An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring J.E. Hannaford

There are always books that have amazing creatures in them that I would love to see featured in TTRPs. This month, some awesome authors have kindly joined me to give their creatures the TTRPG treatment. I’m excited to have J.E. Hannaford, author of the Black Hind’s Wake series, share more about her Leathergill Siren, found in The Skin (Black Hind’s Wake book 1).

About the author:

J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own. She lives in Suffolk, UK, and pines for the coast and mountains of Wales. A love of nature and the ocean washes through the pages of J E Hannaford’s stories and pours out of the characters who live in it. Her debut series is The Black Hind’s Wake Duology.

You can find her here: https://linktr.ee/jehannaford

To purchase The Skin:
Amazon

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Andi Ewington

One of the great things about playing TTRPGs is that you never know what sort of unique creature might show up during a gaming session. Of course, we all enjoy the classics: dragons or ogres, but sometimes it’s fun to see something a little more…unique.

Author Andi Ewington is an expert at putting new, creative twists on fantasy. His soon-to-be-released book, The Hero Interviews, takes classic fantasy and shines a comedic light on it.

Here, he shares his STAT Block on the fantasy favorite, the Behol—wait, the Behearer???

Bewarned, brave adventurer, for there is a foe more dangerous than any found within these ancient pages, a monster so terrible that it strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest Paladins, the hardiest Barbarians and the most cowardly of Clerics. Whisper its name and pray the Behearer is not listening.

Behearers are notoriously grumpy creatures, a literal ‘ball’ of ears that has a gigantic central ear surrounded by smaller tentacled ears around it. As you can imagine, the Behearer can hear EVERYTHING, from the soft footfalls of a Rogue to the heavy clanks of an over-encumbered Fighter noisily crashing about. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a wandering Behearer to silently float up to an unsuspecting adventurer and ask them politely to keep the noise down a bit. More often than not, it’s this unexpected polite request that results in a full-blown noisy confrontation—with plenty of ‘shhhing’ added for good measure.

A legendary monster that surpasses all others, the Behearer is a monster that simply wants a bit of peace and quiet—which is exactly what an adventuring party is not!

To pre-order The Hero Interviews:
Amazon UK
Amazon U.S.

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

An Author’s Monster Manual

One of the fun things about table-top roleplaying games is the ability to stretch imaginations and have encounters with the most unique of creations. Dungeons and Dragons even has books dedicated specifically to the creatures that the unwary player can accidentally antagonize, the most well-known of these books being the Monster Manual.

As creative as the thingies found in the Monster Manual can be, they can’t hold a candle to the amazing creatures encountered in a myriad of novels written by extremely talented authors, some of them even inspired by TTRPGs played by the authors!

I somehow managed to convince an amazing group of authors and bloggers to help me discuss creatures in books and how they would transfer over to a TTRPG campaign setting. Keep your eyes open: the talent popping up on the blog over the next little bit is astonishing!

There are so many creatures in fantasy books that I would love to see in a TTRPG setting! When thinking about this series, two books in particular came to mind: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames and The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart. Both have amazing creatures that jump off the page.

I wouldn’t want to make the ink witch from Bloody Rose angry. Tattoos that can attack seem both brutal and pretty stinking clever. Can you imagine being in the middle of an honest tavern brawl, and all of the sudden your character finds themself facing a butt-kicking in the form of body art? That encounter would be the sort that players talk about for years.

And who wouldn’t love to have Mephi in a TTRPG? I’m still not entirely sure what he is, other than loyal, brutally protective, and absolutely adorable but seeing him pop up during a game session would be so much fun.

Honestly, though, having Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) in a TTRPG would absolutely make any campaign a delightful one, in my opinion. I took a stab at a Hobbes STAT Block. I owe a huge thank you to my amazing husband for helping me bring this to life!

Fan STAT Block made by Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

There are so many creatures brought to life by authors that would make for incredible additions to a late-night game session! Over the next several days, we will get to meet some of them, with introductions and STAT Blocks created by the authors. Grab your dice and let’s have an adventure!

Bewitching Book Tours Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Midnight on the Manatee by D.H. Willison

Today I’m excited to be joining Bewitching Books Tours in sharing the cover for D.H. Willison’s new book, Midnight on the Manatee. D.H. Willison’s new release will feature adventure, romance, and a whole lot of humor.

Book Description:

How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? What sacrifices do her grand profits demand? The only certainty, is that the Manatee casts a dark shadow everywhere she makes port.


Brianna, a tough, no-nonsense human, yearns to escape stifling big city rules and a troubled past. A quaint seaside town seems perfect to start a new life—until she wakes up aboard the Manatee. As cargo.


