Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Grimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

This month the focus is on urban fantasy, with fantastical elements showing up in the most unexpected of places. Below is a list of urban fantasy authors to check out as well as links to all of the interviews. The list is far from complete: tell me who I need to add!

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Matthew Samuels

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring C. Thomas Lafollette

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Peter Hartog

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Satyros Phil Brucato

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring G.E. Newbegin

Ilona Andrews- Kate Daniels series

Holly Black- Book of Night

Patricia Briggs- Mercy Thompson series

Satyros Phil Brucato- Red Shoes

Jim Butcher- The Dresden Files series

Cassandra Clare- City of Bones

Neil Gaiman- Neverwhere

Kim Harrison- the Hollows series

Peter Hartog- The Guardian of Empire City series

Kevin Hearne- The Iron Druid series

Jamie Jackson- Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid series

C. Thomas Lafollette- Luke Irontree & the Last Vampire War

Seanan Mcguire- the October Daye series

G.E. Newbegin- Pyramidion

Matthew Samuels- Small Places

C.L. Schneider- Nite Fire

David R. Slayton- White Trash Warlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mortal Blade – Christopher Mitchell (SPFBO7 finalist)

Of Blood & Fire – Ryan Cahill (SPFBO7)

The Forever King – Ben Galley (SPFBO7 finalist)

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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

To purchase The Hand of Fire: Amazon

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

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

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

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

Thanks for having me!

Will you introduce yourself?

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

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

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

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

Have I sold it hard enough?

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

What were some obstacles to writing Nomads of the Sea?

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

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

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

What are some successes?

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

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

Well Wikipedia defines epic fantasy as… 

I’m just messing with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

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

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

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

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

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

Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

What/who inspired you to start writing epic fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:


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

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy

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

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

Guest Posts this Week:

Fantasy Focus: High and Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

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

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

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

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

Great Authors to Try:

Jason and Rose Bishop- Storm’s Rising series

Terry Brooks- The Sword of Shannara series

AC Cobble- The King’s Ranger series

Sarah Beth Durst- The Queens of Renthia series

Steven Erikson- Malazan Book of the Fallen

Raymond E. Feist- The Riftwar Saga

Terry Goodkind- The Sword of Truth series

Dorian Hart- The Heroes of Spira series

Robin Hobb- The Farseer trilogy

Robert Jordan- The Wheel of Time series

S. Kaeth- Children of the Nexus series

Katherine Kerr- Deverry series

Marcus Lee- The Gifted and the Cursed series

Anne McCaffrey- The Dragonriders of Pern

Roland O’Leary- The Hand of Fire

Thomas Howard Riley- We Break Immortals

Patrick Rothfuss- The Kingkiller Chronicles

Sean Russell- The Swan’s War series

Brandon Sanderson- The Stormlight Archive

Scott Lynch- The Gentleman Bastards series

Jeffrey Speight- Paladin Unbound

M.L. Spencer- Rivenworld series

Andrea Stewart- The Drowning Empire series

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

LA Wasielewski- The Alchemist Trilogy

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman- The Dragonlance Chronicles

Jeff Wheeler- The Dawning of Muirwood series

T.H. White- The Once and Future King

Tad Williams- Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series

Coby Zucker- Nomads of the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Contributors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Years and 695 Posts Later…

Image Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Once upon a time, there was a socially awkward, book-obsessed nerd. This nerd (let’s call her Jodie, shall we?) loved to read. I mean, loved it! Her house was filled with books, her mind was filled with books, and she loved talking about books with everyone she knew. Now, every main character has a flaw (or two, or three) and one of Jodie’s flaws was that she had a hard time not talking about books. This could easily make her an incredibly annoying person to be around. Fortunately, she happened to know a wise wizard. This wizard (also known as her husband) suggested a magical cure to Jodie’s fatal flaw: start a book blog!

Now that we’ve all learned why I am not an author, let me sum up the rest of the story: today is my third blogging birthday. After nearly seven hundred posts, let me share a bit of knowledge with you: I am not an expert. At all. What I am, though, is grateful. I was completely surprised to realize that blogs don’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve met some amazing people and read some incredible books thanks to book blogging. I’ve been fortunate to have authors and publishers trust me to review their books, and I’ve tried genres that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.

