Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

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, and Epic/High Fantasy.

Today, I’m privileged to talk with Jamie Jackson, author of the Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid series.

Hi Jamie! Thank you for joining me to talk about urban fantasy!

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

So, I’m basically Doug from Up.  I’m easily excitable, loud, and often distracted.  I love fantasy and science fiction but will read any and all genres I can get my hands on.  I’ve worked backstage in theater and behind the scenes documentaries about movies and TV shows are my favorite things to watch.  I’m also married to an awesome and supportive man, have three kids, and two dogs.

Will you talk a little bit about Fear and Fury?

So, it’s the first novel in my urban fantasy superhero series, Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid.  It has a 4th wall-breaking 1st person narrative, Greek mythology retelling, and a cast of ruthless, morally grey heroes going up against some epic villains.  The first book is essentially Meg’s “origin” story, when a previously unknown villain makes her his next target, she has to turn to the heroes she’s spent her life trying to avoid for help.

I love that your main character, Megaera, is a “self-described not-a-hero”. How did you get in the “zone”, so to speak, when writing a more self-centered character?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea.  I like to think that I thought about if I was hero, what kind of hero would I hope to be, and then wrote the opposite of that.  But she just showed up as a petty, and somewhat self-centered person to start with.

Your book is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

I would say urban fantasy is anything occurring in a modern setting that has fantastical elements, either magic, superheroes, the paranormal, etc.

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

I wanted a world that had cell phones.

In truth, it’s a genre I enjoy reading, and for my first real novel I wanted to write something where there wasn’t going to be an overwhelming amount of world-building.  When it’s a universe like ours, we already know most of the rules for how things work, so for a project I was attempting while involuntarily homeschooling it was the ideal genre to write in.  And the idea for Meg had been knocking around in my head for a while already. 

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

Realism! You have to balance the line of what could realistically occur in our world with modern elements like technology and still being able to exaggerate it without losing your readers benefit of the doubt.

What are some strengths in this subgenre?

I think one of the strengths is that since it occurs in the modern world, it can be easier for readers to relate the situations the characters get into.  And as a whole I think we would love for there to be magic in the modern world, and urban fantasy gives that to us.  It’s also flexible with the amount of creatures, mythology, and magic you can put into your story. The genre runs the gamut from werewolves and vampires to the fae and gods and goddesses being a part of those worlds.  And it tends to blend sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Who are some of your go-to authors?
Craig Schaefer, Rachel Aaron. I’ve read the majority of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Right now I have a huge backlog of indie author books I’m working through, but the authors of the ones I have read are all on my instant buy list.

Purchase links:

http://mybook.to/FearandFury

http://mybook.to/TormentandTarnish

http://mybook.to/ScornandSorrow

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…(taken from Amazon)

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

The Knave of Secrets was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The premise immediately had me thinking of a fantasy-meets- Ocean’s 11, which sounded like a blast. However, while the concept looked entertaining, parts of the book just didn’t seem to quite pan out.

The beginning of the book dropped you right smack into the middle of intrigue and a rather abrupt exit, which I loved. I was excited about the pacing and looked forward to a fast-paced con with twists and turns aplenty. Alas, ’twas not to be. The pace slowed quite a bit and just seemed a bit choppy to me. The sections on card games that were scattered throughout might have contributed to that; while they were interesting, they added pauses that sometimes took me out of the narrative.

I did like the magic system and how it figured into so many aspects of the book and its characters. The concept of the tower being held together by magic was a creative one as well. I feel like the author had a lot of really good ideas that just didn’t necessarily belong all in the same book. Or maybe the book needed to be a little longer so he could fully develop them all?

My biggest quibble were the characters, particularly how they interacted. They were supposed to know each other well, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. The way they communicated (or didn’t) felt jilted and a little awkward. At this point, I’m beginning to think it’s a matter of “it’s me, not you”. I think that I was the wrong reader at the wrong time, which makes me wonder if I would have loved The Knave of Secrets had I read it at another time.

At the end of the day, The Knave of Secrets just didn’t work for me. The concept was a cool one, but the execution just didn’t seem to pay off.

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third book in the Fetch Phillips series, so there might be some spoilers for the first two books. You can find my reviews for those books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

I knew from about twenty pages into book one that I’ll read anything by Luke Arnold, up to and including a pamphlet on beige paint. His writing is that good. I obviously had ridiculously high expectations for this latest installment in the Fetch Phillips novels, and One Foot in the Fade more than delivered. Buckle up, folks: this is going to be a rave. Or you could save yourself the trouble and buy the entire series now, which is the better option.

