Let’s Talk: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can use the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #AwesomeIndies.

By the way, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest is a great place to go for self-published book suggestions. Follow along with this year’s contest here. Here are a few self-published books that I recommend. I stopped myself at twenty, but there are so many amazing sp books out there! What’s the best self-published book you’ve read this year?

Jason and Rose Bishop- The Call (Storm’s Rising #1)

Lee C. Conley- A Ritual of Bone

Susanne M. Dutton- Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable

Jami Fairleigh- Oil and Dust

Jonathan French-The Grey Bastards

Sean Gibson- The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

 Bjørn Larssen- Why Odin Drinks

Randall McNally- Shadowless

Marcus Lee- Kings and Daemons

G.M. Nair- Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Kirstin Espinosa Rosero- Burn Red Skies

Patrick Samphire- Shadow of a Dead God

Matthew Samuels- Small Places

Emma Shaw- Sacaran Nights

M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

Luke Tarzian- The World Breaker Requiem

Keith Tokash- Iliad: The Reboot

M.L. Wang- The Sword of Kaigen

Spear by Nicola Griffith

She left all she knew to find who she could be . . .

She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon.

With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home.

The legendary author of Hild returns with an unforgettable hero and a queer Arthurian masterpiece for the modern era. Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a spellbinding vision of the Camelot we’ve longed for, a Camelot that belongs to us all. (taken from Amazon)

Lyrical with a fairy-tale cadence, Spear is the adult version of the Arthurian tales I loved as a child. Spear follows a girl without a name, one whose quest for an identity leads her to Caer Leon (Camelot), to The Lady of the Lake, and beyond. Each encounter and every experience serve to add another facet to the girl, as she discovers who she is and where she belongs.

The girl- Peretur- is raised nameless in a cave with only her mother for company. Her mother has hidden Peretur, her treasure, and only mutters their history in bits and pieces. One day the girl discovers Artos’s Companions and her destiny is set. She will become a King’s Companion and find her true name. Disguised as a man, Peretur (the girl) sets out to do just that, breaking her mother’s heart- and the geas that has kept them hidden from a powerful enemy.

I loved how the book began, with the story of a nameless girl and her life as she grows. The glimpses of her dreams and aspirations and the chance encounters that set her on her path drew me in. The way the first bit of the book was descriptively and beautifully written kept me entranced.

However, once Peretur left the cave to find her fortune, the language and cadence of the book changed. The book became bigger, with less of the beautiful prose and more of a “normal” fantasy writing style. This is in no way a bad thing, but I did miss the way the first little bit of the book flowed.

While there seems to be a split in writing style, I was engrossed by both halves of the book. The characters Peretur meets are all very familiar to me because I’ve loved stories of King Arthur and his knights for a long time. Author Nicola Griffith fleshed them out and took them from larger-than-life characters to realistic people with their own fears, loves, and interests, while still somehow retaining a bit of that fairy-tale magic that often comes with Arthurian tales.

After reading (and loving) several chonkier books, the shorter length of Spear was a great palate cleanser. The story moved along nicely and took me with it into a land rich with adventure, promise, and magic. I recommend this beautiful shorter novel for those who want a new twist on familiar lore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston- The Write Reads on Tour

Thank you to Rebellion Publishing and The Write Reads for the opportunity to be on the blog tour for The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston. The Knave of Secrets will release June 7th (U.S.) and 9th (U.K.).

Genre: Fantasy
Length: 400 Pages
Publishing: 7th June 2022 (US); 9th June 2022 (UK)
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1786186071/ 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59365822 

About The Knave of Secrets:

A twisty tale of magicians, con artists and card games, where secrets are traded and gambled like coin, for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Mask of Mirrors.

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

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

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


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About the author:

Alex Livingston grew up in various quiet New England towns before moving to Buffalo, NY to study English at Canisius College. He writes SFF prose and interactive fiction. Alex is married and lives in an old house with his brilliant wife and a pile of aged videogame systems.


The Hunger of the Gods (Bloodsworn Saga #2) by John Gwynne

THE DEAD GODS ARE RISING.
Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.   
   
As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own–and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.   
   
Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her. Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.   
 
Their only hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead…and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.  (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Hunger of the Gods is available now.

This is a sequel, so there might be some spoilers for book one, The Shadow of the Gods, although I’ll try to avoid them. You can find my review for The Shadow of the Gods here.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the book, I want to thank the author and Orbit profusely for adding a “story so far” section! So much happened in The Shadow of the Gods that this addition was perfect and very appreciated.

John Gwyne is the sort of author who seems to delight in writing books that pack an emotional punch. I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of The Shadow of the Gods, and while it had a slower start, The Hunger of the Gods ramped up and by the last page, I was once again enthralled.

