An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Dan Fitzgerald

When thinking about An Author’s Monster Manual, Dan Fitzgerald immediately came to mind. He is the author of the Maer Cycle and The Weirdwater Confluence and creates the most unique of beings!

As an old-school D&D fan, I love dragons, but I’ve always most enjoyed low-power games, where the magical stuff is not so over-the-top. So when I went to write the Maer Cycle, most of the creatures are extrapolations on real-world creatures, with no magical abilities. My favorite such creations are the feathered dragons in The Archive (and to a lesser extent in The Place Below).

The creature design is inspired by feathered dinosaurs and frilled lizards. Feathered dragons are basically huge, feathered reptiles with gray coloring to match their mountainous habitat, but they can flip their feathers to bright orange as a warning, or to communicate. They often flip just their crest, which flares up like a flame around their head, either in greeting or to scare off enemies. This description is from The Archive:

“The creature was about fifteen feet long, including a five-foot tail ending in a puffy wisp of feathers. Its rear legs were longer and thicker than its front legs, and its body was as big around as a moose. Its head was three or four times the size of hers, but the crest of feathers starting just above its eyes made it look much bigger. Though it was covered in gray feathers from head to tail, it had no wings, and other than the claws and the feathers, its body was more like a lizard than a bird, though she had never seen a lizard with rows of sharp teeth.”

I whipped together a D&D 5e stat block for the creature, if you’re interested:

I commissioned art of the creature from the inimitable Cheyanne Murray.

They can be trained, and the Dragon Maer even have mages who can control them, as seen in
The Archive. They play a pivotal role in the big battle in that book, as shown in this snippet:
“Near the rear, one of the Shoza’s bodies was jerked sideways, then flipped, hovering in the air
for a moment before dropping, limp, to the ground. Bobo’s gray feathers were nearly invisible in
this light, but his screech was deafening, causing several more warriors to stumble to the
ground. He pounced on the fallen ones, and more screaming ensued.”
You can find out more about the feathered dragons and the Maer Cycle on my website,
http://www.danfitzwrites.com, or find all my links via my Linktree.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-forward low fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), bothfrom Shadow Spark Publishing. 

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music. 
https://www.danfitzwrites.com/

To purchase:
The Maer Cycle
The Weirdwater Confluence

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.  

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. 

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.  

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most—Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares—each other? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is available on August 23rd.

Well… if you don’t like You’ve Got Mail, I can tell you right now… you’re not going to like this book.

It’s been a while since I’ve had such muddled feelings about a book. On the one hand, it’s absolutely adorable and has a satisfyingly upbeat ending (which I think everyone could use lately), but on the other hand, there are things that niggled at me. Like, really niggled. On the other other hand (I guess I’m just discussing X-men mutants now or something), several of the things I didn’t like are things that most people love. So, either way I think The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy will be well liked by many readers.

The general gist behind the book is that two lonely people start writing anonymous letters back and forth. As they get to know each other through these letters, they start to form a friendship, with hints of something more. Then one of the two discovers the identity of his pen pal and things shift because he really doesn’t like her in real life. At least, he never has in the past. He starts to see her in a new light, but the question then becomes whether their in-writing relationship can survive real life.

If you think that sounds similar to the movie plot for You’ve Got Mail, you’d be 100% right. I’ve read that the similarities are intentional, but I do wish that they weren’t quite so similar. The author had the chance to make it her own, which she did eventually, but the first 200 pages were a little too close to the movie for me. It just felt like a missed opportunity.

After the 200-page mark, the book became something new and different, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There were drudges (zombies), backstabbing funeral home directors, and a squeamish brother who would much rather bake cookies than cremate bodies. It was a delightful tale with a satisfying happily-ever-after. The writing was breezy and moved quickly.

I’m torn on how I feel about the characters, though. I loved Hart’s coworker, Duckers. He was open and honest, and not at all cowed by Hart’s prickly demeanor. I also really loved Zeddie, Mercy’s brother. In fact, I loved the entire dynamic of Mercy’s family. They were loud and nosy, brimming with love and a wee bit of judgement. Their conversations were hilarious.

The two main characters, though- Hart and Mercy- just didn’t quite do it for me. They felt a little bit underdeveloped (possibly because they were filling the role of characters created in You’ve Got Mail? I kept picturing Meg Ryan as the female lead despite Mercy being described completely differently). I just wanted a little more from them. They were fine as far as they went. I’m sure Mercy’s sunny demeanor will appeal to a lot of readers. I’m equally sure that cranky Hart will also appeal to readers. I think this is one of those, “it’s not you, it’s me situations”.

To wrap up, though: the world was a blast. I loved the idea behind the drudges, the “secret” to them, and the way they affected so much of how day-to-day life was led. I thought the background characters were fabulous, and I liked the snappy pace of the book. However, the first half of the book wasn’t for me, I didn’t love the main characters, and I was rather surprised by the sex scenes. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect them in a book with a love-plot, but I didn’t. I skipped past them without issue (yes, I’m a prude who doesn’t like sex scenes), but they were definitely unexpected.

I am certain that the niggles I had with the book are all major selling points for many, many readers, and the upbeat ending was very much appreciated. Pick up The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy for a sweet, feel-good tale (that also includes zombies).

Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Fiona West

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

Last month, I did a weeklong feature that focused on comedic fantasy. This month’s focus is on romantic fantasy. Today, I am lucky to have Fiona West, author of the Rocky Royal Romance books, share a guest post, talking about romance in fantasy.

