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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

RE-REVIEW: A Dance of Mirrors by David Dalglish (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades 
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish 

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

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: One has conquered a city. The other covets an entire nation.

Haern is the King's Watcher, protector against thieves and nobles who would fill the night with blood. Yet hundreds of miles away, an assassin known as the Wraith has begun slaughtering those in power, leaving the symbol of the Watcher in mockery. When Haern travels south to confront this copycat, he finds a city ruled by the corrupt, the greedy and the dangerous. Rioters fill the streets, and the threat of war hangs over everything. To forge peace, Haern must confront the deadly Wraith, a killer who would shape the kingdom's future with the blade of his sword.

Man or God; what happens when the lines are blurred?

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a world wherein there are multiple factions at work, this book is a dark, character-driven, gritty fantasy novel in the vein of Jon Sprunk, Brent Weeks and Peter V. Brett.

FORMAT/INFO: A Dance of Mirrors is 400 pages divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters with a prologue and epilogue. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major and supporting characters, including the main protagonist Haern the Watcher, Alyssa Gemcroft, Zusa, Ulrich Blackwater, Lord Ingram Murbrand, Lady Madelyn Keenan, Princess Laryssa, Torgar, etc. A Dance of Mirrors is the third volume in the Shadowdance series and it would be highly unadvisable to read this book before the previous two as it would reveal a significant amount about what has occured previously.

December 3, 2013 marked the trade paperback and e-book publication of A Dance of Mirrors by Orbit Books. Cover illustration is provided by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica

ANALYSIS: As with the last couple of books in the Shadowdance series, this is a re-review and will highlight the things that have been changed or added to the book. The author mentioned that this volume underwent a lot of changes including the title (which wasn't the case with its predecessors) and also that he made it a little less depressing. Read on to see how strong this book still is.

A Dance of Mirrors (previously titled A Dance Of Death) begins two years after the events where the Watcher ascended to his position and brokered a peace between the thief guilds and the Trifect. It’s a fragile peace however things are still kept in control by Haern and his ruthless vigilantism. This time around though things start to take a unholy turn in the coastal city of Angelport, wherein Laurie Keenan, the third lord of the Trifect resides. Someone called the Wraith is going around killing people and this time Laurie Keenan feels the Wraith's wrath and while the Wraith completes the kill and leaves the Watcher’s mark. Things take an uneven turn as Alyssa Gemcroft decides to investigate the matter and help her fellow Trifect member who’s been besieged in the city by the Merchants brethren and Lord Ingram who is the so-called ruler of the city. To add to this mix is the city’s continual fight with the Elves over the allocation of nearby forest land and all of it just becomes a powder keg ready to ignite with the arrival of the Watcher.

In one of the teasers for last year’s film The Dark Knight Rises, there are a couple of scenes shown from the previous film and there’s a voice over by Liam Neeson repeating his words from the first film:
If you make yourself, more than just a man
If you devote yourself to an ideal
Then you become something else entirely … a legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!”

I think these lines are very crucial to the Batman persona and conveniently fit Haern’s psyche almost as well. Haern’s actions over the previous books have made him seem more than just a human being. The Thief guilds as well as the Trifect fear and respect him, his actions though scary, have established a peace of sorts in the city of Veldaren. However in Angelport someone has decided to ape him and take his methods a step further. That’s the question raised in this story. How do you stop someone who claims to be following your ideals and makes you out to be everything that you fought against? This question haunts Haern throughout the plot and makes for a great read as the author doesn't’t provide any clear cut answer but gives pointers for the readers to form their own opinions. I very much enjoyed this introspective look into Haern’s actions.

Following the past two books, the author has increased the intrigue and machinations in this one, with there being at least four different parties who are involved and each scheming to get their own demands and objectives. Each faction is vicious and with way more means than Haern, Alyssa and Zusa who find themselves in a new city and without their regular means. This book takes a step in a new direction as it visibly shifts the locale to the city of Angelport, this was a very surprising move on the author’s part as with the last two books being set in Veldaren, it seemed sure that this tale would be set there as well however this is the first of the many surprises laced in the story along with the new cast of characters who are more treacherous, shady and powerful.

The action sequences are a particular highlight of David’s writing and he doesn't disappoint in this one, choc-a-bloc with violence and action that is fast, brutal and has far reaching consequences. The best part of the story is that its pace never slackens and all the twists keep the reader guessing as to who and what is behind all the chaos. The book begins with a murder and from thereon it’s much more mayhem which claims further victims both intended and accidental. Zusa, Haern along with Alyssa go through a physical and emotional wringing of sorts and in this the author has to be lauded for never refusing to make his characters jump through hoops or even killing them off in quite drastic manners.

This book’s theme could be that no matter how good you are, there’s always someone better and sometimes no matter what one does, shit happens! The world of Neldar is pretty dark to begin with but the city of Angelport stoops to a further low with its morass of misery, avarice and treachery. No one can be fully trusted and this is a lesson which the main characters learn a bit too late for their comfort. The story twists all the way to the climax and the reader will be strung along trying to figure who is the mastermind behind it all. I enjoyed how the author further streamlined the story and removed some of the bleakness as well.

