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.

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy

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 cut my fantasy teeth on high fantasy, so to speak, and I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

Below is a list of high and epic fantasy authors who are worth checking out! This list won’t have every amazing author on it (I had to pare it down or it would be way too long), but it’s a start.

Guest Posts this Week:

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

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

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring A.C. Cobble

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

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

Great Authors to Try:

Jason and Rose Bishop- Storm’s Rising series

Terry Brooks- The Sword of Shannara series

AC Cobble- The King’s Ranger series

Sarah Beth Durst- The Queens of Renthia series

Steven Erikson- Malazan Book of the Fallen

Raymond E. Feist- The Riftwar Saga

Terry Goodkind- The Sword of Truth series

Dorian Hart- The Heroes of Spira series

Robin Hobb- The Farseer trilogy

Robert Jordan- The Wheel of Time series

S. Kaeth- Children of the Nexus series

Katherine Kerr- Deverry series

Marcus Lee- The Gifted and the Cursed series

Anne McCaffrey- The Dragonriders of Pern

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Patrick Rothfuss- The Kingkiller Chronicles

Sean Russell- The Swan’s War series

Brandon Sanderson- The Stormlight Archive

Scott Lynch- The Gentleman Bastards series

Jeffrey Speight- Paladin Unbound

M.L. Spencer- Rivenworld series

Andrea Stewart- The Drowning Empire series

J.R.R. Tolkien- The Lord of the Rings

LA Wasielewski- The Alchemist Trilogy

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman- The Dragonlance Chronicles

Jeff Wheeler- The Dawning of Muirwood series

T.H. White- The Once and Future King

Tad Williams- Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series

Coby Zucker- Nomads of the Sea

March of the Sequels- 2 Times the Fun!

There are many instances of readers not getting around to the sequel of a series, even if they enjoyed book one. I think there are several reasons for this, many that have nothing to do with the enjoyment of the book, but that doesn’t make it any less discouraging for authors. However, Sue from the excellent blog Sue’s Musings, has issued the call: let’s read and (and review, if you happen to be a reviewer) sequels this month!

Without further ado, here are some sequels that I think have continued a series magnificently:

Dead Man in a Ditch (Fetch Phillips Archive #2) by Luke Arnold- Review found here. “This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. “

The Reluctant Queen (The Queens of Renthia #2) by Sarah Beth Durst- Review found here. “The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy.”

The Crossover Paradox (Justice Academy #2) by Rob Edwards- Review to come. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

A Kingdom for a Stage (For a Muse of Fire #2) by Heidi Heilig- Review found here. “I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.”

The Unready Queen (The Oddmire #2) by William Ritter. Review found here. “The series continues wonderfully, combining the fantastical with the everyday wonder of childhood.”

The Isle of Battle (The Swans’ War #2) by Sean Russell- Far from being merely a setup for book three, The Isle of Battle added so much to the storyline of the series! It also created a sense of urgency, which I loved.

Nectar for the God (Mennik Thorn #2) by Patrick Samphire- Review found here. “Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.”

The Bone Shard Emperor (Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart- Review found here. “Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists.”

The Cursed Titans (The Tempest Blades #2) by Ricardo Victoria- Review found here. “The Cursed Titans managed to again bring a deeper meaning into an action-packed storyline. In this case, it was mental illness.”

Dragons of Winter Night ( Dragonlance Chronicles #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman – More on Dragonlance found here. “I open the pages, breathe in the smell, and am immediately whisked far and away- to a place that I both love and appreciate.”

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

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

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

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

It took exactly four sentences for me to become so engrossed in Nectar for the God that I was annoyed by any interruptions to my reading. Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.

“With a smile and a nod to the other customers, Etta Mirian left the bakery, crossed Long Step Avenue, and stabbed Peyt Jyston three times in the neck. She then turned the knife on herself and, still smiling all the time, opened her throat from side to side.”

The reader finds Mennik Thorn slightly the worst for wear after the events in Shadow of a Dead God. He’s been avoiding both his mother (who has far more power, and far fewer scruples than is ever good), and her rival Wren, with varying levels of nonsuccess. While Mennik is realizing that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, a case drops into his lap that is far above his skill level, and much more complicated than it looks. From there, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush which somehow manages to also have a complex and incredibly clever mystery involved.