Shard, nekojin feline of the forest, dreams of sailing to distant lands—to the horror of his friends. When his intriguing new neighbor, Brianna, disappears and all signs point to the mysterious Manatee, he’s certain this is his moment for high seas adventure. Yet with skills tailored to the forest canopy, his rescue goes disastrously awry.


Their only chance of freedom is to work together, but can their budding relationship overcome ruthless smugglers, corrupt officials, and a slew of ravenous monsters? Or are they destined to take the secret of the Manatee to a watery grave?


Midnight on the Manatee blends life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!

Wow!


Genre: Fantasy adventure/fantasy romance
Date of Publication: October 28, 2022
ISBN: 9798823112536
Number of pages: 182
Word Count: 33K
Cover Artist: Papaya-style

Life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world blend with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Excerpt:

Brianna

I’ve always struggled picking out clothes. It doesn’t matter if it’s for travel, work, or a special event, I seem to hit a point where I regret my choices.

Like today.

Late afternoon sun glared in my eyes, the wide brim of my slouch hat unable to shield me. Mostly because it was on the ground a dozen paces distant. It was hot, and this close to the marsh, humid too. My linen blouse was drenched in sweat, though a breeze provided a modicum of relief from the heat—that part, I’d gotten right. The leather traveling vest was well-vented, my padded breeches also a good compromise between comfort and protection. But my boots were clearly wrong. Light beige leather with flexible soles prioritizing comfort over armor seemed a good idea for the long trek between Halamar and Barricayde.

But the bog toad with its jaws locked around my right ankle seemed intent on demonstrating the error of my ways.

It was half the size of a coach, with an underbite and stubby tusks thick as my legs. I kicked it with my free foot as it shambled backwards, dragging me toward the marsh. Vision blurry from sweat streaming into my eyes, I squinted, trying to sight along the barrel of my single shot pistol.

One shot. At this range I can’t miss.

I fired, the pistol belching gray smoke and a dull wumm.

The toad lurched back, blood oozing from an apparently non-critical wound. It blinked a pair of fist-sized ruby eyes, lunged at me again, this time snapping both legs up to my knees in a maw as broad as my arm span.

How did I let a minor predator ambush me? Along a marked path! Big city’s making me soft.

No! I will not die to an oversized frog. I shoved the pistol in its holster, unfolded my collapsible spear with a metallic klink, jabbed it at the creature’s head. A head which seemed to comprise half its mass. The third strike to its thick hide found a sensitive spot: it spat out my legs, sneezed a blob of mucus and blood on me, and shambled back into the marsh.

“Oww. Filthy beast. That hurt.”

I stood, yelped in pain, collapsing to my knees again.

Those critters might not have sharp teeth, but they bite hard.

First things first: I reloaded my pistol. It may have been as effective as poking a troll with a toothpick, but it was my toothpick, and it was gonna be loaded.

I pulled off boots caked with blood and saliva to reveal a souvenir of the encounter: bruises from ankle to mid thigh.

Should have worn armored boots. Blood or mucus colored armored boots would have been ideal. But on the bright side, none of the blood was mine.

“It’s a well-traveled path. You can wear comfortable traveling clothes, no need for armor.

Owww. You’re an idiot, Brianna,” I muttered, managing to stay up on the next attempt.

“Hope they have a decent healer in Barricayde. Not to mention a laundry.”

Shard

Murky water burned my eyes as my feet sank into the mud. The caprid in my arms flailed and kicked, I could feel its chest heave in panicked breaths. “Juro, a little help?” I called.

“I am helping. I’m watching out for predators.” Juro crouched atop a low branch of a live oak tree, gaze darting between trees and clumps of reeds. He grinned. “None here. You’re welcome.”

“I meant, could you grab the other two trapped caprids.”

“Theoretically, I could.”

I waded ashore, set the waist-high, hoofed creature next to its flockmates, hoping the presence of the herd would calm it.

“At least keep the flock from panicking while I get the other two.”

Juro bounded from branch to branch, finally settling on the ground beside me. He had auburn fur, stood a tad shorter than me, his tail shorter as well, and lacking the white puffy tip he made fun of when we were growing up.

“If we leave them out here,” he said, “our neighbors might learn a valuable lesson about the merits of proper animal husbandry.”

“The creatures horns are blunted, they cannot defend themselves against predators and would most likely be devoured by bog toads before the humans were able to recover them all.”

“Which would certainly be a valuable lesson, Shard. Hurt what they value most.”