Plus with a slambang ending, the tale ends on a bittersweet note however it still has some faults. Readers will have to let go of their sensibilities when it comes to the main character’s physical institution as Haern does things which defy explanation but in the context of the story and the world, can certainly be overlooked. Lastly there are a couple of plot-threads which are left hanging in regards to Thren Felhorn and the guilds in Veldaren, but I’m hoping that those conflicts will be resolved in the remaining three books of this series.

CONCLUSION: A Dance of Mirrors is a fascinating look at what happens when a harsh light is shined on vigilante actions. Overall this book is almost as good as the second and definitely better than the first. I heartily recommend the entire Shadowdance series to all lovers of dark, action packed fantasy stories. Just be warned that the author is a fan of George R.R. Martin and he follows his hero’s path of scalding the main characters like no other. A Dance of Mirrors is another fascinating look at the perilous life of the Watcher.
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Curran POV Collection by Gordon Andrews (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Bites” & “Magic Burns
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Strikes” & “Magic Mourns
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Bleeds” & “A Questionable Client
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Magic Slays” & “Magic Dreams
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of "Retribution Clause" & "Magic Tests"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Gunmetal Magic" & "Magic Gifts"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Magic Rises"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "An Ill-Advised Rescue"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Ilona Andrews

Similar to last year's holiday season, Ilona Andrews are offering another fantastic freebie. Last time around it was a Kate Daniels novella, this time it's the entire collection of Curran POVs all nicely bundled up chronologically for the readers' enjoyment. Readers can download it in various formats over here.

This collection is an absolute must-have and must-read for all fans of the Kate Daniels series. Why simply because it offers a view into things from Curran's perspective as well as it offers some new events that were previously unseen and further adds to the omniscient perspective that we as readers enjoy. I'll be listing each story and talking about it individually:

1) Unicorn Lane - The 1st POV snippet is from the first book Magic Bites, wherein Kate and Curran meet for the very first time. Now we have already seen/read this encounter via Kate's view but nevertheless it's as exciting to read it from Curran's POV and we get an inkling of what he thinks Kate is.

2) Fernando's - This second snippet like its predecessor is also from the same debut vehicle. This one is from the middle part of the story wherein Curran is on a date (of sorts) with Myong, a person similar to his ilk. Things take an interesting turn when Kate visits the same restaurant with another person and we further see how Kate seems to beguile Curran. Also we get to see his humor and sensibilities in regards to women and dating in general.

3) Soup - The third short is from Magic Burns and shows us Curran's mindset when Kate is critically injured.  It's from this short that we get a first inkling of how much he cares for Kate and how much he admires her tenacity and fortitude. Not that Curran also gets a good laugh about her missteps and there's a small one near the end for the readers to have a good chuckle at as well.

4) Midnight Games - This fourth snippet is from the third book Magic Bites and for those who have read this book, will know how crucial the title of this short is. Here we get to see Curran effectively being the Beast Lord but tempering his aggressive demeanor as per the situational needs. Since we are privy to his thoughts, certain plot points come to the fore much more quickly than in the case of the books wherein it occurs at a slower rate.

5) Hot Tub - This is the second snippet to be from the same book and this one is from the latter third of Magic Strikes.  Once again we get to see events which we have read about but now from Curran’s eyes. This snippet is what the authors reveal to be “smexy”.  The scene involves our usual couple in a hot tub and we get pretty much what most readers wish for, the twist being that things end up a bit abnormally but considering it's Kate & Curran they could be classified as normal. There’s not much I can write about this snippet without revealing what it’s all about. We do however get the depth of Curran’s passion and some might be a bit troubled by it but considering his character, this is pretty much in line. Once he’s set on something, he will do anything to get it done.

6) Kate's Origin - This is the first of the snippets that occurs in between the events of the books. This one is set after the events of Magic Strikes and one week before the events of Magic Bleeds. In it, Jim comes to Curran with some dire news about Kate’s past. All of this is already known to us readers as we have been privy to Kate’s thoughts and knowledge of her past through her POV, but it was interesting to see both Jim and Curran digest it. The event shown in the snippet has not been shown in the books so far.

It’s not a big scene, however its importance resonates quite spectacularly as it shows the depth of Curran’s feelings for Kate. At the same time we also get to see his foresight as well. As a reader of the books, we often see Curran and his actions through Kate’s eyes and so they are colored by her prejudices and her upbringing. So certain things, when viewed from Curran’s sight are not only refreshing but simply exciting. The snippet ends rather quickly and we are left to rue the events that would take place thereby further lengthening the twisted courtship process which takes place between Kate and Curran.

7) Naked Dinner - This snippet follows the "Kate Origin" one and deals with a very important plot point in regards to Magic Bleeds (4th book).  This is probably the biggest short story in this collection and is absolutely riveting. Not only does it deal with  the politicking that happens in the Pack but we get to see Curran maneuver a tricky corner with one of his alphas that will have major repercussions for  the future (read Gunmetal Magic to know more).

 The second part of this tale deals with a murder and basically we get to some terrific action sequences along with a deep look into the workings of the pack when it comes to handling murder and legal maters. Naked Dinner despite its title doesn't have any smexy bits to it and is possibly my favorite story in this collection.

8) Conclave - The penultimate snippet in this collection is from a vital part of Magic Bleeds.  It showcases Curran at the beginning of his dreaded worst and in the book, we get to see why many truly fear the Beast Lord. In this short, we get to see how Saiman ticks Curran off and how he has regretted it since then.