In between traipsing through sewers and attracting the attention of something rather terrifying, Mennik’s character also continues to grow. Through his interactions with his mother, his sister, his thieving friend, Benny, and Benny’s murderous daughter, we are given a more complicated picture of who Mennik is and why he acts the way he does. He never seems to end up on top. The most he can hope for is to break even, and that’s an ambitious goal. Mennik is the sort of character who gets kicked around by life, although in many instances he walks right into trouble. This juxtaposition between the desire to survive and a complete lack of caution leads to all kinds of problems. Mennik’s slightly skewed moral compass shifts continues to intrigue and delight, and his inner dialogue is absolutely brilliant. Author Patrick Samphire takes the smallest of details and makes them fascinating with his incredibly descriptive writing.

The world is gritty and messy, teeming with the equivalent of magical gangsters, meddling gods, and–even worse–politicians. It constantly grows, tantalizing the reader with details and mysteries that have yet to be solved. The dreaded info dump is nowhere to be found, with history and mythology being given naturally throughout the book. While Mennik is juggling multiple disasters, I could see they were puzzle pieces waiting to be fit together. Watching the seemingly disparate parts of Nectar for the God meld into a complete whole is a joy, and the final product is an entertaining romp that will draw you in and captivate you.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

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

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

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

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



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

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

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

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

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

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

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

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

Review

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

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

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

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

Review

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

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

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

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

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

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

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

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

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

Review

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

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

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

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

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

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

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

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

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

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

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

Review

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

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

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

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

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

Review

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

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

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

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

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

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

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

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

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

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

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

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

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

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

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

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

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

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

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

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

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

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

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

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

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

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

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

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

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

The Coward follows Kell, a not-really-a-hero, as his past catches up with him. Ten years ago, Kell tagged along with a group of legendary heroes as they traveled to defeat an evil Lich. Despite not being seen as a hero himself, Kell alone returned. Since then, he has lived a quiet life, avoiding the songs and stories that have grown up around his “great deeds”…until he is forced to confront a truth he’s hidden from everyone; he is a coward.

If you haven’t read the book blurb, don’t. It makes the book sound like a humorous tale and, while I loved the book, it is most definitely not comedic fantasy. Instead, it is a deep and nuanced examination of human nature, that just happens to have fantasy elements added.

As Kell travels north to confront whatever has taken up residence in the original lair of the Ice Lich, he goes as a man condemned. He knows that it is only through a vast amount of luck that he survived the first time and that he won’t survive a second. There is a switch from the moment he intends to run and the moment he realizes that he’ll never be free from what happened ten years ago. His decision to confront the unknown evil reflects his decision to confront the horrible memories that he’s tried hard to push down. His character has one of- if not the- most realistic and respectful depictions of PTSD I’ve seen in a fantasy novel. I felt for him, and was fascinated by him in equal measure.

He was joined by a varied cast of characters, some of which I definitely liked more than others, but all of which added something unique and special to the plot. There were two characters in particular that really stood out to me: Willow and Gerren.

Willow was not human and was often viewed with a sense of distrust or even open dislike. What I loved about Willow, though, is that she would lay down her life for another without hesitation, despite knowing that most wouldn’t do the same for her. The way she saw things was different and very thought-provoking.

Gerren was basically the person Kell was ten years ago, before Kell was broken by what he experienced. Gerren was idealistic, naïve, and had found himself sucked in by visions of glory, completely ignoring the truth when Kell tried to tell him. His story arc and his development from moonstruck youth to a more mature adult was wonderfully written and incredibly interesting.

These characters grown and evolve against a brilliantly created and executed fantasy backdrop, traveling toward an inevitability that will test them physically, but also emotionally. The final bit of the book had me on the edge of my seat.

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

Read this one.

Fantasy Subgenres: A Plethora of Choices UPDATED

Every now and again, I’ll hear someone say “I don’t like fantasy,” even though they’ve never read any. Of course, everyone has their own preferences in literature, which is totally fine, but I sometimes think that what people mean is that they don’t like a certain type of fantasy. There’s much more than just swords and magic when it comes to fantasy (although I happen to love books that have swords and magic).

Here are a few sub-genres, with explanations, as well as examples of books that fit into each category. Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and some of these books can fit quite comfortably in multiple sub-genres. Talk to me! Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed completely. Here goes nothing!

Since my original post, I have learned about and read a few new subgenres, which I am now adding to the list. Let me know what you think!

