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Friday, October 9, 2015

"The Borribles: The Borrible Trilogy Book 1" by Michael de Larrabeiti (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

 OVERVIEW: What is a Borrible? Borribles are runaways who dwell in the shadows of London. Apart from their pointed ears, they look just like ordinary children. They live by their wits and a few Borrible laws-the chief one being, Don't Get Caught! The Borribles are outcasts-but they wouldn't have it any other way....
One night, the Borribles of Battersea discover a Rumble-one of the giant, rat-shaped creatures who are their ancient enemy-in their territory. Fearing an invasion, an elite group of Borrible fighters set out on what will become known in legend as The Great Rumble Hunt. So begins the first of the three epic adventures in Michael de Larrabeiti's classic trilogy, where excitement, violence, low cunning, greed, generosity, treachery, and bravery exist side by side.

FORMAT: The Borribles is the first book in the children's/YA urban fantasy series. It is a gritty urban fantasy filled with adventure. It was first published in 1976, but was republished July 10, 2005 by Tor Teen. It stands at 224 pages.

ANALYSIS: It is time to jump in the way back machine and take a look at another 'oldie but goodie' book. This time I am featuring The Borribles, which is the first book in The Borrible Trilogy. The Borrible Trilogy is a gritty children's/YA urban fantasy series.

I am surprised at the amount of people who have not heard about The Borribles. When I first read the book in 2012, I was over the moon about it. It was unlike anything I had read at the time and that was almost 36 years after it was first published. Immediately upon finishing it, I started talking about it to others and it was surprising the amount of people who answered with "What are Borribles?" or "I have never even heard of this book".

To answer the question - a Borrible is a runaway child. They look just like regular children, but they have tiny pointed ears (which are easily covered by knitted hats). Once their ears are pointed, they stay a child forever unless their ears are clipped. Borribles are smart, witty, and capable of surviving in the world without the assistance of adults. Their biggest fear is being captured by adults and having their ears clipped, which will turn them into boring, dull individuals.

Borribles form their own groups, which are like tiny little clans. These groups protect each other at all costs and even have their own claimed territory.

The first novel, Borribles, starts off with the Borribles of Battersea encountering a giant rat-like creature. These rat-like creatures is typically only found in enemy territory, so the fact that it ventured into the Borribles of Battersea land is frightening and could be an indication that an invasion is near. In an effort to prevent an invasion, several brave Borribles volunteer to go on an epic journey. The Borribles tells the tale of this epic adventure.

One of the first things that stands out about The Borribles is it is an extremely violent, gritty novel. I was surprised when I learned that many people classified it as a children's book. It definitely has a lot of violent, bloody scenes and the life the Borribles live is not all rainbows and butterflies. This book would probably be classified as a YA book by today's standards.

What is there to like about The Borribles? It has a detailed, solid plot that moves at warp speed. It was amazing just how fast I was getting through the novel and before I knew it, it was over. The adventure scenes are detailed, but not to the point that they are over-fluffed up. Readers are given a sense of adventuring alongside The Borribles, but they aren't experiencing every, single mind-numbing part of the adventure.

When the novel ends, there is a desire to pick up the second book right away. And I highly recommend doing that, as one novel completes and blends right into the second novel. It also helps to relieve some of the nagging questions some readers may have about the Borribles and their world.

In addition to the detailed plot and fast paced action, the characters are surprisingly fleshed out. Considering the length of the book and the sheer number of characters (there are a lot more than 6 or 7), one would assume that the characters would be just one-dimensional individuals, but they really weren't. I honestly formed true bonds with the characters and by the end of the book, I have to admit there was a small part of me that wished I could become a Borrible.

There is another aspect of The Borribles that I really enjoyed. It was the social commentary within the book. I read the novel as an adult, so I was able to appreciate the subtle hints and examples of social inequalities, pure greed, and other social problems. Many times authors try to beat the reader over the head with their point-of-view and opinions, but I didn't really get that with The Borribles. It was enough to make you think about things, but it didn't interfere with the plot or go overboard.

Now, there is probably a concern that a book written in 1976 might not be relevant in today's world, especially an urban fantasy. The Borribles really fits in with today's world. Sure, some of the social commentary might be a bit dated, but for the most part, The Borribles is just as good when read today as it was back in 1976. This is probably because the world in the novel is unique. People will be able to relate it to London, but there are aspects that make it unique and fun to read.