9) Awake - Awake is the last short story of this collection and is possibly the best ending to this collection as it completes the arc for Curran in terms of his love.  This short story  focuses on the climax of Magic Bleeds. It basically starts in tandem with the last few paragraphs of the book and then expands beyond the book to feature a very powerful scene which showcases why Curran is the Beast Lord and how powerful he truly is. This event is not shown in any of the books and is not referenced so far in the saga, however it is important for fans of the series to read it as the events which occur will have powerful implications in the pack setup and for the remainder of the saga. It has an terrific climax and on an emotional level it was very fulfilling to read as well.

All these snippets and stories focus on different aspects and behavior of the Beast Lord and for a fan of the series,  even though they are on the shorter side, for fans these stories are gold as they are completely devoted to Curran, his thoughts and his way of life. The first four snippets have very little action but focuses more on character interactions in each of the stories. The latter stories deliver on action and character intrigue, thereby making it whole. Lastly I would like to add the fact that these volumes are meant to be read after reading the books as otherwise new readers will be not be able follow much of what is happening.

CONCLUSION: This POV collection is a must-read for Kate Daniels fans and readers simply because of the depth, it adds to the series. At times short but almost always evocative, the stories featured within showcase a tumultuous relationship as well as a complex alpha. I very much enjoyed this freebie and my thanks to the lovely authors for making it so.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

NEWS: Steampunk World, Ari Marmell and Peter Clines (by Mihir Wanchoo)


There’s this magnificent effort currently ongoing at Kickstarter, Steampunk World: A multicultural steampunk fiction anthology edited by Sarah Hans. Here’s what is their main intent behind the creation of this fascinating anthology:

Steampunk is fascinating. There's something compelling about the shine of clicking brass clockwork and hiss of steam-driven automatons. But until recently, there was something missing."

"It was easy to find excellent stories of American and British citizens... but we rarely got to see steampunk from the point of view of the rest of the world."

"Steampunk World is a showcase for nineteen authors to flip the levers and start the pistons and invite you to experience the entirety of steampunk.”

This original anthology will have nineteen award-wining authors in its lineup and here’s the whole roster lineup:
 - Jay Lake 
 - Ken Liu 
 - Nisi Shawl 
 - Lucy A. Snyder 
 - S. J. Chambers 
 - Jaymee Goh 
 - Rochita Loenen-Ruiz 
 - Lillian Cohen-Moore 
 - Philippa (Pip) Ballantine 
 - Balogun Ojetade 
 - Alex Bledsoe 
 - Indrapramit Das 
 - Emily Cataneo 
 - Malon Edwards 
 - Tade Thompson 
 - Nayad A. Monroe 
 - Lucien Moussa Shukri Soulban 
 - Benjanun Sriduangkaew 
 - Diana M. Pho 

The cover art as seen above is by James Ng and looks impressive to say the least. The anthology is currently funded at over $9,000, having met its goal of $6,000. But there’s more up such as a brand new cover by James as well as interior art for each story. So head over to their Kickstarter page and see which backer options interest you and join in.

Next up is an author whom I’ve admired for his stories and forthrightness. Recently Ari Marmell brought to light, a difficult situation that he has been facing:

This is–in terms of both personal and professional pride–one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. That it comes in the middle of the holidays just makes it even worse. As many of my fans and friends already know, I suffer from a number of health issues, both physical and emotional. For a large chunk of this year, the dosages on my depression meds were wrong, leading to a long period where I was far less functional than I should have been. One of the results of that was that I got less work done this year than I should have."

"Well, on top of that, I have several payments that are past-due to me that have not yet arrived, and I’ve just had several months straight of unexpected expenses (personal, health-wise, pet-health-wise, and other). Bottom line, we’re deep in the red and I’m not sure about basic expenses or rent next month….”

Kindly read the rest of Ari’s post on his blog and please kindly consider helping out a good person in need.

Lastly Peter Clines, a favorite of mine, has revealed some info about the next three of his forthcoming works. Here’s what Peter said about each of the books and while giving their titles as well:

 1) The Albuquerque Door, which is what I’m working on now. My goal is to have this handed into my editor before my birthday. In a perfect world... you might see it this time next year. Maybe.

What’s it about? A very interesting high school teacher is sent to check up on a government-sponsored teleportation project and discovers that it’s gone... well, wrong. Really wrong. In many different ways.

Oh, yeah, and it ties into 14. Thought some of you might like that part. It’s not a direct sequel, but you could call it 14-adjacent, if you like. More of a side-quel. I’ve been calling it a Next Generation-Deep Space Nine kind of relationship.

2) Ex-Isle (book 5) is pretty self-explanatory. Broadway’s liking the Ex series enough to let me do another one. Which meant a few very last-minute tweaks to Ex-Communication and Ex-Purgatory to set up a few things...

I’ll be starting Ex-Isle right after my current project. Probably in May or June. If all goes really, really well, it might be in your hands summer of 2015. I’m kind of guessing on these release dates and a billion things will happen between now and then, so don’t hold me to any of these...

3) Not Highways is kind of a joke that grew out of the pitch I made to my editor at San Diego Comic Con. When he asked if I had a title, I said Highways and Byways. He and my agent glanced at each other (neither of them recall doing this... or so they claim), looked back at me, and almost simultaneously said “That’s a horrible title.” So in the months afterward, whenever we’d talk about the book, it was always Not Highways.

