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!

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

Burn Red Skies as well as its sequel, Rise Red Kingdom, are available for purchase now.

It starts with a rift that burns a thousand scars into the sky. It makes the winds stop. It makes the stars go dark. It awakens an ancient beast. And with it, a new reign of blood. It is the Summoning. And at the heart of it is fire.

When the Summoner’s army blasts through her village, Dove is forced into hiding. Torn from everything she knows, she begins training in the elements with only one goal in mind: to find her brother. She just needs to get past the Summoner’s army—but how can she slay a dragon that is already dead?

What happens when you mix dragons, politics, airships, fascinating characters, and high stakes? You get the well written adventure, Burn Red Skies!

The first thing I noticed about Burn Red Skies is the regard it has for its readers. The author doesn’t condescend to the reader and give long, over-the-top explanations for everything. Instead, it is assumed that the reader will pick things up as the story moves along. I loathe info dumps, so this approach worked well for me. It might cause some readers a bit of confusion at first, but I liked the way the information was given organically as the story progressed.

The main character is Dove who is separated from her brother and whose only goal is to find him. The magic in this world is elemental (more on that later) and she begins training in it as a means to an end. Dove is mute, which is something I don’t usually encounter in main characters. It was so wonderful to see fantasy being more inclusive as far as different abilities. I enjoyed her determination and her strength.

While there are many characters, and the book is told from several points of view, I have to say that I looked forward to reading about Dicker and Merc the most (sky pirates! How cool!). They were just so much fun! Generally, in a book with multiple viewpoints, there’s a character that just doesn’t interest me, but that didn’t happen in Burn Red Skies. Each character brought something to the story. Another thing to note is that I never found it difficult to keep the characters straight. The author gave each one such an original personality and voice that switching back and forth worked just fine. The characters’ story arcs start out completely separate, with characters in separate areas which of course left me curious to know if and how they would finally meet. It’s an ambitious way to tackle storytelling and the author manages it beautifully.

Burn Red Skies features elemental magic, which gave me pause at first because I (incorrectly) thought there was nothing to be done with it that hasn’t been done before. I really love that I was wrong! The magic did more than just give a person a “point your finger and lightning pops out” sort of skill set. Instead, it was nuanced and affected everything from what a person can do to how they heal, or how they handle the sun.

I only have one small quibble which is that the pacing was choppy in parts. Some things that could have used a little more time or focus seemed sped up, and other parts seemed oddly stretched out. This didn’t happen too often and only in a few places throughout the book.

I enjoyed this highly imaginative fantasy and am excited to see the story continue in Rise Red Kingdom.  

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

I was fortunate to read The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary as a member of team Before We Go Blog during SPFBO8.

Dangerous magic. A realm under siege. Can a mother and son defeat a rising evil?
Danalar Halyas isn’t ready to grow up. Torn between boyhood desire and adult responsibility, the sixteen-year-old heir is devastated after his father goes missing in battle. And when a powerful ally suspected of treachery closes in on their lands, the untried youth worries he won’t be able to protect his territory from war.
Charymylle Halyas stands strong within a storm of chaos and grief. As the fate of her beloved husband remains unknown, she directs the clan while shaping her teenage sons into men mighty enough to lead. But with demonic forces disrupting crucial spells and an emissary arriving with an unwelcome invitation, the troubled regent is terrified she’ll lose all that she loves.
Defying his mother’s commands, Danalar sneaks out with friends to warn a nearby village… only to run into sinister threats. And with the consequences of her decisions raining fire on her people, Charymylle fears she may have led her nation to its doom.
Will the Halyas family fall to darkness, or can they beat back a formidable foe?
The Hand of Fire is the gripping first book in The Essence of Tyranny epic fantasy series. If you like complex characters, vivid imagery, and visionary world-building, then you’ll adore Roland J O’Leary’s soulful adventure.

The Hand of Fire is an ambitious book, with a complex storyline and a vast world. The very beginning of the book started with a lone rider escaping a doomed battle. Based on that, I expected a fast-moving story. Such is not the case. The Hand of Fire is a book that takes its time, getting each detail correct and crafting a well-executed story. While it does pick up toward the end, I struggled to concentrate at the beginning. I think that stemmed in part from the memories that were described. They were there to explain Lady Charymylle’s relationship with her husband, and to highlight her involvement with how things were run. However, they did interrupt the pacing a bit. The last half of the book definitely moved faster, setting up the rest of the series wonderfully.

