Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring Marian L. Thorpe

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

The quick potted history – I’m 64, dual British/Canadian citizenship, have a bunch of degrees that have nothing to do with writing, been a research scientist, a high school teacher, a regional special education /assistive technology specialist; I’m a birder and an amateur landscape historian; married, no kids, one cat (at this point), and I’ve been retired from salaried work for 7 years, which means I can write full time, a huge privilege.

Will you talk a little about the Empire’s Legacy series?


The books fall into two distinct sets: the first trilogy, narrated by Lena (all the books are
written in first person) is a heroine’s journey, beginning with a choice to learn to fight to
defend her land and climaxing in a last, desperate battle. These three books have the most
traditional action (fighting) but it’s not a lot – none of the books are focused on battles,
but on personal growth and choice in the face of war, kidnap, and exile. The next two are
narrated by the musician Sorley, and the challenges are political and personal, focused in
both counts on betrayal and forgiveness. Empire’s Heir, the most recent, narrated by
Lena’s daughter Gwenna and Gwenna’s father, is a political thriller at one level, but also a
story about choices and sacrifices. But all of them are also (or maybe primarily) about
love, in many forms and for many things, both people and places, and its power in our
lives. Together the seven current books and the planned last two (Empress & Soldier will
be out later this year; Empire’s Passing 2023 or early 2024) make up a saga of choices,
betrayals, intrigue, and love, where some battles of power and politics are won with
swords – and some with words.

Your writing is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?


Well, let’s start out by saying that not everyone considers my books historical fantasy,
because they are free of magic or magical beings in any form. The ‘fantasy’ in my books is
the societal structures, but they’re not alternate history either because the geography is
different and there is no deviation from real history. Think of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books but
without the ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ of his, and you have my world.
Broadly, though, I would define historical fantasy as any book that uses history to form its
world, but either includes magic or a society so different that it is clearly not this world,
but a parallel, mirrored version of it.

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?


I wanted to explore questions of society, sexuality and the choices people make about
personal happiness vs. the public good in a setting that wasn’t our world, but wasn’t so far
distant from it. But I wanted everything, good and bad, to be within the realm of human
choice and action, so I didn’t include magic. (I probably wouldn’t have the ability to create
a magic system.) But don’t get me wrong: I love well-conceived and well-written magical
fantasy, it just wasn’t what I wanted to write.

How did you decide which era (or civilization) you wanted to draw from when writing?
There was never any question. I’ve been interested in pre-Conquest British history for a
very long time, as well as Britanno-Roman history. When I started to write Empire’s
Daughter, the first of my series, the setting came automatically.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?


For me, yes. My world is loosely based on northern Europe/Rome/Byzantium between
about the 4th and 10th centuries of the common era. I want it to feel familiar but not quite
historical, so that my deviations from both history and social constructs aren’t going to
make people say, ‘but it didn’t/couldn’t happen that way’. So, I do a lot of research,
including travel to Hadrian’s Wall and Rome specifically for the books. When I deviate
from real history – for example in how my palace/city guard works in the Rome-analogue
city Casil – I want to know what it is I’m deviating from, and which pieces of reality I
should keep to make it seem real (or at least realer.)
I also am hopeless at writing battles, so to date all the battles in the books are based on
real ones: the final battle in Empire’s Exile is entirely the Battle of Maldon (until it isn’t, at
the very end) so I read multiple translations of the poem, looked at Google Earth images
of the site as it looks today and scholarly recreations of how it would have looked in the
10 th century, before I wrote the scene.

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?


I actually haven’t found any, except that because my books aren’t fantasy in a lot of
people’s minds, they are hard to market using the genres Amazon and other platforms
subdivide books into. But that’s a problem specific to my books, not the subgenre overall.

What are some of its strengths?


I love the fact that I’m not bound by historical fact or timelines, which I would be if I wrote
pure historical fiction. I borrow from a number of cultures and events that fall into early-
medieval/late classical history, but they’re not in the ‘right’ order. Plus, with the genre’s
long history, I can include echoes of older stories which create resonance in some readers
but are very subtle. There are a lot of Arthurian themes in my books, but they are not
blatant, or direct, but reflections.

I love that you have Arthurian influences in your books because there can be so much to
draw from. Do any modern ideas and beliefs find their way into your historical fantasy?


