifice, which are all lessons abound in Filipino culture both in men and women. But the challenges of womanhood are still there, which lends the different angle this series chooses to explore.

Phil: Do you think your readers picked up on this subtle but important change due to cultural context? Or have they rather ascribed any different expectations on the part of Tali’s society to her being an ‘exceptional’ character? In fact, what has reader response been to your protagonist? Has it surprised you, or proven to be what you’d hoped?

Kay: I feel like for the most part, this went by unnoticed, particularly since The Wolf of Oren-yaro involves Tali running around in a strange country with her authority diminished. I think this lack of cultural context also resulted in some people becoming frustrated with her attempt to hold her family together despite coming off as a relatively “bad ass” female character. Why did Tali keep quiet, instead of declaring war on her husband from the get-go? It’s because where Western ideals value the individual, Filipino ideals value family, blood, and togetherness. There is a term called amor propio, for instance, which translates to a sense of “self-worth” or “self-respect” or maybe even “pride”… and not only must you be watching this in yourself, it is required that you take care of another person’s. So Tali refusing to talk about certain issues, despite the power she holds, is her maintaining amor propio in her husband, her family, and her husband’s family. This doesn’t make her a “weaker” character—she is simply holding true to her cultural values. She’ll still bust your face open if you piss her off…

So for the most part, I’m pleased with the response, particularly because I am getting both sides—I am getting people who empathize with her and understand her challenges, and I see others who don’t, who write her off as irritating, even dumb, thinking that this depiction of a ‘queen’ is unrealistic (which it could be, depending on what other queen you’re comparing her to). It’s occasionally disheartening to see this lack of empathy with struggles that many women face in real life, every day.

Phil: Have you noticed a gendered character to these reactions? Do people who identify as female sympathize with Tali more than those who identify as male?

Kay: I think so. It’s always interesting to see the women chime in—the nuances in the conversations have been enlightening, particularly when people draw from their own experiences to fuel these discussions. For example, when the topic of Tali’s husband comes up, there are people who empathize deeply with him, and others who just want to kill him. I’ve had people tell me they feel her challenges strongly, that it mirrors theirs.

That’s not to say men haven’t sympathized with her at all—far from it. I don’t write “for” a certain gender of an audience, but of course the nature of the beast simply means that people who have gone through similar circumstances would see more, and understand more, than those who haven’t. I think I’m particularly pleased that there are others who do feel her situation, who go out of their way to experience and even enjoy the story of a character with circumstances vastly different from their own.

So the response generally has been amazing, and I’m hoping more people see there is a demand in the genre for stories like this: stories with real, breathing women as main characters, flaws and all.

K.S. Villoso grew up in the slums of Manila before moving to Canada in her teens. She now writes fantasy with themes shaped by her childhood–stories of struggle, hope, and resilience amidst grim and grit. Her debut, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO, will be released by Orbit in early 2020. Click here to find out more.

Phil Tucker is a Brazilian/Brit that currently resides in Asheville, NC, where he resists the siren call of the forests and mountains to sit inside and hammer away at his laptop. He is the author of the epic fantasy series Chronicles of the Black Gate, as well as the Godsblood trilogy and the LitRPG series Euphoria Online. Click here to check out Phil’s books.

THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is available in ebook format now, and will be released in paperback in February 2020.

The post Interview with K.S. Villoso (THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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The Fantasy Hive by The Fantasy Hive - 1h ago

Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord and The Alchemy Dirge. He lives in Regina, Canada with his wife, two children, and two cats. You can find him on Twitter @RyanHowse.

Welcome to the Hive, Ryan! Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!

I’m currently reading John le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama, and it’s fantastic, as Le Carré always is. I’m not far in but it’s so far more upbeat than most of his books I’ve read. Random descriptions of the tailor’s life and job are so well-sketched that I have no problems with a complete absence (thus far) of tension.

Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?

I’m not religious, but I’ve always felt an affinity for the cleric—healing and improving others. And frankly, if I’m suddenly in a situation where reality warps, I am absolutely fine with praying to whoever is capable of warping it, especially if they can provide me with those sweet spell slots.

When you’re not trawling (and praying) through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!

I usually listen to music. It’s become generally more ambient than in my younger days. And I only type; my handwriting is pretty atrocious.

I’ve taken to making full concordances for most of my novels. Going forward, I want to have easy reference. So far my projects I’ve used this on have full outlines, character histories and descriptions, world-building details, and so forth.

What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?

Matthew Stover is one of them. His books dropkick me in every neuron I own. I found Blade of Tyshalle when I was burned out on fantasy, and it snapped me back hard into it. A disabled protagonist who’d already saved the day and was dealing with the aftermath of that? Count me in. It was also grimdark before grimdark was a thing—I sincerely think if those books had come out a decade later they’d have been huge.

I also still have a lot of love for New Weird, even as it’s faded. It’s not what I write, but it hit big just at the right age for me, and I miss that more phantasmagorical fantasy.

What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?

I’ve been watching a lot of Murdoch Mysteries, which is a Canadian mystery show that feels like the old mystery shows I used to watch with my mother. And I’m nearly at the end of Stranger Things. Dustin’s plots remain the best part of the show.

As for games, I’m replaying Final Fantasy VII. When I want my brain to basically reboot itself, I replay old RPGs. Prior to that I was also playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is fine? It’s fine.

The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?

Time with the family! They’re pretty great. Alternately, I love tabletop RPGs and haven’t had a ridiculously long session in forever.

Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?

I have a novella called Red In Tooth and Claw that should be ready by autumn. It’s a story of two soldiers on opposite sides of a war forced to work together to survive in the harsh wilderness. It’s a fantasy without overt magic or monsters where the geography is basically northern Canada.

I have the third in my A Concerto For the End of Days sequence, called The Vivus Nocturne. It’s about a frontier mining community where vivus, an essential ingredient in magic, is mined. It’s a weird western. I’m interested in the way this community organizes around a single resource, which means no one has any interest in building a viable future there once it’s extracted.

I have a third, secret project that has been absurdly fun.

So productive! What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I was working 2 jobs, or one 60 hour a week job, the ‘write every day’ mantra messed me up hard. Even though I write almost every day now, I still hate the mantra. Write when you can. Maintain forward momentum. Don’t procrastinate, but allow yourself fallow time. Writing’s more than just typing.

Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?

Stumbling blocks for me are usually just exhaustion from the day job or kids. I feel pretty lucky that that’s the worst of it.

If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?

Assuming I have some ability to understand the languages, Ancient Sumeria. Let’s watch the first cities start to form! I find that whole time period absolutely fascinating.

My second choice would be Antarctica. What can I say? I like the cold.

Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.

I really liked Raymond St. Elmo’s Letters from a Shipwreck in the Sea of Suns and Moons. It had a strange, circular narrative with a sweet courtship as the emotional core. A strange committee is asking questions to an old sailor who, in his youth, survived a shipwreck on an island filled with gods, and their conversation keeps looping around as both the sailor and the committee try to steer the conversation.

Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?

The Steel Discord is a magitech train heist. When a famous occultist is arrested for conspiracy to commit regicide, his apprentice has to sneak onto the train to break him free. But he discovers strange secrets on that train, secrets people will stop at nothing to uncover.