The actual pitch? “It’s kind of like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere crossed with Cannonball Run.” For the double-handful of you who were at Booktopia this summer, it’s the story I mentioned about the Model T Ford. If all goes according to schedule, I’ll be writing this next fall and you’ll get to read it... maybe in early 2016.

So there you have it, some cool things to look forward to and so from all of us here at Fantasy Book Critic, wish you all a very happy holidays and new year ahead.

NOTE: Steampunk World image courtesy of James Ng. Ari Marmell picture courtesy of Ari and Jessica Cargill. Peter Clines picture courtesy of the author.
Friday, December 20, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton and White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read the first chapter of Drakenfeld HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Nights of Villjamur 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of City of Ruin 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Book Of Transformations 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Mark Newton 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Over here at Fantasy Book Critic, we keep an eye out for special writers and I was looking forward to this book since it was announced back in 2011. While I’ve read the first two books in Mark C. Newton’s debut series, this book almost felt like from a whole new person. Let me clarify that; as I don't think that Mark was a bad writer with his earlier books, no he was a different kind of writer. With this one, he re-invents himself and goes on to write a book that is vastly different than his debut effort in terms of plot style, genre & characterization.

Drakenfeld introduces us to Lucan Drakenfeld, an officer of the Sun Chamber who is called back to his birth city of Tryum. Tryum is the capital city of Detrata, which along with a few other nations combine to form the Vispasian Royal Union. A confederation of monarchic nations, which is controlled and policed by the Sun Chamber. Set in a quasi-Roman landscape and with a world that is very slowly & surely revealed, the author focuses on the main character of Lucan Drakenfeld as we learn all about his past life and his route to becoming an officer of the Sun chamber. Lucan’s father has passed away and when he learns about it, he goes back to Tryum wherein he learns that the King’s sister has been murdered in a locked room.

Tasked by the king to find his sister’s murderer, Lucan Drakenfeld soon learns that the past never truly is in the past. As revelations about his father and his ex-lover shake Lucan and he is embroiled in the royal murder mystery with no end in sight. The author then conveniently proceeds to involve the reader in this quasi-roman world via his smooth operative protagonist. Lucan Drakenfeld is a superb protagonist who is a cerebral character and one who looks to avoid violence whenever he can. The author has commented about this in a blog post and after reading this story, it’s very apparent how the author has gone about this. I enjoyed discovering Lucan’s past and how some of it ties into the current mystery. With first person narratives, it's entirely upon the narrator to enrapture the reader and so here the author excels by creating such a everyman protagonist. Lucan is a simple, honorable man who has made mistake but has learned from them as much as possible.

There’s also the world that is introduced and with this opening story, we are only shown the city of Tryum. I hope the author explores remaining city states in further volumes as this series is ripe for exploration. The side character cast introduced in this one is also intriguing beginning from Leana who provides an interesting foil to Lucan and provides the reader with some of the interesting dialogue in this book. Also primarily what it does is hold a mirror to Lucan, his views and actions. In the sense that Lucan is a man who advocates avoiding violence but Leana often counters by providing reasons that violence might actually be the better option. I enjoyed this intellectual foreplay and will be interested to see Leana’s past explored in the future volumes.

The author has to be lauded for lacing such a good mystery story within a secondary fantasy world. The world he has created is a very low magic one and there's almost none within this story. Perhaps this is a world with its superstitions that is slowly but surely on its way to dispelling them. Or it's a series that might present some later, either way it's a series that will draw in the readers comfortably. Not much to nitpick about it, besides the fact that there's almost next to none of any magic, but the way the story is presented, most readers shouldn't have any quibbles about it.

With strong characterization and a very smooth plot, the book was an excellent read from the first page to the last. I very much enjoyed this new turn by Mark C. Newton and will be looking forward to further adventures featuring Leana and Lucan. Very highly recommended for those who love strong mysteries, nuanced plots and an intriguing protagonist. Join Lucan Drakenfeld in his ancient world, for the author is sure to dwell in it for a long, long time to come.


Official Authors Website 
Order White Fire HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Fever Dream 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Cemetry Dance 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Gideon’s Sword 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Cold Vengeance 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Extraction 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After the traumatic events showcased in Two Graves, readers were presented with a broken Pendergast (mentally, and a bit world-weary). So readers were interested to see what would happen to him post the revelations of the climax of the Helen Pendergast trilogy. What I liked was how the authors decided to side-step reader expectations.

This book is a standalone story and focuses on Corrie Swanson as she is looking for a historical project in regards to her thesis work. Once she finds out about a grizzly bear massacre in Colorado, she is hooked on to the case as it gives her a unique take on forensic odontology. Upon reaching the town, Corrie finds that things are never that forthcoming and she takes some unnecessary measures to reach her goal (proving her immaturity to readers). She lands in big trouble and it’s left to Pendergast to help her as is his wont.