Danalar’s father, lord of the Halyas, is either dead or taken captive, a casualty of battle. His storyline is a bit of a coming-of-age tale, as he learns to cope with this loss and become a leader. He was very a very believable character and managed to never bore or annoy me. I really enjoyed watching his character grow. My very favorite character, though, was Lady Charymylle. While dealing with her own emotions regarding the disappearance of her husband, she was also the competent and clever leader the people needed. She was never on the sidelines and was a strong character, something I very much appreciated.

The Hand of Fire reminded me a bit of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Willliams’ first book, The Dragonbone Chair, also has a slower pace. In fact, I would argue that the entire book is just setup for the rest of the series. Because the series is so amazing, The Dragonbone Chair is great. But it has to be taken with the rest of the series. On its own, it doesn’t feel like a full story. The Hand of Fire seemed like that to me. If the rest of the series is as well written as the first book is (and I have no reason to think it won’t be), the payoff will be huge, and the series will be a must-read for fans of sweeping fantasy.

I truly hope that I made sense with my wandering explanation there. Roland O’Leary is crafting something with massive potential that I think is going to pay off in a big way. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week- The Weather Tag

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

This week marks the second annual Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, where we shout about amazing self-published authors. There are no specific prompts: feel free to join in and talk about self-publish books that you love!

I’m doing a tag today. I don’t do them all that often because I tend to lose track of the ones I wanted to do in the first place! This fun one comes from Bookstooge’s Reviews on the Road.

Sunshine: A Book That Made You Smile-

First of all, the main character is a bard! That alone was enough to make me grin. The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True hilariously stomps its way through the fantasy genre, leaving no fantasy trop alone and taking no prisoners. It’s loads of fun!

Rain: A Book You Couldn’t Put Down-

The Mennik Thorn series has been difficult to put down from book one! There’s so much going on and poor Mennik is such a disaster-magnet that I get sucked in immediately. The writing is superb, which just adds even more to the reading experience.

Wind: A Book that Blew You Away-

I will never stop talking about how amazing Dragon Mage is. It’s a bit of a doorstop (over 800 pages) but it flies by because it so darn good! From the characters to the plot, author M.L. Spencer crafted an incredibly compelling novel.

Hurricane: A Tragic Book-

While many books I read have sad parts, I can’t think of a book that I would classify as “tragic”.

Blizzard: A Book You Had High Expectations For-

Several people who have great taste in books loved The Swordsman’s Lament, so I was pretty sure I would too. It more than lived up to my expectations and kept me on the edge of my seat!

*Self-published Authors Appreciation Page Hub Page

The Hummingbird’s Tear by C.M. Kerley

In the high towers of Castle Kraner the King has chosen to hide away, leaving his kingdom undefended, open to attack from men, monsters and magic users.His loyal son Prince Orren, despairing of his father’s wilful ignorance, is doing all he can to gather the men and women he believes can help him avert the war before it starts, to save his land before it needs saving. Brennan and his young brother Calem find themselves drawn to Kraner; as their innate powers begin to manifest and they are woven into the mad schemes of rulers and invaders they must decide what to believe, who to trust, and how far they’re willing to go to fight an enemy they can’t see. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Hummingbird’s Tear is available for purchase now.

Prophecies, meddling deities, intrigue, and magic battles, this novel has it all! The Hummingbird’s Tear is a gem of a book and one that all fantasy readers should pick up.

I knew I would love The Hummingbird’s Tear as soon as I opened it and started reading the world’s origin myth. Rarely has a creation myth held my attention so completely. It was creative and beautifully told. From the creation story, the book went straight into a well-crafted storyline written with confidence and skill.

The book follows Brennan and his brother Callum. As children, they were a part of something big, though they only remember it vaguely. Through that event, a prophecy was set into motion and an old enemy was given a new opportunity. Since that night, Brennan has been his brother’s caretaker. Neither of them is quite like other people and Brennan knows it.

Brennan and Callum both have odd gifts. Brennan can sort of hear the thoughts or intentions of others and Callum has an unfortunate tendency to accidentally set things on fire. These talents are hidden because having them is dangerous. Orren, the king’s son, sees the signs of an old prophecy coming together and becomes convinced that Brennan and Callum are part of it. He tries to recruit the now-adult brothers to stop a gathering evil before it is too late.

While the characters (possibly) fulfill parts of an old prophecy, the book is very character led, which I appreciate. The focus is less on the prophecy itself and more on the different relationships between the characters, the choices they make, and what they choose to believe regarding fate and free will.