It’s aimed to be fun without being zany, and without losing a sense of consequence or characterization. It’s the first in an ongoing series, of which the first three books will be standalones set in different places with different characters.

The second, The Alchemy Dirge, is a fantasy noir following a black market arcana merchant and an alchemist whose invention turns volatile—and valuable.

Brilliant. Thanks again for joining us, Ryan, and good luck with book three!

Ryan Howse is the author of THE STEEL DISCORD and THE ALCHEMY DIRGE, both available now.

The post Author Spotlight – Ryan Howse appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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The Good: The titular dragons aren’t the only things that come raging out of the pages thanks to the triple-threat of people, ‘places’ and plot, making this Africa (Xhosa) inspired epic an unforgettable read.

The Bad: For me? Nothing. Seriously, I love this book. I have seen some people getting put off by the ‘simple revenge plot’, all the fighting, or the ‘mash-up of cultures’, but honestly, I had so much FUN reading this book I didn’t notice!

The Ugly Truth: The Rage of Dragons is an explosion of characters, cultures and creativity. It blazes a trail to the new and exciting, while also stoking the fireside nostalgia of the fantasy ‘legends’ I grew up reading. With just this one book, Evan Winter joins my personal pantheon of fantasy gods and goddesses as a titan to be reckoned with. 11/10 – all the stars!

The Full Review: 

Ever read a book that felt as if it was written just for you? The Rage of Dragons was this for me.

Warning: No, not a spoiler warning. This is a HYPE warning. I’ll be your pilot today, so please sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride, because The Rage of Dragons IS AMAZING.

Tired of the same old fantasy? Read The Rage of Dragons. Want something new and exciting? Read The Rage of Dragons. Are you still reading this? You shouldn’t be, because you should be reading The Rage of Dragons!

*clears throat*

Excuse me. Right, where was I…

A HUGE thank you to Orbit for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review, and the heart palpitations I experienced as a result (though they weren’t to know that when they sent it).

The Rage of Dragons is Evan Winter’s debut novel, and the first novel in The Burning quartet. Originally self-published, it has since been acquired by Orbit, and it was this traditionally published version that I read (and I am STILL kicking myself for not having discovered this earlier).

The Rage of Dragons is the story of Tau, a lesser of the Omehi people, set in a world that is as vibrant as it is violent. In the caste-based system, as a lesser, Tau’s place is to serve the Nobles, and as a warrior in training, he will be sent to fight the native ‘savages’ that vie for control of the country his people – the Omehi – occupied to escape The Cull in their homeland. But Tau doesn’t want to fight; he wants to live in peace, not war, with the woman that he loves.

And when those whom Tau lives to serve betray him, he starts his own personal war, one of revenge, and one that could very well cost him his soul. But there’s more than just his own fate at stake as he decides what matters most: vengeance, or justice, not just for him, but for all Lessers who have been oppressed by the higher castes.

Boiling the book down to its bare bones, the plot at first glance is quite simple. Archetypal ‘farmboy’ sets out on a quest for revenge after the loss of a loved one, whilst all around him the ‘good vs evil’ fight for survival plays out, which of course he has a part in, like it or not. Oh, and ‘childhood love interest’ gets caught in the crossfire of dragons strafing the proverbial battlefield.

The plot might sound familiar, but the STORY of Tau Tafari is different to any hero’s journey I have ever tread the pages of. The start is slower than the rest of the book, and predictable a la ‘young man trains to be a warrior,’ but it gets to the first twist in short order, and from there things really pick up. Once I reached the point of no return for Tau, circa 30%, there was no way back for me either. Time permitting, this is the type of book that I could read in one sitting. I was hooked.

As a character, Tau is one of my favourite protagonists. He has his faults, which if anything are more enthralling than his strengths. He’s the type of character you champion the cause of. The underdog/lone wolf that doesn’t know when to give up. He’s not 100% the strong and silent type, but his bite is certainly more dangerous than his bark.

Other characters include love interest Zuri (who is so much more than just ‘love interest’ but I won’t divulge more without going into spoilers), Tau’s ‘mentor’ figure Jayyed, fellow lesser Uduak, and rival Kellan. The entire cast more than ticks the box of who’s who, going so far as to break the mould and carve out their own place in the world.

Which brings me to the world(building)! This is an African (Xhosa) inspired fantasy with flavours of European and Asian storytelling. I know that this hasn’t worked for some readers and reviewers, but for me I found it to be really well balanced and imaginative. The magic system especially is wholly original. Imagine: dragons conducting strafing runs over a battlefield on which sorceresses send warriors ‘spiritually’ to the underworld, while Hulk-like behemoths tear chunks off the enemy formation.

I have seen some people get turned off by what they deem is a ‘simple revenge plot’, or ‘too much fighting’ or the mash-up of cultures. My thoughts on this? While revenge plays a big part in Tau’s motivation, it’s the emotion and growth that turns the character-plot into purpose. The fighting is fantastic, especially when combined with the unique magic system. And no matter the real world influences, I really enjoyed the originality and authenticity of staying true to the ‘reality’ of this fantasy world.

Taking a pause here, if it sounds like a lot of this review covers fighting and warfare, that is because this book contains a lot of fighting and warfare. If that is your ‘thing’ then great, this book is for you! But if you are looking for something more, then this might not be your first pick – BUT, seriously give it a shot. There is a lot more to The Rage of Dragons than meets the eye.

I watched Avengers: Endgame the same week as reading this. Needless to say, it was a very emotional week. Before then, I can’t remember the last time something so EPIC left me feeling so emotionally charged and then exhausted afterwards. There were scenes in both that were so intense I had to wipe away a tear. In The Rage of Dragons, around the 50% mark there is a section about ‘Tau’s Path’ (you’ll know it when you read it). When one of the characters quotes something Tau has said, I punched the air in excitement, before remembering I was in a hospital waiting room and that people could see me. Oops.

Multiple themes run throughout The Rage of Dragons. Love, loss, betrayal, birthright, revenge, redemption – but for me, something that really stood out was cost, namely the cost of your actions. And not just the cost to others/society/the world, as a result of your actions, but also the personal cost. Every choice has a consequence, but behind that is a cost, which must be paid whether you choose to accept the price or not.

Speaking personally, as this book did touch me personally on the theme of cost, The Rage of Dragons embraces what it means to be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and made it an accessible topic in a way I hadn’t read before. Without getting ‘heavy’ on the topic, PTSD is something that a lot of people have, and have had throughout history. It affects people differently, for different reasons, and is entirely individual to them based on them as a person. A bit of a taboo subject until recently, it has become more widely acknowledged (and dare I say it, ‘accepted’) in recent years.

In The Rage of Dragons, Tau makes certain choices that come with a cost. Without realising it at the time of deciding, this cost is far greater than he expects. It changes how he sees and interacts with the world. Kind of a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ type of thing. But where Peter Parker can don the mask of Spiderman to fight supervillains, assured that his two separate identities are (mostly) separate, Tau Tafari can’t. Tau’s villains stay with him as he lives and breathes. Tau’s demons in his day to day aren’t really there (though they are, arguably, in the spirit world), but to him, in his eyes, they are. I really identified with this as a form of PTSD, and whether this was intentional or not, I think it’s perfect. Its not just a nice ‘add in’. It’s part of who Tau is, and it makes him more real for it.