Juro didn’t need to complete the thought. We all knew what that was. “It would indeed hurt their coin purse, but caprids shouldn’t pay the price to do so. The creatures are innocent.”

“Didn’t you want to visit the bookseller this afternoon? New volume of that pirate series you’re always talking about.”

I dove back into the stagnant green-brown murk at the edge of the marsh, swam around the last two stragglers, managing to shoo them toward the herd without having to carry them.

I spat, trying to clear the taste of marsh water from my mouth. Mud, slimy strands of algae, and decaying vegetation plugged my nose, clung to my ears, obscured my normally keen senses. But I wasn’t worried, Juro was a rascal, but he’d have my back at the first hint of danger.

“Yes. It’s supposed to be out today. But after all that effort, we can’t leave the task unfinished.”

Juro shrugged, but helped guide the flock toward the shepherd’s day shed.

We encountered the herder’s daughter a few minutes later, sprinting toward us, a wooden crook in her hands, single shot rifle slung across her back.

“You’ve found them, thank you!” She huffed heavily, her armor and gear sized more for an adult human than an early teen.

“That’s the third time this month,” said Juro.

She mumbled, pointed at the creatures with an index finger as she counted. “All here. My stupid little brother needed help with…” She shook her head. “It’s not important. I’d like to thank you, but I don’t have my coin purse with me. Come with me to the day shed, maybe there’s something there.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m still hoping to make it to the bookseller today.”
Juro snorked. “Looking like that? The humans won’t even let you through the city gate! You’ll be lucky if they don’t mistake you for a swamp monster and hunt you.”

“Good point.” I turned to the girl. “How about a few buckets of fresh water, some rags, and a brush?”

She smiled. “Deal.” She moved to clap me on the shoulder, hesitated, backed off half a step. “Maybe after a bath.”

About the Author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.


He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.


Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog/

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhwillison
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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19933553.D_H_Willison

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How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? Brianna and Shard find out, but will they take the secret to a watery grave? Life-and-death adventures on a creepy, monster infested world blend with wit, whimsy and romance. https://dhwillisoncreates.com/   

Dragonlance Side Quest: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porath

When Flint Fireforge, dwarf and metalsmith, receives a wondrous summons from the Speaker of the Sun, he journeys to the fabled elven city of Qualinost. There he meets Tanis, a thoughtful youth born of a tragic union between elf and man. Tanis and Flint, each a misfit in his own way, find themselves unlikely friends.
But a pompous elf lord is mysteriously slain, and another elf soon meets the same fate. Tanis stands accused, and if his innocence cannot be proven, the half-elf will be banished forever. Solving the mystery will be a perilous task. Time is on the murderer’s side, and he is not finished yet. (Taken from Amazon)

I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. I cycle back and forth between them, usually switching it up a couple times a day (I know, I’m strange). While I’m vastly enjoying my first-time books, I thought it would also be fun to go back and reread some of the many Dragonlance side novels.

“It’s like folks are, my mother used to say,” he explained to his shop at large, which was as familiar to him by now as a close friend. “Some folks are like this metal, she’d say,” and he displayed a metal flower brooch to the deserted room. “They can be forced into line. They’ll adapt. Other folks are like this wood,” and he held up a tiny squirrel, carved from softwood. “If you force them, they’ll break. You have to work slowly, carefully, to see what’s within.” “The key, my mother said,” he intoned gravely to a stone bench near the door, “is to know which is which.”

The nostalgia is strong with Kindred Spirits. This was the first side Dragonlance side novel that I ever read, and I’ve read it a fair number of times since (in fact, one memorable Christmas when I was a teen, the lovely tree in my living room slowly toppled over, encasing me- and this book- in a cage of pine needles). This will be an odd review, with a mix of nostalgia-colored lenses and my recent impression.

First, the good. Kindred Spirits takes us to the genesis of Flint’s relationship with Tanis, one which will forge the bedrock of the Companions during the War of the Lance. I’d suggest reading the Chronicles before reading this book. After all, this is meant to be an add-on to the original storyline, not a starting point.

I really love seeing Flint’s heart and what led a grumpy old dwarf to befriend an angst-ridden half-elf. His friendship/mentor role with Tanis has always been interesting to me and it’s cool to see how much he helped shape Tanis into a (still moody) thoughtful leader. Watching his friendship with Tanis grow is always fun. There’s also an explanation to how a certain “betrothal” came about, and it really cracks me up.

The characters match what you see in the Chronicles, which is important to me. I can’t stand it when an already established character acts completely differently in a separate novel. Character growth is great, changing a character’s core nature is annoying. The authors know the difference and manage it beautifully.