The second book starts right up where the first one ends, with each character having their own goals, motivations, and really big problems. The three main points of view from The Shadow of the Gods are joined by new characters, however Orka stole the show.

Orka is one of the most complex and uncompromising characters I’ve read. She can come across as harsh and fierce and she is- fiercely loving, fiercely loyal, and fiercely protective. She’s hardcore and intimidating, which I loved. Her strength is the sort that is fascinating to read. She was fantastic in The Shadow of the Gods, and she’s now on my list of excellent female characters.

The Norse-inspired world is vast and continues to grow and evolve and the action scenes are visceral and ruthless. Johny Gwyne goes for the jugular in every way, from the fight scenes to the storyline and character development.

This is not the sort of series that can be jumped into midway. Make sure to start with The Shadow of the Gods. If you haven’t started the series yet, I can’t recommend it enough. Book one is fantastic, and it continues magnificently. The Hunger of the Gods is violent and brilliant, a worthy sequel to The Shadow of the Gods.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales

Eighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre–here be dragons!

Join Asimov’s Readers Award winner Timons Esaias, science fiction author Heidi Ruby Miller, post-apocalyptic author J. Thorn, along with K.W. Taylor, Sean Gibson and more as they put their personal twist on the usual dragon tale. (taken from Amazon)

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The sheer variety of tails-ahem, tales- in this book is astonishing. There’s generally a story or two that doesn’t connect with me in anthologies, but that wasn’t the case here. Between the subject matter and some extremely talented authors, this is a win from beginning to end.

While I enjoyed every story in Dragons of a Different Tail, there were a few that stood out to me. Chasing the Dragon by Sean Gibson was delightful and the perfect way to start the book. It follows Celare and Stanley, two detectives in Victorian era London. Their job entails slightly more than what most people picture when thinking of Victorian era P.I.’s. They find their into an opium den, where they discover something way out of the ordinary.

I loved the banter between Stanley and Celare! Celare was delightfully snarky with the sort of attitude that is a blast to read. The ending was brilliant (although I’m not sure I can forgive author Sean Gibson for such a cliffhanger!), but my favorite part of the tale was the nature of the beast. It’s not something I find often in fantasy, and I loved it. I won’t say more, for fear of giving spoilers, but it was fantastic.

Spirit of the Dragon by J.C. Mastro rocked (quite literally). It is about the DragonFraggen, a metal band in search for inspiration for a new song. Fortunately for the reader, but unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an old, mysterious text. Things go a little wonky and the next thing DragonFraggen knows, their live concert might end up with someone dead.

I loved how unique this story was! Aside from the band having a bit of a Spinal Tap feel (word to the wise: never be the drummer in a band), their earnestness made me laugh. The dragon was killer, pun intended, and the entire tale left a big smile on my face.

The other story that most stood out to me was Wei Ling and the Water Dragon by Jeff Burns. Wei Ling decides to track down the thieves that stole her village’s dragon idol and steal it back. It doesn’t go quite as simply planned, but she ends up with the most unlikely of friends.

Wei Ling and the Water Dragon is action-packed and quick moving. Wei Ling herself was a ball of sass and the dragon in this tale was entertainingly smug. Both Wei Ling and the Dragon were well-written. They developed beautifully together, with a surprising amount of character in such a short amount of time.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales is a great anthology, one with something new and unexpected on each page. This is an excellent book for readers who love dragons and people who love fantasy in general. Pick this one up!

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

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I’ve been privileged to chat with Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.

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

Thank you for having us! It’s one of our favorite topics.

Will you introduce yourselves?

Well, we’re Jason and Rose Bishop, a husband-and-wife team, married twenty-seven years and currently co-authoring the Storm’s Rising epic fantasy series. We met in college, and quickly discovered we both had a passion for fantasy stories and role-playing games such as AD&D and Pathfinder. In fact, it was during our gaming sessions that we unwittingly began building the world of Cyrradon, created some of the historical figures that became the basis of the saga, and thought up some of the pivotal events leading to the story we’re writing now.

On the personal side, we’ve taken on a wide variety of interests and hobbies over the years, including bicycling, motorcycling, guitar playing, fly fishing, home brewing, making mead and cider, and all kinds of home meat production (sausages, salamis, smoked/cured meats, etc.). We had a long phase of very near homesteading, where we raised much of what we ate, including a huge garden, a sustainable greenhouse with some hydroponics, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and horses (we didn’t eat those). We found we love those primitive DIY skills, like canning and preserving, fermentation (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough) and we think a lot of that goes into our stories and contribute to their complexity.

Can you talk a little bit about the Storm’s Rising series?