On the note of Spiderman, I have to admit the ‘Game of Thrones meets Gladiator’ doesn’t really work for me (bear with me, this isn’t a negative). I realise that putting the names of heavy hitters on a book/film/series is going to draw attention from outside the immediate audience/fanbase, but The Rage of Dragons isn’t Game of Thrones or Gladiator. Yes, there are dragons, and revenge. But The Rage of Dragons is so much more than that.

And with Game of Thrones now finished, the question of ‘what next?’ continues to be asked. Answering ‘THIS!’ (TRoD) makes sense, but in the same breath I feel that it would be wrong of me to do so, because TRoD isn’t GoT. Why? It’s The Rage of Dragons, that’s why. And true to its own voice, The Rage of Dragons is its own story. It shouldn’t be in the shadow of Game of Thrones, not when it deserves to bask, nay, to blaze, in the glory of its own fire.

I feel that, in a way, The Rage of Dragons is to fantasy what Black Panther is to blockbuster movies (note: the use of ‘blockbuster movies’ and not superhero movies, as African stories and storytellers are woefully underrepresented in all media forms). The Rage of Dragons, IMHO, is a story that will open people’s eyes and minds as they hadn’t been before. It’s not the first of its kind*, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it will be a gateway fantasy for a lot of readers to a much bigger world than the one they knew.

(*That’s not to say that there aren’t any other fantastic African influenced fantasies out there; to mention but a few: N.K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology (anything by Jemisin should be considered required reading), Lost Gods by Micah Yongo, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Young adult), Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, and I would be remiss for not including Tade Thompson’s SFF titan Rosewater.)

So if I had to think of an ‘x meets y’ comparison for The Rage of Dragons, I would say it’s Black Panther meets The Poppy War (by R.F. Kuang). Not because of the street-cred kudos that would earn it, but because these two distinct works embrace their separate cultures, the stories of the people within them, and bring them to life in such a way that is so fantastical it’s real. And if a writer can take something fictional and make it seem real, tangible, and something you want to believe in, then that is the biggest compliment I can think to give as a reader.

Before concluding this review, because I’m already rambling, and I could go on about this book all day, I have to add: we need more #ownstories from POC, minorities and underrepresented groups. We want them, but just as importantly (if not more so) we need them.

In closing, The Rage of Dragons has it all. A hero’s journey that could easily stray to the dark path of the anti-hero; a magic system built with rules and raw power with still room enough to surprise you; and characters so full of life and heart that when they hurt, you bleed, both inside and out (from the papercuts you get trying to turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens next).

And I for one can’t wait for the next instalment.

The post THE RAGE OF DRAGONS by Evan Winter (Book Review) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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“We have each other and maybe that’s the one thing our enemies don’t.” Hilo’s aura gave a dark pulse, like an angry sigh, but he didn’t move or open his eyes. Shae slumped back and closed her own eyes. “The clan is my blood and the Pillar is its master,” she whispered. “I have a lot of regrets in life, but those oaths aren’t one of them.”

Jade War by Fonda Lee is the second book in the Green Bone Saga, and it’s been one of my most anticipated reads since I read (and completely gushed over) the first book, Jade City. I honestly didn’t think this sequel could surpass its predecessor, but I was wrong. Jade War incorporates all the parts that I loved from the first book, and takes this Godfather-esque tale to another level.

There is much that goes on in this novel; as the saga progresses, all the stakes get higher. The conflict between No Peak clan and The Mountain continues, and the streets of Janloon are strewn with violence; with the growing trend of jade smuggling and illegal distribution, and the valid threat of foreign invasion, the need for the two clans to form peace and work together becomes crucial.

Lee prominently builds upon the themes of clan loyalty, honour, and above all family duty, from the first book, and raises the bar so that these themes are even more fundamental in this sequel. The threats to No Peak clan are far more dangerous and harder to uncover, the ambitions of the Kaul family have grown even further, and the fight for survival is even more intense. Yet Fonda Lee still retains her cinematic writing style, which was something that I adored from the first book. Her prose is so descriptive there is an almost visual noir quality to each scene, and once again I was taken back to my love for gangster films.

However, this book certainly incorporates different types of warfare this time around; the war between the clans and the threat of foreign invasion is not resolved by violence alone. In the first half of the book there is much political warfare that goes on, many manipulations and strategic manoeuvres. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect; it was thrilling to see all these narratives play out. Admittedly there were many plots to follow and I did get a bit confused with who was who in certain chapters, but still, seeing the outcome was always so exciting.

‘The clan was not just people and jade and money. It was an idea, a legacy that connected the past with the present and the future. The family’s strength was a promise.’

Then in the second half, MY GOD, do things become fierce! I can’t give away any details because of spoilers, but let me tell you right now, Fonda Lee bloody knows how to skilfully build up tension. Every interaction and dialogue between characters is laced with veiled meanings, each scene magnifies the threatening atmosphere. Then Lee delivers a duel or fight scene, and you’re seriously on the edge of your seat, you’re biting your nails, closing your eyes, because you cannot handle what may happen next! 

So what is it that makes me love this series so much? It is most definitely the characters, and their family dynamics. Again, I can’t help but make comparisons to The Godfather here, because that’s exactly the way the hierarchy of the clan and the Kaul family worked. Hilo, Shae, and their cousin Anden, were once again beloved to me, but now I’m fully attached to Wen, and her brothers Kehn and Tar too. Lee writes some spectacular character development; each character comes to life, they are etched into your heart, and you become part of the Kaul family too because you care just as much!

Let’s take Hilo, for example; he has matured, his time as The Pillar of No Peak has certainly shaped him to become more calculating, and more open to taking advice. That doesn’t mean he has grown soft, though. On the contrary; beneath Hilo’s exterior a volcanic fiery anger burns within him, a need for vengeance is ever present, and he could certainly blow at any given moment. He’s not your shiny hero, he is just a man who will go to any lengths to protect those he loves unconditionally, damning the consequences. Sure, some of the decisions he makes are morally questionable, and sometimes his short-sightedness is frustrating, but you can fully understand the reasoning behind his actions. These are the characters that I truly love, ones that make mistakes but still have good intentions. Have I mentioned how much I love Hilo?!

‘After nearly four years as Pillar his youthful, violent reputation had begun to fade. Now he made no secret of the fact that he was out for blood, and people nodded in understanding.’

Then there are the female characters, Shae and Wen. Both have grown into their roles in the No Peak clan, and have many responsibilities. Gone are the days when either of them felt uncertain about their place in the world, gone are the days when they allowed others to dominate over their actions. I love how strong both of these women have become. And I have to mention here that Shae gets herself into one of the most incredible fight scenes ever!

I also need to mention that the world building really expands in this instalment. We get a glimpse of life outside of Kekon, and the city of Janloon, and travel to the city of Port Massy in Espenia. Through Anden’s character we see the cultural differences between Kekon and Espenia. Whereas Janloon is a city full of clan hierarchy, tradition, and once again honour, Port Massy very much portrays a more Western setting, with its more brazen culture, and its domineering brutish gang of Crews. For Anden, who is thrust into a city where he cannot speak the language or understand the cultural rules, this is the biggest shock of his life, but one that he tries his best to adjust to.