High Fantasy: High fantasy is probably what comes to mind first when people hear “fantasy.” There are some characteristics that separate high fantasy from other kinds of fantasy. First of all, it’s very character-focused. The choices made by a single character, or a few, are most important. High fantasy is set in its own world with its own defined rules of magic. A common theme is good vs. evil.

Examples: The Swans’ War trilogy by Sean Russell; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Epic Fantasy: Epic fantasy is, well…epic. It usually consists of a threat to the entire world and has a large cast of characters, as opposed to the few that characterize high fantasy. While The Hobbit, for example, is high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings is what I would classify as epic fantasy. There’s a larger cast of characters, and a danger to the entire world.
Examples: Game of Thrones; Wheel of Time; Lord of the Rings

Low Fantasy: Low fantasy is characterized by magical events that intrude on daily life in a normal world.

Examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sword and Sorcery: Well, aside from the obvious (swords and magic), think romance, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery is a bit on the pulpy side (nothing wrong with that). I always picture 80’s era Sylvester Stallone as the movie equivalent of a Sword and Sorcery hero.
Examples: Conan the Barbarian; Legend by David Gemmell. Honestly, I’m on the fence about including Legend here, as it doesn’t seem as pulpy as other Sword and Sorcery books, but I’m drawing a blank on other examples. What would you add to this category?

Military Fantasy: This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically military life in a fantasy setting, often following one solider, or a small company.
Examples: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher; The Black Company by Glen Cook

Grimdark Fantasy: Don’t expect happily ever after’s or the archetypal heroes. Grimdark is marked with violence, morally gray as well as completely amoral characters. It also doesn’t shy away from violence.
Examples: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff; The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark Fantasy/ Gothic Fantasy: This sub-genre incorporates themes of death, fear, and romance. It has a darker tone, and elements of horror. Think Edgar Allen Poe- goes fantasy, and you’ve got the general idea.
Examples: Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman; Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Urban Fantasy: This is interesting in that there are a few different routes urban fantasy is known to take: either a separate fantasy world with rules that are similar to ours or, conversely, our world with fantasy elements mixed in. Go figure.
Examples: Jackaby by William Ritter; City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Arthurian Fantasy: This is fantasy based directly on the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Examples: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Superhero Fantasy: This is fantasy based on the character of a superhero. Easily defined.
Examples: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson; Vicious by V.E. Schwab

RPG Lit: Combining fantasy with role playing games, the main character is generally aware that they are in a game-type world. Stats. are very much a part of the book, and the characters interact and progress through the book as they would an rpg.
Examples: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini; Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland

Fairy Tales: Starting as children’s stories, lately there have been many re-imaginings of these books that are marked by fantastical elements and magic.
Examples of fairy tale retellings: Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig; A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Portal Fantasy: I argue that this is a sub-genre in its own right! This would be books in which the characters leave their own world through a portal/door/etc, and travel to a world with different rules than their own. Often, fantasy elements such as magic are present.
Examples: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Fantasy of Manners: I’m a little newer to this subgenre ( Thank you to Way Too Fantasy for telling me about this one). You won’t see many dragons or violent battles. This subgenre is defined by its wit and its use of words as weapons. There is often a sort of hierarchy and the battles tend to be more involved with social maneuvering. I tend to picture Jane Austen-meets-fantasy.
Examples: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Sword-free Fantasy: Sans fantasy violence, sword-free fantasy uses wondrous, reality-free worlds to explore very real emotions and relationships. Look for themes of family, love, self-acceptance, or self-discovery.
Examples: The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald; The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune; Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson

Viking-Inspired Fantasy: This subgenre could go a few different directions. It could borrow from heavily from Norse mythology or it can be set in a world that borrows elements from the Norse mythology or Viking way of life while still having its own mythologies or pantheons.
Examples: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwyne; The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Fantasy Comedy: Irreverent and witty, fantasy comedy often takes a humorous look at the fantasy genre, either creating new and entertaining fantasy worlds that focus on humor, parodying common fantasy tropes, or even poking lighthearted fun at specific works of fantasy.
Examples: The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson; Harpyness is Only Skin Deep by D.H. Willison; Iliad: The Reboot by Keith Tokash

Time for you to weigh in! What did I get right? What did I mess up? What am I still missing? Let’s talk!

The Splinter King (The God-King Chronicles #2) by Mike Brooks

The world fractures as a dead god rises…

Darel, dragon knight and the new leader of Black Keep, must travel to the palace of the God-King to beg for the lives of his people. But in the capital of Narida, Marin and his warrior husband will be drawn into a palace coup, and Princess Tila will resort to murder to keep her hold on power.