Pendergast however takes a secondary role in the happenings of the book and this aspect of the book was very similar to his earliest appearances in Relic & Reliquary. I loved that the authors took this step as it made him into the mysterious enigma we know him to be. This story is entirely Corrie's story and it makes for a fascinating change to read.  The icing of this story is its connection to Arthur Conan Doyle and his erstwhile creation: Sherlock Holmes, both of which form a vital cog of the plot. So not only do the readers get to read about Pendergast, they also get a brand new Sherlock Holmes story that is officially sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. This is an absolute first among recent thriller writers and kudos to Messrs. Preston & Child for this fantastic addition to the story.

As with previous Preston-Child books, characterization remains a strong point and it’s no different here. While I'm not a big fan of Corrie as a protagonist, she was much less abrasive or antagonistic (in her people skills) this time around and this perhaps heralds a mature turn to her (which is good). In this regard Corrie is presented as she is known to readers of the previous books but with more maturity and therefore this book is perhaps the best of her appearances. There's a small but crucial bit of news in regards to D'Agosta & another favorite character of mine, which was pretty cool to know. Lastly this book also introduces another intriguing and formidable side character, who is a former military captain and I hope the authors give her a bigger role in their future books. The pace of the story along with the plot twists are the strong points and while some twists are easily predictable, the uncertain nature of the storyline and its horrific climax help in making this story to further consolidate the plus-points.

White Fire is a good follow-up thriller to the utterly fascinating Helen Pendergast trilogy. It is very much similar in scope to Still Life With Crows (which was also Corrie's debut) but presents a much different landscape. The story also has the addition of the new Sherlock Holmes story and that was something that one almost never reads about. White Fire can also be read as a standalone story and for new readers, it would be a good place to be introduced to the world of A.X.L. Pendergast and many more intriguing characters that dwell in the imaginations of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Allegiant: Divergent 3" by Veronica Roth (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)





Visit Veronica Roth's Official Website Here





OVERVIEW:   The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent

FORMAT: Allegiant is the third book in the Divergent series. It is a dystopian YA novel with hints of romance, action, adventure, and science. The novel stands at 526 pages and was published October 22, 2013 by Katherine Tegan Books.



ANALYSIS: I feel in love with Divergent when I read it almost a year and a half ago. I found the characters engaging, the world building 'unique' without being unbelievable, and the situations they were thrown into engaging and fun. Then Insurgent came out.

Insurgent was a bit of a struggle for me. I found the awe and fascination I had with Divergent just was not there. Something, maybe it was the focus upon the teenage angst and love, maybe it was the rather random almost unrealistic situations the characters faced, took my love for the series down a few notches, but not enough for me to stop the series completely.

Now, I am at the crossroads as Allegiant finishes the series. I am going to do my best to give the least amount of spoilers, as possible. However, I will give warning that if you want to be shocked, surprised, and such it is best to skip this review.

Allegiant was a disappointment. This series, which could have been so promising, just fizzled out and died. A small part of me is sad, not because the series ended, but because of how it all went down. I feel no sense of closure, I feel no satisfaction. In fact, I feel misled, let down, and just disappointed.

Allegiant picks up right where Insurgent left off and there was so much that could happen. So many different ways this book could have gone, but it didn't. Why? No one will ever really know, but I have my suspicions.

I believe that Veronica Roth had a wonderful idea. I believe she is a talented writer. Unfortunately, this whole series had no direction and if there was a direction – it got lost somewhere around book 2. This leaves readers with a feeling of that things are being thrown at that right and left, with no true direction. And then the book ends.

I could list multiple sections and events I had a problem with, but I realize that every reader will feel differently. I also, do not want to take away from anyone who is going to read this series on their own and do not want to spoil it for people. However, I will highlight a few 'non' spoiler parts that I had issues with.

The biggest part of the novel I had a problem with was the whole DNA/experiment/Damaged angle. Basically, what it boiled down to was that some people were 'pure' and some had damaged genes which they believed caused violence and other stuff, but didn't really. While I understood it, I felt it was extremely technical and extremely confusing. Maybe the confusing factor came about because it wasn't really thought out, maybe not.

Readers are bogged down with lengthy explanations of DNA testing, damage, etc. It all just seemed so random and silly. It really took away from the whole story. However, the explanations read more like fluff, as Roth didn't want to get too technical that she lost her audience. This leaves readers in an almost limbo between boring science and 'huh' science.

In addition to the rather pointless pure genes and damaged gene angle, there was a lot of senseless death - deaths that made no sense and really had no purpose other than to add a depressing angle to the whole story.

I am sure, given the popularity of the series, some people will love the ending. And I have to repeat – it was not how the book ended that made me so upset, it was the writing (character developments, plot twists, lack of direction, etc.) that made me upset.

Overall, Veronica Roth is an extremely talented writer and I look forward to future books. However, I think this series which had so much potential – fell short.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Win Three Spectacular Anthologies - Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, Year’s Best SF 18, and Dangerous Women!


Thanks to TOR books, we at Fantasy Book Critic are privileged to host this awesome giveaway. Up for grabs is one set of “Twenty-First Century Science Fiction”, “Year’s Best SF 18”, and “Dangerous Women”!!!

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: Anthology. Giveaway has ended and was open to participants in USA & CANADA ONLY. Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:
 1) Open To Anyone in USA & CANADA ONLY
 2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
 3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
 4) No Purchase Necessary
 5) Giveaway has ended
 6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
 7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Books To The Winner

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Uncaged by Joe Gazzam (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order the book HERE 
Read an excerpt HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joe Gazzam was born in Baltimore, MD, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, FL and graduated from the University of Florida. Soon after college he moved to Los Angeles with one script under his arm, never having been to California in his life. Since then, due to good luck and the support of friends and family, he’s been a working screenwriter for 8 years.