One of the main conflicts present throughout Jade War is progression vs tradition. Should jade be traded freely with the Espenian military and other foreigners? Or like Hilo’s view, should it be sacred to the Kekonese race, and be their decision on where and how much should be distributed? Kekon would economically grow with exportation, but at what cost to the Kekonese culture? This debate was really fascinating, and seeing different sides to the argument, well, it really made me think.

Wow, this review is a lot longer than I intended, but I guess I just had so much to say! Anyway to wrap things up, overall Jade War is the very definition of a sequel done right. Every aspect of the book develops from the first, becomes more complex, whilst still retaining that stellar vivid prose. We really do need more urban fantasy of this standard because Fonda Lee shows us how exhilarating it can be.

ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

Jade War is due for release 25th July 2019. 

Image by @nils.reviewsit (Instagram)

The post JADE WAR by Fonda Lee (Book Review) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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We’re delighted to host the cover reveal for THE LOST WAR by Justin Lee Anderson!

Here’s what Justin had to say about the book:

“The Lost War is the first book in a trilogy called Eidyn. The country of Eidyn and some plot elements are based on the history, mythology and etymology of Edinburgh, and most of the main characters are based on characters that were roleplayed by a group of friends and me over the course of about a decade. If anyone wants to read the first two chapters two weeks before publication, they can sign up for my mailing list here and also get a couple of free short stories while they’re waiting.”

Without further ado, here is the cover!

Cool, eh? The cover artist is George Long, who is also responsible for (among many other things) Patrick Rothfuss’ American covers.

THE LOST WAR will be released on August 30th 2019. In the meantime, here’s the official blurb:

The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.

With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.

In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.

Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.

As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?

Strap in for this twisted fantasy road trip from award-winning author Justin Lee Anderson.

Justin Lee Anderson is the author of CARPET DIEM, available now, and THE LOST WAR, which will be released on August 30th 2019.

The post THE LOST WAR by Justin Lee Anderson – COVER REVEAL appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Kai Herbertz!

Dr. Kai Herbertz was born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1977. He is an indie author and indie game designer, who used to work as a scientist. After becoming a Diplom-Ingenieur in electrical and electronics engineering at the RWTH Aachen he earned his PhD in electrical and electronics engineering at Imperial College London.

In August 2015 he published his fantasy novel “Age of Torridan” via Kindle Direct Publishing.
In June 2016 he founded the company Herbertz Entertainment UG (haftungsbeschränkt), which released its first game “Das Katastrophenspiel” at the SPIEL16 games fair in Essen in October 2016 and its second game “Albedo” in 2017.

Welcome to the Hive, Kai. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!

Hello Fantasy Hive – thank you for having me! The most recent book I read was “Minimum Wage Magic” by Rachel Aaron. Coincidentally, it was also a great book I’ve read recently! The novel is set in the same universe as Rachel Aaron’s Heartstriker books, which I have not yet read. However, after this excellent urban fantasy novel, I needed more and immediately bought the Heartstriker series. In the meantime, the second book of the DFZ novel series “Part-Time Gods” was released.

Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?

I assume that the reality warp imbues myself with special powers – otherwise I don’t think most authors would fare well in a hostile fantasy world… Anyway, I imagine I would be the loyal paladin, wielding the vanilla equivalent of fantasy weapons – a plain old boring sword.

When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!

While I wrote my novel “Age of Torridan,” I met up with my best friend in the library and we would each work on our respective creative projects. Typically I have a Word document with a brief chapter by chapter outline, but when inspiration strikes I also do not have a problem to deviate from my outline and pursue the new idea.

What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?

Apparently I was subconsciously influenced by both Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson. Of course my novel is a far cry away from being either a Rothfuss or a Sanderson, but what I mean was that I committed some accidental plagiarism: in my novel I included the line “his words a whisper,” which I thought was a genius way of phrasing things and figured I had come up with that on my own. A few years later I reread Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn The Final Empire and was appalled to see that very line in his book. I must have been impressed by it on first reading it, but forgot about it until my subconsciousness pulled it out while writing my own novel. Likewise, one of the characters in my novel is called “Dagon” and on rereading Rothfuss’s “The Wise Man’s Fear” I noticed that there is also a prominent character called “Dagon,” although I still think I came up with that one independently while playing around with the word “dragon.”

I guess something like that happens quite frequently: I remember reading the first Game of Thrones book nine years ago and being impressed by the “crunching snow” in the prologue. With just one word the noise the person made and also the thickness of the snow was described. After seeing that, I encountered the very same phrase in numerous other novels.

As for collaborations, I would love to work with either Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Danielle Shipley, or Rachel Aaron.

What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?

Can I do both? I’ll do both, even though technically it is not TV anymore, but one of the major streaming services. I have not finished watching a series recently, but started to watch “Star Trek Discovery.” I don’t like this re-imagination of the Klingons, who used to be honourable warriors in the Next Generation days, to cowardly suicide bombers, but I have heard that eventually the series gets better, so I am giving it another chance. Currently I am six episodes in.

As for games, I am both an avid board game player and a video game connoisseur as well. Board game wise the most recent game I played (apart from my own game “Albedo”) was “Wingspan,” which did not look like a game I would enjoy, but which ended up being a terrific experience. Despite losing, I had a great time and being able to enjoy your time even when things do not go your way is one of the hallmarks of a great game to me personally.

When it comes to video games, I was most impressed by “The Witcher 3” recently. I have played video games ever since the 80s and even though nostalgia usually makes one value earlier experiences more, I have to say that the Witcher 3 was hands down the best game I have ever played. A lot of other authors played the game and complained about being limited in the dialogue options, but I appreciate the approach CD Projekt Red followed: you are not playing yourself in the game, you are role playing a very specific person, namely Geralt of Rivia. Therefore, all the options you have are decisions that would be in character for Geralt of Rivia. The decisions and their outcomes may be different, but they are always true to the character and you are not able to play Geralt in such a way as to go against his personality. I did not see this as a weakness, but considered it a strength, as it allows the authors to tell a very compelling story, whereas they would not have been able to do that, if they had to account for a generic character that the players make their own. The way they provided different possible endings to numerous story elements also helped to tell a satisfying story, whereas other games eventually weave the narrative back to the same ending, no matter what your decisions were in the game.

The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?

A good friend of mine once said that the meaning of life is to meet up with dear friends to share a meal and regale each other with entertaining stories. In that vein, I would host a garden party with small potatoes for dipping in various sauce pots on a beautiful summer day.

Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?

When it comes to writing, I am about twenty thousand words into the sequel to “Age of Torridan.” The new novel picks up where the last book ended, but there is a different protagonist. It is difficult to talk about this without spoiling the first book, so instead I am going to tell you about my other creative endeavour, which is game design.