Overall, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed The Borribles. It wouldn't have been a book I would have thought I'd have enjoyed as much as I did. I wish more people knew about it and gave it a try, but I really think in terms of urban fantasy it is a classic. So hope in your time machine and give it a try, you won't regret it!
Thursday, October 8, 2015

GUEST POST: Sword & Sorcery on the High Seas by Seth Skorkowsky

I was seven or eight years old when I discovered Treasure Island and fell in love with pirates and sailing adventures. Not real pirates, mind you. Real pirates were the most terrible kind of people who led miserable lives. However, the romanticized depiction in Treasure Island captured a magical excitement that’s simply irresistible. While Treasure Island is not fantasy, it contains the essence of what I also love in Sword & Sorcery fiction.

Unlike Epic Fantasy, where our heroes quest to accomplish some greater good, such as killing an evil overlord, Sword & Sorcery heroes quest to fulfill more self-serving goals. Sailing to an uncharted island in search of buried treasure is a perfect example of what a Sword & Sorcery hero would do.

Sword & Sorcery has regularly incorporated ships and the sea. The more notable sailing heroes include Sinbad and Jack Sparrow. If we turn back to what is possibly the very first Sword & Sorcery adventure, we find The Odyssey, a story about sailors trying to get home and their adventures along the way. Of course each of those examples have the title "Captain" before the hero's name. One could argue that they're heroes because they're sailors. However, there are other sailors within the genre that were heroes long before they boarded ship. Conan spent many adventures pirating and exploring. The infamous thieves Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sailed across Newhon, eventually settling far away from smoky Lankhmar to live on Rime Isle.

The high seas provides a huge variety of storytelling potential. In addition to lost riches, we might encounter monsters inhabiting these exotic islands or lurking beneath the waves, eager to gobble up our heroes. It provides us human threats, and allows us swashbuckling fights as combatants swing on ropes from ship to ship. Finally, there’s the sea itself, the ultimate threat, ready to drown our hero or cast them adrift to die of thirst and heat. It’s a spectacular backdrop for fantasy adventure.

Each ship gives us a closed world, leaving all the politics and issues of the cities and nations behind it. This act of fleeing the established world allows the reader to also escape alongside our heroes. Each port, island, or ship that they encounter provides a new and exciting obstacle and adventure unto itself. The lure of escape is what draws us and causes even our most landlubbing Sword & Sorcery heroes to occasionally throw off the shackles of the familiar world, board a ship, and sail to unknown adventures.


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Dämoren
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Seth Skorkowsky
Read "Building The Perfect Revolver" by Seth Skorkowsky (guest post)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Seth Skorkowsky was born in Texas in 1978. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife, and works for the University of North Texas. His short story "The Mist of Lichthafen" was nominated for a British Fantasy Award (long list) in 2009. Dämoren is Seth's debut novel and was recently nominated and shortlisted for the Reddit Fantasy Stabby Award for "Best Debut Novel."

He recently signed a two-book deal with Ragnarok for his "Black Raven" sword-and-sorcery collection. When not writing, Seth enjoys travel, shooting, and tabletop gaming.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Castle Hangnail" by Ursula Vernon (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Ursula Vernon's Website Here

OVERVIEW: When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

FORMAT: Castle Hangnail is a standalone children's fantasy novel. It stands at 384 pages and was published April 21, 2015 by Dial Books.

ANALYSIS: Ursula Vernon is one of my favorite modern children's authors. Her series, Dragonbreath, is absolutely brilliant from the well-thought out characters to the fun drawings, and not to mention the funny dialogue between the characters. When I saw Castle Hangnail was coming out, I knew I had to give it a try.

Castle Hangnail is a bit different from Vernon's Dragonbreath series. It has interesting characters and beautiful drawings, but it strays from the all-to-familiar format of the loveable Dragonbreath series.

One of the first noticeable differences is the format of the book. Dragonbreath isn't really an early reader/chapter book, but it is definitely designed for the younger audience. Dragonbreath comes in a half graphic novel, half novel format. The font is large and bold, and the entire book wraps up in 200 pages give or take. Castle Hangnail is a bit different.

Castle Hangnail has illustrations, but they supplement the story instead of help tell the story. There are numerous chapters that have no illustrations at all. The font is still easy to read and the story flows nicely, making it ideal for younger readers, but not to the point where it feels as if it is a childish book.