Drawing Lines: Reflections on Romance, Fantasy, and Where they Meet

Fantasy is in my blood; I cut my teeth on My Father’s Dragon when I was just learning to read, and spent many nights listening to my mother read books like A Wrinkle in Time before bed. I read Dealing with Dragons so often, I wore out my copy. Looking back, that series was a nice primer on romance…sword-loving princess who bucks tradition and makes cherries jubilee meets disorganized, magic-wielding king: clearly, a match made in fantasy. My love for steamy romance came much later. It should be no surprise: romance has always been a type of contemporary fantasy to my mind. Sure, there are fewer ogres (though I’ve written a few ex’s who’d count), but there’s a similar respect for magic and a fairy-tale ending. The magic just can’t be contained in a gold ring or an ancient sword; it’s the chemical, physical kind in the held gaze of someone you really, really like. And you’ll never convince me that’s not magic in its own right.

But when it comes to categories, it can truly be confusing. Where’s the line between fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, and fantasy that just has a love story subplot? Here’s the quickest way to tell: If you can pull out the romance and not affect the plot? That’s romantic fantasy. It gives us the relationship as a side quest, so to speak. If, on the other hand, our whole emotional and plot arc is wrapped up in the happily ever after? That’s fantasy romance. If it doesn’t have an HEA, it’s not a romance. Plenty of love stories (cough Nicholas Sparks cough) do not qualify as romance, and those who have dared to suggest that they do have suffered the public flagellation they deserve. Likewise, romance tips into erotica when the sex is the plot. More on that in a moment. 

And of these options, I admit to loving fantasy romance the most, only because I want to know that whatever these two go through, they’re ending up together. It gives the mind a safe place to unpack some of the most troubling topics, trauma of all shapes and kinds. For all the flack the romance genre gets, it is uniquely suited to hold the most difficult circumstances because we know that this ship is sailing safely into the harbor at the end, and that allows the reader to ride out any storm the author can throw at them with hope. And truly, hope is the gift that the best romances aim to give more than any other.

For example, in my first fantasy romance, Chasing Down Her Highness, the female main character has a chronic illness that prompted her to give up her right to the throne and choose instead to live on the streets of a foreign country. As you might suspect from the title, her fiance does not accept this sudden abdication without question. In my own chronic illness circles, I heard people talk about how illness had broken their relationships, and I wanted to show a world where two very different people–one well and one ill–could still find happiness together. Not everyone can appreciate this strange mishmash of reality and fantasy, but I find a specific joy in pulling back the mundane and allowing love and relationships to flourish in a world that has different limits. It makes me more aware of my own, more grateful for my own set of problems. Yet at the same time, it activates my creativity: What would love look like if I had magic gifts to bestow? If I were a princess? If dragons stood between me and my beloved?

And of course, the most controversial part of any fantasy that contains romance or a love story is the sex scenes. I heard Elena Johnson, the undisputed queen of sweet (no-sex) romance, say recently that the most important part of her books is often a large gift given at just the right time, in the moment of the heroine’s greatest need, because it shows that he knows her. And I would argue that this is also why sex scenes can add to a book in a unique way: when two characters give their bodies to each other, it pulls back the curtain on an inner life that we often don’t see any other way. Their scars, their insecurities, and their questions all to the surface where there’s (literally) nowhere to hide. Are there other kinds of gifts to give? Sure. But this gift, this sharing of souls, often means more, because it is a way of knowing unlike any other.

When we cross boundaries, intentionally or unintentionally, it changes us. It changes our relationships. Ultimately, that’s what fantasy romance offers us: a chance to see characters grow together into who they’re meant to be and stand in their fullest selves together…preferably over the severed head of their enemies. 

#FebruarySheWrote Goes Indie

This month marks the first of what I hope will be an annual event called February She Wrote! Conceived of and spearheaded by the fantastic Literature&Lofi (subscribe to his youtube channel, folks), this focuses on fantastic books written by females.

There are so many wonderful female fantasy and science fiction authors, but for today I’m narrowing my gaze a little bit and listing great female authors that fall under the indie category. Check them out now or, if you’re like me and your to be read pile is taller than you are, plan on picking them up either in July (right in time for Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week!) or during Indie August.

Female Indie Authors to Check Out:

*Anca Antoci- the Chimera series

*Angela Boord- Fortune’s Fool

*Claire Buss- The Gaia Effect; The Roshaven series

*Sarah Chorn- Seraphina’s Lament; Of Honey and Wildfires

*Josie Jaffrey- May Day; The Guilded King

*Krystle Matar- Legacy of the Brightwash

*L.L. MacRae- The Iron Crown

*Virginia McClain- Chronicles of Gensokai

*Val Neil- Dark Apprentice

*Quenby Olson- The Half-Killed; Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide (to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons)

*Kerstin Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

*Rachel Emma Shaw- Last Memoria; Scars of Cereba

*M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

*L.A. Wasielewski- The Alchemist trilogy

*Lyra Wolf- The Nine Worlds Rising series

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

This week my blog is focusing on comedic fantasy, that fantasy subgenre that is responsible for many cups of snorted coffee. I am privileged to have coerced Sean Gibson, author of several novels, including The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True, into joining me to talk about comedy, bard-offs, and porkchops.

Hi, Sean! Thank you for being willing to talk about comedic fantasy.

Thanks for having me, Jodie! Well, metaphorically speaking. Literally speaking, I would make a terrible supper, though I wouldn’t be half bad if consumed for elevensies. It’s the armpit of meals.

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I am the byproduct of two drunk orcs making the beast with three backs following an epic rock concert. I should note that one of the orcs had two backs—despite their impulsive carnality, they were most definitely not orgy people. They later abandoned me on the doorstep of a dance studio, where I subsequently learned to shimmy for my bread on suburban street corners. I do not earn a lot of bread, for which I blame my hard-working but unimpressively concave chest.

