Quotables: Words that Stuck with Me in 2022

I don’t think that you can be a reader and not love words. There is something special in the infinite combinations of letters and the amazing things that come from them. Sometimes a book quote comes along that just floors me, whether it hits in a way that feels incredibly personal or just makes me laugh until I get sick. I love looking back at the quotes that stuck with me throughout the year. Below are a few favorites from 2022. You can find my Quoatables posts from previous years here: 2020, 2021.

“She looked up at him, red eyes wet with tears “Our secrets and lies are the monsters we feed. You should know that.”– The Monsters We Feed by Thomas Howard Riley
Review to come

“That’s the mark of real friendship, I think: to be the person you are when you’re alone, but in front of someone else. Just as free. Just as messy. The kind of friend where you don’t have to stress over every little thing you say, because one little fuck-up in front of them won’t make them think any worse of you. A single impressive act won’t alter things either, because they’ve seen enough of your failings not to put you on a pedestal. They know you. The “you” beneath the bullshit.” – One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold
Review

“This wasn’t about using nostalgia as a shield, it was about celebrating the things that defined them, the characters that spoke to their heart’s truth, the things that made them different and unique and powerful in their own special way. It united them.”– The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning
Review

“It wasn’t the same song, it never is, each time you play it the song changes, but the feeling remains the same.”– We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
Review

“I was just thinking that you don’t have to forget who you were … because that’s what brought you here.”- Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
Review

“Perhaps a story is simply a reminder to the reader that time is a funny thing: it stretches and snaps. It bends and wobbles. And it slows down when you move too fast.”– The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
Review

“But then, how were others to know that beneath her cloak of adept composure there existed a panicked thing, alternately crying and screaming and longing for a nap all while craving something glazed in sugar?”– Miss Percy’s Guide to the Care & Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson
Review to come

“There is nothing so broken it can’t be repaired.”– Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans
Review

“Do you know what you’d do to stay alive? Most of us never have to make that call. Not so clearly that we have to weigh up our life against another’s. Instead, we make that choice in a hundred little decisions every day, when we put our own life, and our own comforts, over everyone else. We all live our lives off the blood of other people; they’re usually just far enough away from us that we can convince ourselves that it isn’t the case.” – One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold
Review

“I read once that books bend both space and time, and the more books you have in one place, the more space and time will bend and twist and fold over itself. I’m not sure if that’s true but it feels true. Of course, I read that in a book, and maybe the book was just bragging.”– The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
Review


Here’s to many more amazing quotes! Happy reading!

The Write Reads on Tour: The Hanged God Trilogy

I’m so excited to be joining the Write Reads on Tour to spotlight not one, but THREE books! Let’s take a look at The Hanged God trilogy.

Book 1: Northern Wrath

Following in the steps of Neil Gaiman & Joanne Harris, the author expertly weaves Norse myths and compelling characters into this fierce, magical epic fantasy.

A dead man, walking between the worlds, foresees the end of the gods.

A survivor searching for a weapon releases a demon from fiery Muspelheim.

A village is slaughtered by Christians, and revenge must be taken.

The bonds between the gods and Midgard are weakening. It is up to Hilda, Ragnar, their tribesmen Einer and Finn, the chief’s wife Siv and Tyra, her adopted daughter, to fight to save the old ways from dying out, and to save their gods in the process.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Northern-Wrath/dp/B08LZQ79KH/  

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50891086-northern-wrath

Book 2: Shackled Fates

Following on the breakout success of Northern Wrath , Holdt weaves myth and history in a deeply magical saga.

As Ragnarok looms, the trickster Loki breaks free from his chains.

In the battle to come, all shall die, but Ragnar will do anything to save his gods.

Einer scours the nine worlds for Hilda, who walks among gods and goddesses, searching the truth of the Runes.

For centuries Siv has run from her past, but she knows that to protect her daughter, and Midgard, she will have to face her worst fears.

It is time to confront the Alfather.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1781089256/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56897864-shackled-fates

Worlds collide – and are shattered – in the epic conclusion of the Northern Wrath saga.

The Concluding Part of the Epic Viking Fantasy Trilogy

ALL SHALL PERISH

The great wolf howls for Ragnarok to begin. The half-giant Einer leads an army of the dead to clash with the golden shields of Asgard. The nornir tie and retie their threads, as Loki’s and Odin’s schemes unfold… and unravel. For not even cunning gods and giants see every part of the web.