The Storm’s Rising series is our reach for the kind of story we would want to find on the shelf to read for ourselves. It’s a tale that begins with several young folk who had some serious drama in their past they were never fully aware of. And as in real life, eventually that drama comes along and sweeps them into it. But the story itself, as we’ve hinted at, began way before page one of book one. It’s somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story, somewhat of a “chosen one” story, and somewhat of a lit-RPG. We think the best thing about the books are its characters. Some of them we created on our own, others were inspired or outright created by our kids when they got old enough to game with us. But all of them have become like family to us, and they surprise us just as much as real people do with the things they say and the decisions they make. We’re not really in control here, we just document what they do! We even have songs we’ve attributed to many of them, that sort of capture the essence of each character for us!

Overall, the series tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Five, whose formation occurred centuries ago following an event called the Great Reavening. Their purpose is to somehow undo the damage that was done to Cyrradon, and to the nature of life, death, and time in that horrific event. Each member of the Five bears an amulet, handed down from generation to generation, one of five powerful artifacts that mark and aid them as mortal champions of the five gods who oversee the elder races of the world. There are dark powers both mortal and immortal vying to take advantage of the brokenness of the world to dominate all life. And believe it or not, our villains are as complex and relatable as our MCs (with theme songs of their own). But of course the MCs don’t know any of this at the beginning, and that’s the beauty of the epic fantasy: the reader is right there alongside them, learning things piece by piece as they do, puzzling it out one shattered fragment at a time.

The best part of the story for us is the way the MCs grow. At first, they know nothing of each other, and very little about themselves or their past. They come from different cultures with lots of preconceptions about the other races and especially mixed breeds. So seeing them grow into their own potential, learn to trust each other (or not), learn to work together (or not), and learn that the world they live in is so much bigger and more deadly than they’d ever known, is really a privilege for us to witness. 

What were some obstacles to writing The Call (book 1)? I know you have had an interesting journey into the world of indie publishing.

It’s been a long road, and one we didn’t actually know we were on for a long time. As you know, we started building our world and our story long before we ever thought it would be a book, much less a massive series of books! Rose, who was usually our DM when we gamed, had an extensive pile of notes, maps, story ideas, character bios, etc., from our gaming sessions, so that gave us a great start. Then I (Jason) used some of my spare time working night shifts to dream up a lot of the histories of Cyrradon, and that ended up being a huge resource, bigger than we planned. So the first obstacle was really deciding how to put it all together. We knew there was no way our story could be told in just one book, so our first concept was a five-book series. Five heroes, five amulets, five gods, right? But by the time we got the first draft of book one down, we knew even five wasn’t going to be enough. 

The next obstacle came gift-wrapped in all the preconceptions of what a debut novel should look like according to the big names in publishing. Around 80,000 words, a complete novel in one volume, professionally edited and published, amazing cover art, etc. And it was about this time we got neck deep in the churn of query letters and rejections. At that time, our perception of indie authors was not complimentary. We were led to believe that self-publishing was for folks who just didn’t have what it took, and we were beginning to wonder if that was us. Then, fortunately for us, a certain steamy romance novel began making headlines and we learned it had originally gained popularity as an independent work, then got picked up by one of the big five, topping the charts internationally and even becoming a series of movies, despite being by most accounts rather terribly written. We knew our writing was better, beyond any doubt. We had to reevaluate our definitions of what was “worthy,” and whether we wanted to allow the ‘big five’ to determine that for us. We decided we did not.

Of course, there was another obstacle of the “elephant in the room” variety: the whole notion of a man and wife writing a story together and avoiding divorce in the process! We had to learn a lot about each other. How to communicate, how to manage our expectations, how to concede to one another in some regards and let go of our own “darlings” to move forward in others. In a lot of ways, we changed how we write as we realized where our strengths lay. We developed our roles and became much more comfortable in them. In the beginning, we both would write scenes independently, then hand them off to the other to go through and edit or critique. This was fraught with pitfalls, because as any writer knows, no matter how you plan out a scene, it always develops legs and arms you didn’t anticipate. We began finding these appendages fighting with one another and creating conflict in the story and in our relationship. Over time, we shifted to what could be called a “framer and painter” format. Rose is the architect (in our writing, and coincidentally as a profession); she puts the framework together and makes sure the plotlines and the critical elements of the story stay true. I’m the fluff guy (Rose says ‘artist’); I put all the pretty stuff on the outside, write the dialogue, develop the characters, and so on. So, when we’re crafting a new scene, Rose takes the lead until we have the mechanics figured out, then I take the stage for the drafting. It’s been an exercise that has strengthened not only our story writing, but our marriage as well.

What are some successes?

[JASON] I’d say our successes are built in right after our failures. Like the example with our thoughts toward indie authors, that failure led us to the success of being primed to accept some formative advice we received one day in early 2020 from a wise gentleman named Paul. He said two things we wouldn’t have been ready to hear prior to that smutty bestseller hitting the news. The first was, “There are over seven billion people in the world. All you need to be successful is 200-300 thousand of them to like your story.” This was like a light switch, flooding my brain to the very darkest reaches and making all the little doubting critters scamper off. Then he followed up with, “Now, just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens.” And that was it. We went through the book one last time, an out-loud reading at home with the family, and when we were done, we hopped on Kindle Direct Publishing and hit ‘submit.’ Then we cracked open a bottle of a massive Belgian style ‘dubbel’ homebrew we save for special occasions and celebrated!