The description of both Qualinesti and its customs is well done, interesting and detailed. The political side of things is also rather intriguing and there’s not enough of it to become tedious. However, someone experienced with the lore of Dragonlance will notice discrepancies between books and events. For example, there’s a certain magical item that makes an appearance, despite it not being possible, according to events in Krynn’s timeline. These are small niggles, which can be ignored in the enjoyment of the novel. It is clear, though, that this is a secondary book meant only to add to a character’s background.

There is a sort-of mystery to Kindred Spirits. Tanis is accused of murdering multiple people, and it is up to Flint to prove Tanis’ innocence. It’s entertaining, especially since it’s obvious that Flint is way outside his skill set. Of course, the “mystery” is far from mysterious so don’t expect any big twists or shocking revelations. The motive is also flimsy at best. So, there’s that.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy this book immensely simply because I love seeing Flint and Tanis grow from strangers to family. Also, any book in which Flint calls someone a “doorknob” is going to be one I enjoy. There are some side-splitting moments as well as some heartwarming ones. If you’re looking for more about how the Companions met, Kindred Spirits is a book to pick up.

The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms 2) by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Now a thrice born priestess and an Elder of Ahiranya, she dreams of seeing her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And saving their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn will come at a terrible price. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Oleander Sword is available now. You can find my review for The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms book 1) here.

The Oleander Sword is beauty with teeth. It’s a gorgeously written, breathtaking tale of manipulation, revenge, cruelty, and the things sacrificed in the quest for power. As with book one, The Jasmine Throne, I was immediately sucked in and held in thrall.

Malini is so close to getting what she wants. She now has an army at her back, and she’s on her way to hopefully crush her brother Chandra’s forces under her feet. But war is rarely straightforward. Her followers would rather fight for someone else and when Chandra seemingly pulls a miracle out of nowhere, she realizes her grip on her vision is tenuous at best. Malini is willing to use every weapon she can to wrest power from her brother, and that includes Priya.

There’s something incredibly coldhearted and bloodthirsty about Malini. The face that she shows Priya and the one that her army sees are two very different sides to the same coin. I was left wondering if the manipulative mask was really the true face, with the affection she showed Priya the true mask. In some ways, she is just as dangerous as Chandra. They are both sure that they are the rightful ruler and that no one is better suited to the throne.

I love Malini so much! She’s scary, all sharp edges and secrets. We see a less calculated version of her only in her interactions with Priya. Priya has also grown more powerful, but also more vulnerable in some ways. She is in danger of losing herself, but to her power, or to Malini? With Priya, it might be one and the same. I love how multifaceted her character is.

Bhumika’s storyline diverges from Priya and Malini’s. While they are fighting a desperate battle with Chandra, Bhumika is experiencing an even bigger loss. The Yaksa, whom she has worshipped, have returned and they are not at all what everyone hoped they were. Instead, their coming signifies the beginning of a new and brutal war, one that doesn’t seem winnable. Poor Bhumika loses everything she cares about and then some.

The Oleander Sword introduces new points of view, although Priya, Malini, and Bhumika remain the three main POVs. Despite their paths diverging, the story still envelopes the three women, the threads of the narrative loosely weaving together to form a full tapestry. The world grows ever larger, the religion becomes more explained, and things are shown from a new- and terrifying-light.

The Yaksa full-blown freaked me out. The human resemblance that they wore like masks, their uncaring cruelty, and their absolute certainty in their power all combined to give me the shivers. As intimidating as Chandra was, he’s a petty minion in comparison with them. If they get their way, everyone will be crushed. They probably wouldn’t even notice.

The Oleander Sword ramped up to an astonishing conclusion. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Tasha Suri wields words like a sharp knife, using them with devastating and fascinating effect. I have no idea what will happen in the next book, but I can’t wait!

The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson

When there is something you can’t or won’t do yourself, you get a bastard to do it for you. They are thieves, cheats, and murderers, loyal to nothing but the coin. Everyone knows that.
Yet in war, payment in blood is more likely than payment in coin.
Staegrim knows coins better than he knows people, and he isn’t giving his life away for free. Not to the rebels, not for the lords, and not for all the bloody coins in Rengas.
But then…everyone has a price.



Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Battle that was Lost is a novella that takes place in the world of the Ringlander series.

Novellas are an intriguing medium. Sometimes I find them to be too short, choppy in their attempts to fit more within their pages than the length can hold. Other times, they can feel superfluous. In the case of The Battle that was Lost, however, the length was perfect. The writing was skillful, each word placed to further a story that packed a punch.