Like David Spade, my writing attempts to be funny yet isn’t even a little funny, but it gets really annoyed and defensively sarcastic when you don’t find it funny. That said, I write both comic fantasy (mostly stories featuring Heloise the Bard) and Victorian fantasy. My most recent book starring Heloise, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, inexplicably garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which summarized the book thusly: “Evoking the dry humor of Terry Pratchett and absurdist trope subversions of Monty Python…Gibson’s story is clever, twisty, and bursting with sidesplittingly funny one-liners. Fantasy fans are guaranteed a laugh.


Your books show a lighthearted ribbing of fantasy, and it’s very obvious that you have read (and hopefully enjoyed) a lot of fantasy yourself. What made you decide to take a comedic route in your fantasy?

Well, the dramatic stuff is really hard to write. Puns only require about 17% as much effort. Work smart, not hard, Jodie.

Really, it’s just such a fun playground to run around in. I absolutely love fantasy. It’s played a considerable role in shaping who I am as a human being, as weird as that may sound. But, it can also be utterly absurd—to quote Monty Python, “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government,” right?

And let’s face it: there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes conceived, developed and propagated by a porkchop of straight white guys that are in dire need of being rethought for the audience that’s reading fantasy, especially epic fantasy, today. There’s a lot to play with there, and a lot of opportunities to pay homage while lovingly tweaking and toppling conventions to try to shape something new. (A “porkchop,” incidentally, is the scientific term for a group of white men.)

You know, I do think I’ve seen “porkchop” defined that way in the dictionary. How do you manage to be funny on command? (I’m rarely funny, and never on purpose.)

I’m actually a ventriloquist’s dummy, so all credit goes to the puppeteer with her hand up my ass. It’s murder on the prostate, though.

Come on, now—you are often funny. And I know that at least some of those times are on purpose! You’re also exceedingly cool, as evidenced by the virtual company you keep.

I love that Heloise is a bard! I’m still hoping for a bard-off between her and Kvothe, but in the meantime: what made you decide to choose a bard as an integral part of The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True?

You’re a D&D aficionado like I am, so you know how fun bards are. A bard’s superpower is to make even the most mundane encounter something truly epic. I love the idea that anything can be a story with the right perspective, or at least a little creative license. Have you ever played a bard? If so, you need to share some stories!

My husband is currently playing a bard to my paladin (which I keep unintentionally playing as a rogue) and he somehow managed to convince my character to climb onto a door, which was then pushed into a swampy, noxious lake…which also happened to be the home of an incredibly cranky dragon. I kept wanting to quote the door scene in the movie Titanic. I suspect his bard is already composing songs to immortalize my character’s memory posthumously.

As for that coward Kvothe…he doesn’t have the stones. Heloise would bamboozle him faster than you can say “Skendrickian mungerswallows.” He has thus far refused to take the bait when I’ve challenged him on Twitter, though it’s possible they don’t have Twitter in Temerant, or maybe the Waystone Inn has a bad wifi connection. 

So, let’s raise the stakes: Heloise (and I) hereby officially challenge Kvothe (and Patrick Rothfuss) to a Bard-Off. Each of us has to write an epic poem in our respective bard’s inimitable style (1,000 words or less). We’ll ask the reading public to vote for which one they like best.

I’ll put up $1,000. If Kvothe’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to Worldbuilders or a charity of Mr. Rothfuss’s choice. If Heloise’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to the Cancer Research Institute. Everyone wins! Well, except for everyone who has to read Heloise’s poem.

I’m completely and totally serious, by the way, though I suspect Mr. Rothfuss is a bit too busy to take up this absurd gauntlet. Still, I think everyone needs to go forth and spread word of this challenge far and wide. Let’s make it happen.

Yes! This needs to be settled once and for all, and in this wager, everyone wins.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Comedy is so subjective, right? I mean, “A skeleton walks into a bar and orders a beer and a mop” is objectively hilarious. But, beyond that, when you start trying to be funny in a genre context while still hoping to appeal to a wide audience, it gets tricky. Unless you’re, say, William Goldman and you can call upon the awesome powers of Andre the Giant to drop mad rhymes, it’s really, really hard.

For example, there’s a scene in THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON where the characters encounter a terrible stench and they all try to describe what it smells like, with each description getting grosser and more ridiculous. And that’s the whole point of the bit—how much grosser and weirder can each description get? It’s like a bunch of comedians doing improv trying to one-up each other, and it just keeps going until they all reach an unspoken agreement that no one can top the last one-liner. And then they move onto the next thing.

I love that kind of comedy, and I love it when it comes in rapid, non-stop waves. But, that is most definitely not everyone’s jam, and a lot of people are going to find it annoying and sophomoric at best.

So, you have to make peace with the fact that what you’re writing is really only going to land with a small subset of fantasy fans—in my case, those would be the ones who share my love of wordplay, dad jokes, scatological humor, and beating a terrible joke to death and then reanimating so you can beat it some more. 

Which, of course, is like three people, one of whom happens to be you, thankfully.

What are some triumphs?

I considered it a huge win when a reviewer wrote about THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, “I do not feel there was anything redeeming about this book. I can usually appreciate a good story even when poorly written but this isn’t a good story either.” (Yes, that’s an actual review.) The people have spoken—this is clearly Pulitzer Prize-caliber material.

That highwater mark notwithstanding, getting the pre-pub starred review from Publishers Weekly was huge (and hugely unexpected), as it opened some doors for the book that even a rock giant probably wouldn’t have been able to bash its way through. One of those doors was a BookBub feature in December 2021, which somehow led to the book climbing bestseller charts on multiple platforms, including hitting #1 not just for humorous fantasy on Amazon, but #1 for general humor as well. I’m sure that somewhere, P.G. Wodehouse is rolling in his grave and incredibly grateful he’s not alive to see how egregiously we’ve debased the word “humor.” We even managed to get up to #3 on the overall SFF chart. 