One Foot in the Fade continues on where Dead Man in a Ditch left off, with a much more motivated and slightly more capable Fetch taking the small bit of hope he’s seized and holding onto it for dear life. Thanks to a friend of his, Fetch’s sign has gone from an advertisement for a P.I. to a declaration: “Bringing the Magic Back”!

After sniffing the slightest possibility of a return to before everything went to crap, returning magic has become Fetch’s driving goal. He’s following every lead and hunting down any hint of a way to make that happen. Which is how he ends ups embroiled in what is either an almost-miracle or a very grisly murder. The answer leads Fetch on a journey both physical and emotional.

One Foot in the Fade takes the series from a grimy noir-fantasy to something completely new and different. I didn’t know what would happen next and I loved it. From duels (aka fights with self-important rich men who hold all the cards in life) to a not-quite-a-corpse, to an unfortunate encounter with a monster of legend, there was plenty of danger and action to be found. However, the heart stopping action scenes weren’t what held me enthralled. Rather, it was the incredible character growth to be found in Fetch.

Fetch Phillips has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Ever. His staunch refusal to give up, even when he’s convinced himself that he has, is heartbreaking. His grasp at the smallest glimmer of hope is relatable. And his palpable loneliness and the way he slowly learns to open himself up to the possibility of friendship is amazing and a privilege to read. Despite this being a fantasy setting, or maybe because of it, Fetch is one of the most supremely human characters I’ve read.

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. The story is engrossing, the descriptiveness of the writing is brilliant, the characters are all wonderful, and the ending made me tear up. A perfect blend between fantastical creativity and fascinating character development, One Foot in the Fade hooked me from page one.

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/

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Roland O’Leary

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. This month’s focus is on high and epic fantasy.

I’m delighted to feature a guest post from Roland O’Leary, author of The Hand of Fire, book one in the Essence of Tyranny series.

I’m delighted to be here on the Witty & Sarcastic Book Club discussing epic and high fantasy.  Fantasy is an increasingly broad church, but I think its foundations and highest spires are crafted from epic high fantasy. It’s fair to say I’m a fan. 

I’m in the process of writing my own contribution to the genre, The Essence of Tyranny series. The first book, The Hand of Fire came out in 2020 and was in the SPFBO7 competition. In this post I’ll cover what it is about high and epic fantasy that appeals to me as a reader and author, and also where I see the pitfalls in the genre. 

Housekeeping first – what do those terms ‘epic’ and ‘high’ fantasy even mean? I can’t say my answer is definitive, but this is what I am talking about when I use those terms.

‘High’ fantasy is the counterpoint to ‘low fantasy’ – this is a scale measuring the prevalence of fantasy elements in a novel. If the book is set in its own imagined world, with created species, magic, dragons – that’s high fantasy. If it’s set in our own reality/world, with just a couple of magical elements, that’s low fantasy.

Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga and Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen are great examples of very high fantasy, with lots of magic, alien species and author-created realms. Similarly, The Wheel of Time series is at the higher end of the spectrum, with magic a huge element of the world and story.

I would say The Lord of the Rings is only medium-high fantasy. Yes, it’s a created world (albeit based on Dark Ages Europe), but there’s not that much magic that happens in the live action of the book. A good friend of mine talks about “the disappointment of Gandalf” as a wizard! George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire is in the middle of the range too, in my opinion – the action in the cities of Westeros is almost historical fantasy set in Renaissance Europe, lower end fantasy. But north of the wall, in the wildernesses of the other continents, there are “snarks and grumkins” – and indeed dragons. My favourite parts are always with Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen which are the high fantasy elements! 

Low fantasy has lots of sub-genres. A common feature usually involves magic or magical creatures occurring in the ‘real’ world that we recognise. My favourite example is The Dark is Rising sequence, though there are lots of other children’s and young adult books that fit the bill. Personally, I don’t include things like Harry Potter where the real world is only a jumping off point into the high fantasy world of wizardry.