Brutal and smart, The Battle that was Lost wasted no time in establishing an atmosphere that pulsed with desperation. The line between life and death could be crossed at any moment, and the characters knew it. The stakes were high, and tension dripped from each word. This isn’t a happy-ending sort of book. In fact, the ending is more of a beginning, the novella serving as a cutthroat introduction.

Qor and Staegrim are mercenaries, doing anything they can to survive and hopefully somehow come out ahead. Their relationship is a brilliant one. It’s the sort of complicated mix of annoyance and something akin to affection that is fascinating to read. Of course, the book is about higher stakes than the fates of two thugs, although they are the pieces that make The Battle that was Lost so compelling.

I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to tactical decisions in fantasy books, but I was able to follow along well here. When you have two armies going at each other, knowing that the entire fate of the continent hangs in the balance, I like to see a personal aspect. It gives me a reason to be invested in the outcome. The judicious use of flashbacks provided this personal aspect, fleshing out characters and backstories and expanding the world even more.

I’m gob smacked at how much was packed into such a short novella. The Battle that was Lost was fantastic. I highly recommend picking it up.

An Interview with Author CM Kerley

Today, I’m excited to be able to chat with C.M. Kerly, author of the Barclan series, epic fantasy at its finest. You can find my review for book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, here.

Thank you for joining me to talk about the Barclan series and epic fantasy! Will you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Caroline, I’m from London but grew up in South Africa. I’m from a small town surrounded by farms, and at night I used to think the noises I could hear were ghosts at war with each other and the lights in the sky might definitely maybe not be stars but somehow magic. I suppose the noises might have been sounds from the neighborhood, and the stars were just stars, but I still prefer to think it was magic.

Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?

Okay, just the opener because it’s too vast to summarize easily. The series is set in an imagined world, in the kingdom of Barlcan. It starts with the reign of a very inept and timid king in a time when magic has become something rare which is to be feared and there are very few people alive who remember or know enough about it to believe it even exists. There are omens and very real-world signs that something is starting to move against the kingdom, but the king chooses not to see it. So, it is left to the prince, who does believe, to pull together the people whom he believes will give him a chance to fight back this threat that only he can see, that others think he is imagining. 

Yes the story is fantasy, but it isn’t about magic and creatures and spells or vampires and dragons and cackling villains or magical maps and destiny that comes to those who least expect it. 

My story, at its core, is about Control; do we really have control over ourselves, what are we willing to give it up for, and who are we willing to give it to. 

What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?

In part, one of the hardest things writing a series of books like this, with that 80s Epic Fantasy feel, was knowing that they aren’t very popular right now. Knowing that the fantasy scene is dominated by specific names and if you aren’t part of the echo chamber of the style or type, you’ll never ‘make it’.

Which can sound crazy, right, but if you’re like me and your dream of talking to people about the stories, not making all the folding money, it can be daunting and when you spend six years writing three books, keeping motivated can be an obstacle.

What are some successes?

The limitless art of fantasy is the landscape for the story I’ve crafted, and is full of unique characters that are believable, plausible, and face situations that the reader can empathise with, creating that real connection between the page and the person. The characters are not clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is more nuance within the characterisation. They are written so they each carry the overall theme of the story, but there are opportunities for the reader to themselves consider if what they are doing is good or bad. 

The use of magic is not the driving force of the story. It isn’t spelled out to the reader and doesn’t overly feel cumbersome to the narrative. It is a device used to enhance the characters, not a tool to explain wildly ridiculous events put there to make the story stand-out. There is romance, adventure, deep relationships, sadness, joy, and laughter all set out, with something to satisfy even the most critical fantasy fan, in a thoroughly good, and complete story.

In The Hummingbird’s Tear, we meet two siblings who have very different characteristics which lead to two very distinct story arcs. How did you go about weaving the two separate storylines together? 

It was a challenge. With Calem, who starts mute, I made the conscious decision to only give him two defining characteristics, the fire he can conjure and his silence. 

I then had to flesh out Brennan, his complexity took months to develop into a real persona. 

Then, it was using Brennan to tell Calem’s story at first, while doing it in such a way as to also give him his own spotlight. Using one character to tell the story of two, from the omnipotent writing perspective, is something I am quite proud of as it takes, in my opinion, quite a lot of craft.

One thing I did do was I kept detailed notes of each character, everything about them, even their habits, and I had personality charts drawn up and stuck to my wall in from of my machine of all the characters and I had their personal values listed out, their motivations, even a bit of origin stories for each of them. I had that on my wall for over six years, and that was to ensure I was always writing them truthfully, developing them and their arcs in believable ways that the reader could follow and empathize with, and making sure they were distinct.