No one writes for chart rankings, but you do write to connect with an audience, and those things have helped people discover the book, and some of those folks have really enjoyed it. I know it’s not everyone’s jam, but I’m so incredibly grateful for those who have taken the time to read it and share a kind word or two about it. That’s really the absolute pinnacle for a writer—or for me, anyway: having someone devote a few hours of their time to hanging out in a world I created and feeling like it was time well spent.

Congratulations on such huge milestones! Of course, now I’m wondering what P.G. Wodehouse’s reaction to your book would be (I kind of think he’d like it). Do you have go-to authors when you need a book that makes you chuckle?

I don’t think writers get funnier than P.G. Wodehouse. There is no better literary cure for the blues. His writing is profound comic gold, even when I have no idea what Bertie Wooster is saying. 

That’s not to say he’s my only go-to for laughs, however—David Sedaris, Terry Pratchett, Tina Fey, Douglas Adams…even Charles Dickens…all can provide a much needed pick-me-up.

And, of course, Bill Watterson and Calvin & Hobbes never fail to make me laugh and think at the same time.

Will you talk a little bit about the recently released Dragons of a Different Tail? (I’m dying to read it.)

No.

I’m totally kidding! Fooled you though, didn’t I? 

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

DRAGONS OF A DIFFERENT TAIL is a delightful collection of 17 different dragon-focused stories that break, twist, and defy the conventions of western fantasy. I was really struggling to get any writing done during the pandemic. I used to write during my commute, but with working from home and juggling kiddos doing school from home for a year, that time disappeared and I got completely out of rhythm. I needed something to get me back in the groove, and right around the time I was really stressing about it, the publisher of THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, Shayne Leighton, just happened to recommend me to a lovely guy named Marx Pyle, who was working on putting together this anthology. 

I loved what Marx had in mind and pitched him a couple of ideas, one of which he liked. That gave me exactly the finite, bite-sized writing focal point that I needed to get writing again. The result was a short story called “Chasing the Dragon,” which is a Victorian-set, Holmesian-flavored story about a pair of detectives investigating a string of deaths at an opium den and finding out that “chasing the dragon” is a far more literal expression than they imagined. 

The stories in the collection are wildly imaginative and come from a great group of writers. I highly encourage you, and everyone else, to check it out! https://books2read.com/dragonstail

I am so incredibly grateful that you invited me to do this, Jodie! You make the reading community a better place with your kindness, creativity, enthusiasm, and, yes, YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR! Thank you for being such an awesome human being!

About the Author:

Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.

Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly), the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.




Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that will leave you in stitches (or leave you bursting stitches- maybe don’t read comedic fantasy right after a surgery). I’m grateful to be chatting with Andi Ewington, coauthor of Campaigns and Companions.

Hi, Andi! Thank you for stopping by to chat about comedic fantasy! 

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I’m Andi Ewington, a writer (of sorts) based in Surrey. I’m probably better known for writing graphic novels having worked on comics such as Forty-Five45, Freeway Fighter, Just Cause 3, Dark Souls 2, Vikings, Sunflower and S6X. But recently, I’ve moved away from the panel-by-panel medium to release Campaigns & Companions, which is a step towards traditional book publishing.

In Campaigns and Companions, you show a love of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as an uncanny understanding of how pets of all sorts act). What was the genesis of Campaigns and Companions?

It sprang from a funny meme of a cat playing Dungeons & Dragons I happened across while doomscrolling through Twitter. It immediately had me roaring with laughter and ignited my imagination; I decided to switch my Twitter focus away from complaints about the daily grind of commuting and embrace pets in funny roleplaying game scenarios to the full. After that, I curated a colossal thread that went viral and quickly realised this could make a really fun book. I brought Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi to the project, and we all pitched it to Rebellion Publishing (who gave it the thumbs up).

What was your process in bringing that humor to life?

For me, it’s looking at the stereotypical traits that pets have and trying to put a roleplaying twist on it. For example, dogs LOVE chasing after balls—so what would be the equivalent ‘ball’ in a fantasy world? My brain usually settles on a suitably humorous answer—like a fireball. Now, we have a highly amusing scenario of a dog chasing after a fireball. From that idea, I create dialogue to fit the scene and complete the joke. It then goes to Calum, who illustrates a beautiful image that captures it all to perfection.

Do you have any pets?

Growing up, I always had cats and dogs, but it has never quite been the right time with my own family. My wife is a childminder, so it’s pretty tough to have anything with babies and toddlers running around the house too. She’s looking to change career in 2022, so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get our first dog to join our family—I know the kids are desperate for one!

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Remembering that humour is subjective, and what I find funny won’t always be funny to other people—accepting that is okay. I tend to focus on the idea and stay true to it. The other thing is knowing when to give up on a joke—sometimes you have an image or gif that just doesn’t spark anything; if that happens, I stop and give up trying to make something humorous out of it. I like my jokes to be explosive and immediate—if I’m not feeling it, I usually cut it.

What are some triumphs?

Having Campaigns & Companions published is a huge triumph, especially when someone takes the time to get in touch. Hearing how the jokes made them laugh is a superb feeling that’s hard to beat. Receiving pictures of the book with a cherished pet is fantastic and something that never grows old. Seeing the reviews and the book’s popularity also gives me a real buzz. Beyond this, I think seeing a posted tweet suddenly go further than my intended audience is a huge win!

How do you get into the ‘zone’, so to speak?

I will paraphrase Bruce Banner here and say—that’s my secret, Jodie… I’m always in the zone. In all seriousness, my brain is wired to constantly search for the funny in everything (just ask my long-suffering family). Honestly, I find it really hard to switch off (which comes with its own problems, especially at funerals).

I’ve had the privilege of reading some of your next project, which is both clever and hilarious. Will you talk about it a little bit?