Oh, that’s a tough question. Many people might say my approach to sexuality and
women’s rights in the books are modern ideas and beliefs, but I’m not convinced they are:
much expression of sexuality and the rights and contributions of women were suppressed
by religions and historians writing from male viewpoints and entrenched beliefs. (The
inclusion of a reliable birth control method is modern: ancient peoples had their methods,
and the herb anash, the birth control herb in my series, is inspired by silphium, a plant of
antiquity with multiple uses, including birth control, that is now extinct. But it probably
wasn’t as reliable.) Otherwise, other than that we all write from our own experiences,
which are inevitably shaped by the time we live in; I try to avoid obviously modern
concepts.

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?


I’m a morning writer, so generally I start the day (after and with coffee) by re-reading
what I wrote in the last session, making a few changes, and then going on from there. I
aim for about 800 words a day – I’m a slow writer, so that takes me about two hours.
In good weather I bike or walk for about 90 minutes most days, which is thinking time, and
I also go for long country drives alone, which is even more thinking time. If I’m stuck, I
read – going back into the research books often triggers something, and sometimes fiction
does too. If I’m really stuck, that’s telling me something’s wrong with the story, so I have
to take some thinking time to figure out what.

Who are some of your go-to authors?


Guy Gavriel Kay, first and foremost. Then Neil Gaiman. Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro,
Jonathan Nevair, Bjorn Larssen, and Karen Heenan – they’re about the only living authors
whose books I will automatically buy. I read a lot of non-fiction, so there it would be Guy
de la Bédoyère and Mary Beard on Roman history; Robert MacFarlane, John Lewis-
Stempel and Tim Dee on landscape and nature; Annie Whitehead on Anglo Saxon history,
Cat Jarman for Viking history.

Who do I re-read for the sheer pleasure of the books? Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth A
Lynn, Mary Stewart, Rosamund Pilcher, Annie Dillard (and Kay, always.) The books that
shaped me as a writer, the writers who taught me how to write.

About the author:

Taught to read at the age of three, words have been central to Marian’s life for as long as
she can remember. A novelist, poet, and essayist, Marian has several degrees, none of
which are related to writing. After two careers as a research scientist and an educator, she
retired from salaried work and returned to writing things that weren’t research papers or
reports.
Her first published work was poetry, in small journals; her first novel was released in
2015. Empire’s Daughter is the first in the Empire’s Legacy series: second-world historical
fiction, devoid of magic or other-worldly creatures and based to some extent on northern
Europe after the decline of Rome.  In addition to her novels, Marian has read poetry, short
stories, and non-fiction work at writers’ festivals and other juried venues.
Marian’s other two passions in life are birding and landscape history, both of which are
reflected in her books. Birding has taken her and her husband to all seven continents. Prior
to the pandemic, she and her husband spent several months each year in the UK, for both
research and birding, and she is desperately hoping to return.

Purchase link: https://books2read.com/marianlthorpe

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring J.T.T Ryder

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, Urban Fantasy, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on Historical Fantasy. J.T.T. Ryder, author of Hag of the Hills, was kind enough to share his thoughts on historical fantasy.

Defining my historical fantasy
By J.T.T. Ryder

I write historically-based fantasy set in a real period, in our world, with fantasy elements. My series is the Bronze Sword Cycles duology, set in 200 BC in the La Tène period, or Celtic Iron Age, on the island of Skye in what is now Scotland. I am an archaeologist that specializes in the Iron Age, and I decided to set forth to base my series on archaeological, historical, folkloric and mythological sources. The goal was to craft a historically-based world of the Celtic La Tène period to set my story in.

In reviews and among discussions of the first book of the Bronze Sword Cycles duology, Hag of the Hills, readers have described my book as historical fiction, historical fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, fantasy with horror elements, heroic fantasy, and sword and sorcery. That is a plethora of genres!  

So what genre exactly do I write?

Firstly, history cannot be separated from the Bronze Sword Cycles. The historical side of the story is vital, because the story is not just placed in a historical setting. Historical sources are what drive the plot and the motivations of the characters. The historical sources form the basis of the culture of the people in the book, and the unshakeable mindset and worldview of the characters, and I put great effort into crafting this mindset to be as historically accurate as far as my knowledge goes. One cannot just pluck my characters out of the story and drop them off a thousand years before or after. This series is by any stretch of the imagination a historical series.

Yet there are clear fantasy elements present. I attempted to ground these fantasy elements within the mindset of people of the past; particularly, I drew upon folkloric sources from pre-industrial times. The mindset of the pre-industrial person often included fantasy elements – the supernatural and natural often blended. Someone alive in the Iron Age in 200 BC Scotland would not have been able to separate themselves from these beliefs. Yet including these elements renders this book fantasy. Thus, I cannot in good faith call it pure historical fiction.