Brennan and Callum end up going in very different directions, which added another facet to their characters. While Brennan opened up the political storyline, allowing for suspense and intrigue to build, Callum added a mystical aspect. His interactions with Orren were unexpected and really cool. I loved his character and how it developed.

The Hummingbird’s Tear is technically all setup for the beginning of a quest and the prelude to a war, all of which it seems subsequent books will explore. However, it didn’t feel like only setup, and it was definitely not lacking in action. Brennan and Callum both find themselves changing and growing rapidly, while being thrust into situations they would never have imagined happening.

This book had so many things that I love to see in fantasy! I loved the new twists on “classic fantasy”, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The Hummingbird’s Tear is an excellent addition to the fantasy genre. I highly recommend it.

The Call (Storm’s Rising #1) by Jason and Rose Bishop

The heroes of old are disappearing, victims of kidnapping, murder, even falling to their own despair. But their work is not done. The gods call forth the next generation…and a storm is rising.

In a city once hailed as a natural wonder, now corrupted and sullied, the Spring Market has just begun. Elves are bought and sold wholesale, destined for an unholy ceremony: a decrepit king seeks immortality. Among the elves is one of royal blood, carrying an artifact of untold power. When it falls into the hands of a young rogue, the brooch seems his ticket to a new life, but instead draws him into an insidious web of danger. Pursued by a huntress seeking vengeance for her sister’s kidnapping, and a pair of half-bloods seeking a father gone missing, he soon finds their paths are hopelessly entangled.

Drawn together by amulets handed down through generations, they soon uncover a legacy of betrayal and loss. Along with a cursed mage who walks with the wicked, they must unite the amulets, rescue the elves, and stop the dark priesthood. If they fail, the High King will rise again, and Urgrithka the Hollow will enter the world of the living. Cyrradon will know an eternity of undeath.

The Call is the first book of the Storm’s Rising’s series, beginning the epic tale of a world created in the image of beauty and balance, and rent asunder by wars among gods and mortals. (taken from Amazon)

Sometimes I want to read a big fantasy book, one with epic quests, high stakes, and a large world. Well, The Call more than fit the bill. It was full of adventure and fun.

This book feels very much like a throwback to the “older” fantasy that I read when I was younger. It’s obvious that there were influences from some of the classic fantasy books, but The Call was still its own thing, creative and unique.

Each character has their own background and motivation, from an elven princess desperate to find her sister to Lendil, who has had to watch his father’s addiction to drinking and wants a new lease on life. While I liked some of them better than others (roguish Lendil stole the show for me), each character was interesting in their own way. I enjoyed the multiple points of view. Sometimes this doesn’t work for me, but each character was unique enough that I was never bored or disinterested.

The world was well developed everything was revealed naturally throughout the story, avoiding the dreaded info dump. While the story started out a little bit slowly, it soon found an excellent pace. The series has incredible potential, and the authors are weaving a great adventure in a fascinating world that begs to be explored.

For readers who are looking for a new fantasy with a throwback feel, look no further than The Call.

Let’s Talk: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can use the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #AwesomeIndies.

By the way, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest is a great place to go for self-published book suggestions. Follow along with this year’s contest here. Here are a few self-published books that I recommend. I stopped myself at twenty, but there are so many amazing sp books out there! What’s the best self-published book you’ve read this year?

Jason and Rose Bishop- The Call (Storm’s Rising #1)

Lee C. Conley- A Ritual of Bone

Susanne M. Dutton- Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable

Jami Fairleigh- Oil and Dust

Jonathan French-The Grey Bastards

Sean Gibson- The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

 Bjørn Larssen- Why Odin Drinks

Randall McNally- Shadowless

Marcus Lee- Kings and Daemons

G.M. Nair- Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Kirstin Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

Patrick Samphire- Shadow of a Dead God

Matthew Samuels- Small Places

Emma Shaw- Sacaran Nights

M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

Luke Tarzian- The World Breaker Requiem

Keith Tokash- Iliad: The Reboot

M.L. Wang- The Sword of Kaigen

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Jason & Rose Bishop

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I’ve been privileged to chat with Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thank you for having us! It’s one of our favorite topics.

Will you introduce yourselves?

Well, we’re Jason and Rose Bishop, a husband-and-wife team, married twenty-seven years and currently co-authoring the Storm’s Rising epic fantasy series. We met in college, and quickly discovered we both had a passion for fantasy stories and role-playing games such as AD&D and Pathfinder. In fact, it was during our gaming sessions that we unwittingly began building the world of Cyrradon, created some of the historical figures that became the basis of the saga, and thought up some of the pivotal events leading to the story we’re writing now.