Sure! My next project is called ‘The Hero Interviews’, a full-on 160,000-word novel that follows the adventures of Elburn Barr, a Loremaster who is trying to find out what it’s like to be a ‘hero’ (and his missing ‘heroic’ brother at the same time). Elburn is travelling the realm, interviewing a smorgasbord of characters from fireball-loving Wizards who accidentally incinerated the rest of their adventuring party to stoic Paladins who are desperate to unleash a flurry of swearwords. I like to think of it as the Dungeons & Dragons world that has gone through a high spin cycle before being let loose. There’s almost limitless potential for fun where the rules are ripped up and merged with contemporary situations to create something that should be familiar to everyone.

Thank you so much, Andi!

Andi has graciously allowed me to share the first interview from ‘The Hero Interviews’ below. It had me rolling on the floor. Enjoy!

Interview 1:

Dorn (Human Barbarian)

Whisper the word ‘Barbarian’, and I’d wager your imagination would instantly picture a rage-filled, muscle-bound warrior clad only in a fur loincloth fuelled by a love of spleen removal whilst drinking the nearest tavern dry. You can imagine my disappointment as I sit opposite a muscle-shy, pasty-looking individual; ‘Dorn’ is the latest ‘hero’ to step out of the Heroes Guild, a polite man who seems eager to make a name for himself within the adventuring sphere. We’ve agreed to meet at Dorn’s local tavern, the Spit & Spear, a favourite watering hole of heroes, situated in the lively city of Tronte, a settlement plagued by wannabe-adventurers hoping to be spotted by one of the Heroes Guild’s numerous ‘Scouts’.

The Spit & Spear is mercifully quiet, although I suspect the evening is still too young to attract the hardened drinker questing for the only elixir that matters in their life. The only other patrons of note are a nearby Dwarven Fighter working his way through a flagon-orgy, and a Paladin, who seems to be regaling the barmaid with his tales of adventure. The young lady is so enraptured by the Holy Warrior’s words she’s failed to notice both the Barbarian and I have been without a drink for some considerable time.
 

Me: “Thanks for meeting me—”

Dorn: “My pleasure, it’s not every day I get interviewed by a bona fide Loremaster—I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get accustomed to…”

Me: “Accustomed to?”

Dorn grins proudly as he turns the collar of his jerkin over; I catch sight of a flash of silver—a badge sits snugly underneath, I can just make out a sword hilt etched into the circle design neatly bisecting a large ‘H’ and ‘G’.

Dorn: “I’m now officially a hero. Finally, I can follow in the footsteps of the greats, like Arin Darkblade1 and Gilva Flamebeard2!”

Me: “Erm… I guess congratulations are in order?”


 1Renowned for being the meanest adventurer in the entire realm—and I don’t mean in the ‘never buys a round of drinks’ kind of way, although I suspect he’s never bought a round of drinks in his life either. No, Arin is an eye-patch wearing hero who has completed more quests and despatched more monsters than any adventurer in living memory.

2Gilva Flamebeard is a legendary Dwarven Cleric who has stepped back from adventuring to become a hermit. As her name suggests, she sports a fiery red beard, which, by all accounts, contrasts sharply with an unusually calm demeanour for a Dwarf. Whether her given Dwarven clan name really is Flamebeard or not has been debated and argued in every tavern at some point or another.


Dorn: “Thanks! To be honest, I’m still in shock; I have to punch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

Me: “Don’t you mean pinch?”

Dorn: “Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch3.”

Me: “Got it—”

As if to emphasise the point, the Barbarian hits himself fully in the face—he shakes his head and looks around as if he’s just woken up.

Dorn: “Nope, it’s still real!”

Me: “You okay?”

Dorn: “Nothing a drink won’t sort out—”

The Barbarian waves trying to catch the eye of the barmaid stood behind the bar—without success.

Me: “Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look how I’d imagine a Barbarian would look.”

Dorn: “Really? What were you expecting?”

Me: “Erm…”

Dorn: “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I were wearing a fur loincloth?”

My cheeks flush red in embarrassment.

Dorn: “Sorry to dispel that particular myth, but the truth is adventuring can get awfully cold. While I’m sure it has its place, a fur loincloth is impractical on so many levels4. If you want to survive on a quest, you need to be wearing layers, lots of layers—and I don’t mean armour either.”

Me: “Forgive me, I was just expected a bit more flesh on show5.”


3Not strictly true, some Rogues have been known to punch, although I’m sure they’d prefer not to let their opponent know it was incoming. While ‘some’ Barbarians have a bad reputation of unwanted pinching, usually of barmaids’ behinds.

4I guess on a frozen adventure, the loins would be nice and warm, while the rest of the Barbarian’s extremities would undoubtedly be frozen solid—still, a warm groin is something not to be sniffed at (quite literally).

5Just to be clear, and as much as this may appear to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to encourage the Barbarian into stripping for me here.


The Barbarian gives me the strangest of looks.

Dorn: “Are you okay? Fighting while wearing just a tight-fitting loincloth is… is a little bit weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “I thought that’s the whole point of being a Barbarian? Attacking your enemies half-naked while lost in a furious battle-rage6?”

Dorn: “You’ve been hanging around with the wrong type of people if you think that’s how Barbarians dress these days.”

Me: “I’m only going by the legendary warriors from days of yore.”


I point to the wall of hero paintings on the far wall, several of which are of muscle-mountains wearing only the tiniest fur loincloths.7

Dorn: “Ha! Those old Barbarians are so out of touch with the modern Barbarians of today. Nobody wears fur loincloths anymore—anyway, I prefer to leave my family jewels to the imagination, if it’s all the same to you…”

He tries to catch the barmaid’s eye but misses once again—the Barbarian thumps the table in frustration.

Dorn: “Balls!”