The mythology and world history in The Hummingbird’s Tear is amazing. What came first in your series: the world or the characters? 

The characters. 

I still have the first drafts of all three books, partly to remind myself just how wildly different the stories were before I finally settled on what needed to be told and picked which parts of all the versions to pull into the final book to tell their stories.

I started with Calem, the idea of writing a book about a character with no voice; how do you tell someone’s story when they can’t tell it themselves? I sat down and started writing. I didn’t really dwell on too much more than that, I knew it would be a fantasy story because all my really good short stories up to that point had been fantasy and that is my favorite genre. I was expecting it to be one book, I had no intention of writing three, but by the time I was halfway through writing it I had lived the whole thing out in my head and knew that it was too big, too vast, and too complex to be a single book. I wanted to do justice to all the characters I had created and that meant giving them a story worth telling.

The Barclan series has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

It is Epic but perhaps more 80s Epic than today’s Epic. What I mean is, there is a style of Epic fantasy which is giving time to establishing the world in which the characters share their story. It’s a style which I love, and I write what I love to read so my books have a definite type of pacing.

I don’t borrow from real world mythology or start with frantic bloodthirsty battles to shock and hook the reader; for no reason other than those tools aren’t what I’ve chosen for my story. I know they are all the rage at the moment and very popular, so I’m maybe doing myself no service by going against that current, but the heart wants to write what the heart wants to read I suppose.

I’ve created my own world, my own creation mythology, the Gods, the magic system, the geography, all of it, it took all in, maybe two years to craft it all as I was writing and rewriting The Hummingbird’s Tear, and all that had to be woven through the series. I have about 1,000 pages of content I wrote and created as I was building the world, my own archive if you will.

So, Epic because all the kingdoms are created and unique and have their own beliefs and customs and cultures and that finds its way into the story to enrich it. I move my characters across the kingdoms so I can bring the world to life. I have them comment on and have the Gods and mythology impact their lives, so it brings context to everything I’ve decided to include form the prologue all the way through. And I start each prologue with a little more of the mythology and world building, so the timeframe for the story is literally, since the world was created, so even the timescales are epic.

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

They are different, but it’s an almost irrelevant difference and one that doesn’t, I think, give or take anything away from the genre and a distinction that doesn’t’ mean much to a reader or would have a large impact on their book choice. That sounds like a bit of a pretentious assumption on my part, but what I mean is, the differences are fairly limited, and fantasy readers tend to be open minded so the difference I don’t think is important and the two can work together.

If so, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

High Fantasy is set in an imaginary place, and Low Fantasy, is an alternate version of a real place. So, because Barclan isn’t real, it fits into High Fantasy. I think that is the basic difference but while that’d be my answer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, google probably knows more than me.

As for the Epic part, that falls to the scale. Epic fantasy in my understanding is on a grand scale, the story is set across multiple geographies and characters must travel or are set in distinct locations doing ‘things’ that advance the plot. Think questing stories.

I tend to think of the Barclan books as Epic High Fantasy because you start in one part of the kingdom, but you’ll go to towns, cities, a mine in the mountains, the bottom of the ocean, high mountains, and a desert to name but a few.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

I’ve always lived ‘somewhere else’ in my mind in part thanks to my dad who was a sailor and would tell me the most amazing made-up stories when he would come back from being at sea. He is an amazing storyteller and was never tight with his sea monsters, his outlandish characters, or his embellishments. But what used to keep me hooked, was how believable it all was. 

As a child I was surrounded by books of all types at home and was never told whether a book is for adults or children, so as young as seven I can remember trying to read Lord of the Rings because our copy had the most amazing book cover and so I was curious, but it was too much for me at the time but I knew I’d come back to it. I was also reading things like The Faraway Tree, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Worst Witch, and the Narnia books so I’ve always gravitated toward the ‘other’ places, that feel comfortable.

We used to have a rickety old typewriter in the house, you know the type that you break your fingers hitting the hold metal letters that strike a ribbon and barely print the word? Well, that was what I started on, aged about eight, thinking that although I loved reading these stories, I had some pretty good ones of my own in my head and so it started.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.

I am neither, or am I both? Put it this way, I try to be a plotter, and I plot, but when I sit down to write the plot, it’s as if the very act itself of plotting means I can’t use those ideas anymore and I just write.

I try to take a planned and methodical approach to it, but it’s a waste of time for me honestly. I do it in the hopes it means I will finish a book quicker, but no. A story takes as long to write as it wants, I have little control.

I sit, start writing, and entirely zone out and when I am finished have no concrete memory of the process of writing, and have written something completely unplanned.