Joe has since worked on such films as: 21 Jump Street, Barbarella, Step Up: Revolution, Disney’s Hawaiian Adventure, It Takes a Thief, Anubis Tapestry and many more. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and son.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Jason Holden has been skating on thin ice since his mother died. If there’s a rule to break, he’s broken it. Naturally his behavior isn’t winning him any points with his father, who just happens to be the state governor. When Governor Holden learns about a program for troubled youth, he jumps at the chance to deal with Jason’s impulsive outbursts while cementing his position as political leader known for being tough on crime. Jason doesn’t resent him for killing two birds with one stone. He just resents him.

The program is a radical exercise designed to scare teens into walking away from a life of crime. The other kids in the program are straight from the streets, and it doesn’t take more than a minute for Jason to realize he’s gotten himself in too deep. The program is called “Scared Straight,” and it will take them into the heart of Blackenbush Penitentiary.

Accompanied by prison guards and a documentary crew led by the only woman who’s passed through the gates in years, the six boys find themselves face to face with some of the worst criminals the state has ever seen. The experience has the potential to change them forever. Until everything goes utterly, horribly wrong.

What begins as an exercise for troubled youth becomes a full-out jailbreak. Led by Manning, a serial killer and psychotic genius, the prison is transformed into a hellhole of violence and destruction. Jason’s only hope is escape, but he can’t do that without help. In a prison full of murderers and thieves, he will have to trust in the most unlikely person—a convict with his own body count, a man who came to the prison a thief and stayed there a murderer. Between them, they just might find a way to save their skin.

FORMAT/INFO: Uncaged is 267 pages long divided over thirty-four chapters. Narration is in the third-person, via several characters; Jason Holden, Rix, Governor Daniel Holden, Sasha Shim, Ray Manning, Drake, Marco, captain James Skelly, and a few other minor characters.

October 11, 2013 marked the e-book and paperback publication of Uncaged and it was published by ZOVA Books. Cover design is provided by Matthew Pizzo.

CLASSIFICATION: Think Under Siege meets Nathan's Run in a hot, sweltering Florida Penitentiary.

ANALYSIS: While I love fantasy and all of its iterations, I also love the mystery-thriller genres. So I’m always on the lookout for good ones. Uncaged by Joe Gazzam was a book who had what I like to refer to as a “crackerjack blurb”. After reading the excerpt, I immediately contacted the author who gladly set me up with a review copy and so I finished it in one setting.

The story begins Jason Holden who is a troubled teen due to the recent death of his mother begins to act out with terrifying results. The most recent example being an accident, which marks the end of his line of his father’s patience. His father Daniel Holden is also the state governor of Florida and is clearly under fire for his son’s actions, which spur him onto a radical path for his son’s benefit. Sasha Shim is a psychologist with social services who is roped in to making a documentary about the scared straight program that Jason is forced to take part in. Lastly there’s Rix, an incarcerated prisoner in the Blackenbush Penitentiary who is facing a rather hard time with parole. These are the main POV characters in this this exciting story.

Thus begins the exciting thrill ride that is Uncaged as the readers will be introduced to these characters that have been trapped in unfortunate situations due to their own and others’ actions. What I loved about this story was how the author paced the story beginning from the introduction of the main POV characters, and then just basically lets the story fly off the handle from there. The readers are given their share of heroic, misunderstood and savage characters and most of them are very, very interesting. The plot twists come in throes and while some are predictable, many are simply unexpected and add to the awesomeness of this debut.

Here’s what I loved about the POV characters, one of the main protagonist Jason Holden while being a troubled teenager, doesn’t seem to be annoying. This was a plus point from the author as it’s very difficult to portray troubled teenagers and make them sympathetic at the same time. The author excels at this and so that helps in getting the reader embroiled in Jason’s troubles. Also another intriguing character was Rix as well as the main protagonist, who are shown to men that have perhaps a canny intelligence as well as similar inner strength but interact with others in different ways. For me besides the pace of the story, the characterization was another solid plus point for this debut.

Lastly because a writer with strong roots in screenplays wrote this book, it almost reads like one and it's very easy to imagine it as a movie (this would make an awesome movie with the right director and hopefully little changes to the story). This debut takes all the awesome ingredients of the film “Under Seige” and combines them with the heart-warming aspects of “Nathan’s Run” another fantastic debut thereby giving thriller readers a sensational read.

I didn’t think there were any drawbacks to this story, of course with most thrillers, there has to be some suspension of disbelief and it’s again to the author’s credit that this is held to a bare minimum in this story (in regards to antagonist's plans). So if you can overlook some mild improbabilities then this thriller works wonderfully and will keep the reader riveted till its twisted climax. This book simply is a must buy and must read for all lovers of crackerjack thrillers.