However, the term historical fantasy draws up connotations – such as what-if scenarios, fictionalized or fantastical accounts of real historical figures, and suchlike. My duology touches on something entirely different than that.

What exactly is the genre of the Bronze Sword Cycles? Despite potential connotations to types of stories with tropes that will not be found in mine, I do think historical fantasy is the single best describer. All in all, I believe I crafted a series firmly rooted in history, where even the fantasy elements are derived from the beliefs of the people of the past.

About the author:

Joseph Thomas Thor Ryder is an archaeologist and author of the historical fantasy duology THE BRONZE SWORD CYCLES. He is a published author of Viking archaeology, and a doctoral candidate specializing in the Viking Age and Celtic Iron Age. He resides in Norway where he conducts archaeological research and writes heroic fantasy set in historical periods.

Purchase link:
Hag of the Hills

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring G.M. White

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark,  Epic/High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview G.M. White, author of The Swordsman’s Lament and The Swordman’s Descent, which releases tomorrow (The preorder link is below).

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

Thank you so much for having me!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

Yes, of course. I’m G.M. White, an indie fantasy author. I live on St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly, a tiny island with a population of around 130 which is off the south west coast of the UK.  Like many people on the islands I wear a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, I also work several part time jobs, am on the local Coastguard rescue team, sit on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, play cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow find time to write.

I’ve always loved stories, and storytelling, having been an avid reader from an early age. My mum and dad instilled a love of reading in me, perhaps because the only time I was quiet was when I had my head in a book!

I’ve been an actor, played drums in bands on and off for many years, and dabbled in playwriting, but it was only in 2015 that I started to work on writing fantasy fiction. The Swordsman’s Lament, my first novel, was published in 2019.

Will you talk a little about The Swordsman’s Lament series?

Happily! The series follows the character of Belasko, a war hero, legendary swordsman, and undefeated duelist. When we meet him in The Swordsman’s Lament, he’s the Royal Champion to the King of Villan. A post he’s held for fifteen years, the first commoner to do so. But a lifetime of pushing his body hard has started to have an effect, and it is beginning to let him down.

When tragedy strikes the royal household and a prince is murdered, Belasko discovers he is expendable. The grief-stricken king demands blood, and Belasko’s options are clear: find the real killer, or die for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s a swashbuckling fantasy adventure, as Belasko fights to clear his name with help from unexpected sources. The Swordsman’s Lament is book one in the Royal Champion series. I published The Swordsman’s Intent in 2020. That is a prequel novella set fifteen years earlier and tells the tale of how Belasko became champion, the trials and training he underwent, and the friends and enemies he made along the way. It also introduces characters that appear in the other books in the series, as well as setting in motion the events of The Swordsman’s Lament.Book two, The Swordsman’s Descent, is out very soon and in that Belasko’s adventures continue as he and his companions find themselves thrown headlong into danger in a foreign city. I don’t want to give away too much, but when blades are drawn, and all seems lost, can Belasko save the lives of those he loves the most? You’ll have to read to find out… 😉

The Swordsman’s Lament is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

For me it means stories that are very much rooted in our own real-world history. Sometimes this can be in the form of alternate histories, fantasy set around real-world events, or alternate earths where magic is real. Or, like my series, a secondary world fantasy where magic isn’t a huge factor, but the setting is inspired by real world historical periods and locations. In my case, this is renaissance Europe.

What drew you to that particular time period?

That’s a good question. One of my earliest influences, before I got into fantasy, was things like The Three Musketeers, stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, these kind of semi-historical tales, myths, and legends. When I was younger we lived in the North East of England, where there are a great many castles and ruins to explore. Something we often did on weekend family walks. My brother and I were always sword fighting with sticks and pretending to be knights and these heroes of legend. So when it came time to write my own fantasy series, it makes sense that an amalgamation of these things came out. The swashbuckling adventure of D’Artagnan, the legendary warriors of Arthur’s court, the common man fighting for what is right from Robin Hood.

When I was in secondary school I was obsessed with the historical basis of King Arthur and post-Roman early Medieval Britain for a while. Can you guess what my next project might be? Hint, hint… 😉

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?

Funnily enough, it wasn’t that I necessarily set out to write a historical fantasy. It was the story that came to me and needed to be told, and as I worked on it it became apparent that it was a historical fantasy, rather than epic or high fantasy. Or even grimdark.