On the personal side, we’ve taken on a wide variety of interests and hobbies over the years, including bicycling, motorcycling, guitar playing, fly fishing, home brewing, making mead and cider, and all kinds of home meat production (sausages, salamis, smoked/cured meats, etc.). We had a long phase of very near homesteading, where we raised much of what we ate, including a huge garden, a sustainable greenhouse with some hydroponics, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and horses (we didn’t eat those). We found we love those primitive DIY skills, like canning and preserving, fermentation (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough) and we think a lot of that goes into our stories and contribute to their complexity.

Can you talk a little bit about the Storm’s Rising series?

The Storm’s Rising series is our reach for the kind of story we would want to find on the shelf to read for ourselves. It’s a tale that begins with several young folk who had some serious drama in their past they were never fully aware of. And as in real life, eventually that drama comes along and sweeps them into it. But the story itself, as we’ve hinted at, began way before page one of book one. It’s somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story, somewhat of a “chosen one” story, and somewhat of a lit-RPG. We think the best thing about the books are its characters. Some of them we created on our own, others were inspired or outright created by our kids when they got old enough to game with us. But all of them have become like family to us, and they surprise us just as much as real people do with the things they say and the decisions they make. We’re not really in control here, we just document what they do! We even have songs we’ve attributed to many of them, that sort of capture the essence of each character for us!

Overall, the series tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Five, whose formation occurred centuries ago following an event called the Great Reavening. Their purpose is to somehow undo the damage that was done to Cyrradon, and to the nature of life, death, and time in that horrific event. Each member of the Five bears an amulet, handed down from generation to generation, one of five powerful artifacts that mark and aid them as mortal champions of the five gods who oversee the elder races of the world. There are dark powers both mortal and immortal vying to take advantage of the brokenness of the world to dominate all life. And believe it or not, our villains are as complex and relatable as our MCs (with theme songs of their own). But of course the MCs don’t know any of this at the beginning, and that’s the beauty of the epic fantasy: the reader is right there alongside them, learning things piece by piece as they do, puzzling it out one shattered fragment at a time.

The best part of the story for us is the way the MCs grow. At first, they know nothing of each other, and very little about themselves or their past. They come from different cultures with lots of preconceptions about the other races and especially mixed breeds. So seeing them grow into their own potential, learn to trust each other (or not), learn to work together (or not), and learn that the world they live in is so much bigger and more deadly than they’d ever known, is really a privilege for us to witness. 

What were some obstacles to writing The Call (book 1)? I know you have had an interesting journey into the world of indie publishing.

It’s been a long road, and one we didn’t actually know we were on for a long time. As you know, we started building our world and our story long before we ever thought it would be a book, much less a massive series of books! Rose, who was usually our DM when we gamed, had an extensive pile of notes, maps, story ideas, character bios, etc., from our gaming sessions, so that gave us a great start. Then I (Jason) used some of my spare time working night shifts to dream up a lot of the histories of Cyrradon, and that ended up being a huge resource, bigger than we planned. So the first obstacle was really deciding how to put it all together. We knew there was no way our story could be told in just one book, so our first concept was a five-book series. Five heroes, five amulets, five gods, right? But by the time we got the first draft of book one down, we knew even five wasn’t going to be enough. 

The next obstacle came gift-wrapped in all the preconceptions of what a debut novel should look like according to the big names in publishing. Around 80,000 words, a complete novel in one volume, professionally edited and published, amazing cover art, etc. And it was about this time we got neck deep in the churn of query letters and rejections. At that time, our perception of indie authors was not complimentary. We were led to believe that self-publishing was for folks who just didn’t have what it took, and we were beginning to wonder if that was us. Then, fortunately for us, a certain steamy romance novel began making headlines and we learned it had originally gained popularity as an independent work, then got picked up by one of the big five, topping the charts internationally and even becoming a series of movies, despite being by most accounts rather terribly written. We knew our writing was better, beyond any doubt. We had to reevaluate our definitions of what was “worthy,” and whether we wanted to allow the ‘big five’ to determine that for us. We decided we did not.