As the survivors of the burned village of Ash-hill converge on the final battle on Ida’s Plain, only two are truly free to choose their paths and prevent the annihilation of the nine worlds: a storyteller who holds all destinies in his hands, and a shieldmaiden with no destiny at all.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Slaughtered-Gods-Hanged-God-Trilogy/dp/1786187450/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57394030-slaughtered-gods

Thilde Kold Holdt is a Viking, traveller and a polygot fluent in Danish, French, English and Korean. As a writer, she is an avid researcher. This is how she first came to row for hours upon hours on a Viking warship. She loved the experience so much that she has sailed with the Viking ship the Sea Stallion ever since. Born in Denmark, Thilde has lived in many places and countries, taking a bit of each culture with her, and is currently based in Southern France where she writes full-time. 

Small Press, Big Stories: Paladin Unbound

I am excited to be a part of #SmallPressBigStories, conceived of and led by the awesome Runalong the Shelves! Small Press, Big Stories exists to celebrate indie presses and the awesome titles they publish.

Paladin Unbound has become one of my favorite fantasy books. I’ve already reread it once, and plan to read it again before too long. It’s an amazing book to fall into. Here’s my original review, although I think I failed to fully describe my love of the book:

When people ask for books I’d recommend to a fantasy newbie, ones that represent all the wonderful things the genre has to offer, I have a few go-tos. The Hobbit, obviously, and the Dragonlance Chronicles (really, is anyone surprised?), and, more recently, The Ventifact Colossus. Now I’m adding Paladin Unbound to that list, because this book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

The story starts with the main character, Umhra, just wanting to find work for himself and his band of mercenaries. When they are hired to find out what has happened to several missing people, they are thrust into a situation that is much darker and more dangerous than Umhra expected.

I was sucked in from page one, which begins at an ending. The ending of a war between gods, no less. The war ends with an asterisk, the sort that always leads to trouble down the road. What I loved about the opening is that it started huge, before moving on to the main storyline which is much more personal. It showcased a fascinating history, one that we continue to get snippets of throughout the book. I love when the history of a world or its belief systems is shared naturally like that, avoiding the dreaded info dump. I have to admit, though, I would actually read an entire book just dedicated to the history and mythology of the world of Evelium, I loved it so much. It was creative and well thought out.

As much as I enjoyed the world building, though, where Paladin Unbound shines is in its characters. There’s an excellent cast who build off each other in the best of ways. The interactions felt natural and allowed each character to grow and develop brilliantly. This was, in some ways, the typical adventuring group sometimes found in ttrpg’s – and that’s a great thing! It works very well, after all. There was Naivara the druid, Laudin the ranger, a mage named Nicholas (I have no idea why, but his name made me smile), Shadow the rogue, Balris the healer, Talus the fighter, and Gromley the warrior priest. While I loved all of them, I must say that I had a soft spot for Shadow.

Then there’s our main character, Umhra. Oh, how I loved Umhra! Being half-orc, he was distrusted, looked down on, or treated poorly quite a lot. He could have been bitter or angry and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead, he was an optimist, always looking for the best in every situation. He was, at his core, a good, honorable character. He was not your boring “lawful good”, however. He was incredibly nuanced and I loved reading about him. I haven’t been a huge fan of paladins in the past, but Umhra has me planning to make a paladin for my next D&D campaign.

This book would be perfect for fantasy newbies, ttrpg players, or readers who have traveled the length and breadth of many fantasy worlds and are looking for new adventures to go on. It left me excited and wanting more. Paladin Unbound is fantasy at its finest.

*Paladin Unbound is a Literary Wanderlust title

To Purchase:

Paladin Unbound

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Empire of Exiles is available now.

When an author combines extraordinary worldbuilding with a strong understanding of human nature, something magical happens. Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots. Author Erin M. Evans has created the sort of book that will be treasured for years to come. The description of the book, while making me desperate to read it, doesn’t begin to show the full scope of what waits inside its pages.

The book opens with an errand. Quill comes to the Archives with a request: he needs some artifacts. A simple job, and nothing spectacular. But, then there’s a grisly murder with Quill involved for the most upsetting of reasons, and each theory leads to more questions. The twists and turns were brilliant, weaving a surprising story with much larger implications than anyone realizes.

It became less of a “whodunnit” and more of a question of how bad the fallout would be. The danger grew even bigger with each page, threatening to swallow everyone in it. By the end of the book, my house could have been on fire and I would have been annoyed at the interruption to my reading.

The plot wove between the past and the present, showing that history does not exist in a vacuum. Everything past had a connection to the present. I loved that, despite everything being connected in some way, the world was nonetheless huge. The book focused on a small cast of characters but did not exclude the rest of the world or make the story small in any way.