Unfortunately, this difference is where one of my "issues" – if you could call it that – comes in. I'm not 100% certain who the ultimate audience is for this novel. It is written for a younger audience, but the nearly 400 page novel might seem a bit overwhelming to those that would be its target audience.

Is the storyline okay for older readers? Yes, but I could easily see a few of the older readers finding the story childish or silly. When I refer to 'older' readers, I'm talking about older middle grade readers. The difficulty in identifying a target audience may result in this loveable novel being overlooked or passed up by readers who would otherwise love it.

What I do love about Castle Hangnail is that it does provide a bit of fresh air to the children's fantasy genre. There seems to be an all-to-common need to make children's books darker, scarier, or more violent. Castle Hangnail has its conflicts as it isn't all rainbows and butterflies, but it does so in a way that isn't violent or ultra-extreme.

This stray from violence or darkness makes it a great book for those readers both young and old who are just looking for a fun read. After all, it has a solid plot that works for even those that are young at heart, the characters are detailed and loveable, and the pace is just right.

I will say I loved the characters in this book. They weren't funny, but they pulled at my heart strings and I just formed instant connections with them. I truly wanted to be Molly's friend by the end of the book. I even wanted to have my own set of minions – even a goldfish! Vernon really fleshed out all the characters without overcomplicating them, which made them even more loveable (or unlovable in the case of the bad guys).

If I had to pick a favorite part of the book, it would definitely be the mish-mash collection of characters. They just worked for me and really made this book a fun, fun read.

Overall, I loved Castle Hangnail. I felt it was a solid novel with a solid ending. Of course, there could be other novels, which I would love to see, but for the most part it is a solid standalone novel. It isn't the same as Dragonbreath, but it certainly will leave you with a feel good feeling at the end of reading it.
Monday, October 5, 2015

SPFBO Round Two: A Soul For Trouble by Crista McHugh and mini-author interview (Review & interview by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order A Soul For Trouble HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Crista McHugh is a NYT bestselling author of fantasy and romance who currently lives in the Audi-filled suburbs of Seattle with her husband and two children, maintaining her alter ego of mild-mannered physician by day while she continues to pursue writing on nights and weekends. She is an active member of the Romance Writers of America and Romance Divas. She has also previously worked as a barista, bartender, sommelier, stagehand, actress, morgue attendant, and autopsy assistant and she’s also a recovering LARPer.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: When you’re a witch named Trouble, chaos follows.

Arden Lesstymine (known to everyone as Trouble) likes attention as much as the next girl, but this is getting ridiculous. When an insane stranger is murdered at the inn where she works, Trouble becomes the next Soulbearer for the disembodied god of chaos, Loku. Yes, it comes with the ability to channel the god’s limitless power, but at the cost of her sanity — literally.

Now she has a sexy but cynical knight claiming to be her protector, a prince trying to seduce her to his cause (and his bed), and a snarky chaos god who offers a play-by-play commentary on it all, whether she wants to hear it or not. To make matters worse, a necromancer wants to capture the soul of Loku for his own dark purposes, and the only way he can get it is by killing her first.

FORMAT/INFO: A Soul For Trouble is 342 pages long divided over thirty-seven chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Arden (Trouble) Lesstymine, Ser Devarius Tel’brien, Prince Kell and Sulaino the necromancer.

February 7 2012 marked the e-book and paperback publication of A Soul For Trouble and it was self-published by the author.

ANALYSIS: This book was one of the winners of round 1 of the SPFBO contest. I was intrigued about it, as Tyson M. had enjoyed it quite a lot. Tyson’s reading choices have worked for me in the past and I was excited to start my SPFBO round 2 with this book. Beginning with this book and all my other round 2 reviews, I’ll be also doing a mini-Q&A with the author so be sure to catch Crista’s answers at the end of this review.

The story is a wild mix of epic fantasy and romance, Crista McHugh really kept me entertained with her spin on the farm-boy fantasy trope. We meet Arden who is aptly named Trouble, who serves as a barmaid in her uncle's tavern in the land of Ranella. She's a stranger in a strange land because her father disgraced her mother as he left her pregnant. She finds herself visibly different than the local populace by virtue of being a blonde person in a land of brown-haired, brown-eyed folks. In the first chapter itself we find her getting into mortal trouble when the immortal soul of the chaos god Loku enters her body and marks her as his next soulbearer.