Of course, there was another obstacle of the “elephant in the room” variety: the whole notion of a man and wife writing a story together and avoiding divorce in the process! We had to learn a lot about each other. How to communicate, how to manage our expectations, how to concede to one another in some regards and let go of our own “darlings” to move forward in others. In a lot of ways, we changed how we write as we realized where our strengths lay. We developed our roles and became much more comfortable in them. In the beginning, we both would write scenes independently, then hand them off to the other to go through and edit or critique. This was fraught with pitfalls, because as any writer knows, no matter how you plan out a scene, it always develops legs and arms you didn’t anticipate. We began finding these appendages fighting with one another and creating conflict in the story and in our relationship. Over time, we shifted to what could be called a “framer and painter” format. Rose is the architect (in our writing, and coincidentally as a profession); she puts the framework together and makes sure the plotlines and the critical elements of the story stay true. I’m the fluff guy (Rose says ‘artist’); I put all the pretty stuff on the outside, write the dialogue, develop the characters, and so on. So, when we’re crafting a new scene, Rose takes the lead until we have the mechanics figured out, then I take the stage for the drafting. It’s been an exercise that has strengthened not only our story writing, but our marriage as well.

What are some successes?

[JASON] I’d say our successes are built in right after our failures. Like the example with our thoughts toward indie authors, that failure led us to the success of being primed to accept some formative advice we received one day in early 2020 from a wise gentleman named Paul. He said two things we wouldn’t have been ready to hear prior to that smutty bestseller hitting the news. The first was, “There are over seven billion people in the world. All you need to be successful is 200-300 thousand of them to like your story.” This was like a light switch, flooding my brain to the very darkest reaches and making all the little doubting critters scamper off. Then he followed up with, “Now, just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens.” And that was it. We went through the book one last time, an out-loud reading at home with the family, and when we were done, we hopped on Kindle Direct Publishing and hit ‘submit.’ Then we cracked open a bottle of a massive Belgian style ‘dubbel’ homebrew we save for special occasions and celebrated!

There have definitely been more successes along the way. Getting positive reviews are always a success that has us on cloud nine for days. Finishing each new novel, getting that author proof in the mail and getting to hold it, smell it, flip through the pages and see all the hard work in our hands! Sending “thank you” copies to our beta readers. Every new follower on social media, everyone who reaches out just to say hi, or tells us something about how the book affected them or prods us for when the next one might be coming, these are all the successes that matter the most to us. We’re proud to be part of the indie tribe because it means we did it on our own. That’s a success in and of itself.

[ROSE] Jason found a great cover artist company, JD&J Cover Artists, who took our ideas and made them real. We also have a fantastic group of beta readers whose input helped us to fill in some blanks and remember that our readers don’t know the world as intimately as we do. Formatting the books was difficult, but doable. It taught me a lot of patience.

I know Storm’s Rising is considered epic fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what epic fantasy is?

It’s a high fantasy that’s bigger than the books. The story has its origins way before chapter one. And throughout the reading of the story, the reader is overwhelmed with a grandness of scale, depth, complexity, and history that transcends the words on the page. Like scenes from a movie, the characters are right there in the foreground moving the story along, but all the while there is a complete, mature world behind them just begging to be admired and explored, and crying out of a history so rich nearly all of it has passed out of memory and become legend or perhaps even myth. 

Some conventional sources assert the terms ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘high fantasy’ as interchangeable. We don’t believe that for a second. In our mind, a high fantasy world (i.e., a world separate from our own, where realities are a bit different, and everyone carries a blade or uses magic) is where an epic fantasy tale can occur. But simply being high fantasy does not make it epic. Convention would also have us believe to be an epic fantasy it must (1) be a massively voluminous story, (2) about an orphan or outcast who grows up to be the chosen one to save the world, from (3) an unavoidable, unescapable evil. And further that the story (4) be the type of tale that is told and retold through generations, so old that you and your parents and grandparents even cannot recall a time when the story did not exist. So why then do we call ours epic? Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little on number 4, but we have the first three dead to rights! The last one is up to our readers and time to tell. But we don’t have any doubts that lovers of classical fantasy sagas who read our story won’t dispute the label.

What drew you to writing that sort of, really, vast type of book?

No surprises here, it was having read fantasies of the epic variety before and knowing that’s what we wanted to craft for ourselves. We’ve never been satisfied with ‘garden variety’ anything. An epic fantasy requires a hero; we have multiple. An epic fantasy requires a villain; we have three pretty consistent bad guys you might choose to hate, with a handful of other minor villains for flavor. An epic fantasy requires an artifact of rare and mythic power; depending on your take on this, we either have five (the amulets) or we have none at all (we don’t exactly have a quest to find all the McGuffins, horcruxes, etc.) We’re okay with whichever you decide is the case.