And what a cast! I can’t pick a favorite. I loved Quill’s tenacity and his willingness to admit that he was way outside his depth. Then there was Yinni, devout and oh-so-lost, completely unaware that everyone feels alone sometimes. Her character growth was astounding. I loved prickly Tunuk, who made me smile. And Amadea, full of secrets and questions herself, trying to hide her insecurities by being the pillar of strength for everyone else. As incredible as the world was and as fascinating as the storyline was, it was the characters that made me fall in love.

Well, that and the way the magic system perfectly described what my anxiety disorder is like. I was in tears at parts and the self-deceptive litany of “I’m fine” that could be found throughout Empire of Exiles felt so incredibly familiar. I loved the way the magic worked, how it threatened to swallow the character when they “spiraled”. I read that the author’s magic system was created from her wondering what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would be like. I can say with confidence that she nailed it. I was in awe at the way she put words to the indescribable.

The history of the world was fantastic, with hints of more to come. I loved the Changelings and the layers to their mystery. I’m a fan of changelings in books anyway, and these were so creatively done. The questions of morality that were raised with their inclusion added an intriguing facet.

I’m desperate to continue the story and will be waiting impatiently for book two. Empire of Exiles is truly incredible, captivating, and thought-provoking. I loved every word.

Universal Monsters Book Tag: 2022

Happy almost-Halloween, for those who celebrate! I’m actually not that big on Halloween (I know, I’m weird), but I love the Universal Monsters. I created a book tag revolving around them a few years ago and I’m dusting if off again this year.

Feel free to do your own! Please tag me so I can see your answers. Enjoy!

Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:

Yes, Lord Soth is a death knight. Yes, he could have prevented a world-ending disaster (a Cataclysm, if you will) and instead mucked it up. Yes, he’s really not a good dude. But he is so much fun to read about! He’s to Dragonlance as Boba Fett was to the original Star Wars movies: a mysterious, hardcore character whose legend builds with time.

The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:

There are bands that sell out and then there are bands that sell…something. Trust Grady Hendrix to take the idea of an almost-made-it band and combine it with forces dark and sinister. I had to set aside all my preconceptions about We Sold Our Souls. There are twists upon turns and nothing is as it seems.

Wolfman- a complicated character:

Not only is this love letter to 80s fantasy movies absolutely genius, but Jack is also an incredibly complex character. He had a broken relationship with his dad, and both loves and resents the movie world that took up so much of his dad’s attention. He’s angry and grieving, uncertain and sad. His character growth throughout the book is through the roof. Basically, The Shadow Glass is amazing.

Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:

As with all mysteries, everyone has secrets in Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. There were a couple of characters in the book that were completely misunderstood by everyone else. Of course, I misunderstood certain motives and actions too, which is the point of a mystery. This was a fun one!

The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyed more than the first book:

I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the sequel more than Shadow of a Dead God, but Nectar for the God took all the (many) things that I loved about the first Mennik Thorn book and added new levels. The stakes were higher, the world became more fleshed out, and Mennik was…even more of a walking Murphy’s Law. Seriously, you need to read this series.

Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:

The Hero Interviews, aside from being uproariously funny, has an incredibly unique feature: footnotes. Elburn Barr, Loremaster and narrator extraordinaire, interviews heroes throughout the book. These interviews come complete with his tongue-in-cheek observations, given as footnotes that add an extra layer of hilarity to an already hysterical book. The Hero Interviews will be released December first, but you can preorder it now on Amazon.

The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):

Legends and Lattes was a sweet delight. The book was the print version of a nice, cozy blanket. It left me smiling and feeling a little bit better about life. The ending was perfect (in fact, I really can’t think of a single aspect of the book that wasn’t).

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Jeffrey Speight

Today I’m delighted to feature not one, but multiple creatures! Jeffrey Speight is the author of Paladin Unbound, a phenomenal fantasy book that features it all: amazing characters, awesome worldbuilding, and the sorts of creatures that would make any TTRPG campaign fantastic.

Living with Monsters

When I was young, my mom was absolutely obsessed with antiques. During the summer, she would often drag me to flea markets across Long Island in search of her next piece. One time, dying of boredom, I looked through a pile of dusty old books and found one called The Fiend Folio. I had heard about Dungeons & Dragons through the older siblings of friends but had yet to play the roleplaying game that would prove to become a mainstay in my life. 

The cover depicted a bejeweled, sword-wielding monster with evil red eyes and sharp teeth. I had to know more. Eagerly leafing through the pages, I admired the artwork and wondered what a world with Ettercaps, Githyanki, Hook Horrors, and Shadow Demons would be like. 