CONCLUSION: One of the best thriller debuts that I've read in the recent years, Uncaged by Joe Gazzam reads like a fast paced thriller movie that is perfectly transcribed for readers. With a wide variety of characters (mostly menacing), this thriller debut is a must read for fans of Jeffrey Deaver, Blake Crouch and Matthew Reilly for its sheer pace, twisted plot and a terrific climax.
Friday, December 13, 2013

"A Discourse in Sundering" - An Interview with Paul S. Kemp, author of The Godborn - Book II of The Sundering



If Forgotten Realms readers have felt the ground of their favorite shared world shifting beneath their feet, that's because Wizards of the Coast has decided to shake things up with another world-spanning event: The Sundering. Spanning several books, the Sundering pulled in R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, and other notable Realms writers to show readers how the event affected their favorite characters and the Realms' many famous landmarks.

I got a chance to shoot a few questions in Paul Kemp's direction. We talked about writing, The Godborn, which is the second installment in and Kemp's contribution to the Sundering event, and what would happen if Cale and Riven, his leads born and raised in the Realms, happened to rub elbows none too gently with Egil and Nix, heroes of Kemp's new A Tale of Egil and Nix series, which (so far) spans The Hammer and the Blade and A Discourse in Steel. 


Q] Before we delve into material specific to your book, what is the Sundering and Era of Upheaval, exactly?

PK: I’ll give you the Cliff’s Note version: So, one hundred years ago (in world), the Realms underwent something called the Spellplague. Magic ran amok, gods died, and (most importantly) two sister worlds that occupied the same “space” but in different dimensions became intermingled. People and places from one world were transposed to the other. Dogs and cats living together! It was chaos! All of this was part of the Age of Upheaval. 

But now the worm turns and the Age of Upheaval is coming to an end. The Sundering is the wind down of the age, and the two worlds are once more separating. There are enormous implications from this, of course, and those implications are part of what the Sundering Series of books explores. 

Q] If you would be so kind to take us behind the wizard's curtain, what events within Wizards led to the Sundering? These events are exciting because they affect the entire Realms, not just a handful of characters, and I wondered how involved authors are in helping shape the story arc and prep for what comes next. 

PK: I can’t speak directly to what led to the initial conception of something called the Sundering, but I think it was born of a desire to circle the Realms back to its essence (and that essence, for me, is a world of classic fantasy adventure, permeated with a sensawunda, and, in the end, optimistic). 

The authors were brought in early on in the process, before any of the story of the Sundering was developed. Over the course of several story summits (which included the Sundering authors, members of the R&D team, brand, all the players) we brainstormed ideas, talked often about the essence of the Realms, had drunken parties, fought in Wizard’s secretive cage fighting league, and emphasized the need to let storytellers tell the story.  

So, long and short: The authors were instrumental in helping shape the story arc. 

Q] Your book, THE GODBORN, is the second entry in the Sundering following R.A. Salvatore's THE COMPANIONS. How did you go about laying the bridgework from Bob Salvatore's book to yours? Or was that required? 

PK: Strictly speaking, a lot of bridgework wasn’t required. Each book in the Sundering Series is a standalone, connected to the others in that they all tell their stories against the backdrop the Sundering (the worldwide event). It’s a bit like having a series entitled “World War II,” and having six novels told from the standpoint of a GI landing on North Africa as part of Operation Torch, a novel told from the standpoint of Patton as he prepared to invade Italy, another from an RAF pilot during the battle of Britain, and you get the point. What connects of all the stories is the events unfolding across the Faerun. 

Now, that said, there are some Easter eggs and/or more obvious connections between and across some of the books. Erin Evans and I both use archdevils in our stories and some of the events of THE GODBORN set up some of the events in her novel, THE ADVERSARY. 

Q] How much freedom did you have in writing GODBORN? Were there restrictions or were you told to let loose and do what you do? 
PK: You know, my experience with WotC over the course of these last 13 years has always been the same: What do you want to write, Paul? And off we go. I’m not sure that it’s like that in all (or even most) shared settings, but it’s been that way for me in the Realms and I’m grateful for it. It’s made it a real pleasure to work with the WotC team. 

Q] When many Forgotten Realms readers hear the name "Paul Kemp," they doubtlessly think of Erevis Cale, your leading man. But many readers enjoy Riven just as much. I wonder if you could talk about writing Riven, and where THE GODBORN finds him since last readers crossed his path. 

PK: “Riven” is “Drasek Riven,” a once a small time assassin, Zhent operative, and bitter rival of Erevis Cale. Later, he, like Cale, fell into service with the God of Shadows and he and Cale reached a kind of d├ętente, if not quite a respectful friendship.  Still later he absorbed a shard of divinity and became a kind of demi-god, and that’s the Riven we see in the prologue to THE GODBORN. 

Riven has been a great character to write. He starts out as a villain, moves over the course of many books to something akin to an anti-hero, and then, in THE GODBORN, becomes…well, I guess readers will soon know. J I think Riven is darned near as popular with Cale with readers, and he utters my favorite line in THE GODBORN (which I can’t write here for fear of spoilers). 

Q] The opening to GODBORN takes readers on quite a wild ride. Could you talk about what's involved in writing a compelling prologue? How do you juggle setting the stage, hooking readers, and introducing your characters and story arc without bogging down the pace, especially in the quick-as-a-flash, sword-and-sorcery genre? 

PK: You know, writing a compelling prologue is no different than writing a compelling opening that starts with Chapter One (I use a prologue when the events of that scene are occurring at a different time, or involve characters who won’t appear much (if at all) again, but who play an important role in the narrative nevertheless). To make it compelling – especially in the S&S arena – you want to write a pacy scene (doesn’t need to be action necessarily) that demonstrates character and circles around a core of emotion. 