One thing that differentiates our story from the traditional epic fantasy is that even though our MCs have skills they hone and lean on through the story, they’re not necessarily prodigies in the making. The typical epic starts with that orphan or outcast youth who has incredible fighting or magic using potential that ends up being the key to resolving the conflict. We veered away from that, preferring instead to show how heart, courage, and sacrifice could be the keys rather than puissant skill at arms or the magical equivalent.

Regardless, we wanted to take the time needed to tell the story completely, to lay it out with broad strokes so the reader can look forward to a journey they’ll enjoy start to finish. We wanted to delay as much as possible the inevitable moment when the reader is forced to turn that final page and decide what to do with the rest of their lives. That’s what we would want as readers. There’s nothing worse than just getting to the point you understand what’s going on and you love the characters, and then the story wraps up and you’re done. Or worse, you buy the next book in the series and all the characters you just met aren’t even mentioned again! What even is that? (If you know, you know.)

Perhaps the best part of writing epic fantasy is the allure of the world, in spite of all its flaws and dangers. Yes, there’s an overarching threat that promises to snuff out everything good, with nowhere to go and no way to escape it. But despite all that ugliness on the surface, it’s still a place you find yourself wishing you could go.

Are you more pantsers or plotters?

This is a tough one! It’s the classic argument of predestination versus free will. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? 

Any good writer, we think, needs to be a bit of both, pantser and plotter. While we love the planning phase (see our blog post on the ‘sticky note’ story boarding method we use), once we start actually writing we often see our characters making some pretty wild choices! Sometimes even choices that send our plotline off in directions we couldn’t have predicted. Or we’ll throw in a minor character for flavor in a certain scene, and then watch that character somehow grow into someone far more significant than we had designed. But you know, once it happens and Rose and I look at each other and say, “Oh, he definitely would have said that,” or “That’s so perfect!” then we’re committed and we just have to figure it out. So at that point, I suppose we become pantsers! Until the next scene, when we have it all planned out like before, and it happens again.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Top of the list goes J. R. R. Tolkien, for pretty predictable reasons. He defined the genre for us and set the bar for world-building so high we will likely never reach it. Despite having a world-building file nearly big enough now to publish as its own novel, and even despite having created our own elven language, we doubt we’ll ever get to the Silmarillion level. He’s the godfather of epic fantasy, and always will be. 

Others well-deserving of praise in both our minds include David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (and many others of the Dragonlance and Ravenloft sagas), Joe Abercrombie, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, John Flannagan, Simon Hawke, John Gwynne, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Leo Tolstoy, Judith Tarr and David B. Coe. All of these authors had some formative effect on us in terms of what we enjoy reading, and how we write our own stories.

About the authors:

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

Visit our WEBSITE

Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

FREE audiobook preview of Storm’s Rising Book 1: The Call (click above)

Follow us for news, previews, blog posts and more!

Author Page – https://www.amazon.com/author/jasonandrosebishop

Twitter – @cyrradon

Instagram – legendsofcyrradon

Facebook – @cyrradon

Goodreads – Jason Bishop / Rose Bishop

Wattpad – jasonandrosebishop

Email – legendsofcyrradon@gmail.com

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring L.A. Wasielewski

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I had the pleasure of talking to L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy, about her work, epic fantasy, and spiced potatoes.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thank you for the opportunity!  Every chance I get to scream how much I love high fantasy, you better believe I’m going to jump on it!

Will you introduce yourself?

I’m L.A.!  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—first fanfiction (before I even knew it was a thing. I just loved a video game and wrote stories about it), then original fiction.  I still write fanfic from time to time when the mood strikes, but I don’t have a lot of free time for it anymore.  When I’m not writing, I’m trying to keep my ravenous, swiftly growing teenager fed and this year, giving him a homeschool education because of the continuing situation with coronavirus.  I play video games when I can spare a moment, mostly Fortnite, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls.  And if Mama’s Family is on, you can bet your butt I’m sitting and watching.  

Can you talk a little bit about The Alchemist Trilogy?

The Alchemist Trilogy is an adult high dark fantasy adventure.  It follows Ryris Bren, talented alchemist who also harbors secret magical ability (forbidden/shunned in his world), as he embarks on a new life journey to the capital city to open his very own shop—away from his father.  He’s trying to forge a life of his own, out from under his father’s shadow.  A routine ingredient harvest turns into a life-altering event and, well…hehe.  You’ll have to read to find out! 