The last third of The Hunchback’s Sigh was written in one night. I sat down about 7pm, looked up just after 5am the next morning, realized I had finished writing the book, and the series, and then had something to eat and got ready for a day at work.

That’s a lot of words to say, pantser.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance books are fantastic and Raistlin is one of the most well developed characters I’ve ever loved. The books are so cleverly written to be effortlessly accessible and enjoyable to anyone.

David Eddings, his Belgariad books are some of the best I’ve ever read and I reread to this day.

Melanie Rawn, I adore her pacing and her style of writing captivates my imagination.

Janny Wurts, because everything.

And Raymond Feist, for writing the books I have been reading and coming back to my whole life.

What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?

This sounds so bad but, I don’t think anyone truly inspired me.  I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer because that’s how I wanted to tell stories.

But if there was one person who really pushed me, believed in me, and told me every day that I can do it, it’s my best friend Maddy who has read every piece of writing I’ve ever done and to this day never skips a chance to talk about the books. 

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

I am working on a collection of short stories set in Barclan, but not centered on any of the main characters from the three books. They pop up but as peripheral characters and only for a second.

For example, in the second book I write about a place called Phenly, and there are a few stories set there.

A story about what happens in a silver mine which weaves into the back story of the man who raised Calem and Brennan.

And I’m introducing some new places and new characters as a tie in to the next book in the series which I am writing at the same time which will take place about a year after the events that end The Hunchback’s Sigh but is not a direct continuation of the story. So I am branching out in the Barclan world and will be moving into stories set in the other kingdoms, specifically Vaden to the north.

And when I am not in the mood to work on either of those, Cotta’s backstory is a self-indulgent story I am writing just for me.

Purchase Links:
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow


Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path? (Taken from Amazon)

A Mirror Mended is the continuation of the Fractured Fables series. You can find my review of book one, A Spindle Splintered, here. Both books are available now.

A Mirror Mended continues the story started in A Spindle Splintered, with Zinnia traveling into various versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale to save the princess from her own story. It’s obvious that Zinnia is creating as many happy endings as possible because she feels she has no control over her own fate. She knows that her illness will catch up to her (sooner rather than later) and she will die. As far as avoidance techniques go, it’s a pretty creative one. It’s also alienated her from her best friend, Charm.

After one night of a particularly zesty victory celebration, Zinnia finds herself traveling into another fairytale- except for the first time ever, it’s not another version of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she comes face to face with the Evil Queen from Snow White.

I’ve never been a big fan of Snow White (especially the Disney version) and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it dumped on its head. Since Zinnia meets the Evil Queen first instead of Snow White, she’s treated to an opposing view of what really happens in the story. Doubly interesting is that this villain knows she’s the bad guy and even knows her own fate (which is really rather grisly).

Just like Zinnia, Eva (short for “Evil Queen”) is looking for a way to escape her story. The book focuses mainly on their changing relationship and how they learn from each other. Now, before you think “boring” and write the book off- there’s also a fair amount of fairy tale shenanigans, including battles, magical witches, and romance. At the end of the day, though, the relationships and character growth were what kept me interested.

I was a little concerned at first because Charm is in very little of this book. I was worried that it wouldn’t give Zinnia the chance to continue to grow as a character without having someone who understood the entire situation. Fortunately, Eva is a quick study and more than made up for the missing Charm (weak pun intended).

Zinnia was in fine form, her snarkiness shining through, but Eva stole the show. Her mix of naivety and condescension made her a blast to read! She was always a force to be reckoned with, and it didn’t go well when people forgot that.

Author Alix E. Harrow packed a ton into such a short book. Every now and again I wished that more time could have been spent on a particular part (especially when a certain character helps raid a castle), but such is the nature of shorter books. I just enjoy Harrow’s writing so much that I’m always eager for more.

Is A Mirror Mended my favorite Alix E. Harrow book? No. But’s it’s well written, added a new facet to the Fractured Fables storyline, and kept me highly entertained.

Book Tag: Get to Know the Fantasy Reader

I saw this fun tag over on Irresponsible Reader‘s blog. It’s one of my favorite blogs and you really should give it a follow!

While I dabble in other genres, fantasy is my go-to. I have a feeling some of these questions will stump me, or else lead me down a long and rambling rabbit hole. You’ve been warned.

What is your fantasy origin story? (How you came to read your first fantasy novel.)