‘Epic’ is usually used to contrast with ‘sword and sorcery’. I think this is a gradation of the scale or scope of the story. Sword and sorcery is usually high fantasy in setting but the focus is the travails of an individual or small group, the dangers personal rather than existential. The stories often tend towards episodic encounters. Epic fantasy on the other hand encompasses the fate of nations, the world, even the universe or existence itself. They are often multi-perspective stories of sweeping scope, sometimes taking multiple books to complete the entire story arc.

One way I like to look at is using Homer. If they were translated into fantasy worlds, The Iliad would be epic fantasy, The Odyssey would be sword and sorcery. 

So now we know what we’re talking about when we use the term ‘epic high fantasy’. What are the pros and cons for the reader? Let’s take the good stuff first. The high fantasy aspect means that you get the chance to encounter a new world, with different rules; different rules of society, of physics. Magic. It fulfils the human desire for travel, to experience novelty as you navigate the environs of a different reality. The epic nature of the story means you get to meet many characters and visit many settings; ultimately you get to spend more time in and see more of that world. If escapism is part of the reason you read, then epic high fantasy has a lot to recommend it. 

As a reader I love the scale of the plots of epic fantasy and the stakes at play. If the characters don’t succeed in their goals then the whole of existence might be destroyed. That ramps up the drama for me, makes me invest in the characters more. 

As an author I think the world-building of high fantasy is the purest act of creativity I know. I’m sure different authors approach it in different ways but I started with a map. The shapes of the landmasses and the terrain start to delineate nations, barriers of rivers and mountains and seas separating tribes who develop different cultures. Then I created a dated timeline of history of the whole world I’d invented, encompassing all its countries and races and cultures and religions and mythology. I invented some languages (although not being an expert in this I gave myself an ‘out’ of a common tongue too. Of course there is also a reason for that). This is all before writing a word of the story that I’d thought I was going to tell. 

Once you have a whole world you can decide the entry point for your story in its history. My story takes place in the ‘now’, the present day of the world I made, but I have another series in mind which is set in its past. In epic fantasy you can also go big on the plot – mine ultimately involves entities that are considered to be gods by the human cultures.

That leads to an element that is both a joy and a potential pitfall for the high fantasy author. Dare I even mention magic systems? I worked hard at my magic system as an author but it won’t satisfy some readers I’m sure. Personally, as a reader, as long as the magic used is intriguing and consistent I’m content. I don’t even mind magic that makes characters super-powerful – as long as there are limits to their ability somewhere and it doesn’t resolve every single conflict. Other fantasy readers however are into their hard magic systems and may pick through your writing analysing whether your magic system is sufficiently realistic.

I’ll give only a glancing mention to the snobbery of some people against epic high fantasy, because this happens across the whole fantasy genre. As a reader across many genres I recognise that there are high and low quality novels in all of them. Some novels appeal to my taste more than others. As an author this kind of snobbery against fantasy can be a bit frustrating to encounter but ultimately I’m looking to appeal to fantasy fans. The people I’ve met who most look down on fantasy writing tend to be quite ignorant of it. 

What are the other cons of reading (and writing) epic fantasy? Let’s talk tropes. 

Good versus evil is a traditional theme, forces of darkness versus forces of light. This has been done a lot. It’s been done really well. Some readers are tired of seeing it again. Some readers will think it’s unoriginal. Similarly, there are other tropes: the chosen one, the dark lord, a pseudo-Western European medieval setting. As a fantasy reader there is an extent to which I want to see fantasy tropes to anchor the novel in the genre that I love. For me it is a matter of the deftness of touch, of the quality of story and writing and characterization that will distinguish a novel.

Some readers think good versus evil is an immature way of looking at the world. Good for one is bad for another, good is not necessarily a moral absolute. There is definitely a trend in modern fantasy for ‘morally grey’ characters. I like this but I don’t think it’s something special. In my opinion good writing is more about ensuring your characters seem like real people making real choices than the way their moral compass points. I personally feel that a story of good versus evil is satisfying at quite a deep psychological level. The world you create doesn’t have to break down into neat factions of good guys and bad guys. But as a reader I’m still happy to read stories that do. The prevalence of superhero movies suggests that there is quite a wide audience for this sort of story too.

I think originality is a difficult concept as every author has been influenced by what they’ve experienced and what they’ve read. I think it would be very difficult to be a good writer without being a dedicated reader. As I get older and read more and more I can see the influences on books I previously thought were completely original. 