There have definitely been more successes along the way. Getting positive reviews are always a success that has us on cloud nine for days. Finishing each new novel, getting that author proof in the mail and getting to hold it, smell it, flip through the pages and see all the hard work in our hands! Sending “thank you” copies to our beta readers. Every new follower on social media, everyone who reaches out just to say hi, or tells us something about how the book affected them or prods us for when the next one might be coming, these are all the successes that matter the most to us. We’re proud to be part of the indie tribe because it means we did it on our own. That’s a success in and of itself.

[ROSE] Jason found a great cover artist company, JD&J Cover Artists, who took our ideas and made them real. We also have a fantastic group of beta readers whose input helped us to fill in some blanks and remember that our readers don’t know the world as intimately as we do. Formatting the books was difficult, but doable. It taught me a lot of patience.

I know Storm’s Rising is considered epic fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what epic fantasy is?

It’s a high fantasy that’s bigger than the books. The story has its origins way before chapter one. And throughout the reading of the story, the reader is overwhelmed with a grandness of scale, depth, complexity, and history that transcends the words on the page. Like scenes from a movie, the characters are right there in the foreground moving the story along, but all the while there is a complete, mature world behind them just begging to be admired and explored, and crying out of a history so rich nearly all of it has passed out of memory and become legend or perhaps even myth. 

Some conventional sources assert the terms ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘high fantasy’ as interchangeable. We don’t believe that for a second. In our mind, a high fantasy world (i.e., a world separate from our own, where realities are a bit different, and everyone carries a blade or uses magic) is where an epic fantasy tale can occur. But simply being high fantasy does not make it epic. Convention would also have us believe to be an epic fantasy it must (1) be a massively voluminous story, (2) about an orphan or outcast who grows up to be the chosen one to save the world, from (3) an unavoidable, unescapable evil. And further that the story (4) be the type of tale that is told and retold through generations, so old that you and your parents and grandparents even cannot recall a time when the story did not exist. So why then do we call ours epic? Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little on number 4, but we have the first three dead to rights! The last one is up to our readers and time to tell. But we don’t have any doubts that lovers of classical fantasy sagas who read our story won’t dispute the label.

What drew you to writing that sort of, really, vast type of book?

No surprises here, it was having read fantasies of the epic variety before and knowing that’s what we wanted to craft for ourselves. We’ve never been satisfied with ‘garden variety’ anything. An epic fantasy requires a hero; we have multiple. An epic fantasy requires a villain; we have three pretty consistent bad guys you might choose to hate, with a handful of other minor villains for flavor. An epic fantasy requires an artifact of rare and mythic power; depending on your take on this, we either have five (the amulets) or we have none at all (we don’t exactly have a quest to find all the McGuffins, horcruxes, etc.) We’re okay with whichever you decide is the case.

One thing that differentiates our story from the traditional epic fantasy is that even though our MCs have skills they hone and lean on through the story, they’re not necessarily prodigies in the making. The typical epic starts with that orphan or outcast youth who has incredible fighting or magic using potential that ends up being the key to resolving the conflict. We veered away from that, preferring instead to show how heart, courage, and sacrifice could be the keys rather than puissant skill at arms or the magical equivalent.

Regardless, we wanted to take the time needed to tell the story completely, to lay it out with broad strokes so the reader can look forward to a journey they’ll enjoy start to finish. We wanted to delay as much as possible the inevitable moment when the reader is forced to turn that final page and decide what to do with the rest of their lives. That’s what we would want as readers. There’s nothing worse than just getting to the point you understand what’s going on and you love the characters, and then the story wraps up and you’re done. Or worse, you buy the next book in the series and all the characters you just met aren’t even mentioned again! What even is that? (If you know, you know.)

Perhaps the best part of writing epic fantasy is the allure of the world, in spite of all its flaws and dangers. Yes, there’s an overarching threat that promises to snuff out everything good, with nowhere to go and no way to escape it. But despite all that ugliness on the surface, it’s still a place you find yourself wishing you could go.

Are you more pantsers or plotters?

This is a tough one! It’s the classic argument of predestination versus free will. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? 