I somehow talked my mom into buying it for me, and my journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons began. 

To be fair, my love affair with monsters started years earlier. Nearly every Halloween, as other kids ran from door-to-door dressed as Captain America and Spiderman, I would stalk my neighborhood dressed as Dracula with fake blood running from the corners of my mouth. One of my favorite toys was my Mighty Men & Monster Maker (if you didn’t have one, you really missed out), and nearly everything I read or watched was fantasy or “something spooky”. 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about monsters and what the attraction was at that point in my life. The best I can explain it, dreaming of the monsters that lurked in the shadowy recesses of other worlds made our world less scary. Fighting them in D&D allowed me to be the hero I was incapable of being as an undersized, socially anxious kid. Monsters gave me the power I thought I lacked in real life. 

Today, things are a little different. I have come to view monsters as the physical manifestation of the evils I, as an adult, seek to understand in the hearts of mankind. Storytelling, whether that be through running a D&D campaign or writing a fantasy novel, is a way to explore the human condition, and monsters are the embodiment of the struggles we face along the way. So, when I was asked by W&S Bookclub to take part in An Author’s Monster Manual, I jumped at the opportunity. 

In Paladin Unbound, I adapted many of the monsters Umhra and his companions face from the D&D campaign from which the story grew. Early in the journey we encounter archetypical vampires, zombies, and dire wolves. There are, however, a few monsters Umhra comes across that are quite unique in their construction that I’d like to share with you. 

Outside the Stoneheart Pass, the Barrow’s Pact is attacked by a myriapede. While I don’t give much backstory on this gigantic centipede-like creature, there is more than meets the eye. Bettle, as he is known, is the Guardian of the Waystone at the mouth of the Stoneheart Pass, the last known of its kind. Bound to protect the stone by an age-old contract, Bettle relentlessly pursues and attacks anything that comes too close. For this job, I wanted a monster that could not be reasoned with, that would strike fear into the hearts of travelers. If Bettle’s enormous mandibles don’t snap you in half, the formic acid he secretes just may dissolve you on contact. His countless legs end in razor-sharp spikes and his tail has two elongated hind legs tipped with hook-shaped stingers. It’s one thing to dispatch him above ground but, in his lair, he’s got a few other surprises for his enemies. Here’s a character sheet for whoever would like to include a myriapede like Bettle in their game. 

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Next, I’d like to look at something a little more twisted. Viewed as a side quest in Paladin Unbound, the Barrow’s Pact’s short stay in the cities of Amnesty and Retribution puts them in the path of the Three, estranged members of the royal bloodline. Our adventurers are asked by the stewards of the cities to investigate reports of an infant crying in the catacombs beneath the city streets. Here, they come upon an Anathema. A pile of quivering flesh with eight eyes, Anathemas are very rare and are indigenous only to the chaotic alternate plane of Wethryn. The monstrosity lures victims toward it by mimicking the cry of an infant, renders the victim unconscious with one of many glares from its eyes, and then consumes them. Anathemas are highly intelligent despite their appearance and are capable of teleporting over short distances as they are unable to physically move. This one definitely checked a major box for me in the gross category. I like to offer readers and players a variety of monsters—some cool and calculating, others brutish and overpowering, and some just disgusting.

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Finally, I thought it would be fun to give you a little preview of Mystic Reborn, the sequel to Paladin Unbound, which will hopefully be out Spring 2023. In the book, we meet plenty of new monsters. One that I am particularly fond of, however, is the Melacrite. The inspiration for these nasty little guys was my desire for an enemy with an almost Alien-like feel to them. Something skittering in the darkness that would add a touch of horror to the story. I won’t give much away here, but these twelve-legged wolf-sized creatures are half hardened carapace and half tattered fur. Their front appendages are like curved daggers, and they spit a tar-like substance that can slow the progress of an enemy. Melacrites live in large nests coated with their sticky saliva that make entering their homes a very unwise choice. I’m personally looking forward to using Melacrites in a D&D campaign, myself. While they are individually not all that much to worry about, in numbers they can be a formidable enemy. Here are the stats if you’d like to give them a try at home.

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Whether you are a fantasy writer, dungeon master, or both, creating interesting monsters is as much a worldbuilding tool as developing a magic system or pantheon. Sure, our characters can run around fighting other humans. In fact, these adversaries are often eviler than any monster you can throw in your hero’s path. For me, it’s just more fun when the evil lurking around the corner comes with fangs.