Thrown into the mix is Loku's soul protector knight, Ser Devarius Tel’brien of Gravaria who is also an elf and has held his position for many decades. Hunting for Loku's soul and his chaos magic is a necromancer called Sulanio. Faced with magic that's forbidden in Ranella, a mad god in her head and a knight-protector who confuses her, Arden (Trouble) does her best to face the struggles of her heart and her mind. Running away from Sulanio she will have to control Loku and his lascivious thoughts, get a grip on her new found magic and make the right choice between two men who torment her heart.

This story was a delight to read, as I knew in advance that this was a fantasy romance so certain elements of the story would be blown up. With that in mind, I didn't mind how the author portrayed Trouble and her hearty problems. There's a love triangle involved and while I'm not sure whom the author intends to have Arden end up with. The overall story enticed me enough to keep reading and look forward to grabbing the sequels too. The main thing I enjoyed about the story was the fantasy elements that were strewn throughout. The author also keeps the story fast-paced through two-thirds of the book and the book loses some steam in last one-third as the plot becomes entangled with certain courtly matters as well as the love triangle in question.

Overall this story was a fun read as Loku kept appearing at odd intervals and making the most inappropriate suggestions and commentary. I would have loved to see more of him. This book is built for a certain audience and for those who love some romance in their stories, this story will scratch your itch nicely. As a fantasy reader primarily I was able to enjoy the story and not mind the romance as it's ensconced within the story neatly. The story does make Trouble out to be person ruled partially by her emotions but then from time to time she shows her mettle by doing things that make it root for her. Both the male leads are quintessential romantic lead material that showcase different personas for Trouble to be attracted to. I thought the author could have written them better but I would be interested to know how Romance readers find them to be.

The story doesn’t have many action sequences and but the climax does its best to compensate for that. There’s an end twist which surely sets up the next book nicely and that was a solid plus from a storytelling perspective. Drawbacks for this story are that this story focuses on romance solidly and that for fantasy readers that might jar their reading experience. The story also doesn’t quite expand on the world history and magic system. I don’t think that the author wanted to go that route but for most fantasy fans that might be where the book lacks quite a bit.

CONCLUSION: A Soul For Trouble was a fun read for me and I'll be interested to read the sequels to see where to the author takes the story. It focuses strongly on the romance but not entirely at the expense of the fantasy elements. Crista McHugh writes smoothly and injects enough energy into her story to keep the readers entertained. This was a solid 7.5 star read for me and I will be looking to read the sequels as well.


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write and describe your journey to becoming a published author.

CMH: Thank you for having me! I’m Crista McHugh, an NYT bestselling author of fantasy and romance. I started writing when I was in high school, inspired by all the books I read and how I would add my own twists to them, but I really didn’t start writing for publication until I after I was done with med school and residency. I sold my first story in 2009 to a small press romance publisher, and I’ve been steadily publishing since then, both through publishers and self-publishing.

Q] Please talk to us about the inception of A Soul For Trouble? How did this story come to be? What was your inspiration for it?

CMH: A Soul For Trouble was born from a series of discussions in the fantasy forums of Absolute Write. I’d met some fabulous writers there, and one day, we were talking about souls residing in other bodies, and I got the idea of disembodied soul trapped in another person. But not just any soul—the soul of a chaos god.

Q] In A Soul For Trouble, you have elements of fantasy and romance mixing easily. What was your intent with the amalgamation of these genre elements?

CMH: I’d originally started out writing fantasy, but I wasn’t getting any nibbles on my book at that time. Meanwhile, I’d started writing (and selling) paranormal romance books to different publishers, so I started to incorporate more romantic elements into my fantasy stories. At the time I wrote A Soul For Trouble (2009), love triangles were huge, so I veered into that territory.

Q] Please tell us how you heard about the SPFBO contest and what motivated you to enter it.

CMH: Someone had posted at link to the contest, and I decided to see how ASFT would fare in fantasy contests. Its sequel, A Soul For Chaos, had already won multiple awards in romance contests, but there were so few fantasy contests that took self-published books.

Q] What were your expectations going into it and now that your title has been chosen for round 2, what are your thoughts?

CMH: I’m excited, especially when I see the other titles that have made it to this round. I worried that most hard core fantasy readers would be turned off by the romance, but I’m also glad that they gave it a chance and that it’s made it this far.

Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Soulbearer Series?

CMH: For the Soulbearer Series, I’d pitch it as insane god trapped in a mortal witch’s body. Or, as I put it in the logline, “When you’re a witch named Trouble, Chaos follows.”