I’ve detected a focus on exploding or defying tropes in recent years. I don’t think in and of itself this is a worthy goal. In a sense, you are just as influenced as someone who is following a trope, you are still writing in reaction to something. My view is every person is a unique individual so the book they write will always reflect that, even if its influences are similar to another. I would say to authors not to let their reaction to a trope define their work. I don’t want to read a polemic against fantasy in the guise of a fantasy novel. Just aim for quality, whether you are using a trope or reversing it. Write a good book, as good as you possibly can. Pay that respect to your readers. And your readers will respect that in turn. Or not. One Amazon reader called my book “classic fantasy storytelling at its best”. Another called it “rehashed plagiarism at its worst”. I am certainly not a plagiarist – but the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

For me, I like reading fantasy because it enables me to experience things that I cannot in other genres, where the rules of reality constrain the story to what is possible in real life. I can read a well-characterised and well-written novel of intriguing plot and character development in any genre. What epic high fantasy gives is momentous scope and scale to place that story within. In The Wheel of Time I read on to find out whether Rand would ever overcome his trust issues, whether he would bear the psychological burden of the impossible role imposed on him. But I also wanted to know how the Last Battle would play out, to know what the end of the world looks and feels like.  

I like real-feeling characters and dialogue, I like a well-crafted story that keeps me intrigued. But more than that I like to travel in an imagined world, to see its lonely places, its monsters, its gods and demons. I like to see battles that stretch my imagination. I like to see magic; huge conflagrations, world-altering spells. And sometimes, I like to see dragons. 

As well as the traditionally-published books I’ve called out in the post above, here’s a list of recent SPFBO entrants that I’ve read that fit the epic high fantasy bill:

Dragon Mage – M.L. Spencer (SPFBO7 semi-finalist)

The Mortal Blade – Christopher Mitchell (SPFBO7 finalist)

Of Blood & Fire – Ryan Cahill (SPFBO7)

The Forever King – Ben Galley (SPFBO7 finalist)

The Sword of Kaigen – M.L. Wang (SPFBO5 champion)

There will be plenty of other brilliant indie epic high fantasy novels – I just haven’t read them yet.

Of course, you could always check out my own novel The Hand of Fire

A quick note – if you like my book (or any indie published novel), it would be fantastic if you could leave a positive review or rating on Amazon. It means an awful lot to authors to learn about reader reactions to their novel, and a review also helps other readers find novels they will like in the absence of traditional publishing marketing spend/hype.  It makes a big difference! 

About the author:

Roland J. O’Leary is a lifelong incorrigible reader turned author. He lives in London, England with his wife and two young sons. He has been a barrister, a legal journalist, a marketing copywriter, and for the last ten years has worked in product management. He is still not sure what product management is. He is the author of The Hand of Fire, the first novel in an epic high fantasy series called The Essence of Tyranny. He’s working on the next book which should be ready within the next year. You can learn more about him, his writing and the books he likes at his website www.bookslike.co.uk

To purchase The Hand of Fire: Amazon

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

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, here are links to my fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy , grimdark and romantic fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on High and Epic Fantasy. I’ve been privileged to chat with Coby Zucker author of the epic fantasy, Nomads of the Sea.

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

Thanks for having me!

Will you introduce yourself?

My name’s Coby Zucker. I’m a 24-year-old debut fantasy author from Toronto, Canada. For my 9-5, I’m a journalist. Currently I work in the wild west of gaming and esports. 

Can you talk a little bit about Nomads of the Sea?

I can talk a lot about Nomads of the Sea but for the sake of your sanity I’ll keep it brief. 

Nomads is an adult fantasy epic that spans continents and multiple POVs. The setting for the main plot is heavily inspired by Southeast Asia, though the world is big and also encompasses a more traditional medieval fantasy world. It’s a bit grim, occasionally funny, and—hopefully—an all-around decent read (especially if you like giant shapeshifting bears, the interplay of medicine and magic, and big beefy tomes with lots of worldbuilding). 

Have I sold it hard enough?

But yeah, Nomads is really just a passion product from a bored grad student whose summer job was cancelled during the first wave of COVID. It was my first, but certainly not my last, foray into writing novels.

What were some obstacles to writing Nomads of the Sea?

Amazingly, writing Nomads went pretty smooth. Since it was my first book I had to learn my personal writing cadence and style, but I settled into those things fairly quick. If we really want to get into the nitty gritty, one of my biggest challenges as an author was writing compelling characters that didn’t think the way I think, or act the way I act.  