I feel the need to quickly change the subject away from the Barbarian’s nether regions.

Me: “Did you always want to be a Barbarian?”

The anger-prone warrior laughs at the absurdity of my question.

Dorn: “Me? No—never in my wildest dreams! I actually thought I was going to become a Wizard.”

Me: “A Wizard?

Dorn: “I know, it’s really odd—but I was convinced to switch my focus to the Barbarian class rather than follow a wizardry one. Besides, Wizards are generally frowned upon at the Heroes Guild.”


 6A rage brought on by discovering that someone had just stolen their clothes.

7At least I ‘hoped’ they were wearing loincloths. From where I was sitting it could be mistaken for loin hair.


Me: “Frowned upon—I thought the Heroes Guild would welcome Wizards with open arms8?”

Dorn: “Seems there’s a long-running rivalry between the Heroes Guild and the Wizards Guild—in truth, they hate each other, but recently they’ve begrudgingly agreed on an uneasy peace…”

Me: “How did the feud come about?”

Dorn: “I don’t think the Wizards Guild liked it when the Heroes Guild started recruiting Wizards to their cause—it resulted in the Battle of the Blind Bowman.”

Me: “I’ve never heard of this battle?”

Dorn: “That’s because it happened one fateful afternoon in the middle of a tavern—The Blind Bowman9.”

Me: “They had a battle in a tavern?”

Dorn: “I think I may have oversold the ‘battle’ part of this story—it was more of a untidy brawl with an lot of pushing and accusatory pointing.”

Me: “Who won?”

Dorn: “Nobody, when the dust settled The Blind Bowman was no more—the entire place had either been burnt down by a spell or smashed into tiny pieces by the fist. The warring guilds realised their mistake when they couldn’t order another round of drinks—and immediately held emergency talks in the ashes of the former privy. The Heroes Guild agreed they would not add any more Wizards to their numbers; in exchange, the Wizards Guild agreed to help them recruit more non-Wizard heroes to their ranks.”

Me: “So Wizards only come from the Wizards Guild?”

Dorn: “Officially—yes.”

Me: “Unofficially?”


 8As long as they had been patted down for any concealed Fireballs first.

 9Named after a legendary blind archer who could hit any Goblin with unerring accuracy, a remarkable feat rendered useless if no actual Goblins were around to shoot in the first place.

 10I bet my family’s estate it was a fireball.


Dorn: “I’ve seen a few robe-wearing, book reading types walking around the Heroes Guild—but they could be Loremasters, I suppose11.”

Me: “How does a Loremaster join the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “If you get us a couple more ales, I’ll put to good word in for you12.”

I laugh at the boldness of the Barbarian.

Me: “Fair enough—so the Heroes Guild made you a Barbarian instead? I mean no offence by this, but you don’t look the angry-warrior type. Why do you think they wanted you to become a Barbarian?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Dorn: “Isn’t it obvious?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Me: “Not really…”

Dorn: “They want me to revamp a Barbarian’s stereotypical image, usher in a new age of warriors who don’t go around smashing up taverns just because they’re a bit angry about poor bar service. They want me to be the face of tomorrow’s Barbarian—a thoughtful, calm Barbarian who has a bit of a sensitive side too.”

The Barbarian flexes an arm muscle. I can’t quite see it, but I don’t want to ruin Dorn’s moment.

Me: “Impressive!13

Dorn: “Yup, I’m the first in a new wave of approachable Barbarians; less rage—more brains.”

Me: “The thinking man’s warrior14?”

The young hero slams the table with his hand before pointing at me excitedly.


11 I seriously doubt any of my profession would be interested in joining the Heroes Guild—the closest a Loremaster usually gets to danger is drinking a hot cup of tea too quickly and burning the roof of their mouth. 

12If we could ‘actually’ get any service that is—the barmaid still hadn’t managed to drag herself away from the Paladin’s vicinity; if I were the Landlord I’d be asking some serious questions about her work ethic.

 13It always pays to tell a Barbarian what they want to hear—even if your whole being is screaming at you to do otherwise.

14Although I suspect Paladins will feel as if they have something to say about this.


Dorn: “The Barbarian with a heart of gold!”

Me: “Catchy. So, have you been on any adventures yet?”

Dorn: “Only the training dungeons. They’re pretty tough and can hurt if you’re not careful—I mean, really hurt. I passed with flying colours, of course. Even resisted sitting on that bloody trapped throne too, unlike the Ranger I was with.”

Me: “What happened to the Ranger?”

Dorn: “He insisted on sitting down and got his backside frozen to it as a consequence.”

Me: “That’s terrible.”

Dorn: “I know, took me ages to pull him free from it—when I finally did he had a huge hole ripped in his breeches.”

Me: “That must have been a bit awkward—?”

Dorn: “Yeah, I had to keep him behind me for the remainder of the adventure—there are some things not even a Barbarian should have to bare witness to.15

The Barbarian looks again for the barmaid, but she’s too still busy, lost in her Paladin-filled daze to notice him—I sense Dorn clenching and unclenching his fists as he slowly boils with anger.

Me: “How did you first get involved with the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “I was spotted.”

Me: “Spotted?”

Dorn: “Yes, you know, seen—in this place actually, which is ironic if you think about it.”

Me: “Why’s that?”

The Barbarian grinds his teeth and throws imaginary daggers in the Paladin’s direction.

Dorn: “Because I can’t seem to be seen right now, can I?! SERVICE!!


15Bare indeed!


The Barbarian shouts at the top of his voice, but he is still ignored by the barmaid currently draped over the Holy Warrior.

Me: “Who spotted you?”

Dorn: “A representative of the Heroes Guild—a Scout.”

Me: “Where were you sat?“

I look around the bar try to picture an excitable and nervous Dorn standing around waiting to be spotted by the Heroes Guild Scout.