I have lots of different ideas (I sometimes wonder how I’ll find time to write them all), including an epic fantasy series with dragon riders, a historical Arthurian novel, a historical thriller/mystery series, a contemporary fantasy series… But Belasko was the character that took up residence in my head and refused to leave, and this was the setting that he fit into. I can’t really explain it more than that.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?

Yes and no. I try to have quite a light touch with my world building, dropping in small but significant details that help shape the reader’s view of the world without resorting to info dumps.

For me the first draft is for getting the story down, however roughly. As I believe Sir Terry Pratchett once said, the first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. So I tell that story, then dissect and reassemble it in the second draft. I may do some research here, but very often it’s more important in the third and final drafts when I’m doing a pass looking at world building and start hitting the research to get the detail right.

For example, I have spent many hours looking up details of renaissance/medieval clothing, or kitchens, architecture, weaponry… There are many research rabbit holes to disappear down!

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?

I suppose it is in a way quite niche, which can make finding your readers difficult. But when you have them, they’re yours forever! Also, I think it’s possible to get bogged down in the historical aspect and lose the fantasy. Just because a setting is inspired by a historical time period doesn’t mean you have to take every aspect of that into your story. I try to make sure that my fantasy worlds reflect something of my values and the world I’d like to live in, rather than adhering to strict historical accuracy. This may mean greater equality between the genders, featuring a broader spectrum of sexuality than was deemed acceptable in the historical time period etc.

I think it’s interesting that you write fantasy that reflects your values a little bit. Do you see fantasy writing as a way to unpack or “work through” real life concerns, questions, or emotions?

Absolutely. I see fantasy and science fiction as ways of viewing life through a different lens. A safe space in which to examine difficult ideas. I always hold up Terry Pratchett as an example. People that haven’t read his work may dismiss it as “funny fantasy.” While it is funny and most of it (particularly his Discworld books) is fantasy, it’s also excoriating social satire.

I often have a theme I’m thinking about when I work on something. In the upcoming The Swordsman’s Descent that is that we’re stronger together than we are apart. This was partially in reaction to the first book, where Belasko is cast out and has to take it upon himself to save the day. Whereas the second book is about people coming together to try and make the world a better place, while a few selfish groups try to derail that progress for their own ends. And it was written against the backdrop of a global pandemic where it really was important that people act in the common good.

With The Swordsman’s Lament I didn’t particularly have a theme in mind, but just set out to tell a story. What emerged was a tale of people who are willing to almost any lengths to do what they see as the right thing. One of those is the hero, Belasko, and one is the villain of the piece. Who, of course, doesn’t see themselves as the villain. And it was written while the UK was tearing itself apart over Brexit and feeling more divided than at any time I can remember in my lifetime, with people acting at cross purposes while being entirely convinced that they were completely right and the other side was completely wrong.

Of course, they’re fun adventure stories and someone may read them and not be aware of all this. But those issues and questions are in there.

What are some of its strengths?

I think that grounding in at least some level of real-world detail can give historical fantasy a very realistic feel. It’s also a great opportunity to ask “what if” questions. What if the Napoleonic wars, but with dragons? As in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Or, what if our world’s geography had developed differently, and never known the Roman empire, but with magic? As in Miles Cameron’s Masters and Mages series. 

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?

My writing time is pretty limited, so I have to make the most of it. Plotting helps, as it means when I sit down to write I know what I’m working on next. If I really need to focus and block out other distractions I’ll listen to ambient music, and I’ve recently started using brain.fm to help me focus.

Mostly, I just grab that free time and get my butt in the chair!

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Ooh, good question. I love Tad Williams, his classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series is what got me into fantasy back in the early 90s. So anything he writes is an automatic purchase for me! I feel the same way about RJ Barker, who is doing astonishing things in the fantasy genre at the moment. (If you haven’t read his Tide Child trilogy yet you really must.) Other authors that are old favourites are Robin Hobb, David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett… Newer authors (at least to me) that I’m enjoying include Ed McDonald, Miles Cameron, Jen Williams, Mark Stay… It always seems like there’s so many books and so little time!

About the author:


G.M. White is an indie fantasy author. He lives on St Martin’s, in the Isles of Scilly, with his wife and son. Like many people on the islands he wears a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, he also works several part time jobs, is on the local Coastguard rescue team, sits on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, plays cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow finds time to write.

Author site: https://gmwhite.co.uk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GMWhiteWrites
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gmwhitewrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gmwhitewrites/

Purchase links:

The Swordsman’s Lament
The Swordsman’s Descent

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring Angela Boord

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, Urban Fantasy, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month the focus is on historical fantasy, and I’m delighted to feature Angela Boord, author of Fortune’s Fool.