Also romance. I’m not a romance person by nature so that took some trial and error. 

Really most of the obstacles came after I’d finished writing the book. Learning how to revise, compose, publish, and market a book was way harder than writing it.

What are some successes?

To be honest, just getting the novel into the world was a huge personal success. As for the book itself? I guess I’m happy with how it all came together. I like the characters, I like the world, and I’m honestly just excited with how the whole writing process went. Creating a full novel was something I’d always wanted to do, but I never knew if I had the chops.

Nomads of the Sea has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

Well Wikipedia defines epic fantasy as… 

I’m just messing with you.

Basically, epic fantasy is, at its core, a subgenre of fantasy defined by its scale. Epic fantasy is expansive worlds with full casts of characters, huge plots that span years, and big ol’ chonky books. Occasionally, it’s none of those things. That’s probably not a helpful answer but everyone has their own definition of epic fantasy so it’s hard to give a catch-all. For me, if it’s fantasy and it has a big scope, that’s epic fantasy. 

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

I actually do, even though you’re right and they are often lumped together.

In your opinion, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

You already know how I define epic fantasy so I would contrast it against high fantasy, which, in my mind, is more a comment on the world of the book itself. Whereas epic fantasy is about the scale of the book.

High fantasy is often seen as “Tolkien fantasy” with elves and dwarves and dragons and all that good stuff. Really it’s a little broader and many phenomenal authors are drawing on diverse mythologies to create unique high fantasy worlds (that’s not a knock on elves and dwarves and dragons by the way. They’re still dope.)

People will use the term “secondary world” to characterize high fantasy. Basically it just means a world that’s not too Earth-y. And yes, high fantasy is often epic fantasy, which makes it all the more confusing.

Take all this with a grain of salt. I’m by no means an expert. Just a guy who likes to read and write fantasy books.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

It’s right there in the name. It’s freakin’ epic. 

All respect to people who want to write a slice-of-life novel about Elmer, whose biggest problem in life is he’s run out of yarn (great idea for a book by the way, someone hop on it), but if I’m writing, it’s going to be about monsters and heroes and giant battles and high stakes plots. 

Also, as someone who comes from academia, there’s nothing more liberating than making shit up (am I allowed to curse?) Obviously epic fantasy still requires research but it’s nice to not feel beholden to detailed footnotes or the laws of physics.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Little of column A, little of column B. But I’d say I’m mostly a plotter. I definitely need to know the beginning, the middle, and the end before I start writing. But part of the joy of making a book for me is discovering new things about the story along the way, solving problems as they crop up, and confronting situations from my characters’ POVs.  

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Anne McCaffrey, Joe Abercrombie, Jack Whyte, Christian Cameron, Fonda Lee, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Mark Lawrence…

There’s probably others but I’ll stop myself before I just name every amazing author I can think of.

What/who inspired you to start writing epic fantasy?

There’s not really a “who”, unless you count my family, who helped foster my love of reading sci-fi and fantasy books. 

The “what” is a desire to create something wholly my own. It’s fun to delve into another author’s world but building something from the ground up was an entirely new experience. One I’m now addicted to. 

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

Nothing in particular. I’ve been able to get Nomads of the Sea into the hands of a few awesome bloggers and vloggers so keep an eye out for their reviews. Maybe they’ll be able to convince you to get Nomads where my unhinged ramblings have failed. 

There will be more books coming from me in the future. Hopefully not the distant future. 

About the Author:


Coby Zucker is a 24-year-old part-time fantasy writer who lives in Toronto, Canada. He writes about more mundane subjects for his day job. Follow him on socials for updates about his writing. Nomads of the Sea is Coby’s debut novel.

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books-Rogues and Rangers (Repost)

This is a repost, because I loved this series so much. This was originally published in February of 2021.

 I’ve been talking about roleplaying classes in books. A “class” is a set of criteria that sort of shows what type of character someone is playing. For example, boiled down, a paladin is a holy warrior. Examples of different Dungeons and Dragons character classes can be found all throughout literature.

When I decided to tackle this subject, I knew that I wouldn’t do it well on my own. Some amazing bloggers and authors offered their expertise as well! Today, I’m talking about rogues and rangers. You can find my posts about fighters and barbarians here, and my post about paladins, clerics, and druids here. Now, on to today’s post!