For the time being I restricted myself to designing short 30 minute card games. The most recent project is an expansion for my science fiction card game “Albedo.” Regardless of whether I am working on a novel or on a game, a few weeks ago I reserved a short URL, which always redirects to my latest work in progress. So if you ever want to see what I am up to, simply go to www.forw.de

What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

The old “write what you know” is great advice, if one knows how to parse it. A lot of people interpret it to mean “stay in your lane,” but to me the significance of that piece of advice is to imbue your writing with truth. If you do not have personal experience with something then it is a call to do your research, so that you actually do know and can make more informed narrative decisions rather than assuming things.

Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?

Quite frankly, I have not figured that one out, yet. However, I am going to peruse the other author spotlights to learn a few techniques. My current method is to still sit down and write, but when I am in a funk the time usually goes by without any significant headway on my project. Having an accountability buddy usually helps, which is why I used to meet up with my friend in the library.

If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?

Originally I wanted to say ancient Rome, but I figured that this would be a widely popular choice. I actually checked and saw that it was V.R. Cardoso’s choice, so you are getting my second pick instead.

Since I am a huge fan of the American musical “Hamilton” I’d love to experience that time period and witness a rogue colony’s rise to eventually become the world’s most influential super power.

Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.

Going back to the beginning, I urge everyone to check out the DFZ novel series by Rachel Aaron. The first book “Minimum Wage Magic” was a page-turner and I am very much looking forward to reading the second novel “Part-Time Gods.”

Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?

Here is the log-line for “Age of Torridan:” A disillusioned knight, who is framed for murder by a mysterious wizard, sets out to clear his name and ends up discovering himself.

It is a standalone novel, but as I said I am working on a sequel that deals with a few loose ends.

Brilliant. Thanks again for joining us, Kai, and good luck with the sequel!

Thank you for having me and talk to you soon!

Kai Herbertz is a game designer and the author of AGE OF TORRIDAN. His latest board game Kickstarter, ALBEDO: YGGDRASIL, is live until July 31st 2019.

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Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Robert Mammone!

Robert Mammone was born in Australia. Robert isn’t to be confused with the other Robert Mammone, the noted Australian television and film actor.

Robert has tried his hand at writing since at least the late 1980s, when he won an encouragement award for a short piece of fantasy whose name he can no longer remember. A long barren period followed until 2009, when Robert decided it wasn’t worth dying wondering, and turned his hand once more to writing, this time, horror fiction. Of late, he has begun writing fantasy, which has always been his first love.

His occult action first novel, Rise of the Dominator, can be found at Amazon.  It’s a Doctor Who spin-off featuring Brigadier Alistair Gordon-Lethbridge Stewart from the classic series!

His grimdark novella, Only the Guilty Live, can also be found on Kindle at Amazon.  Think Exorcist meets The Dirty Dozen…

Robert’s horror and fantasy short fiction has also appeared in Doctor Who Magazine, the British Fantasy Society’s Winter JournalMidnight Echo and Pseudopod.

One day, Robert hopes to write the great fantasy novel, but for that he needs two things – an idea. And your soul.

You can find Robert on Twitter @dreadsinister.

Welcome to the Hive, Robert. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!

I recently re-read the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, probably for the first time since I picked up The Summer Tree in the late 1980s.  Guy Kay helped Christopher Tolkien assemble The Silmarillion, and his knowledge of European myths, particularly northern Europe, likely came from working on that book.  But not only does he know his European mythology, even as a new writer, he could assemble wonderful characters who felt real, and mix literary sensibilities with a cracking story.  There are a large number of set pieces in the book that still send a chill through me, and if I didn’t shed a tear every fifty pages at some heartfelt piece of writing, then I’d have a heart of stone.  Beautiful and brilliant.

Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?

Berserker dwarf fighter armed with a double-headed demon-haunted axe who has an insatiable thirst for strong liquor and impossible odds.

When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!

I’ve got a rapidly fading laptop I hammer away at in the grim hope that I’ll come up with something new, fresh and exciting.  I like to have music in the background and try to match up the music with what I’m writing.  At the moment, I’m diving deep into Def Leppard’s Pyromania album from the early 80s, and seem to have Die Hard the Hunter on loop while I work on an extended action sequence.  Otherwise I’ve had Metallica also on high rotation for that pulse pounding feel to the action!  I’ve yet to work out how to type and perform an extended air guitar solo, but that’s what dictation apps are for!  When writing at home, I may or may not begin the writing session with a scotch or two, just to lubricate the mind…

Because my daughters attend dance class a few times a week, I tend to do a lot of my writing in the car, while waiting for them to finish (no scotch involved, of course!  Don’t drink and drive and write, kids!)  I wrote most of a 45000 novella over the course of a few months, sitting in the car in a parking tower across the road from their studio.  Also, fully clothed – we’re not savages down here!  Aside from the car, I’ve been known to write at my desk at work during my lunch break and also at 1.30 in the morning with Wimbledon on while scrolling Twitter to discover who the new Doctor Who is (hint:  a woman!)

I need at least a broad outline before I start.  That gives me a map to the destination, but with sufficient room for diversions and allows the characters to do surprising things I hadn’t planned for, which makes the end product more organic and less mechanical.  I can’t not have a plan – I need to have at least an idea of who the main characters are, the background to the world, and a sense where events will culminate.

What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?

While none of them have influenced my style (such as it is), they’ve certainly influenced what I want to write.  Lovecraft (for the horror), David Gemmell (a pure sense of good versus evil and men and women doing what they must against terrible odds), David Eddings (for his sense of fun and for fully embracing the hidden king trope which far too many writers sneer at) and Guy Gavriel Kay (not only the best fantasy writer going around, but on pure talent and literary ability, a fantastic writer full stop).

I’m not good enough to shine his shoes, but if Gemmell were still alive, he’d be the writer I’d most love to work with.  His first book, Legend, still blows me away, even though it is very much a first novel written by a man grappling with his own mortality.  Gemmell’s prose is relatively unadorned, which allows the story and characters to really shine.

What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?

I left games behind when my Atari 2600 went in the bin.  A sad day indeed!

You couldn’t say I enjoyed it, because the subject is so horrifying, but HBO’s Chernobyl is a masterclass in brooding horror that mounts and mounts until you fear your head may crack open.  I remember watching the coverage at the time, which came at the height of the Cold War.  It exemplifies a number of things: godless atheists make for terrible rulers willing to lie and lie and lie while forcing innocent civilians to bear the brunt of their incompetence, and that horror doesn’t need to wield a machete and wear a hockey mask – it can be blocks of radioactive graphite that handled once for twenty seconds can condemn you to die screaming as you vomit your insides out.

The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?

Read.  I’ve got a garage full of books I’ve built up over twenty years that need reading.  Also, sleep.

Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?

So right now, I’m plotting out another novel for Candy Jar – it’s only at the very, very early stage with a number of elements suggested by my editor.  I’ll get motoring on that soon enough.

I’m hoping to submit to Cohesion Press for an anthology due in late June.  I’ve scrapped half a dozen ideas in the last few weeks – despite the theme, for me, its surprisingly hard to come up with an outline that seems halfway credible once I’ve written it down and returned an hour later to look at it and not despair.  However, I think I’ve locked down a plot and some characters – the writing commences shortly!