Writing Historical Fantasy: It’s the Vibes

by Angela Boord

In a blog series on historical fantasy, it’s probably not surprising to hear that I cut my adult fantasy teeth on the books of Guy Gavriel Kay. I liked how juicy his worlds were, how real, how they took history and transformed it into something at once familiar and strange. That’s always been the draw of historically-inspired fantasy for me, how recognizable history can give a world detail and depth, especially when it takes that “quarter turn to the fantastic”. 

My own Renaissance-inspired fantasy, Fortune’s Fool, follows a slightly different strategy to hopefully end up at a similar place. A lot of historical fantasies, including many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, base their worlds firmly on instantly recognizable earth-history analogues. As an example, I would venture to say that most Renaissance-inspired fantasies usually include a Church everyone knows is the Catholic Church with a different name. But I thought it might be fun to reconstruct the process I went through in building an historically-inspired fantasy that relies on something different for recognition: the historical vibe.

Finding an historical vibe that makes a world feel like history without using the same structures of earth-history (like the Renaissance Church) can be challenging. You have to make a lot of choices along the way. What do you import, and what can be left behind? What is absolutely necessary to get the feel of a place and time, and what can you riff on? Writing historically-inspired fantasy is a little like being a jazz musician in that way. You work in a recognizable framework, but there’s a lot of room for improvisation.

Consider the following a case history of historical riffing—or the nuts and bolts of writing an historical epic based on a history that doesn’t exist.

Coming up with the Original Idea for Fortune’s Fool 

All my stories start with a character who walks into my brain and won’t leave. Kyrra walked in one day and dropped an opening line that made me sit up and pay attention: “My right arm is made of metal”. Trying to scientifically tease apart the process of story creation is almost impossible, but somehow Kyrra also connected with another idea that had been nagging me since reading Romeo and Juliet in high school. I’d always hated the idea of Romeo and Juliet being a romance; it only made sense as a tragedy to me, and a somewhat ridiculous and yet sadly believable tragedy at that. After Kyrra claimed her portion of my brain, I started wondering, what would have happened if Romeo and Juliet hadn’t killed themselves? What kind of consequences would they face? And from there I wondered, what if I took this whole issue of a love affair between feuding Houses and wrote more about what happens after? What if I made it fantasy?

With that in mind, I had my setting. But Renaissance Italy—in particular Venice, which I used for all the reasons everybody uses Venice, because canals are cool—is hardly original, so I started thinking about all the ways I could make it mine. Kyrra had introduced herself by telling me she had a metal arm, where had that come from? Why had she lost her arm?

It was answering these why character questions that set me off into building a fantasy world based mostly on historical vibes. I borrowed cultural details more than strictly historical ones and layered in my own worldbuilding. I decided to dive into the Renaissance drive to recover classical knowledge, so instead of a Church, my world has a pantheon of scheming Greco-Romanesque gods. I included an ancient, fallen empire but I based it more on the Etruscans than the Romans, messed around with spelling, and came up with the name Eterean. I was tired of reading generic medieval fantasy, so I wrote England out of my world and made it Mediterranean instead, facing more south and east than west. I shamelessly cribbed a possibly apocryphal story about an Italian merchant stealing silk worm eggs from China by stuffing them in his pockets. I made sure all my names sounded Italian. But my world was becoming an amalgamation of changes that served the story rather than sticking with anything just because it was part of the Renaissance in our world.

There were more pieces to Kyrra’s story. Kyrra disguised herself as a man, and mercenaries were a very fantasy-friendly aspect of the Italian Renaissance, so…she was definitely going to be a mercenary. And guns. The Renaissance interested me because it was such a transitional period in almost everything, and that included warfare. The Italian Wars of the late sixteenth century were the first wars in which portable guns (arquebus) and gunpowder were used to definitively alter the outcome of battles, but at the same time, soldiers were still using swords and pikes; plate armor was in the process of phasing out. The era was a fertile jumble of the ancient, the merely old, and the new. It seemed like nobody knew where they were going, but they were headed there very quickly. I wanted to capture that feeling of change in my book, too, and I did it by introducing guns and a war that devastated Kyrra’s city—a war that like Helen of Troy, she was blamed for starting. Again, I was reaching more for echoes of a time rather than specific actual events. 

While I noodled about the basic idea, I also plundered my books about Renaissance history. Then I was ready to write, yes?

Well, kind of.