Rogue: Rogues use stealth, and cunning to defeat their foes or prevail in a situation. Rather than rushing straight into danger, guns blazing (or giant swords decapitating), rogues prefer to use their own unique skill set to accurately assess the situation and shift the odds in their favor. Rogues can be thieves, assassins, or even con artists. If a rogue is around, best to keep your hands on your valuables!

The Irresponsible Reader has a great take on the subject of rogues: “When I sat down to think about rogue characters (they were still called “thieves” when I played, but changing times and all), I was more than a little surprised at how many came to mind. I’m not sure what it says about me that, in almost every genre, I can think of a handful of stellar examples. The character that created this appreciation in me is James “Slippery Jim” Bolivar deGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat.

Thirty thousand plus years from now, society is almost entirely crimeless. It’s orderly. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s (arguably) boring. There’s some petty crime, but most of the criminals are caught quickly and dealt with by the law.
Then there are what diGriz calls Stainless Steel Rats.

Jim is a thief, a con man, a non-violent criminal (unless he absolutely has to be, and then he can be ruthless). There’s no safe he can’t crack, no lock he can’t pick, no building he can’t get into, no artifact he can’t find a way to walk away with. He’s smooth, he’s witty, he’s charming, he’s…well, roguish. He’s a loving husband (utterly smitten with his wife, actually), a good father (if you grant training his sons to be criminals like he and his wife), and in return for not being in prison for the rest of his life, he’s working to bring down other criminals like him all over the galaxy. Think White Collar or Catch Me If You Can. “

“…At a certain stage the realization strikes through that one must either live outside of society’s bonds or die of absolute boredom.” – Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat

Beneath a Thousand Skies explains why she thinks Thren Felhorn from the Shadowdance series by David Dalgish is a great rogue: “Rogues are fun. There’s nothing like rolling high and knowing that your target isn’t going to have a clue you’re there until you introduce them to your dagger, or slipping out of situations with nary a scratch because of evasion. Then there’s the sneaking, intrigue, and outright thievery because what better way is there to get what you want?

That is who Thren Felhorn is, and more. He’s the quintessential rogue- a thief, a survivor, an assassin- and he has a ruthless streak a mile wide when he needs it. He also blurs that line of living in the moment, focusing on the current situation or target, and looking to the future and clawing (and stabbing) his way to the top. There are moments when you’ll love him, moments when you’ll hate him, but you can’t help but be drawn to him and into his world.”

“‘That’s how you gut someone,” Thren whispered into the man’s ear as if he were a dying lover. A twist, a yank, and the sword came free.”-David Dalgish, Cloak and Spider

Behind the Pages has two great examples of rogue characters, starting with Jenks from The Hollow series by Kim Harrison: “Skilled at stealth, at a few inches tall this pixy is the perfect backup on a heist. He can detect electronics and is a pro at putting cameras on loop. While he isn’t a hardened criminal, Jenks has no problem helping his teammates steal for legitimate jobs. He specializes in aerial combat and has the ability to pix his enemies causing itching sores on exposed skin. Most overlook him due to his size, and it makes him the main scout for his party searching out traps and ambushes.”

“You can trust me to keep my word. I always keep my word, promises or threats.”– Kim Harrison, Dead Witch Walking

Behind the Pages also has some thoughts on Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: “After a tragedy left him on the streets, Kaz learned to steal to survive. Money is his motivator and if you offer enough, he will steal whatever your heart’s desire. Danger and consequences hold no bounds for Kaz. No lock can hold him back, and his quick mind enables his team to pull off the most complicated of heists.”

“‘I’m a businessman,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
 – Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub gets on her soapbox: I love rogues so, so much! I almost always play a rogue of some sort when I’m gaming. In fact, a recent D&D character that I created just happened to be an assassin that had been hired to, um…eliminate a member of the party. The rest of the players were none the wiser. Good times. Everyone else has such great examples of rogues in books, but I want to add a couple more: Both Ardor Benn and Quarrah from The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn fit the bill. Ardor is a charismatic con artist, always a step ahead. He rolls with the punches and is able to think on his feet. Every time I thought one of his cons was going sideways, he’d turn it to his advantage. He would have been right at home planning the heist in Ocean’s Eleven. Then there’s Quarrah, a talented cat burglar (her eyesight is not the greatest, which I think is awesome in a thief). Together, they make for two very unique characters that show the range a roguish character has.