And I have a short horror story I’m currently writing during my lunch break for submission to another anthology.  It’s all about how a young woman survives a Mike Myers/Jason slaughter and the effect it has on her (hint: dire).

What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

I once reached out to noted horror writer Simon Strantzas and asked for some advice about how to go about submitting short fiction to the huge kaleidoscope of small presses.  His advice was simple, but a real eye opener for a naif like me.  Simon said to start at the top ie the best paying markets, and basically work your way down the list from there.  I took that to mean don’t sell your work short – don’t go for the non-paying website but instead start with your Tor.com or Black Static or Interzone or HFQs – if you think your work is good enough, treat it that way.

Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?

I’m fortunate in the sense I have a full time job, so I have the luxury of not having to worry how to put food on the table if I get stuck on a section of story.  What I tend to do is move ahead to the next stage in the story, and then work backwards to fill the gap.  The great motivator is ego:  if I don’t write the damn thing, then no one will be able to read it, and an ego as fragile as mine craves reviews (hint: favourable, please!)  Often stumbling blocks are dissolved while I’m taking a shower – the mind drifts combined with all that extra oxygen in a confined space and suddenly the synapses are buzzing.  I’ve had plenty of knotty plot/story issues resolved that way.

If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?

Constantinople, 1453 – the last day of Christian rule.  There’s a wonderful story of the last Emperor, Constantine XII, ripping off his imperial regalia and with his men, plunging into the heart of the Turkish invaders, never to be seen again.  I’ll always remember a short story by Harry Turtledove that looks at Constantine’s return in the modern day, a Greek King Arthur in a sense.  An awful day for the people in that great city, but a transformative one for Asia and Europe.

Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.

Hmm – I’ll give you two.  All based on the nostalgia of my teenage years.  The Heroes of Zara Keep by Guy Gregory (a pseudonym for a father and son writing team) – released by Bantam Spectra in the early 80s and the perfect portal fantasy for young adults.  A group of young Americans, including a Native American, are swept up at the point of death and transferred by a wizard to a fantasy world in dire need of their abilities to defeat the evil threatening the world.  It blew my little mind off, and this was before reading Stephen Donaldson’s Covenant books or Guy Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy which covered much the same ground.

And Riders of the Sidhe by Kenneth Flint – a combination of Gaelic myth and fading technology combine to build a really interesting, entertaining adventure fantasy with appealing characters in an interesting environment.  Having the evil Fomor be the faded remnants of a previously scientific society and utilising technology they barely understand, up against fantasy magic really thrilled me.

Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?

If you like your sword and sorcery action liberally laced with darkest magics, exciting adventure and horrifying incident, then I’m your man.  And if you like your horror grim and dark and full of ancient entities wanting to pull the world down into everlasting darkness, then, I’m your man again!

Thanks again for joining us, Robert, and good luck with the new book!

Robert Mammone is the author of numerous short stories, as well as a grimdark novella (ONLY THE GUILTY LIVE) and occult action debut novel (RISE OF THE DOMINATOR).

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The reader is reborn into Newman’s world of the Deathless, much as his protagonist Lady Pari is reborn into the body of her great-granddaughter Priti. Newman’s world offers neither character nor reader much time to catch their breath.  Some sixteen years after the events of The Deathless and Lady Pari can only hope that the fragile and hastily formed alliances from the end of her last lifecycle have endured during her soul’s enforced absence from the mortal realm.

While I will try to avoid spoilers for The Ruthless, it is inevitable that there will be some spoilers for The Deathless.  It is, after all, impossible to say much about the direction the sequel takes without revealing some of the first book’s endpoints.  So, you can see my review of The Deathless here and may wish to buy and read that book before going on to the rest of this review.

Newman shows us more of his world through the eyes of five point-of-view characters. Besides the masterful and scheming Lady Pari, we follow:

  • Satyendra – the imposter, the changeling, the thing of the wild swapped at birth into a life as a tower-born honoured vessel for the reincarnation of Sapphire Lord Rochant, yet who cannot abide to be near the very crystals that his body must wear as armour when Rochant is restored into Satyendra’s body.
  • Sa-at – the true tower-born babe, adopted and raised by Crowflies, the demon of the wild – unaware of his origins, just that he is different.
  • Chamdi – honoured mother to the real Satyendra/Sa-at but oblivious (or wilfully blind) to the fact she has been raising the most unkindly of cuckoos in her lofty crystal nest. While hungry for her long period of duty as Rochant’s Seneschal to end through his return and reincarnation, she is also fearful of what that might mean for her son and her own humble ambitions, which centre on a coarse-tongued bearded roadborn traveller named Varg and his five-legged beast of burden Glider.
  • And finally there is Vasin – Sapphire Lord, one of six deathless in the Sapphire house. It should have been seven, save only that Sapphire High Lord Yadavendra deliberately shattered one of the sacred godpieces that alone allow a soul to be reincarnated by the bringers of eternal order. Vasin must steer a fine line between addressing the festering sickness within his own house and providing essential support to the beleaguered minor house Ruby, set upon by attacks from the Wild of unparalleled viciousness and precision.

The distinctive voices, experiences and motivations of these five points of view enable Newman to lead the reader through a complex but fascinating tapestry of interwoven threads. The writing as ever is light and engaging with many lines that had me doffing my cap in the author’s direction. For example,

Yadavendra’s mouth worked silently for a moment, making ghosts of words that he could not bring himself to say.

But the people of Newman’s world face a multiplicity of threats.  Humans, confined to life on thin bands of safety either side of the demon-searing godroads – like those isolated pockets of humanity left over in every zombie apocalypse movie – are a people under siege from the vastness of the Wild. While the majestic hunting powers of the deathless lords and ladies in their winged crystal suits of armour have preserved a precarious balance of power, the Wild is evolving.  The original definitive zombies of “Dawn of the Dead” were slow and mindless, made fearsome only because of their sheer weight of numbers.  But through several cinematic iterations – including 28 Days Later (not strictly a zombie movie) and Land of the Dead – zombies became faster and cleverer.  So too Newman’s demons – infinitely more varied than any zombies – are changing, and Vasin is the first to spot the danger this new Wild poses.

Sa-at lives in the Wild and, like that original lost boy, Mowgli of The Jungle Book, he has made his own accommodations with it. He knows its perils and understands its rituals – particularly the business of debts and payment. In the Wild nothing is without a price, even if the commodities traded would not feature on any currency or stock exchange. Sa-at has fashioned many bizarre friendships and numerous “deals,” every single one of which breaks the fundamental law of his human kindred: “No deal with the Wild.” This is quickly shown to be such an impractical position born of blind zealotry that you would almost think the humans deserved to die out (or is that another “No Deal” that I’m thinking of?). For all the comfort that he has, Sa-at knows he is not of the wild.  Like Mowgli he lurks on the fringes of civilisation, watchful, eager for a different sense of belonging, but life is never easy for one who tries to straddle the two worlds – as others have found before him.

Tanzanite Lady Pari, used to being the queen on the chess board, or at least the kingmaker, finds herself and her brother cast as the expendable pawns, potential collateral damage in the necessity of provoking a reaction from the decay at the heart of House Sapphire.  Fresh into her new body, aware that her brother is broken, his soul not entirely whole, she faces a multiplicity of challenges: to survive; to save him; to further the alliances she laid at the end of her last life cycle; to discover if old oaths have endured the enforced sixteen-year absence of her soul from the world.