Any good writer, we think, needs to be a bit of both, pantser and plotter. While we love the planning phase (see our blog post on the ‘sticky note’ story boarding method we use), once we start actually writing we often see our characters making some pretty wild choices! Sometimes even choices that send our plotline off in directions we couldn’t have predicted. Or we’ll throw in a minor character for flavor in a certain scene, and then watch that character somehow grow into someone far more significant than we had designed. But you know, once it happens and Rose and I look at each other and say, “Oh, he definitely would have said that,” or “That’s so perfect!” then we’re committed and we just have to figure it out. So at that point, I suppose we become pantsers! Until the next scene, when we have it all planned out like before, and it happens again.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Top of the list goes J. R. R. Tolkien, for pretty predictable reasons. He defined the genre for us and set the bar for world-building so high we will likely never reach it. Despite having a world-building file nearly big enough now to publish as its own novel, and even despite having created our own elven language, we doubt we’ll ever get to the Silmarillion level. He’s the godfather of epic fantasy, and always will be. 

Others well-deserving of praise in both our minds include David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (and many others of the Dragonlance and Ravenloft sagas), Joe Abercrombie, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, John Flannagan, Simon Hawke, John Gwynne, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Leo Tolstoy, Judith Tarr and David B. Coe. All of these authors had some formative effect on us in terms of what we enjoy reading, and how we write our own stories.

About the authors:

Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon

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Latest release: Storm’s Rising Book 4: Eye of the Witch

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

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.

I had the pleasure of talking to L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy, about her work, epic fantasy, and spiced potatoes.

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

Thank you for the opportunity!  Every chance I get to scream how much I love high fantasy, you better believe I’m going to jump on it!

Will you introduce yourself?

I’m L.A.!  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember—first fanfiction (before I even knew it was a thing. I just loved a video game and wrote stories about it), then original fiction.  I still write fanfic from time to time when the mood strikes, but I don’t have a lot of free time for it anymore.  When I’m not writing, I’m trying to keep my ravenous, swiftly growing teenager fed and this year, giving him a homeschool education because of the continuing situation with coronavirus.  I play video games when I can spare a moment, mostly Fortnite, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls.  And if Mama’s Family is on, you can bet your butt I’m sitting and watching.  

Can you talk a little bit about The Alchemist Trilogy?

The Alchemist Trilogy is an adult high dark fantasy adventure.  It follows Ryris Bren, talented alchemist who also harbors secret magical ability (forbidden/shunned in his world), as he embarks on a new life journey to the capital city to open his very own shop—away from his father.  He’s trying to forge a life of his own, out from under his father’s shadow.  A routine ingredient harvest turns into a life-altering event and, well…hehe.  You’ll have to read to find out! 

Since Ryris is an alchemist, there is a lot of his profession and knowledge in the story, and he finds ways to use alchemy any chance he can get, even if it’s on the battlefield.  He never loses his roots—even when he’s been taken so very far away from them.  Mixed in with all the violence, dark themes, action, magic, and adventure is a lot of humor, sass, and snark—and some romance, too!  I always love stories that have a good mix of everything, and I think I’ve achieved that!  At least I hope I did!

What were some obstacles to writing?

Personally?  These last two years, with all three of us in the house pretty much all the time, presented challenges.  I’m not able to get any time alone to write.  Especially this last school year, when I’ve been doing homeschool, there’s pretty much no time at the end of the day, and I’m exhausted anyway, or don’t have the motivation to write.  I’m hoping that once my child goes back to public school in September (fingers crossed!), that I’ll get some of that motivation and time back.

Writing-wise?  Even though I’m writing fantasy, which gives me free reign to create any character/environment/situation I want and have it be as fantastical as I want it to be, there are certainly times where I get blocked.  An idea that seems so incredible in my head, so vivid—can be an absolute bear to get on the page, and when I finally DO get it in words, it’s hot garbage.  Writing the last book in my trilogy, The Alchemist: Awakening, was without a doubt that obstacle.  Long story short: the original outline was 70% scrapped and had to be re-tooled, and I was plagued with a lot of self-doubt and frustration as I tried to finish the book.  It took nearly a year to get that original draft out.  I completed the first draft, and literally 4 days later, our schools closed due to coronavirus, and everything came to a screeching halt.  That was a low time.  Even though I had a finished draft, there was so much work to do, and I had no motivation or time to do it.

What are some victories?

My biggest victory was finishing The Alchemist: Awakening.  After all the frustration of having to completely re-work the outline, the boundless time pulling my hair out trying to write the damn first draft, and then having coronavirus smash into our lives—it was my own little miracle when I finally held that proof in my hands.  It was 18 months from start to finish. This was without a doubt, the hardest book to write, complete, and polish.  I’m incredibly proud of it now, but holy cats did it take an extraordinary amount of effort on my part.

I know your series is described as high fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what high fantasy is? What separates it from other fantasy subgenres?