“‘That’s just it,” said Remaught. “I know exactly who you are. Ardor Benn, ruse artist.”
“Extraordinaire,” said Ard.
“Excuse me?” Remaught asked.
“Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire,” Ard corrected.”

Ranger: Hunters, wilderness survivors, and protectors, rangers are often what stands between civilization and the monsters that live in the wild. They do well in game settings that require treks through the unknown, being more at home outside the comforts of civilization. Like druids, rangers have spells taken from nature’s power. These spells tend to focus on skills that will help with survival and with the fight against what pushes against the boundaries between nature and society.

Kerri McBookNerd has great experience with rangers: “I’ve been playing D&D for a minute and, though I’ve dabbled in almost all of the classes, my tried and true favorite has always been the ranger. I’ve always connected with characters that love to be out in nature and tend to face danger from a respectable distance, lol. Rangers in my mind tend to be outsiders who aren’t 100% comfortable in polite company and gravitate more towards four-legged friends. They’re good at tracking, they’re good at hiding, and they know how to live off the land. And, as anyone who has met one of the rangers I’ve played, they have quite a sarcastic mouth on them! That’s why I think Fie from The Merciful Crow series would make a great ranger! She has lots of experience fending for herself or her clan in the wilderness. She tends to get on with animals (especially cats) more than people. And her wit is sharp enough to draw blood! Though Fie and her clan are outcasts due to prejudices in the kingdom, she generally prefers to stay away from “civilized” society, anyways. She’s got a bit of magic, too, so I’m definitely sensing a sorcerer subclass here. I think she would make a fantastic ranger!”

“Pa’d taught her to watch the starving wolf. When beasts go hungry too long, he’d said, they forget what they ought to fear.”-Margaret Owen, The Merciful Crow

Ricard Victoria has a few good examples of rangers in literature: ” the most obvious option would be Aragorn [from The Lord of the Rings], but I think Jon Snow [from A Song of Ice and Fire] fits the role as well, especially during his time as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch. He has a combat style of two-weapon fighting, which would help him to wield effectively Long Claw. His armor could be considered light. He also has an Animal Companion in Ghost. The Wild Empathy ability would account for his nascent warging powers (in a low-level campaign anyways). His time with the Wildlings would have given him good tracking skills as well as the endurance proper of a ranger. Talking about the Wildings, one could argue that they would be his Favored Enemy, but I think the White Walkers make for a better Favored Enemy. He would have also as part of his background (and this is a spoiler), some draconic blood (you know, because of who he really is son of). Longclaw would be a bastard sword with a Keen Edge enhancement that could evolve into a Vorpal sword. Jon could have high stats in Con, Char, and Dexterity. Decent intelligence and wisdom.”

Yet even so, Jon Snow was not sorry he had come. There were wonders here as well. He had seen sunlight flashing on icy thin waterfalls as they plunged over the lips of sheer stone cliffs, and a mountain meadow full of autumn wildflowers, blue coldsnaps and bright scarlet frostfires and stands of piper’s grass in russet and gold. He had peered down ravines so deep and black they seemed certain to end in some hell, and he had ridden his garron over a wind-eaten bridge of natural stone with nothing but sky to either side. Eagles nested in the heights and came down to hunt the valleys, circling effortlessly on great blue-grey wings that seemed almost part of the sky.”– George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub gives her thoughts on rangers: Personally, I think Raven from The Black Company by Glen Cook is a good example of a ranger. Yes, he prefers to use a sharp knife over a bow (which is usually the ranger’s weapon of choice), but he can use a bow with the best of them. He’s a great tracker and even knows a little bit of magic.

“I can laugh at peasants and townies chained all their lives to a tiny corner of the earth while I roam its face and see its wonders, but when I go down, there will be no child to carry my name, no family to mourn me save my comrades, no one to remember, no one to raise a marker over my cold bit of ground.”– Glen Cook, Shadows Linger

Meet the Contributors:

The Irresponsible Reader is one of my very favorite blogs. Covering a wide variety of genres from comics through biographies, the reviews on this blog are detailed and interesting. The Irresponsible Reader is responsible (ha!) for many additions to my “to be read” list.

Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.