Dorn: “Here!”

Me: “Here?”

I point to the table we’re currently sat at.

Dorn: “Well, not here exactly, more like over there.”

The Barbarian motions to a table next to us, occupied by a Dwarven Fighter polishing off his tenth flagon of ale—judging by the nine empty flagons sat in front of him17.

I find myself staring at the inebriated Dwarf as he spills more beer on the table than into his mouth.

Dorn: “That’s not the Scout, just in case you were wondering.”

I nod and turn my attention back to the Barbarian.

Me: “How did you find out about this place?”

Dorn: “I heard about the Spit & Spear from a friend. He told me the Heroes Guild Scouts frequented it—and if I wanted to be spotted, I could do a lot worse than hang around the tavern.”

Me: “What happens if you’re lucky enough to be spotted?”

Dorn: “If a Scout thinks you have potential to join the Heroes Guild, they employ a test—”

Me: “Test? What sort of test? Written18?”


16To be fair the Paladin seems to be happily encouraging this.

17I have no idea how this Dwarf has managed to get served not once, but ten times—it is a miraculous feat that should be compared to dragon slaying with only one arm…

18Which would be an overly cruel thing to do to a would-be Barbarian.


Dorn: “No—practical. Sometimes it’s a stolen purse, other times it’s a spontaneous bar-fight—whatever it is, it is always designed to test a specific attribute.”

Me: “What attribute did they test of yours?”

Dorn: “Why, my strength, of course19. Anyway, it so happened that I had struck up a conversation with the very Scout who had taken a keen interest in me.”

Me: “What are the odds? So, what did you two talk about?”
Dorn: “Oh, this and that—he seemed especially interested in my family’s estate on the far side of the Evergreen Forest. That seemed to give him confidence I had the right stuff to join the Guild. He even said he saw in me the potential to be one of the realm’s greatest heroes!”

Me: “What did you say to that?”

Dorn: “It was Bardic music to my ears20—everything I wanted was being promised to me. But at the same time, I had to make an impromptu call to the privy, so I excused myself for a moment to tend to my pressing need. When I returned, I found this brute of a Half-Orc sat at my table, drinking my ale!”

Me: “Who was he? What did you do?”

Dorn: “A stranger, it seemed, who wanted a free drink. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to mention this, but—”

Me: “Go on…”

Dorn: “I barely hit him. I guess I didn’t realise I possessed such strength!”

Me: “You hit him?”
Dorn: “I knocked him straight out of my seat and across the tavern—which immediately started a mass brawl with some Gnomes21 sat at the table in the corner. Once I had dealt with the Gnomes, the impressed Scout clapped me on the back and signed me up, there and then!”

Me: “And that’s when you became a Barbarian?”


19Of course…

20This depends greatly on the Bard doing the ‘singing’ in the first place, of course.

21As much as this sounds unimpressive, fighting something that stands at waist height is fraught with danger for any tall combatants.


Dorn: “He said I was a natural—that I had untapped raw power in my fists!”

Me: “—And you believed him?”

Dorn: “Why wouldn’t I? I had just seen what I could do with my own eyes! But I still held a strong desire to be a Wizard…”

Me: “I guess he explained the problem with being a Wizard?”

Dorn: “Indeed he did—we had a good chat about it, and I agreed to give up my dream of wielding magic in favour of wielding an oversized axe22. Anyway, Barbarians have better perks in the long run. Sure, there’s a clause in the contract, but the Scout said that it was just a standard—”

Me: “Wait a moment—a clause? What clause?

Dorn: “He promised me it was all just legal mumbo-jumbo—the Scout called it a ‘Death in Service’ clause. If you want to join the Heroes Guild, you have to sign the clause—no exceptions.”

Me: “What does the clause do?”

Dorn: “For me? —Nothing… but for the Heroes Guild—they end up owning my family’s estate in the event of my death.”

Me: “That sounds a tad unfair.”

Dorn: “Apparently, it’s standard stuff that every hero signs—it won’t ever happen, not to me. The Scout explained that there’s a sizeable risk in retrieving a hero’s fallen body from a failed quest, not to mention all the funeral arrangements and lost equipment, some of which are magical and very expensive—the Death in Service clause covers for all damage or any loss to property. It’s pretty thoughtful, if you think about it.”

Me: “I see—what else did the Scout say?”

Dorn: “He said he had never seen such a natural athlete—the complete hero he called me! Said he wanted to send me on a category five23 adventure after I had completed all my training dungeons!”

Me: “What’s a category five adventure?”


 22The weapon of choice for any self-respecting Barbarian—closely followed by a heavy fist…

23I’m not sure what this means, but the fact there are four categories before it cannot be a good thing.


Dorn: “Only a quest meant for the hardiest of adventurers—certain death assured24!”

Me: “Aren’t you worried? You might, you know—die?


Dorn: “Nah, you’re talking to the realm’s next greatest Barbarian25, I laugh in the face of death—”

Laughter breaks out from the barmaid sits in the Paladin’s lap; Dorn suddenly kicks back from the table and stands with purpose and drive.

Dorn: “Although the Guild’s next greatest Barbarian is STILL thirsty. Time I finally got that drink—wait here, I’ll be right back.”


I watch as Dorn the Barbarian storms over to the Paladin and the barmaid to make his displeasure known. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of the approaching Battle of the Spit & Spear, I decide to leave this interview post-haste26.


 24See, I was right!

25The realm’s last greatest Barbarian was Thrull the Bitter, who expired after a fight with a group of drunken Gnomes and ended up ironically bitten in the groin and bleeding to death—perhaps not quite the glorious way he had imagined moving on to the Great Beyond.