When I think about high fantasy, my mind immediately goes to big, epic stories with a lot of characters, filled with magic and monsters, high stakes, and sweeping environments just ripe for the picking on adventures.  Almost like an open-world RPG or a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  And when I write my stories, that’s where I’m taking my inspiration from a lot of the time.  Big worlds, intriguing characters, excellent adventures.  Stories that can go on and on, spread into series after series, generation after generation.  When I read high fantasy, and hopefully when people read mine, I like to be able to feel like I’ve just been dropped into a lived-in world.  You feel welcome, like you’re walking into a warm, somewhat-smoky village inn, and the server drops some spiced potatoes and a mug of ale in front of you and you just watch the world go by—and happen to overhear a bunch of companions planning their next big adventure.  That adventure is your story—their story.  The world feels familiar, even when it isn’t.  One of the things that I always loved about high fantasy, the works of Weis and Hickman in particular, was that the world seemed to still go on around the main characters.  Life kept happening, from everyday commerce to going to school, to farming, smithing, and medicine.  The main story was happening—but so was life.  Everyday regular people continued their lives while the main characters went about their journey, helping them when they could, staying out of the way when they needed to.  It always made the worlds seem so believable, even when they were set in a fantasy environment.  That’s what I hope I’ve achieved in my books, and my readers seem to think I’ve done just that!  

I think that high fantasy is a broader genre title, and that a lot of fantasy books can fall into that category without being exclusively “high fantasy.”  Like mine, I’d classify as Dark High Fantasy, with definitely epic vibes.  But there’s cozy fantasy elements (I love that term, Dan Fitz!), horror elements, etc.  I think the term “high fantasy” allows people to write sweeping stories and include all sorts of sub-genres within their books.  If that makes sense?

What drew you to writing high fantasy?

As a kid, I picked up Forging the Darksword, by Weis and Hickman, when it was first released (whooo, I might be old 😉), and I was HOOKED.  The same with Fred Saberhagen’s Swords books.  So, when I decided to write my own original fiction, I took a lot of inspiration from those stories, and all the other sprawling high fantasy I’d read since childhood and ran with it.  It was always a genre I was familiar with, and knew I could do well.  Fantasy has always been very comforting to me, a place to escape to when life kind of sucked.  I wanted to create my own stories, and hopefully, give readers that same feeling I had when I read high fantasy.

I know you tend to outline your books in advance. I’m curious: how far out do you plan?

Especially because I write high fantasy, sometimes with a lot of characters and places that I need to keep track of, it’s essential for me to plan to the very end.  That doesn’t mean I don’t leave wiggle room and allow myself to completely change and add things as I go, but I’ve got to have the outline down so I know where the story is going, otherwise I’m terrified I’ll write myself into a corner.  But, even with outlines, you can still encounter those types of problems—like I did with The Alchemist: Awakening.  Since I had planned the trilogy so far ahead of time, the story had some significant changes by the time I got to book three, and I had to do some reconstructing.  But I was SO THANKFUL that I had that outline, and the bones of the story was there, otherwise I would have been in a heap of trouble, I’m sure! 

With my next high fantasy project, The Secret Bad-Assed Ladies Fantasy Project* (*not actual title!) I’m getting out of my comfort zone and trying to write without a proper outline.  These books are planned as shorter, adventure-type stories with the same cast of women, and not necessarily meant to be read in order like my last series.  That’s not to say I don’t have a world and characters/lore fleshed out in a whole bunch of documents and in my head, but there are no traditional outlines for the books. Just a list of “adventure ideas” that I’ll pull from as I write.  It’s been a challenge—but a fun one!  I’m only a few chapters into the first book, and right now it’s more of a “dink around when I get a smidge of time between homeschool lessons and life stuff,” but it’ll see the light of day sometime in the next few years, I’m sure.  These ladies are pretty damn cool, lemme tell ya! 

You’ve mentioned in previous conversations that the DeathGate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman is what originally drew you to fantasy. Did those books (which are so great!) affect your writing at all?  

I could gush all day about how much I admire and respect Weis and Hickman, and how much they have influenced me as a reader and a writer!  Their worlds are so unique and beautiful, and filled with so many enthralling places and people, that when I started to create my own fantasy stories, I drew from what I learned reading them to help myself generate my own environments.  I think readers come to expect sweeping, awe-inspiring, visually-stunning (in your imagination, at least) worlds from fantasy—especially high fantasy—so I was grateful that I had read so many of their stories as a kid/teen.  It gave me a leg up, I think, in being able to create my own vistas and characters. 

Do you have any other inspirations when it comes to your writing?

I play a lot of Elder Scrolls games, and just seeing those incredible landscapes as I adventure has always been sort of an inspiration.  The world for The Alchemist Trilogy has (in my mind) a very Skyrim/Cyrodiil feel to it.  The Bad-Assed Fantasy Ladies project feels totally like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion to me as I imagine the world.  Both book series are a medieval-type fantasy world, so having that visual representation already in my mind has been immensely helpful when imagining what my environments look like.  