I love scenes like that as a reader, and hope those who read my writing enjoy them when I write them. The opening of The Godborn was a bit trickier than usual, in that it involved some jumping around in time (in the form of flashbacks), but I’m very happy with how it turned out. Since a lot of folks have written me to tell me that the prologue made them cry, I think I might have managed to write something decent with that opening. 


Q] What tools should writers use to hook readers and keep them turning pages? 
PK: I think the most important thing in any novel is the characters. Make them believable, make them complicated, and make them compelling. Readers fall in love with (or love to hate) characters and following the events in those characters’ lives are what keep readers turning pages and coming back book after book.

Q] You've spent your time away from the Realms building your own (super-fun) sword-and-sorcery world that begins over THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE, continues with A DISCOURSE IN STEEL, and features characters of your own creation, Egil and Nix. What was it like returning to the Realms after so long away? 
PK: This sounds cheesy, but it was like coming home. I know the Realms and I love the Realms. From the moment I started writing, it was as though I’d never been away at all. There. That was kind of slobbery, no? Sheesh. Get a room, Kemp. 

Q] You've long been a defender of writing in shared worlds such as the Forgotten Realms? Besides your obvious motivation to continue doing so, what makes you so passionate about shared worlds? 
PK: You know, it’s not so much that I’m passionate about shared worlds as a general matter. It’s more that I take issue with the sentiment that shared world writing (or tie-in writing) necessarily means low-quality writing. I think countless shared world writers (including me) put the lie to that. Fortunately, I think that sentiment has been diminishing over the years. That’s been nice to see. 
Now, with all that said: I am passionate about the shared settings in which I write, which is why I write in them (and here I mean Star Wars and the Forgotten Realms). Both of them are enormously rich, fun settings that hold a special place in my heart.

Q] What did you set out to accomplish in GODBORN? Do you feel you were successful? 
PK: First and foremost, I wanted to tell a great story. I think I did that, but who the Hell knows? J

And I wanted what I hope is a great story to do three things: First, I wanted it to serve as a good jumping in point for readers new to my Realms work; second, I wanted it to provide an suitable continuation of the adventures of Riven and crew for longtime readers of my Cale stories; and third, I wanted it to further the events of the Sundering.
I think I managed all of those things, though balancing the first and second got a bit tricky now and again. J 


Q] What tantalizing tidbits can you throw our way regarding your future exploits in the Realms? 
PK: Well, I’ll be doing at least two more novels in the Realms (and expect to do many more than that), with the next release coming late in 2014. It will continue the story of some of the characters introduced in THE GODBORN. 

Q] Erevis Cale and Drasek Riven bump into Egil and Nix in a tavern. And... go! 
PK: Oh man, I can’t set my children to fighting, so I’ll go straight to the punch line. 

Nix bounded forward and put the point of his blade under the chin of the one-eyed fakker with the bad attitude.

“Nix Fall,” he said. “Or Nix the Quick, if you prefer. Don’t feel bad about this. No one ever—”

A slight pressure on Nix’s stomach cut off the rest of his sentence.

The man’s mouth, surrounded by a dark goatee, twisted into a sneer.

Nix looked down in vague disbelief to see that the man held the point of a punch dagger pressed against Nix’s abdomen.

The man’s sneer deepened. “Not quick enough, eh?”

Nix frowned. “Huh. I’m going to admit to some surprise here.”

To their right, Egil grappled with a man a head taller than him but fully two stones lighter. Somehow the man seemed a match for Egil’s strength. Each held the other’s wrists, sweating and grunting as they shuffled across the floor of the Slick Tunnel, bumping into tables and chairs.

“Maybe you should consider your hammers, Egil,” Nix called.

“Shut up, Nix,” Egil said, as he bumped into a chair.

“You look like two bald giants,” Nix said. “Don’t they look like two bald giants?”

“Shut up,” the one eyed man said.

“Look, you both have equally shiny pates,” Nix said. “There’s no need to fight about it.”

The sneer didn’t make a run at a smile.

“Come on,” Nix said. “That was amusing.”

Still the sneer.

“Nothing? Really?”

“You talk too much,” the one-eyed man said.

“So I’ve been told,” Nix conceded.

The one-eyed man ignored him. “Cale?”

The tall bald man said, “I’ve got him.”

Egil grunted, shoved Cale against a table. “No, I’ve got you.”

Nix sighed. “A standoff, it seems.”

“Aye,” the one-eyed man said. “Like in a Tarantino film.”

“I love Tarantino films,” Cale said, righting himself and shoving Egil against the wall.

“Me, too!” answered Nix.

The one-eyed man lost his sneer and grew thoughtful. “It’s been downhill since Reservoir Dogs but I guess I like him well enough.”

“Inglorious Bastards was solid,” Egil said. “The Grindhouse stuff was fun.”

“So we’re in agreement, then?” Nix asked the one-eyed man.

“Aye.”

Nix lowered his blade. “So that’s settled. A drink, then?”

“A drink,” Egil said, releasing Cale.

“Well enough,” Riven said, “But I ain’t leaving no fucking tip.”

“Just sit down, Mr. Pink,” Nix teased.


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