Early Drafts

Initially I thought Fortune’s Fool was going to be a short novella in which Juliet got her revenge on a Romeo who had used and discarded her in service to his family’s political scheming. By the time I got to the end, I knew it was not going to be a novella. That early draft, in which Kyrra slices Cassis di Prinze’s arm off in retribution for the loss of her own, introduced more questions than it answered. As soon as I finished, I knew it was only the outline of a much, much larger story. All because Kyrra had introduced one name in the telling: Arsenault. The man who made her arm.

The result of me wanting to know more about Arsenault was a 700 page novel contrasting the devastating effects of a bad teenage love affair to a mature love between two people truly devoted to each other—whose only goal was to see the other safe and whole with little regard for themselves. It opened up a huge world which was far deeper than I expected and sent me off to research (to date): Viking mercenaries, traditional silk growing and weaving, Renaissance amputations, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Nigerian cuisine, traditional vodka production, pirate codes, Etruscan burial practices and religion, ancient Carthage, Italian folk magic… by now, the list is really long, and will certainly only get longer.

Revision Time!

The manuscript for Fortune’s Fool sat in my closet for a long time, because my kids were little and there were a lot of them. When I finally pulled it out, technology had advanced, and I had access to google! (I said there were a lot of kids, right?) As I dismantled and re-mantled the book into the shape I wanted, I could stop and look up what Italian peasant women wore in the Renaissance (a simple dress called a guarnello), how Renaissance soap was made (sometimes scented with tea), and watch endless videos about traditional silk production. These smaller details helped build a word that could be tasted, smelled, and felt, but I started to feel like I was getting bogged down. What was the point of building my own world if all I was doing was using details from ours? Why not just layer magic into actual Venice?

It was a good question. The bottom line was: Because I didn’t want to. And also, I’m a little lazy and it’s fun to make stuff up. My forthcoming portal fantasy is partially set in Illinois in 1988, and working on that book is an exercise in not being able to fudge small details, like: what day of the week was Halloween in that year? (Saturday—which worked out well for me). What songs and movies were out in May? How much did a calzone and a coke cost? (I lived through the 80’s but I honestly can’t remember, except that it was much less.) 

My solution in Fortune’s Fool was to lean harder into the gods and magic, but also to make the world itself just a tiny bit more fantasy. I introduced a species of giant silk moth whose larvae spun burgundy silk exclusively for Kyrra’s family. I’ve had a number of readers ask me if all the silk stuff is real, including the giant moths, and the answer is 98% of it is as realistic as I could make it. The two imaginary elements I added—the giant moths and the exaggerated length of the combergirls’ fingernails, which they use to pull apart the cocoons—seem to fit seamlessly into the details I pulled from the real world, and happily, most readers seem to think it all feels real.

Incorporating Feedback

I usually put my books through a couple of big revisions. A friend of mine dubbed the first revision my “inflationary draft” because I usually add a lot of words instead of cutting. I also do at least one major revision after I get feedback, which includes comments from my trusted readers, editors, and any sensitivity readers I’ve hired. I didn’t hire sensitivity readers for Fortune’s Fool because I didn’t know they existed at that point, but I did hire expert readers for Smuggler’s Fortune and the forthcoming sequel to Fortune’s Fool, Fool’s Promise. Their feedback was invaluable, not only for developing the characters of Razi and LiSang in Smuggler’s Fortune and Jon Barra in Fool’s Promise, but also for making the world deeper in general. One of the most valuable aspects of sensitivity reader feedback, for me—and one which doesn’t get talked about a lot—is the questions they ask about the worldbuilding, which always ends up making the world more real, meaningful, specific, and consistent. After receiving sensitivity reader feedback on Smuggler’s, I spent a week or two reading about the Order of Assassins, Zoroastrianism, and male veiling among the Tuareg. This research—which I didn’t know I needed to do until my reader suggested I should–gave me a better handle on Razi, an elite Qalfan fighter who’s also a bit of a hedonist. In fact, it helped me see why he was a hedonist; his religion considers it a sin not to enjoy the good things in life. 

Is the worldbuilding done after Book 1 is published?

Writers are often compared to magpies, exceptionally curious birds which, like many members of the corvid family, collect random objects. A quick check on Wikipedia (because my daughter is a birder and will expect me to get my bird story straight) informs me that magpies are often said to collect shiny objects, especially wedding rings, but Science has determined that this isn’t exactly true; they have no preference for collecting shiny objects over dull ones. I had no idea magpies were supposed to steal wedding rings, but now that knowledge will sit in my brain amid the other shiny, dull, interesting, and just plain odd bits and pieces of information I’ve collected over the years, waiting for the opportunity to become exactly what I need to tell a story.