For many people, high fantasy is what first comes to mind when they think of the fantasy genre. Yet it seems that it’s much more difficult to find nowadays. Would you agree with that?

 Yes and no?  I think a lot of the time, people tend to go to the traditionally-published high fantasy first, because it has had (especially the older stuff like Weis/Hickman, Saberhagen, etc.) decades of attention and hype.  But what people don’t realize, or maybe don’t want to even try, is that there is such a vast catalog of indie and self-published authors out there creating some absolutely incredible, mind-boggling high fantasy.  It’s just a matter of getting out of that “trad publishing comfort zone” and trying indie and self-pubbed books.  As indies, we have complete control over what does or does not go into our books, and I think it makes for some pretty incredible, unique, and boundary-pushing stories. 

As far as high fantasy goes, who are some authors I need to be reading? 

Indies: Dan Fitzgerald, Deck Matthews, Thomas Howard Riley, Sean R. Frazier, Lilith Hope Milam, Mason Thomas…just to name a few.  Oh, and…me?  😉 

Traditionally published:  Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Without a doubt.  They might be older books (although there’s NEW DRAGONLANCE IN AUGUST OMG!!!), but they’re GREAT  books.  Darksword, Death Gate, and Dragonlance shaped who I am today as a reader and writer.  And yes, Jodie, I know YOU have read Weis/Hickman, lol.  But everyone else should, too!  

About the author:

L.A. Wasielewski is a gamer, nerd, baseball fan (even though the Brewers make it very difficult sometimes), and mom. When she’s not writing, she’s blasting feral ghouls and super mutants in the wastelands, baking and cooking, and generally being a smart-ass. She’s very proud of the fact that she has survived several years with two drum kits in the house—and still has most of her hearing intact.

You can find L.A. Wasielewski here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LAWasielewski/

Website:  http://www.lawasielewski.com/

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

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, the subgenre that comes to most people’s minds immediately upon hearing the word “fantasy”.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to be able to chat with A.C. Cobble, author of several books including The King’s Ranger series.

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

Will you introduce yourself?

Hello, my name is AC Cobble. I’m a full-time fantasy writer living in the Houston, TX area with my wife, three boys, and two dogs. I enjoy eating and drinking, gardening, traveling, more traveling, and of course writing books!

Can you talk a little bit about your work?

Yes, I’ve completed three series called Benjamin Ashwood, the Cartographer, and The King’s Ranger. There’s a fourth coming soon, and I’ll share more about that at the end! The Cartographer is pretty dark and sexy, while Benjamin Ashwood and King’s Ranger are fun adventure tales. Think small parties going on epic journeys and facing impossible odds. They’re a good match for fans of Raymond E Feist or Michael J Sullivan.

What are some obstacles to writing high fantasy?

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes it’s difficult to do so in high fantasy while also delivering a new and exciting story. Said differently, high fantasy readers have firm expectations, so how do you deliver on those in a surprising way?

What are some successes?

For me personally, I really enjoy taking the ideas I grew up reading about, and spinning them in a more modern and interesting (to me) way. My books don’t feature a Chosen One, for example, because in my experience no one is the secret daughter of the king, or a grandson of the most powerful wizard, or whatever. Heroes aren’t made that way, but there are heroes! A lot of my work toys with the ideas of what real life good and bad guys might look like in a fantasy setting.

Can you explain what high fantasy is?

<coughs uncomfortably> Maybe? I’m not one for hard definitions on subgenres, and I think there is plenty of overlap in the fantasy ones, to the point no one really knows for sure, which makes the categorization pointless if we can’t all agree on it! But to me, the most important elements of high fantasy are a fictional world and a lot of magic. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the archetypal high fantasy. Most of the books I’d categorize as “what I grew up reading” or “classic fantasy” are high fantasy.

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

I use high and epic fantasy interchangeably as well, and books are frequently both, but I think there are some different implications to the terms. And it’s worth noting that in some areas important to authors and readers, like Amazon categories or bookstore shelves, you only get one choice. Amazon doesn’t list high fantasy, for example, so if I’m talking to an Amazon shopper, I say epic even if it’s not necessarily an epic tale.

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

Epic fantasy usually is high fantasy, but it involves large consequences. World-shaking events, the end of times, or just everyone dying in some terrific bloodbath. And because the stakes are big, the books are normally big, and come in long series. Said differently, you can write a book and call it high fantasy, but when you add eight more to the series, it’s epic fantasy.

What drew you to writing high fantasy?

It’s what I read the most of growing up, so it was a natural fit when I began writing. I’ve stayed in the genre because it lends itself well to a deeper exploration of themes. Literary snobs might be clutching their pearls right now, but in high fantasy, you craft the world, and you can set the stage however you like. We can look at real, important issues, while still having a bit of fun with it.