Behind the Pages is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Kerri McBookNerd is a great blogger. She’s my go-to for Young Adult Fantasy reviews (her other reviews are just as great)! Her reviews are creative and unique. You can’t go wrong, following her blog. I guarantee you’ll find some new gems to check out.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.

Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

Find the second star from the right, and fly straight on ’til morning, all the way to Neverland, a children’s paradise with no rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests – all led by the charismatic boy who will never grow old. 
 
But Wendy Darling grew up. She has a husband and a young daughter called Jane, a life in London. But one night, after all these years, Peter Pan returns. Wendy finds him outside her daughter’s window, looking to claim a new mother for his Lost Boys. But instead of Wendy, he takes Jane. 
 
Now a grown woman, a mother, a patient and a survivor, Wendy must follow Peter back to Neverland to rescue her daughter and finally face the darkness at the heart of the island… (taken from Amazon)

I am not certain exactly what I expected with this book, but this was certainly not it! However, once I let go of my preconceived ideas of what Wendy, Darling would be, I found it to be a surprising read.

We all know the story of Peter Pan- the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Well, Wendy did grow up. She grew up and was admitted to a mental hospital by her brothers, in an attempt to cure her of her “delusions” (it seems they stopped believing long before she did). Wendy learned to adapt, was eventually released from the institution, and started a family.

Now a wife and mother, she is drawn back into Neverland. She has no choice; Peter has taken her daughter. What happens next is unexpected. It turns out there’s a secret at the heart of Neverland, one that is dark and dangerous.

I can’t say that I fell in love with this book. I feel like I was always waiting for something to happen and every time things got going, they’d slow down. The writing, while full of creativity and potential, came across as a bit timid at times. I believe this is more my take on things than what most people will glean from Wendy, Darling. It did lessen my enjoyment just a little.

I really liked Wendy. She was never beaten despite everyone attempting to make her question her own mind. She was strong but practical and had nerves of steel. Her inner battles were just as fascinating as her outer ones. The majority of the book actually focused on her time in the mental institution, told entirely in long flashbacks. While an ambitious way to tell a story, I’m not sure it worked out for me. Again, my own preconceived idea of what the book was about got in my way. Drat!

The author did something creative and new with Peter’s character and it was intriguing to see a different take on him. I do wish more had been done, though. The climax felt rushed to me. In fact, every niggle I had with the book comes down to an issue with the pacing.

Wendy, Darling ended up not being the book for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It just wasn’t my bag. It was a fast read, and one that might appeal to readers who want a book that takes the original story and twists it into something new and completely different.

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Wrap-Up

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find (I have a post about fantasy subgenres which can be found here). I think when people hear “fantasy”, their mind immediately goes to serious epics with swords, magic, and dragons. While I happen to love all of those things, there are many ways to tell a story. This week’s focus has been on grimdark, that subgenre with morally complicated characters and often gritty worlds.

Below is a (far from complete) list of grimdark authors worth reading. I’ve also collected the guest posts from throughout the week, in case there are any that have been missed. I’m grateful to all the writers who were kind enough to share their opinions during this week!

Guest Posts:

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Holly Tinsley

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Rob J. Hayes

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Krystle Matar

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Luke Tarzian

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring M.L. Spencer

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Beth Tabler

Author suggestions:

Joe Abercrombie- First Law series

Alicia Wanstall Burke- Blood of Heirs

Sarah Chorn- Seraphina’s Lament

Glen Cook- Chronicles of the Black Company series

Steven Erikson- Gardens of the Moon

Michael R. Fletcher- Smoke and Stone

C.S. Friedman- The Coldfire trilogy

Ben Galley- Chasing Graves

Rob J. Hayes- The Ties that Bind series

R.F. Kuang- The Poppy War

Mark Lawrence- The Broken Empire series

Ulff Lehman- Light in the Dark series

Scott Lynch- Gentleman Bastard series

Devin Madson- The Reborn Empire series

George R.R. Martin- A Song of Ice and Fire

Krystle Matar- Legacy of the Brightwash

Alex Mead- Unstoppable Shadow

Richard Nell- Ash and Sand series

Mike Shel- Iconoclasts trilogy

Anna Smith Spark- Empires of Dust series

Clayton Snyder- River of Thieves

ML Spencer- The Chaos Cycle

Luke Tarzian- Adjacent Monsters series

Holly Tinsley- We Men of Ash and Shadow

Brent Weeks- The Way of Shadows