But within Pari’s story we see the callous heart of the world Newman has created. When Varg first meets the reincarnated Pari he is confused, seeing her in the body of her great-grand-daughter Priti, a girl he has been training in secret ways to make her a suitable vessel for Pari’s rebellious soul.  His simple reaction rings so true: “I didn’t think… that it would be this hard.” Much as Pari is a sympathetic character, there is that horror of realising she walks in another’s body – another who has gone – the body they prepared for youthful life gifted to another.

As a reader you rail against that fundamental injustice of stolen years of life, of another’s body ruthlessly appropriated.  It reminded me in different ways of the film “Freejacker” where Mick Jagger is an agent scavenging a body from the past for a rich but fatally diseased billionaire to transplant himself into, or of the film “Out of Time,” or the SPFBO#4 finalist The Anointed where years of life can be traded or stolen in a truly sick economy.  Or even Shusterman’s “Unwind” where unwanted youngsters are disassembled to provide spare parts for the sick and the wealthy. It makes one wonder if the Deathless deserve to win.

As the characters stagger or soar along the tangled paths and windswept flights of their storylines, Newman surrounds them in a deep and richly inventive world.

His demonic imagination brings us Murderkind, Scuttling Corpseman and Crowflies.  We also meet three fearsome brothers, distortions of humanity but much more dangerous and harder to defeat than the trio of trolls Bilbo & co encountered on the road to Rivendell. In their very nature, Newman’s wild creatures are assembled from fragments of things and people, as though the vicious Sid from Toy Story had been given access to a scrapyard of human and other body parts.

Despite this intrinsic horror, we see again the classic Newman misdirection: who is the bad guy here? To be honest nearly all of them at different times could subscribe to the subreddit “Am I the A-hole?” but the fundamentally human motivations that Newman gives to all his characters makes them wonderfully grey (and I mean that in a good way, not a shady way). Nothing and nobody is entirely black and white.

There is plenty of vividly described action and a fair few tense battle scenes, but this is a story where cleverness counts. Not least in a sequence reminiscent of the closing stages of the Princess Bride where Wesley, saved from death and torture by two mismatched rescuers, must in turn help them outwit their common enemies with just the power of his mind – for his body is not his to command. In Newman’s case, this emphasises the value of cunning over raw power – and I’m all for a story where cunning counts.

The story ends with its principals and its world poised upon a precipice both literally and metaphorically, in a cliffhanger that feels more like the ending of the first half of a two-part sequel than the end of the second book in a trilogy – a wonderful tale with more facets than a twenty-sided die, a complexity of competing factions to rival Game of Thrones.

I cannot wait for the next book, to see how the delightfully nuanced world and characters play out, not just so I can find out who wins, but so I can find out who I want to win!

The post THE RUTHLESS by Peter Newman (Book Review) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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Art by Carmen Sinek for Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons and Dragons (aka D&D) has been around for decades, but in recent years it’s become more popular than ever. From starring in Stranger Things, to streaming success on Twitch and videos on YouTube with celebrities like Vin Diesel, Deborah Ann Woll, and Terry Crews featuring on broadcast games, the audience of potential gamers has never been greater. More than a few authors we have featured here on the Fantasy Hive have noted D&D as an influence on their writing, as well as members of our own team.

With that in mind, we here at the Hive thought we’d share our own experiences. Not so much a ‘how to,’ as there are plenty of other people far more qualified to explain the ins and outs of the game. Nor will it fit the usual ‘tips and tricks’ type article, FAQ or ‘beginner’s guide to’. This feature will focus on getting started with D&D, and hopefully with enough encouragement (/peer pressure) other members of the Fantasy Hive will share their own experiences in the future. Who knows, we might even get a short story or a field report from a game, or an overview of a class…time will tell.

Please note: whilst this article has been written with ‘something for everyone’ in mind, this getting started feature will focus on players, not dungeon masters. I have only recently started playing D&D, but have wanted to play since I was a kid (20~ years). I still have a lot to learn, but I wanted to share my experience and excitement, because when you are just getting started it can feel a little overwhelming.

What is D&D?

Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game. In it, you take on the role of a character and play them in the game. Because of this you can be anyone or anything you want. Once you have your character, and a party to join (i.e. friends to play with!) you can jump right into the game. (More on this in a minute.)

All you need to get started is a blank character sheet and a set of polyhedral dice (or do it all online at D&D Beyond!)

What do I need to play?

The beauty of D&D is that you only need a pen and some paper (preferably a filled-out character sheet), and a few dice to roll as part of the game. But most important is your imagination.

What about the rules?

In terms of ‘rules’ you can splash out on the Players’ Handbook (for players) or the Dungeon Masters’ Guide (for, well, dungeon masters) and any of the other supplements, including the Monster Manual, or any of the campaign settings and other resources.

But if you’re starting out, you can use a copy of the basic rules that are available online for free.

Yes, you read that right.

FOR. FREE.

Wizard of the Coast provided these because they wanted to reduce the barrier for entry as much as possible, which is great if you ask me.

Note: there is something called ‘The Starter Set’ which comes with a compact rules handbook, pre-made characters, and an introductory adventure. This might be worth looking into if you’re really unsure of ‘where to start,’ but personally speaking a copy of free basic rules available online is all you need in terms of ‘material’.

Hang on…back up. You mentioned characters?

Yes, characters. Some players come to the table with a character in mind, others come up with their alter-egos based on what is presented to them. First and foremost is the decision on race and class.

Races: The core game offers up a number of ‘races’ from the fantasy favourites of Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Human and more (others include giant-like Goliaths and devilish Tieflings).

Classes: In addition to your race, you have classes. These include the fantasy ‘holy trinity’ of fighter (warrior), wizard (magic user) and rogue (thief), as well as classes like warlock, druid, ranger, paladin, cleric and more.

Add into these starting races/classes those included in expansions (i.e. the aforementioned Goliath isn’t included in the Player’s Handbook, and Critical Role’s Tal’Dorei supplement includes the Gunslinger class) as well as the ability to ‘homebrew’ yourself a new race/class, you are presented with endless opportunities.

Give me an example…

You could opt to be a Dwarf warrior named Gimli, a Human wizard named Hermione, or a Drow Elf Ranger named Drizzt.

Or you could flip things entirely on their head and be Gary the Half-orc Cleric who heals and gives aid to others, sworn to help those in need after growing up on the streets in a society which shuns him. Maybe you fancy a character like Gnasher the Gnome Barbarian, who wields an axe bigger than she is tall, with a penchant for kneecaps, whose favourite drink is a Bloody Mary with real orc blood (sorry Gary).

You can be whoever you want to be. And ultimately, race/class is a very small part of what your character is, not who they are.

So, I’m going to play Gary the Half-Orc Cleric / Gnasher the Gnome Barbarian. Does that mean my job is to heal my party / kill everything with my axe?

Yes and no. I won’t go into the mechanics of ability scores and proficiencies, but while your class does dictate a lot of what your character can do when you start out, it doesn’t mean you have to play the character that way.