In the far reaches of the kingdom an heir in exile is hunted by assassins, rumours of a rival God-King abound, and daemonic forces from across the seas draw ever nearer…(taken from Amazon)

The Splinter King (book two in the God-king Chronicles) continues in the vein of The Black Coast, with a complicated, well-thought-out storyline placed in an astonishingly detailed world. Mike Brooks writes with a confidence that is backed up with skill. As with The Black CoastThe Splinter King utilizes multiple points of view to tell a rich story, twisting different plot threads together in unexpected ways.

Where book one felt very much like setup, and at times seemed a bit confusing, The Splinter King sees things starting to pay off. The stakes seem higher-or maybe I’ve just become that much more invested in the fates of everyone. While still on the larger side, it seemed to move more quickly than The Black Coast, quite probably because the world is now established, and the rules have been explained. The speech patterns, which threw me a bit in The Black Coast, now made much more sense.

The intrigue was a stroke of genius. I enjoy books with crooked characters, ingenious plots, and the occasional backstabbing, and The Splinter King has all of it in spades. Add in dragons (although they are distinctly dinosaur-esque), and it’s safe to say that I was more than satisfied.

Author Mike Brooks chose to focus more on different characters in this continuation; however, the characters from The Black Coast were still present. They just stepped out of the limelight enough to allow other characters to become more developed. The Splinter King was told from multiple points of view, but each character had their own perspective and their own narrative voice. It becomes almost a puzzle: if you put together the separate points of view, it forms a more complete picture of the world and what is happening in it.

The book did have its moments where I felt that not much was going on, and sometimes it seemed to forget what it was doing and sort of meander a little. It wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment, but it was definitely noticeable. On the other hand, usually the meandering was accompanied by another look at what is an incredibly nuanced world. The world itself is by far my favorite part of the series. It is so well thought out, unique, and diverse. There are no shortcuts when it comes to worldbuilding, and it shows.

The Splinter King continued the story started in book one extremely well. We have moved past the setup of The Black Coast into the meat of the story and it’s quite the story! I have no idea how everything will be wrapped up, but based on how things have progressed, the next book will be quite the ride.

Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks

War Dragons. Fearsome Raiders. A Daemonic Warlord on the Rise.

When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them because they know who is coming: for generations, the keep has been raided by the fearsome clanspeople of Tjakorsha. Saddling their war dragons, Black Keep’s warriors rush to defend their home only to discover that the clanspeople have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own land by a daemonic despot who prophesises the end of the world, the raiders come
in search of a new home . . .

Meanwhile the wider continent of Narida is lurching toward war. Black Keep is about to be caught in the crossfire – if only its new mismatched society can survive.

Large in size, and ambitious in scope, The Black Coast (book one in the God-King Chronicles) perfectly lives up to the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race”. While it did not contain as much action as I was expecting, it was still a fascinating read.

The main storyline of this book features two separate cultures trying to coexist peacefully. A clan of the Tjakorsha people have just shown up at the Black Keep. Normally, that is cause for huge concern, as the Tjakorsha are raiders. However, in this instance, something has changed: the Black Eagle Clan is hoping to settle alongside the people of the Black Keep and live peaceably. Daimon of the Black Keep goes against the wishes of his law-father to allow this, adding an extra level to this already-unique plotline. This meshing of two very separate cultures makes for an engrossing story. There is no lack of danger or action, but the main risk is with two very different cultures attempting to mesh and live side-by-side.

There is much more to The Black Coast than just a joining of two cultures, and this is where things got a little muddy for me. I wanted so much to like the other storylines, especially that of Tila, a political mastermind with a double life (which I will not spoil by discussing). Unfortunately, they failed to suck me in. While the world is huge, with unique cultures, traditions, and speech patterns, I was left feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. It was a bit much for me to keep track of, and I’m sure I missed something important. It didn’t matter in the long run, though, because the Black Keep storyline was so interesting.

The Black Coast seems to be a book that is entirely set up for the rest of the series. I was left intrigued but feeling like I was still waiting for things to start. Another book that I had a similar reaction to was The Dragonbone Chair, the first book in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. As with that book, I have a feeling that The Black Coast is ramping up to what will be an amazing series, one that rewards patience. Go into this book expecting a slow buildup, epic worldbuilding, and a lot to mull over.

My review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. Find it (and more) here.