About the author:

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

An Interview with Author CM Kerley

Today, I’m excited to be able to chat with C.M. Kerly, author of the Barclan series, epic fantasy at its finest. You can find my review for book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, here.

Thank you for joining me to talk about the Barclan series and epic fantasy! Will you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Caroline, I’m from London but grew up in South Africa. I’m from a small town surrounded by farms, and at night I used to think the noises I could hear were ghosts at war with each other and the lights in the sky might definitely maybe not be stars but somehow magic. I suppose the noises might have been sounds from the neighborhood, and the stars were just stars, but I still prefer to think it was magic.

Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?

Okay, just the opener because it’s too vast to summarize easily. The series is set in an imagined world, in the kingdom of Barlcan. It starts with the reign of a very inept and timid king in a time when magic has become something rare which is to be feared and there are very few people alive who remember or know enough about it to believe it even exists. There are omens and very real-world signs that something is starting to move against the kingdom, but the king chooses not to see it. So, it is left to the prince, who does believe, to pull together the people whom he believes will give him a chance to fight back this threat that only he can see, that others think he is imagining. 

Yes the story is fantasy, but it isn’t about magic and creatures and spells or vampires and dragons and cackling villains or magical maps and destiny that comes to those who least expect it. 

My story, at its core, is about Control; do we really have control over ourselves, what are we willing to give it up for, and who are we willing to give it to. 

What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?

In part, one of the hardest things writing a series of books like this, with that 80s Epic Fantasy feel, was knowing that they aren’t very popular right now. Knowing that the fantasy scene is dominated by specific names and if you aren’t part of the echo chamber of the style or type, you’ll never ‘make it’.

Which can sound crazy, right, but if you’re like me and your dream of talking to people about the stories, not making all the folding money, it can be daunting and when you spend six years writing three books, keeping motivated can be an obstacle.

What are some successes?

The limitless art of fantasy is the landscape for the story I’ve crafted, and is full of unique characters that are believable, plausible, and face situations that the reader can empathise with, creating that real connection between the page and the person. The characters are not clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is more nuance within the characterisation. They are written so they each carry the overall theme of the story, but there are opportunities for the reader to themselves consider if what they are doing is good or bad. 

The use of magic is not the driving force of the story. It isn’t spelled out to the reader and doesn’t overly feel cumbersome to the narrative. It is a device used to enhance the characters, not a tool to explain wildly ridiculous events put there to make the story stand-out. There is romance, adventure, deep relationships, sadness, joy, and laughter all set out, with something to satisfy even the most critical fantasy fan, in a thoroughly good, and complete story.

In The Hummingbird’s Tear, we meet two siblings who have very different characteristics which lead to two very distinct story arcs. How did you go about weaving the two separate storylines together? 

It was a challenge. With Calem, who starts mute, I made the conscious decision to only give him two defining characteristics, the fire he can conjure and his silence. 

I then had to flesh out Brennan, his complexity took months to develop into a real persona. 

Then, it was using Brennan to tell Calem’s story at first, while doing it in such a way as to also give him his own spotlight. Using one character to tell the story of two, from the omnipotent writing perspective, is something I am quite proud of as it takes, in my opinion, quite a lot of craft.

One thing I did do was I kept detailed notes of each character, everything about them, even their habits, and I had personality charts drawn up and stuck to my wall in from of my machine of all the characters and I had their personal values listed out, their motivations, even a bit of origin stories for each of them. I had that on my wall for over six years, and that was to ensure I was always writing them truthfully, developing them and their arcs in believable ways that the reader could follow and empathize with, and making sure they were distinct.

The mythology and world history in The Hummingbird’s Tear is amazing. What came first in your series: the world or the characters? 

The characters. 

I still have the first drafts of all three books, partly to remind myself just how wildly different the stories were before I finally settled on what needed to be told and picked which parts of all the versions to pull into the final book to tell their stories.

I started with Calem, the idea of writing a book about a character with no voice; how do you tell someone’s story when they can’t tell it themselves? I sat down and started writing. I didn’t really dwell on too much more than that, I knew it would be a fantasy story because all my really good short stories up to that point had been fantasy and that is my favorite genre. I was expecting it to be one book, I had no intention of writing three, but by the time I was halfway through writing it I had lived the whole thing out in my head and knew that it was too big, too vast, and too complex to be a single book. I wanted to do justice to all the characters I had created and that meant giving them a story worth telling.

The Barclan series has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

It is Epic but perhaps more 80s Epic than today’s Epic. What I mean is, there is a style of Epic fantasy which is giving time to establishing the world in which the characters share their story. It’s a style which I love, and I write what I love to read so my books have a definite type of pacing.