 26I did leave a polite note explaining my sudden departure, blaming it on a sudden urge to drink elsewhere—specifically, a place with good bar service and less chance of seeing spilt blood…

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

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. (taken from Amazon)

Featuring one of the most delightfully messed-up main characters I’ve read in a while, Book of Night is both wickedly clever and dangerously entertaining.

In a world where “quickened” shadows can be shifted according to the wearer’s mood, Charlie Hall’s shadow is disappointingly ordinary. It does not grow, act of its own accord, or shift on its own. That’s a good thing, since she has enough on her plate as it is. The thing is, Charlie Hall has never seen a bad decision that she isn’t willing to make. Con artist, thief, barista, and certified disaster, trouble has a habit of finding Charlie. To be fair, she doesn’t do all that much to avoid it. Ostensibly done with conning and stealing, Charlie nonetheless works in a bar that crime likes to frequent, she dates a man whose day job is cleaning up the messes left by violence, and she has a knack for upsetting the wrong people.

In a world such as that, it is inevitable that Charlie would be sucked back into a life of conning and stealing. This time the stakes are much higher: Charlie has to find a way to hopefully con her way out of a situation where every solution seems to spell death. The entirety of Book of Night is planned pandemonium, and I was hooked.

This is Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, having garnered a huge fanbase in Young Adult fantasy. While Black’s signature twists and turns are present, the relationships are much more established, allowing me to enjoy the nuances of the characters without being distracted by relationship woes. Don’t get me wrong; as with everything else in her life, Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince follows the path of most resistance. However, the complications lie in the characters themselves, as opposed to their relationship status. In fact, seeing how Charlie interacted with the people around her was an excellent mirror into the morass of her rather messed-up psyche.

The story is sprinkled with scenes from the characters’ pasts, better developing both their personalities and the world. And it is such a cool world! Manipulators of shadows, known as gloamists, use their shadows to grasp at power, some legally and some otherwise. The wielders of power are fantastical, but the way the power is used to manipulate and control is completely familiar and believable.

There is always something going on, but never at the cost of the plot. The twists seemed to come out of nowhere, yet when I traced back the scenes in the book, the clues were right in front of me. The ending is fantastic, perfectly messy, instead of being tied into an overly neat little bow. While there could be a sequel, which I would gladly read, I almost hope that it is a standalone because the ending hit so well. Book of Night is an exciting urban fantasy from an author who can easily conquer any genre she chooses to write in.

*This review was originally posted in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.

Oil and Dust by Jami Farleigh

When all has been lost, we find ourselves…
Out of the ashes of destruction, a new world has arisen. The plagues of the past—the worship of greed and pursuit of power—are gone. Now, the communities that remain in this post-apocalyptic world focus on creating connections, on forging futures filled with family and love. And all with the help of hard work, hope… and a little bit of magic.
Artist Matthew Sugiyama knows this well. Traveling the countryside in search of the family he lost as a child, he trades his art for supplies—and uses his honed magic to re-draw the boundaries of reality, to fashion a world that is better for those he meets.
Following glimpses of visions half-seen, Matthew—and the friends he encounters along the way—will travel a path from light to darkness and back again. A road where things lost in the past can only be found in the love of the present, and the hope for the future.
And he will travel this path wherever it leads. From joy to sorrow, from tears to laughter. Because Matthew is the Elemental Artist, and he knows that though dangers arise, humanity will always triumph… in a world he has painted in shades of Oil and Dust.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Oil and Dust is available for purchase now.

With Oil and Dust, words fail me. It is at times both familiar, yet utterly unique. It is a hopeful book, yet it still contains sorrow and longing, and a person with (in my opinion) a hole in his heart. One can’t have hope without darkness or loss, after all.

The world has changed. Both futuristic and reminiscent of the past, things are simpler. Bartering and sharing are the norm, with people working together and sharing what they need. Gone are greed, and the search for power. It is in this world that we find our main character, Matthew. Matthew is an artist of a different sort, and highly sought after. However, something is missing for him and this leads him to go on a journey, in search of his long-lost family.

The writing is wonderful, sometimes slow but never plodding. Instead, the author takes her time building a world rich in detail. As Matthew travels this world, it grows, becoming larger as his viewpoints shift. He also changes as he sees new places and experiences new perspectives. Matthew is the sort of character that I love to read about: he is supremely human, with human strengths and flaws, and his emotions are painted so clearly that I couldn’t help but feel exactly what he was feeling. I hoped for him, was sad for him, and wanted him to succeed. His character development is astounding.

The characters he encounters along his journey are equally well-developed and, while I loved them (Akiko in particular!) , it was their interactions with Matthew that really made them interesting to me. Despite the fascinating setting and the great side characters, at the end of the day it was Matthew himself that made this book the experience that it is.

Oil and Dust is a triumphant debut novel, memorable and touching. I highly recommend this gem of a book.

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed by Maleleine Roux

Welcome to Dungeon Academy, where monsters and creatures train for the dark world that awaits just beyond the dungeon walls! But Zellidora “Zelli” Stormclash is a bit—different. She’s the one thing monsters and creatures of the Forgotten Realms fear the most: Zelli is a human!
Knowing she’ll never be accepted, Zelli’s parents disguise her as a minotaur in hopes she’ll blend with the academy’s monstrous surroundings. Zelli does her work, keeps to herself, and becomes “invisible” to everyone. 
While in History of Horrible Humans class, Zelli learns of the great human adventurer, Allidora Steelstrike, who oddly resembles her. Could Zelli also be a Steelstrike? Seeking answers to her true lineage, Zelli embarks on a dangerous adventure.
But she won’t be alone. A vegan owlbear, a cowardly kobold, and a shapeshifting mimic will join Zelli on her quest for truth in a world that holds no place for them. And who knows? Perhaps these monstrous misfits may discover some truths of their own . . . (taken from Amazon)

Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).

The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!

Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.

The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.