Q] So when and how did the idea for the Soulbearer series first come about, how long have you been working on it, and how much has it evolved from its original conception (if any)?

CMH: I started writing A Soul For Trouble in 2009, and since then, I’ve added three more titles to the series. I knew how the romance would end. I knew what would happen to Dev and Kell. However, when I sat down to write the 4th book (which is the first in a new trilogy of stories I’ll be working on over the next few years), I decided to pick on a minor character from the third book and make his life a little more chaotic. I’m still working out the kinks as to what happens next, but expect more trouble from Nelos, the god of law.

Q] A Soul For Trouble is book 1 in the Soulbearer Series. What can readers expect from books 2, 3 & 4? Is the series complete?

CMH: As I mentioned before, I’d only set out to write three books in the series, but readers asked for more, so I decided to add on three more volumes, starting with A Soul For Atonement. Because there was no way Loku would let his dear little Soulbearer have her happy ending, after all. The title for the next book is A Soul For Fear, and I hope to get to it by the end of 2016.

Q] In the Soulbearer books, your protagonist shares her body with that of a troublemaker god called Loku. How much of him is based on a certain famous Norse trickster?

CMH: Quite a bit, actually. There’s a reason why sort of named him after Loki, the Norse Trickster. He’s mad. He’s power hungry. And he never lets people forget that he is still a god. But I also drew from other chaos and trickster mythologies. For example, I borrowed some of the attributes of the Coyote from Native American lore, and I modeled the plane of chaos loosely after Tartarus from Greek mythology

Q] You have an extensive bibliography with a strong romance focus. With this series how did you delineate the fantasy elements from the romance ones? What was your compass as to how to mix them up?

CMH: If you look at many fantasy books, there are many romantic couples. Westley and Buttercup. Aragorn and Arwen. Eowyn and Faramir. Rhapsody and Ashe. Janelle and Daemon. Richard and Kahlan. I just happen to like a little more of a happy ending in my stories than say… George R. R. Martin.

I’m actually in the process of splitting up my fantasy from my romance. I have two fantasy series with romance (The Soulbearer series and The Deizian Empire series) under Crista McHugh, but my fantasy books with far less romance (and more fighting and gore) will be under C. A. McHugh. That way, when readers will know if they are getting a kissing book or not. I’m planning on releasing a few more books under my fantasy pseudonym in 2016, starting with a free short story to my newsletter subscribers later this year.

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

CMH: Thank you for inviting me and for reading this far. I’m excited to see the outcome of the next round, and I hope readers will give Arden and Loku a try (especially since the first book is FREE).
Sunday, October 4, 2015

GUEST POST: On Building A World by Matt Karlov

Sometimes I think we fantasy authors are crazy. We sit down to write a story, and we think: the world, well, it's not bad. There are parts of it I quite like. But it's not quite right for my story. How will I solve this problem? I know! I will invent a whole other world.

I mean -- what? Me and my tiny meat-brain? Create a whole world? It's insane, right? And yet, it's not. We've seen other people do it, and we've connected with some of those worlds and stories in a way that we've rarely connected with anything else in our lives. And some of us think: maybe I can do that too.

I've always loved fantasy. When I started to consider writing The Unbound Man, it went without saying that it would be fantasy. Because, crazy as it might be, an invented world allows you to tell stories that simply can't be told anywhere else. Anything is possible. All you have to do is put in the work to make it believable.

Sounds great in theory. But it turns out that going from 'anything' to 'this specific thing' takes even more work than you might imagine.

I don't know how other fantasy novelists build their worlds. I suspect that, like Tolstoy's unhappy families, each of us is crazy in our own way. If you're thinking of building a fantasy world of your own, I can't tell you how you should approach it. But I can tell you a little about how I built mine.

See that dot next to the squiggle?

One of the very first things I did was make a map. Maps are great because they're not just about geography -- they reflect history, politics, culture, and more. Nothing fires the imagination like a good map. So I began to draw, and I asked myself questions as I went. Start, perhaps, by marking off a small section of land and optimistically labelling it the Kharjik Empire. Delusions of grandeur, or the last remnant of a much greater realm? Call another section the Free Cities, but note that it was formerly known as Coridon. What prompted the change: a rebellion, a war, something else? Why are those plains in the middle not claimed by anyone? How do those people in the Jervian Protectorates feel about being 'protected'? What's up with those islands to the east and west? And so on.