I don’t borrow from real world mythology or start with frantic bloodthirsty battles to shock and hook the reader; for no reason other than those tools aren’t what I’ve chosen for my story. I know they are all the rage at the moment and very popular, so I’m maybe doing myself no service by going against that current, but the heart wants to write what the heart wants to read I suppose.

I’ve created my own world, my own creation mythology, the Gods, the magic system, the geography, all of it, it took all in, maybe two years to craft it all as I was writing and rewriting The Hummingbird’s Tear, and all that had to be woven through the series. I have about 1,000 pages of content I wrote and created as I was building the world, my own archive if you will.

So, Epic because all the kingdoms are created and unique and have their own beliefs and customs and cultures and that finds its way into the story to enrich it. I move my characters across the kingdoms so I can bring the world to life. I have them comment on and have the Gods and mythology impact their lives, so it brings context to everything I’ve decided to include form the prologue all the way through. And I start each prologue with a little more of the mythology and world building, so the timeframe for the story is literally, since the world was created, so even the timescales are epic.

I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?

They are different, but it’s an almost irrelevant difference and one that doesn’t, I think, give or take anything away from the genre and a distinction that doesn’t’ mean much to a reader or would have a large impact on their book choice. That sounds like a bit of a pretentious assumption on my part, but what I mean is, the differences are fairly limited, and fantasy readers tend to be open minded so the difference I don’t think is important and the two can work together.

If so, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

High Fantasy is set in an imaginary place, and Low Fantasy, is an alternate version of a real place. So, because Barclan isn’t real, it fits into High Fantasy. I think that is the basic difference but while that’d be my answer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, google probably knows more than me.

As for the Epic part, that falls to the scale. Epic fantasy in my understanding is on a grand scale, the story is set across multiple geographies and characters must travel or are set in distinct locations doing ‘things’ that advance the plot. Think questing stories.

I tend to think of the Barclan books as Epic High Fantasy because you start in one part of the kingdom, but you’ll go to towns, cities, a mine in the mountains, the bottom of the ocean, high mountains, and a desert to name but a few.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

I’ve always lived ‘somewhere else’ in my mind in part thanks to my dad who was a sailor and would tell me the most amazing made-up stories when he would come back from being at sea. He is an amazing storyteller and was never tight with his sea monsters, his outlandish characters, or his embellishments. But what used to keep me hooked, was how believable it all was. 

As a child I was surrounded by books of all types at home and was never told whether a book is for adults or children, so as young as seven I can remember trying to read Lord of the Rings because our copy had the most amazing book cover and so I was curious, but it was too much for me at the time but I knew I’d come back to it. I was also reading things like The Faraway Tree, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Worst Witch, and the Narnia books so I’ve always gravitated toward the ‘other’ places, that feel comfortable.

We used to have a rickety old typewriter in the house, you know the type that you break your fingers hitting the hold metal letters that strike a ribbon and barely print the word? Well, that was what I started on, aged about eight, thinking that although I loved reading these stories, I had some pretty good ones of my own in my head and so it started.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.

I am neither, or am I both? Put it this way, I try to be a plotter, and I plot, but when I sit down to write the plot, it’s as if the very act itself of plotting means I can’t use those ideas anymore and I just write.

I try to take a planned and methodical approach to it, but it’s a waste of time for me honestly. I do it in the hopes it means I will finish a book quicker, but no. A story takes as long to write as it wants, I have little control.

I sit, start writing, and entirely zone out and when I am finished have no concrete memory of the process of writing, and have written something completely unplanned.

The last third of The Hunchback’s Sigh was written in one night. I sat down about 7pm, looked up just after 5am the next morning, realized I had finished writing the book, and the series, and then had something to eat and got ready for a day at work.

That’s a lot of words to say, pantser.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance books are fantastic and Raistlin is one of the most well developed characters I’ve ever loved. The books are so cleverly written to be effortlessly accessible and enjoyable to anyone.

David Eddings, his Belgariad books are some of the best I’ve ever read and I reread to this day.

Melanie Rawn, I adore her pacing and her style of writing captivates my imagination.

Janny Wurts, because everything.

And Raymond Feist, for writing the books I have been reading and coming back to my whole life.

What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?

This sounds so bad but, I don’t think anyone truly inspired me.  I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer because that’s how I wanted to tell stories.

But if there was one person who really pushed me, believed in me, and told me every day that I can do it, it’s my best friend Maddy who has read every piece of writing I’ve ever done and to this day never skips a chance to talk about the books. 

Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?

I am working on a collection of short stories set in Barclan, but not centered on any of the main characters from the three books. They pop up but as peripheral characters and only for a second.

For example, in the second book I write about a place called Phenly, and there are a few stories set there.

A story about what happens in a silver mine which weaves into the back story of the man who raised Calem and Brennan.

And I’m introducing some new places and new characters as a tie in to the next book in the series which I am writing at the same time which will take place about a year after the events that end The Hunchback’s Sigh but is not a direct continuation of the story. So I am branching out in the Barclan world and will be moving into stories set in the other kingdoms, specifically Vaden to the north.

And when I am not in the mood to work on either of those, Cotta’s backstory is a self-indulgent story I am writing just for me.

Purchase Links:
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh

Strange Cargo by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Mennik (Nik) is back and in even bigger trouble than usual, in the third installment in the Mennik Thorn series. Strange Cargo was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. It was awesome, unsurprisingly.

I am a sucker for books featuring down-on-their luck rapscallions who can’t seem to stay out of danger. Whether it’s a smart mouth at the wrong time, or a penchant for chasing trouble, these kinds of characters keep me smiling and guessing. Mennik Thorn is high on my list of favorite trouble-finders and each book in the series makes me like him more.

After the events of Nectar for the God, book two in the series, Mennik is on the outs with his best (and some would argue, only) friend. He’s also unfortunately on the outs with a group of smugglers. Seeing as they’d happily see him dead, they choose the next best thing and pressure Mennik into a job protecting an item they plan to smuggle into Agatos. Of course, if he ends up dead in the process, that’s just a perk for them, right?

Not only does this “job” not pay, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Once Mennik learns what it is he’s helping smuggle in, things go from sideways to dangerous. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s a doozy. The stakes keep going up from book to book, keeping me interested and wondering what fresh hell Mennik will find himself in next.

I love that Mennik always has another side problem that he’s trying to solve while the main story arc takes up most of the attention. In this instance, Mennik’s less-than-enthusiastic client is none other than the cranky owner of the crap bar Mennik frequents. Their passive-aggressive conversations entertained me to no end.

Mennik is a brilliant character, a study in contradictions. He tries to do the right thing, but he rarely knows what the “right thing” is. He’s smart-mouthed and mocks pretty much everyone but he is equally mocking of himself. He would probably have a longer life expectancy if he didn’t feel the urge to help people (even when they serve him subpar alcohol), but he can’t seem to stop helping anyway. Oh, and he might as well write Killed by Curiosity on his headstone now and get it over with.

Of course, his character does not exist in stasis. He has grown and changed since book one (Shadow of a Dead God), although he remains delightfully disaster prone. Strange Cargo doesn’t highlight that character growth quite as much because it is shorter (more of a novella than a full-fledged novel). In some ways it shouted “side quest” but it still managed to pack in revelations and world development aplenty.

As always, the writing is phenomenal. Everything is brilliantly described, painting vivid pictures of both Agatos and its inhabitants. The dialogue is witty, and things move at a quick pace. Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more. Book four in the Mennik Thorn series can’t come soon enough!

*Review originally appeared in Grimdark Magazine

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Charlie Ovid, despite surviving a brutal childhood in Mississippi, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When Alice Quicke, a jaded detective with her own troubled past, is recruited to escort them to safety, all three begin a journey into the nature of difference and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a story of wonder and betrayal, from the gaslit streets of London, and the wooden theaters of Meiji-era Tokyo, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh where other children with gifts―like Komako, a witch-child and twister of dust, and Ribs, a girl who cloaks herself in invisibility―are forced to combat the forces that threaten their safety. There, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. With this new found family, Komako, Marlowe, Charlie, Ribs, and the rest of the Talents discover the truth about their abilities. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, a new question arises: What truly defines a monster? (Taken from Amazon)

With a premise that is reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with a hint of X-Men thrown in for good measure, Ordinary Monsters could have easily gotten lost in a crowd of similar books. Instead, its evocative writing sets it apart from so many other “extraordinary children” storylines, while author J.M. Miro confidently subverts expectations.

The plotline seems simple enough: there are two kids with special abilities referred to as Talents, being hunted by a mysterious being. At the same time, there is a duo of detectives (ish) who have been given the task of finding these children and taking them to a special school for those like them (seems pretty similar to Professor X’s school, right?).

Where the book differs from other stories in this vein is its execution. Ordinary Monsters is darkly beautiful, grimy, and gothic with an ugly underbelly that rears its head when least expected. It’s unsettling and thought provoking. I was engrossed and almost repulsed, in equal measure. There’s an undercurrent of hope, even among the bleakest parts of the book.