The King’s Ranger looks at family and was heavily inspired by my own experiences as a father. Benjamin Ashwood examines what it takes for an individual to rise up and battle against an entrenched system. The Cartographer is about someone of privilege turning their back on that luxury, fighting for what is right, and the sacrifice that entails.

I know most people don’t read my books for the themes. They want the swordfights, and fireballs, and dragons, and I’m Ok with that, but it’s important for me as an author to craft a deeper layer. High fantasy is a blank canvas which allows me to do that however I want.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Okay, I’ll give you a little more. I start out with an outline that looks like a list of the chapters with one to three high level bullet points. X Character goes to Y Location and fights Z bad guy. I generally stay true to that structure, but all of the details in between are pantsed.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I think Josiah Bancroft has the most interesting prose of working authors. China Mieville has the biggest imagination of anyone I’ve read. P Djeli Clark, ML Wang and Fonda Lee are on my most watched list because I think they’ll take fantasy in exciting new directions. Will Wight is busy opening doors people didn’t know were there and has amassed a seriously rabid fan base in the process. Alec Hutson, Phil Tucker, and TL Greylock are writing books similar to what I want to write. Michael J Sullivan’s books are ones I love to kick back and relax with. Robert Jordan is probably my biggest influence. And I could go on for several more pages…

What/who inspired you to start writing high fantasy?

True story, several years back I was reading a book that was so horrible I thought I could do better. I can’t remember the author or the book (which is probably for the best), but I honestly thought if they could do it, I could do it too. I’d always been into D&D, Magic the Gathering, etc, and I loved imaging stories, but I’d never really told any of them.

So I sat down and got to work. I spent about three years on that first book, and no one but my wife knew I was writing it. Hit publish, then when it was live, announced I was a writer. Still not sure if I managed to surpass that forgotten author, but it changed my life giving it a try!

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was my single greatest (positive) influence, but the political climate in the US at the time informed the conflict in my new world, and my travels gave it shape. That’s still what drives me; blending real world inspiration into a fantastic story.

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

I’ve started work on a new project called Conspiracy: Wahrheit Book 1. I’ve finished the first draft already, and truly, I think it’s my best work yet. There’s a Kickstarter for it which ends April 22nd, but the project is already fully-funded and we’ll be able to offer some of the rewards until close to the retail release in August. These will be big books with interior illustrations by Felix Ortiz, available in ebook to read on any device, signed paperbacks & hardbacks, and audiobooks narrated by Travis Baldree at half the cost of retail! I tried to balance each offering so it’s better for both me and the reader to get the book via Kickstarter rather than the retailers—but for those who want it the old fashioned way, it’ll be available that way too!

The Wahrheit series is similar in tone to my Benjamin Ashwood or King’s Ranger books, but BIGGER. Think multiple points of view, big battles, coming of age, spies, assassins, more in dept research, ancient mysteries, world-spanning conflict, and in a first for me, dragons! I’ve got artwork and several sample chapters up on the Kickstarter, so if it sounds interesting at all, go check it out!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/author-ac-cobble/a-new-fantasy-novel-conspiracy-wahrheit-book-one?ref=bj6osp

About the author:

AC Cobble is the author of The King’s Ranger, Benjamin Ashwood, Cartographer, and upcoming Wahrheit series.

Wahrheit is a giant, sprawling epic fantasy. It features political intrigue, spies, assassins, world-spanning conflicts, huge battles, intricate characters, and dragons! It’s for fans of Benjamin Ashwood and the King’s Ranger, but MORE.

The King’s Ranger is a clean, action-packed adventure. Rew, the titular ranger, wants only to manage the wilderness he is responsible for, but the arrival of three youths in his jail cell force him to embark on an epic journey. To protect the youths, he’s forced to confront a darkness in his past and join a swirling conflict that will envelope the entire kingdom.

Benjamin Ashwood is AC’s take on the classic farm boy with a sword fantasy story. It starts much like they all do, but in Ben’s world like the real world, heroes are made not born, and the good guys don’t always win. Try it today and find out why this series has sold hundreds of thousands of copies!

The Cartographer is a little sexier and a little darker, but has the same sense of fun and adventure as Benjamin Ashwood. Think world spanning travel and exploration, occult rituals, dark seductresses, bodies dropping like flies, and bar fights. Fans of Rhys will love Oliver and Sam. Join the adventure today!

AC Cobble’s books have been published in English, German, and Polish. For series artwork, maps, the newsletter signup, the blog, and more, head over to: https://accobble.com/.

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

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. This month’s focus is on high and epic fantasy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mortal Blade – Christopher Mitchell (SPFBO7 finalist)

Of Blood & Fire – Ryan Cahill (SPFBO7)

The Forever King – Ben Galley (SPFBO7 finalist)

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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

To purchase The Hand of Fire: Amazon