Since Ryris is an alchemist, there is a lot of his profession and knowledge in the story, and he finds ways to use alchemy any chance he can get, even if it’s on the battlefield.  He never loses his roots—even when he’s been taken so very far away from them.  Mixed in with all the violence, dark themes, action, magic, and adventure is a lot of humor, sass, and snark—and some romance, too!  I always love stories that have a good mix of everything, and I think I’ve achieved that!  At least I hope I did!

What were some obstacles to writing?

Personally?  These last two years, with all three of us in the house pretty much all the time, presented challenges.  I’m not able to get any time alone to write.  Especially this last school year, when I’ve been doing homeschool, there’s pretty much no time at the end of the day, and I’m exhausted anyway, or don’t have the motivation to write.  I’m hoping that once my child goes back to public school in September (fingers crossed!), that I’ll get some of that motivation and time back.

Writing-wise?  Even though I’m writing fantasy, which gives me free reign to create any character/environment/situation I want and have it be as fantastical as I want it to be, there are certainly times where I get blocked.  An idea that seems so incredible in my head, so vivid—can be an absolute bear to get on the page, and when I finally DO get it in words, it’s hot garbage.  Writing the last book in my trilogy, The Alchemist: Awakening, was without a doubt that obstacle.  Long story short: the original outline was 70% scrapped and had to be re-tooled, and I was plagued with a lot of self-doubt and frustration as I tried to finish the book.  It took nearly a year to get that original draft out.  I completed the first draft, and literally 4 days later, our schools closed due to coronavirus, and everything came to a screeching halt.  That was a low time.  Even though I had a finished draft, there was so much work to do, and I had no motivation or time to do it.

What are some victories?

My biggest victory was finishing The Alchemist: Awakening.  After all the frustration of having to completely re-work the outline, the boundless time pulling my hair out trying to write the damn first draft, and then having coronavirus smash into our lives—it was my own little miracle when I finally held that proof in my hands.  It was 18 months from start to finish. This was without a doubt, the hardest book to write, complete, and polish.  I’m incredibly proud of it now, but holy cats did it take an extraordinary amount of effort on my part.

I know your series is described as high fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what high fantasy is? What separates it from other fantasy subgenres?

When I think about high fantasy, my mind immediately goes to big, epic stories with a lot of characters, filled with magic and monsters, high stakes, and sweeping environments just ripe for the picking on adventures.  Almost like an open-world RPG or a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  And when I write my stories, that’s where I’m taking my inspiration from a lot of the time.  Big worlds, intriguing characters, excellent adventures.  Stories that can go on and on, spread into series after series, generation after generation.  When I read high fantasy, and hopefully when people read mine, I like to be able to feel like I’ve just been dropped into a lived-in world.  You feel welcome, like you’re walking into a warm, somewhat-smoky village inn, and the server drops some spiced potatoes and a mug of ale in front of you and you just watch the world go by—and happen to overhear a bunch of companions planning their next big adventure.  That adventure is your story—their story.  The world feels familiar, even when it isn’t.  One of the things that I always loved about high fantasy, the works of Weis and Hickman in particular, was that the world seemed to still go on around the main characters.  Life kept happening, from everyday commerce to going to school, to farming, smithing, and medicine.  The main story was happening—but so was life.  Everyday regular people continued their lives while the main characters went about their journey, helping them when they could, staying out of the way when they needed to.  It always made the worlds seem so believable, even when they were set in a fantasy environment.  That’s what I hope I’ve achieved in my books, and my readers seem to think I’ve done just that!  

I think that high fantasy is a broader genre title, and that a lot of fantasy books can fall into that category without being exclusively “high fantasy.”  Like mine, I’d classify as Dark High Fantasy, with definitely epic vibes.  But there’s cozy fantasy elements (I love that term, Dan Fitz!), horror elements, etc.  I think the term “high fantasy” allows people to write sweeping stories and include all sorts of sub-genres within their books.  If that makes sense?

What drew you to writing high fantasy?

As a kid, I picked up Forging the Darksword, by Weis and Hickman, when it was first released (whooo, I might be old 😉), and I was HOOKED.  The same with Fred Saberhagen’s Swords books.  So, when I decided to write my own original fiction, I took a lot of inspiration from those stories, and all the other sprawling high fantasy I’d read since childhood and ran with it.  It was always a genre I was familiar with, and knew I could do well.  Fantasy has always been very comforting to me, a place to escape to when life kind of sucked.  I wanted to create my own stories, and hopefully, give readers that same feeling I had when I read high fantasy.