Much, much later, I would hire the wonderfully talented Maxime Plasse to turn my rough sketch into the map you see here. At the time, I just kept adding to the map and to my notes until one day I looked at what I'd drawn and thought: Yes. This looks like a place where interesting things could happen.

It's all about the story!

The thing about building a world for a fantasy novel is that the world isn't really the point. The point is the story you want to tell. So, once I'd developed a suitably inspiring map, I dived into the characters and the plot, adding to the world as I went. I already had some ideas about what this particular story would be, but it still took a lot of thinking and several false starts before I arrived at an outline I was happy with.

Several things gradually became clear. The main character had a particular hatred of coercion and an unusual obsession with freedom. Placing the story in the so-called Free Cities would make for an interesting thematic counterpoint, and would give me the kind of sophisticated urban backdrop that the narrative required. The presence of (nominally) non-political factions was also looming large: merchant companies, groups of sorcerers and scholars, and other organizations would wield as much influence in this part of the world as city governments.

Regional infrastructure would be a blend of convenience and messiness: the region's recent unification as Coridon would give its cities a shared currency, for example, while message services between cities would largely consist of merchant courier networks, most of which would also deliver private letters for an appropriate fee. And hovering over it all would be the shadow of a long-dead empire and the relics it had left behind.

You can do what, how?

I'd always planned to set The Unbound Man in an world with early Renaissance-level technology. I'm far from the first to write that sort of fantasy world, but at the time I hadn't read the likes of Joe Abercrombie or Scott Lynch, and the idea felt fresh and exciting. I gradually worked through the specifics of what the technology would look like. There would be gunpowder in the form of cannons, but few if any personal firearms. The printing press would have arrived, but it would not yet have made hand-scribed documents obsolete; a significant portion of the population would still be illiterate. And the culture would be experiencing more subtle shifts as well. For one, people would be starting to pay attention to clocks -- indeed, a table clock for one's own home would be quite the fashionable purchase.

Equally important, and vital to any fantasy setting, was how to approach magic. I knew I wanted my magic system to stand somewhere between the extremes of being utterly inexplicable and completely systematized: it needed enough structure to be understandable, but not so much as to strip away the mystery. Sorcery, perhaps, could be built in a manner roughly comparable to a physical device, and grounded in some physical substance.

It would be rare enough to be special, but still readily available for those who could afford it. Groups of sorcerers would sell ensorcelled items, from relatively cheap sparkers (used to light lamps) to the rather more expensive chill-chests (whose refrigeration properties would require constant refreshment). Certain particularly distrustful people would have developed a way to nullify a sorcerer's powers -- this would be even more expensive, but would provide an important brake on sorcery. And this model of magic would also fit well with the story, the plot of which was by now becoming increasingly clear.

The fun stuff!

With some of the bigger decisions made, it was time to start writing the actual story. And with that came a whole new set of opportunities to flesh out the details of the world and the characters' experience of living in it.

I particularly enjoy reading fantasy novels in which the world bears some marks of an intellectual and artistic history. Many fantasy novels make a point of highlighting great kings and generals from their world's past -- their Julius Caesar, you might say, or their Alexander the Great. It's less common to hear about that world's Plato, or Herodotus, or Michaelangelo. Less common, but certainly not unknown: Steven Erikson and R. Scott Bakker are two who do this in different ways, and who not coincidentally are two of my favourite authors. I decided to follow in their footsteps and sprinkle The Unbound Man with small examples of the intellectual life of the world -- historians, fabulists, prophets, skeptics, and others -- and the more entertaining or thought-provoking, the better. These would also offer opportunities for thematic resonance and counterpoint, not to mention humour!

I also wanted to play in a few areas that had been somewhat neglected by the traditional school of Euro-centric fantasy. I live in Australia, so the plants and wildlife I'm most familiar with are Australian. Well, no problem! The world of The Unbound Man soon had an abundance of eucalypts and lorikeets. But not exclusively so -- I also wanted to set aside space for some North African-inspired cuisine: flatbreads, tagines, and the like. And I was tired of every second fantasy world possessing some variation of coffee, so I decided that my characters would drink chocol -- a luxury beverage, imported at some expense from across the sea.

But what about...?