Let’s take Gary for example. As a cleric, one of his key stats should be wisdom, as a lot of his abilities depend on this to be effective. But, as a cleric, he is also proficient in armour, allowing him to stand on the front line and go toe to toe with the enemy. As a half-orc, maybe this is what Gary wants? To wade in kicking ass in the name of his chosen god, while throwing out heals to his allies when they start to fall behind. Again – the choice is yours!

Same goes for Gnasher. Is she going to fly into a rage and charge ahead of the party, or is she going to work herself up into a frenzy and act as a shield for her friends? Personally, I like the idea of Gnasher making a daisy-chain out of Kobold kneecaps, but that might not be for everyone.

‘Inn of Heroes’ by atomiiii (DeviantArt)

As your character – and YOU – develop over time, you get more things to choose from, e.g. spells, abilities, feats, equipment etc. But it’s important to remember that it’s not what’s on the character sheet that counts – it’s YOU who determines how you play.

Does that mean I have to act like my character?

Up to you! In the D&D game I have been lucky enough to join, the players freely switch between ‘I am going to’ and ‘he / she is going to’ and actually saying something ‘in character’.

For example, one exchange from our game (not verbatim, but you’ll get the gist):

Beth (player): Heal Eriss (warrior character).
Me (in-character): She’s fine, just a flesh wound.
Anna (Eriss’ player speaking in-character): I’m bleeding out
Me (player): How much health do you have left?
Anna (player): 6.
Beth (in-character): she’s bleeding out!
Me (in-character): I could heal you…but it will cost you 5 gold.

That all might sound very confusing, but it’s really not. Over time I like the idea of acting out my character more, maybe even giving him an accent of sorts, but for now I am still learning and loving every minute of play.

How do I go about making a character properly? Is there a form to fill out? Like a CV?

Right, let’s get to a bit of nitty gritty.

There are lots of different versions of D&D character sheets. The official one in the basic rules / Players’ handbook covers everything, though it can still get a little confusing when you’re starting out (proficiency scores, I’m looking at you).

Personally speaking, I filled out the template as best I could with a little help from my party and our benevolent DM (hi Ken – please don’t kill me!).

Once we’d played our first game, I started using the character sheet available on D&D Beyond – sign up for free and use the ‘wizard’ (har-de-har) to generate your character sheet. It does the math and heavy lifting for you, so you can focus on the cool things like picking weapons and spells.

The website D&D Beyond is ideal for creating and managing your character(s) and abilities.

But I don’t know whether I could do it / it sounds very complicated / I don’t have any imagination…

Anyone can do it. Seriously. And once you start, it soon becomes less complicated as you grow comfortable with it. Not only that, but the rules are applied at the discretion of the dungeon master, and at the end of the day it’s a game not a test. D&D is about having fun.

And on the note of imagination…

My wife was put off from playing because, in her own words, ‘I don’t have any imagination.’ After one session she was sold to the point she was shopping for dice to match her character and sneaking off with the Player’s Handbook to find out more about her spells.

Okay, this sounds great. Anything else to bear in mind before starting out?

So, speaking from personal experience…

I found (as a player) that it was best not to take the first game session too seriously. Especially on the rules front. Let yourself and the rest of your party settle into a dynamic – socially amongst you AND your characters, as well as with the mechanics of the game. After all, the social aspect is more important than any dice roll when starting out.

Oh, and if you get a chance, check out an episode of one of the D&D streaming shows like Critical Role, Acquisitions Inc., Force Grey, Maze Arcana or even the ‘official’ stream Dice, Camera, Action. I listened to Critical Role on nights when our third baby wouldn’t settle down of an evening. It gave me a really good feel for how things like dice rolls for skill checks work (e.g. persuading someone, or opening a door with thieves’ tools), as well as combat, spell casting, and just general mechanics as well as inspiration for my own games.

Last, but certainly not least, remember to have fun! Ultimately, you can play D&D any way you want to. The aim of the game isn’t to ‘win’ or score points – it’s about having fun with friends. Oh, and maybe, just maybe, going up against a dragon or two and living to tell the tale…

‘Choose Your Weapon’ by TheRierie

The post Getting Started With Dungeons and Dragons appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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About the project

I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 44 years since Carrie was first published.

Let me paint you a picture. It’s 1996. I am thirteen years old, wearing ugly glasses and probably uglier leggings. I am a geek, and although I have friends, I love nothing more than to read. I’ve read all of the books held in the children’s section of my local library, some of them more than once. I have devoured every Point Horror book available, as well as plenty of Christopher Pike and the Nightmares series. At times I’ve been so desperate that I’ve even read the Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club books, but my heart was firmly with horror.

So, the first weekend after my 13th birthday, I begged my parents to take me to the library so that I could get my adult library card. A whole new collection of books was suddenly available to me, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. After getting my new card and browsing the Horror shelves for a happy blur of time, I settled on a book called Christine by some guy called Stephen King. I had never heard of either before. I remember that I had to get my parents’ permission to borrow the book and I pleaded with them; mum wasn’t sure, she thought it might be a bit too grown-up for me (thankfully she had never read it herself or there would have been no way I would have gotten anywhere near it, far too much sex and bad language) but dad was more relaxed about it all. I remember him saying ‘let her try it, and if it’s too much she’ll put it down and read something else.’ Mum’s response was ‘if she’s up with nightmares, you can deal with her then.’

I’m happy to say that I got the book, and so began a love affair that has continued for the rest of my life.

Curiously, despite the fact that I often re-read books and have read many of King’s works several times, I have never revisited Christine. In fact, I could remember very little about it when I sat down to read it again for this project. Perhaps because I was too young when I read it to appreciate the deeper layers of the story. Perhaps because I’m not a car person. I only learned how to drive two years ago, and I still have little interest in cars beyond their usefulness in transporting my children from one activity to another.

Now, I appreciated the book more. I still doubt that it’ll ever be one of my favourite books by King, but with a catalogue the size that he has, there’s bound to be a few books I feel less of a connection to.

This time I understood that the story wasn’t just about a haunted car, but also about the difficult transition from teen to adulthood, the strain it can place on our relationships with both our friends and our parents.

Moments of the book are terrifying – when that car comes out of the dark to kill the boys who damaged it, when it drives through a wall to get to Darnell, and above all when Leigh and Dennis face it in the deserted garage – but for me the predominant emotion was sadness. The sadness of watching friendships disappear, of seeing that our parents aren’t perfect and a lot of the time don’t even know what they’re doing, and the sadness of knowing that something is hurting someone you care about and not being able to do a thing about it.

The book has an unusual structure – the first and third parts are told in first-person POV from Dennis Guilder, Arnie’s best friend and the first one to realise that there’s something terrible about the car that Arnie bought, besides it being a moneypit. The middle part of the book is told in third person, after Dennis ends up in hospital, removed from the main part of the action. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Arnie visits Dennis in hospital on Thanksgiving. For a couple of hours, the boys have their old friendship back and all is as it should be.

As well-written as you would expect from King, this book has a lot of heart, and despite its girth, did not drag or feel over-long. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a go and let me know what you think!

The post The Stephen King Project – Christine (1983) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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