I know you tend to outline your books in advance. I’m curious: how far out do you plan?

Especially because I write high fantasy, sometimes with a lot of characters and places that I need to keep track of, it’s essential for me to plan to the very end.  That doesn’t mean I don’t leave wiggle room and allow myself to completely change and add things as I go, but I’ve got to have the outline down so I know where the story is going, otherwise I’m terrified I’ll write myself into a corner.  But, even with outlines, you can still encounter those types of problems—like I did with The Alchemist: Awakening.  Since I had planned the trilogy so far ahead of time, the story had some significant changes by the time I got to book three, and I had to do some reconstructing.  But I was SO THANKFUL that I had that outline, and the bones of the story was there, otherwise I would have been in a heap of trouble, I’m sure! 

With my next high fantasy project, The Secret Bad-Assed Ladies Fantasy Project* (*not actual title!) I’m getting out of my comfort zone and trying to write without a proper outline.  These books are planned as shorter, adventure-type stories with the same cast of women, and not necessarily meant to be read in order like my last series.  That’s not to say I don’t have a world and characters/lore fleshed out in a whole bunch of documents and in my head, but there are no traditional outlines for the books. Just a list of “adventure ideas” that I’ll pull from as I write.  It’s been a challenge—but a fun one!  I’m only a few chapters into the first book, and right now it’s more of a “dink around when I get a smidge of time between homeschool lessons and life stuff,” but it’ll see the light of day sometime in the next few years, I’m sure.  These ladies are pretty damn cool, lemme tell ya! 

You’ve mentioned in previous conversations that the DeathGate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman is what originally drew you to fantasy. Did those books (which are so great!) affect your writing at all?  

I could gush all day about how much I admire and respect Weis and Hickman, and how much they have influenced me as a reader and a writer!  Their worlds are so unique and beautiful, and filled with so many enthralling places and people, that when I started to create my own fantasy stories, I drew from what I learned reading them to help myself generate my own environments.  I think readers come to expect sweeping, awe-inspiring, visually-stunning (in your imagination, at least) worlds from fantasy—especially high fantasy—so I was grateful that I had read so many of their stories as a kid/teen.  It gave me a leg up, I think, in being able to create my own vistas and characters. 

Do you have any other inspirations when it comes to your writing?

I play a lot of Elder Scrolls games, and just seeing those incredible landscapes as I adventure has always been sort of an inspiration.  The world for The Alchemist Trilogy has (in my mind) a very Skyrim/Cyrodiil feel to it.  The Bad-Assed Fantasy Ladies project feels totally like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion to me as I imagine the world.  Both book series are a medieval-type fantasy world, so having that visual representation already in my mind has been immensely helpful when imagining what my environments look like.  

For many people, high fantasy is what first comes to mind when they think of the fantasy genre. Yet it seems that it’s much more difficult to find nowadays. Would you agree with that?

 Yes and no?  I think a lot of the time, people tend to go to the traditionally-published high fantasy first, because it has had (especially the older stuff like Weis/Hickman, Saberhagen, etc.) decades of attention and hype.  But what people don’t realize, or maybe don’t want to even try, is that there is such a vast catalog of indie and self-published authors out there creating some absolutely incredible, mind-boggling high fantasy.  It’s just a matter of getting out of that “trad publishing comfort zone” and trying indie and self-pubbed books.  As indies, we have complete control over what does or does not go into our books, and I think it makes for some pretty incredible, unique, and boundary-pushing stories. 

As far as high fantasy goes, who are some authors I need to be reading? 

Indies: Dan Fitzgerald, Deck Matthews, Thomas Howard Riley, Sean R. Frazier, Lilith Hope Milam, Mason Thomas…just to name a few.  Oh, and…me?  😉 

Traditionally published:  Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Without a doubt.  They might be older books (although there’s NEW DRAGONLANCE IN AUGUST OMG!!!), but they’re GREAT  books.  Darksword, Death Gate, and Dragonlance shaped who I am today as a reader and writer.  And yes, Jodie, I know YOU have read Weis/Hickman, lol.  But everyone else should, too!  

About the author:

L.A. Wasielewski is a gamer, nerd, baseball fan (even though the Brewers make it very difficult sometimes), and mom. When she’s not writing, she’s blasting feral ghouls and super mutants in the wastelands, baking and cooking, and generally being a smart-ass. She’s very proud of the fact that she has survived several years with two drum kits in the house—and still has most of her hearing intact.

You can find L.A. Wasielewski here:

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

Website:  http://www.lawasielewski.com/