There's more, of course. I haven't even mentioned race or class. I've barely touched on religion. Some of these have a significant presence in The Unbound Man; others, less so. But there comes a time when you have to step back from the setting and tell the tale you've come to tell. A world is huge, and even the biggest, fattest fantasy novel is tiny by comparison. And a novel is neither an atlas nor an encyclopedia. It's a story. When all is said and done, the world is just a place for the story to happen.

Or maybe not. In fantasy -- in every genre, really -- the world is an essential part of the story. In a way, stories are like each of us: individual, yes, but shaped more than we can imagine by the world in which we live. Trying to separate a story from its world would be like trying to separate you or me from 21st century Earth. Without a world to live in, a story -- or a person -- would be just an idea.

Which means that maybe this crazy idea that I can sit down and build a world isn't so crazy after all. Maybe this is actually a gift that the real world gives us, one that goes some way towards making up for so many of its frustrations and shortcomings.

Here, in this place we all share, there's always room for one more world.


Official Author Website
Order The Unbound Man HERE

Like every child, Matt Karlov was raised on stories of the impossible, from the good parts of Sesame Street, to The Hobbit, to Watership Down and beyond. As Matt grew older, he had the good fortune to retain his taste for the fantastic, which soon developed into a deep love of speculative fiction in its many guises. He has been struggling to make room on his shelves for new books ever since.

Matt has been a software designer, a web developer, and a business analyst. He lives in Sydney, Australia. The Unbound Man is his first novel.

NOTE: All maps courtesy of Maxime Plasse and Matt Karlov.
Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Spelled" by Betsy Schow (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

OVERVIEW: Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.

Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Talk about unhappily ever after.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story

FORMAT: Spelled is the first novel in a series of books. It is a YA novel that is a mish-mash of fairy tales, romance, and adventure. It stands at 352 pages and was published June 2, 2015 by Sourcebooks Fire.

ANALYSIS: All too often when we see the worlds 'fairy tale retelling' it is simply an author taking the same old story – say Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty – and tweaking it just a little bit. Essentially, these authors are adding a tiny twist to make it their own, but the story is the same.

Spelled by Betsy Schow is a fairy tale retelling that breaks that trend. But whether or not that is a good thing will depend on what type of reader you are and what styles of writing you enjoy.

Before I even begin to analyze Spelled, I want to note that this is not a book that is for everyone. Spelled is like a YA version of Ever After High. It has cute little nicknames for things that represent the fairy tale world's version of things, such as a band that is very similar to One Direction or a cellphone that looks and acts just like an iPhone.

In addition to the cute little nicknames, the characters also constantly curse, but they do so in fairy tale style. For example, the characters will constantly say "Well pix me" or "Mother of Grimm". These sayings are cute the first few times they are done, but they are overdone. The overuse of these cute phrases/cursing may be just enough to turn off most readers.

If the fairy tale cursing and cutesy nicknames didn't turn you away from the novel, there is the writing style. Spelled is written in a sassy, extremely causal style that includes a lot of clichés, side comments, and attitude. Readers expecting a straightforward, no-nonsense novel probably won't make it through the first few chapters.

That being said, if you can make it through the sass, the nicknames, and the fairy tale cussing, there is an interesting novel awaiting you. Betsy Schow has taken a little bit of everything from all the Wizard of Oz novels and sort of thrown them together to form a hodgepodge of a story. Longtime fans of Wizard of Oz will certainly see the similarities between some characters and their original counterparts, but for the most part Spelled is its own novel in both character development and plot elements. Think of Wizard of Oz and other fairy tales as more of a guidebook for the story.

I will admit, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this mishmash of characters and stories. I appreciate what Schow was trying to achieve and I think it is absolutely wonderful that she went outside of the box, but I don't feel there was enough here to judge. Here's the problem, I found the first half of the book a bit annoying and very, very slow. Just when I went to set it down, it picked up and I really enjoyed the last half of the book. The enjoyment could be because the best character – Hydra – was introduced and she really made the novel.

I feel as if Schow started to find her footing and pacing in the last half of the novel. This redeemed Spelled for me and makes me actually consider reading the second novel. Unfortunately, it might be too little, too late. Most readers are either going to have abandoned the novel before it got good. This is unfortunate as it started to turn into a halfway decent novel.

Overall, I really feel Spelled is a book you have to try for yourself. Either you are going to like it or you aren't. There really isn't going to be an in between. I think those going into the novel thinking it is a 100% retelling of the Wizard of Oz will be disappointed, but those that know it isn't like that may be able to have the open minded thinking that could make this an enjoyable book.  


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