Ah…question one and I’m already ready to ramble. I grew up on fantastical stories. From my first fairy tales and Arthurian picture books (The Kitchen Knight and St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges were two favorites), I moved on to easy chapter books like Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, Redwall, and the Chronicles of Narnia. As I grew older, though, I branched out a bit. I read things like the Elizabeth Peters mysteries and All Things Great and Small. Then I stumbled across the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, my gateway to adult fantasy. Fantasy went back to being my mainstay, leading me to experience many, many fantastical worlds and stories full of wonder, adventure, and humanity. So, I still can’t answer the question about my first fantasy novel: would it be Patricia C. Wrede’s series? Redwall? Dragonlance? Or another book that I loved at the time but have since forgotten?

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Arrgh!!! This is a tough one. My first thought is Margaret Weis but I don’t love my chances of surviving in a world of her creation. Still…I’d love to get to know characters she’s created, especially Fizban/Zifnab. Second to that would be Erin Morgenstern. I think I’d live a little longer in a world of her creation, and I’d love to wander the Night Cirus. Oh- I’ve got it! How about a mashup? During the day, I could visit The Inn of the Last Home, enjoy some spiced potatoes, then maybe fly off on the back of a dragon (particularly one that eats oatmeal). At night, I could wander the Circus. I wouldn’t need sleep in a fantasy novel, right?

As for tropes, I’m a sucker for found families. And dragons.

What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

Oh, wow, the answer to this question could be a list of at least thirty books. I’ll go with Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales this time, though. It’s an excellent collection of short stories about- you guessed it- dragons. The variety of tails (badum-tish!) and the creativity that can be found in this book is astounding! You should give it a go. You’ll happily devour it (yes, my draconic puns are truly awful).

What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

High fantasy is my absolute favorite. I love reading books with vast worlds, groups of well-developed characters, monsters, magic, and high-stakes battles. I love feeling like the story I’ve just finished reading is just one small part of a giant saga that continues on after I close the book. Give me nuanced characters, authors who have come up with mythologies, religions, and even special details for parts of a fantasy world that the reader may never even hear about, aside from a short offhand mention. That makes me one happy bookworm.

I have next to no experience with romantic fantasy. I recently read The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, which I think fits into that category, but that was a rare deviation from my normal fantasy subgenre of choice.

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

This author hasn’t written a ton of books but based on my “pre-order with no questions asked” reaction to the news that she had written another book, I have to go with Erin Morgenstern. I pre-ordered The Starless Sea before finding out anything about it, absolutely sure that I would love it. I did love it, of course.

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram.)

Thank you, bookbloggers, for destroying any progress I could possibly make on my “to be read” list! Every time I finish a book, I realize that I’ve added five others that bookbloggers I trust have recommended. Before We Go Blog (minus my contributions), Fantasy Book Nerd, and FanFIAddict are some of the worst culprits.

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Amari and the Great Game releases at the end of August and I can’t wait! The first book in the series, Amari and the Night Brothers, was a lot of fun. My oldest enjoyed it too so I have a feeling we’ll be racing to see who gets to read the sequel first. I have longer legs, but I’m old and he still has energy, so it’s anyone’s race to win.

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

That it is a waste of time or is of subpar quality. People sometimes see monsters or swords and think that fantasy is always silly or doesn’t talk about “real issues”. Honestly, though, I see the same themes that are often found in literary fiction or “classics” explored equally well in fantasy books. In fact, the best examples I’ve read of PTSD come from The Coward by Stephen Aryan and from J.R.R. Tolkien.

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Ooh, I’m on it! Let me roll up my sleeves…and BOOM! Here ya go!

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Dorian Hart has created a series that showcases the best parts of fantasy. It’s easy to fall in love with the characters, the world grows larger with each subsequent volume, and the stakes become higher. This is a series with an underlying current of hope, which I love. This book was also the catalyst to my oldest son’s burgeoning love of adult fantasy, which I think is a pretty good reason for it to be one of my three recommendations.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is such a wonderful book! There’s just something timeless about it. It has a perfect combination of adventure and heart. Plus, dragons.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (book one of the Dragonlance Chronicles) is what started my ongoing love of fantasy. I’ve gushed at length about these books many, many times, so I’ll keep it short: this is a perfect introduction to fantasy.

Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I am awful at remembering which blog I followed when (although there are a few that I’ve loved from the get-go). Series Book Lover is a newer to me blog (I think) that has awesome content. If they say a book is good, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll enjoy it. I also love Peat Long’s blog, which is always unique, always interesting, and has a cool combination of reviews and opinion pieces. I especially love the discussions of older fantasy (older being a relative term. How on earth can Gemmell be considered older, I ask?).

So, there you have it. I’m not tagging anyone here, but I’d love to read other answers!