Is worldbuilding done after book 1 is published and the series has a foundation? Well, not if you’re me. In the first place, I’m constantly magpie-ing new information, and in the second place, I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t realize what I don’t know until I need to know it. For me, the mark of a rich world is that there are constantly new areas to explore, more ways to make the fantastic feel like history—always new ways to riff on what has come before to make your own historically-inspired music.

About the author:

Angela Boord writes giant fantasy books that blend genres–from romance and historical to espionage and epic and beyond. She likes collecting weird historical and scientific trivia to turn into scenes in her books, and she thinks way too much about food. Her Eterean Empire series, including SPFBO 5 finalist and Stabby-nominated FORTUNE’S FOOL, is historical fantasy inspired by Renaissance Italy with gunpowder and romance and big battles. Her Rai Ascendant series, forthcoming in 2022, is Cold War portal fantasy inspired by all those spy novels she read as a teenager.

Angela lives in Mississippi with her husband and the six of their nine kids still under the age of eighteen, where she writes most of her books at the kitchen table surrounded by Nerf guns and Legos.

Purchase links:

Fortune’s Fool (which will be on sale for $0.99 from Jun 24 to Jun 30 for its publication anniversary)

Smuggler’s Fortune

Dragonmeat

Socials:

Twitter: @AngelaBoord

FB: https://www.facebook.com/angelaboordauthor/

Operation 2021: Success! (or Favorite Books from this Year)

This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.

*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)

“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. 

“The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.”

Review

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”

Review

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

 “This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
 
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
 
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
 
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
 
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”

Review

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is no idiot, despite what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”

Review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

“…insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

Review

Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt

Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.

Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi

What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)

“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “

Review

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

” The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.”

Review

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)

” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”

Review

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Adult Fiction Edition

2021 has been an amazing year for fiction. I have read so many excellent books, any of which would make a wonderful gift. For this year’s list, I picked books that are either the first in their series (as opposed to a continuation of a series) or standalones. You can find last year’s adult recommendations here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

This is the most surprising, delightful, and heartwarming book! It is a hug in print and I loved every single moment of it. You can read more of my gushing about it here.

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.


The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.


As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.


Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

Paladin Unbound would be an excellent gift for fans of the fantasy genre, readers who are new to fantasy, or people who play tabletop roleplaying games. Basically, it would make a great gift for 99% of the people I know (I’m still trying to convince a few friends to give fantasy a go). You can read my review here.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.
William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?
Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia, and one ultimate, inescapable truth…. (taken from Amazon)

Loosely based on a real person and real events, this book sucked me in and kept me feverishly turning pages. It is so well written, and would be a great gift for readers who like mind-twisting, psychological reads. You can find my review here.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! The Resurrectionist of Caligo would be perfect for readers who like a healthy dose of mystery in their fantasy. You can find my review here.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

Complex and beautifully written, The Jasmine Throne will keep readers engrossed. This would be a great gift for fans of books that have great worldbuilding, political machinations, and twists aplenty. You can read my review here.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Spirit Engineer will be available October 7th.

I will be honest: I didn’t know much about William Jackson Crawford going into The Spirit Engineer, so everything written was a surprise to me. That being said, if I had been an expert on his life, I still would have been engrossed. The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.

Professor William Jackson Crawford is a man of science who doesn’t subscribe to paranormal nonsense, thank you very much. He thinks himself too smart to fall for any trickery and is preoccupied with dreams of rising far in his field. However, William learns that his wife has been visiting mediums and takes it upon himself to disprove the idea of communicating with the deceased. Thus, the Spirit Engineer is born.

I don’t usually comment on the characteristics of those that are based on real people, but William is not likeable at all. Nor is he relatable. At most, I could say he’s pitiable, and even that is a stretch. William is condescending and feels he is superior to others. He is a man who desperately wants to be in control of himself, of his work, of others. The more he feels his orderly life slipping away, the more paranoid and desperate he becomes. Things go in unexpected directions when, instead of proving the medium is a fraud, William sees and hears the spirits himself. Is he deceived? Or has he stumbled upon something otherworldly? Of course, I don’t need a character to be likable or relatable to enjoy a book. Instead, he was fascinating, which is much more important to me.

The writing was fantastic. It was smart and engaging. I’m assuming that there was some embellishment, but the author obviously tried to stay close to the sprit (pun intended) of the facts. The story developed well and the pacing was perfect. It didn’t skip over details, but it also didn’t drag. I raced through this book because I just couldn’t put it down.