Ordinary Monsters uses multiple points of view, but it is never confusing or distracting. There are Marlowe and Charlie, two children with Talents. Charlie can glow. Marlowe can heal himself of any physical hurt. Unfortunately for him, the emotional pain isn’t also healed. His introduction was heartbreaking, to say the least. Then there are several other characters who play roles of varying importance. What I loved about this was how even the smallest of interactions could have a profound impact on the personality or choices of a main character.

I definitely had some niggles. The plot could be a little convoluted at times, and there were subjects touched upon that I prefer to avoid (description of rape being the main one that most bothered me). If there was a content warning section in the book, I missed it. However, these unsavory topics were not used for “shock value”, and they weren’t dwelled upon. Take from that what you will.

As in life, things were complex and messy. There was no absolute good or absolute bad. Each character had their own drive and motivation, and many characters were morally conflicted at best. The story went far past surface level, examining what makes people tick.

While the book wasn’t perfect, it was a fascinating read. It impresses with its immersive, gothic atmosphere and its nuanced characters. Ordinary Monsters will worm its way into your head and keep you thinking. Pick this one up if you like exploring the dark corners of the human psyche and are drawn to the mysterious and unknown.

Dragonlance Reading Order 2022

Logo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credit: Larry Elmore
Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

The Dragonlance world is one I happily revisit every year. Rich in detail and huge in scope, the series itself boasts over one hundred novels, and the first book in a new trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, titled Dragons of Deceit, has just released.

If you’ve never read the series before, you might be wondering where to start. I’ll admit, it can be pretty daunting. Here is my own reading order suggestion. Keep in mind, it is my opinion only, and I haven’t listed every single book, rather sticking to the “main storyline” with side suggestions along the way.

First things first: The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of Spring Dawning


These are the basis of the entire world. Without these books, you won’t understand much of what happens after. You won’t be able to fully appreciate the books that take place before (that were nonetheless written later on). This is where you’ll meet some of the best characters ever written. Yup, I mean ever.

Continuing on: The Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Time of the Twins
War of the Twins
Test of the Twins

The Legends trilogy is meant to be read right after the Chronicles, despite later books being published that take place in-between the original Chronicles. Trust me, do not sandwich those books (the Lost Chronicles) in the middle of the original Chronicles trilogy! I promise, there’s a place for them later on.

Connecting the old to the new:

The Second Generation 
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Now, at this point, after being emotionally devastated, you have a few choices: you can continue on with the “main storyline”, OR you can explore the world a little bit. There’s so much to see, after all! Keep reading the post to see where I would suggest going next in the main storyline. I’ll add some book suggestions at the bottom of this post for those who want to wander around Krynn a bit.

Fleshing out the original books: The Lost Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths

Dragons of the Highlord Skies

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage

These technically don’t further the storyline, as they are meant to take place in-between events covered in the earliest books. They make the original story much bigger, though, and we get to see more of my favorite characters, which is always a plus.

Time to see what happens next: Dragons of a New Age trilogy by Jean Rabe

The Dawning of a New Age

The Day of the Tempest

The Eve of the Maelstrom

To be honest, the Jean Rabe books are probably the Dragonlance books that I’ve read the fewest amount of times. However, they do connect what came before with what comes next.

The Dhamon Saga by Jean Rabe:

Downfall

Betrayal

Redemption

Carrying on: The War of Souls trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of a Fallen Sun

Dragons of a Lost Star

Dragons of a Vanished Moon

Now, it’s on to: The Dark Disciple trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Amber and Ashes

Amber and Iron

Amber and Blood

The first book in a new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman has just released!

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies book 1)

You could technically start reading Dragonlance here as the authors have given important information and history throughout the book, while avoiding the dreaded info dump (that they were able to do this speaks of their excellent writing abilities). In order to truly appreciate everything that happens, though, I would suggest at least reading the Chronicles and The War of Souls. But that’s just me.

Now, you’re technically more or less caught up on the main storyline. However, here’s where it gets interesting: you’ll notice that this is less than 100+ books. That means you get to pick and choose any side novels that catch your eye. I personally am a huge fan of the Meetings Sextet (which explain how our original companions met), the Preludes, and the Raistlin Chronicles. Honestly, anything written by Margaret Weis or Tracy Hickman is going to be gold. I’m also a big fan of the books written by Douglas Niles and Richard A. Knaak.

Time to gather up your maps, grab your hoopak, and head off for adventures!