The Spirit Engineer is a riveting book. While it’s interesting from a historical standpoint, what really drew me in was the exploration of the human psyche because, when it comes right down to it, that’s much more fascinating and mysterious than anything supernatural.

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived…

Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus.

Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child… But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley and Quercus for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Girl Made of Air is available now.

I’m always fascinated by the idea of stories being told through collections of letters or diaries. The fact that this revolved around a circus was also intriguing. Ultimately, though, while A Girl Made of Air had a lot going for it, I found some things rather problematic.

The book follows Mouse, a famous tightrope walker, as she recounts her early life and the events that shaped her. She’s an interesting protagonist because the narration matures as the character does. The older she gets, the more complex and adult-sounding the narration becomes. It was a great detail, one that mirrors how people really develop. The book is peopled with distinctive characters: Marina, Mouse’s mother, Manu…and Serendipity Wilson, who is something else entirely. She is the bright light that Mouse is drawn to, and the story is viewed in relation to her. All of the characters were vivid and, in some cases, larger than life. They became almost caricatures of themselves, which was fascinating. I also think that was intentional and it gave the book a fantastical feel.

So, what did I find problematic? First of all, parts of the book felt repetitive. Some bits just didn’t really add to the story or character development at all and I found my attention wandering a bit. Secondly, and this is what really bothered me, is the unexpected rape scene. It was graphic and, as someone who prefers to avoid books with that sort of content, I really wish I’d known it was coming. As it was, I was blindsided and it really upset me. That being said, this isn’t something that will have a big effect on everyone. It just was something that dimmed the enjoyment of the book for me.

A Girl Made of Air meandered a little, but it was an interesting trip. At the end of the day, I’m not the right reader for this book. It would be much more enjoyable to readers who don’t mind a bit of harsh content and like a story with well developed characters.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for a revolution in France, to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for giving me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is available now.

I was interested in this book from the get-go. An alternate version of historical events? Yes, please! A book this ambitious sounds hard to pull off, but author H.G. Parry did it brilliantly. I was caught up in the politics, magic, and historical basis of it. The characters were written dynamically and the story flowed incredibly well.

I saw hints of early Anne’s Rice’s descriptiveness in the prose (high praise from me). The in-depth descriptions, explanations, and the slightly slower build all worked very well. The time taken by the author to really develop the story and setting made the payoff even better. The tension of the storyline built up to a roaring crescendo and I was transfixed.

I have a feeling that this will be one of those books that you either love or hate, nothing in between. I think some books can only evoke strong emotions like that. I fall firmly in the “love” category. Historical fantasy is such an interesting subgenre because of that real-life base that the author springboards off of. Parry obviously put a ton of effort into getting the historical aspects right and it made a huge difference.

I really can’t say that I liked any particular characters (it feels weird saying something like that about characters based on actual people), but I found every single one of them fascinating. H.G. Parry took me right into their heads and gave motivations and showed their reasons for their actions. Whether I agreed with a certain character or not, they were all engrossing.

Seeing as it’s based loosely on the French Revolution, don’t expect a lighthearted story. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is enthralling, however, and this is an excellent addition to the historical fantasy subgenre.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Dictionary of Lost Words is available now.

I agonized over what to write about The Dictionary of Lost Words. I love books about the love of words (The Grammarians and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary come to mind) and I had high hopes for this one. Ultimately, I think I may have expected too much. I liked the book, but that indefinable thing that elevates a book from “good’ to “great” in my mind wasn’t there.

That being said, The Dictionary of Lost Words was very good. The story starts with Esme, the main character, as a girl. She grows up surrounded by words. Her dad works to gather words and their definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary, along with a team of other men. Esme gets the leftovers, so to speak; the words not deemed appropriate or good enough for the dictionary. I loved that idea. I loved the focus on the importance of words and the way they can affect change. The premise was fabulous.

I did feel that the book meandered a bit, and I found my attention wandering a little here and there. I had a particularly hard time during the second half of it. It just didn’t hold my focus. I think it might have been the switch in focus to include a little more about Esme’s personal life as an adult. It just wasn’t my thing.

What the book might have lacked in pacing, it more than made up for in detail. It is clear that the author put a ton of time and effort into making the book as close as possible to how things were at that time. The Dictionary of Lost Words might be a great read for readers who really enjoy historical fiction. However, readers who are looking specifically for a book about words and their power might be a teeny bit disappointed.