I have noticed a fair bit of discouragement lately from bloggers (I’ve been discouraged myself). Imposter Syndrome seems to be rearing its ugly head a lot. So, here is a short sampling of some of the amazing reviews that have caused me to spend way too much money on books. This is nowhere near a complete list, but you all rock. If you happen to find yourself on this list, please consider adding your own list of book bloggers who have added to your reading enjoyment.

Beforewegoblog’s: A Deadly Education

The Book Pyramid: The Bard’s Blade

Off the TBR: The Half Killed

Plot_Head on Fanfiaddict: Of Honey and Wildfires

The Irresponsible Reader: Highfire

Ben Wablett :We Men of Ash and Shadow

Kerri McBookNerd: Little Thieves

Paul’s Picks: Two Like Me and You

Fantasy Book Nerd: The Swordsman’s Lament

Al Wrote a Book: Ashes of the Sun

Sword and Spectres: Orconomics

Sue’s Musings: The Goddess of Nothing at All

Beneath a Thousand Skies: The Thirteenth Hour

I Can Has Books: How I Live Now

Banned Books Week 2021: Read Dangerously

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson

Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!

According to the American Library Association, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda”. (via lithub) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.

Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.

Courtesy of The American Library Association

The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.

When you ban a book, you reveal yourself.– Brad Meltzer

The list of banned and challenged books is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.

Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.

So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

Live dangerously. Read.

Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Bible

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- What You May Have Missed

I was joined by several excellent authors, to talk about any possible connections between great fantasy writing and table top roleplaying games. I’ve gathered the posts here, so you can easily find any that you may have missed.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Zack Argyle

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs-Geoff Habiger

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dorian Hart

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rowena Andrews and Jonathan Nevair

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Dan Fitzgerald

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Thomas Howard Riley

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Jeffrey Speight

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Ricardo Victoria

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

TTRPGs that are Based on Books

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

I’m so excited to be able to talk about D&D with author Rob Edwards today! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book, The Ascension Machine?

It’s a science fiction superhero novel, in which a young grifter impersonates a guy and in the process winds up enrolled at a college for alien superheroes. Grey, as he starts calling himself, stays for the novelty, but despite himself finds friends, and a place he belongs. It’s all based on his lie, so to stay at the Justice Academy Grey has to keep lying, even to his new friends. Things escalate, the team end up fighting gangsters and aliens, and investigate strange goings on. It’s an adventure romp with a large cast of characters all dealing with the difficult adjustment of starting college… with super powers.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

In 1983 I was about 12 or 13, and I came across an advert in some comic books which I became kind of obsessed with. A party of adventurers explore a dungeon, battle a monster then encounter some green slime. I cannot tell you for why, but when the elf rogue shouts “Look out, it’s dripping!” I knew I had to play this game.

I got the “Red Box” Basic set for my next birthday, and never looked back. I’ve played or run every edition of D&D since, as well as many many other systems. 

Here’s the list of some of the games I’ve played in the order of them occurring to me: GURPS, DC Heroes, TORG, Amber Diceless, Golden Heroes, Marvel, Mutants and Masterminds, Hero, Star Wars d6, Star Wars d20, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Ghostbusters, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Spycraft, Fantasycraft, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP, Doctor Who, Song of Ice and Fire, Babylon Project, Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Arcanis, Seventh Sea, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Judge Dredd, TMNT… plus a few more for one shots that I’m probably forgetting).

Oh, my greatest Geek pride (as it says in my bio): back when Wizards of the Coast had the Star Wars license and were running the Living Force campaign for convention play, I got to write seven modules for the campaign, meaning someone somewhere at Lucasfilm (probably an intern) read something I wrote in the Star Wars universe and said “OK”. Meaning that, until Disney bought Star Wars, I was briefly, obscurely, canon. 

Anyway, this answer is far too long. Suffice to say I’m almost always the DM these days, which I love, but my rare chances to play are solid gold for me.

That sounds like my husband. He always ends up being a DM. After a less-than -successful attempt on my part several years ago ( I failed to communicate to my players exactly what kind of campaign I was trying to run, which did not go well), I’m still working up my courage to try again. I might give it another go in a decade or so. 

As DM, do you feel like your writing affects how you tell the story? Did your experience with gaming play into your writing at all?

Interesting question. Firstly, I think over time I’ve come to realise that my writing and my DMing, at least for home brew things, come from a very similar place, creatively. I’ve found the more I’m writing, the less I have in the tank for coming up with my own worlds and plotlines for games. And vice versa. As a result, since taking my writing more seriously, I’ve tended to stick to prewritten adventures. Perhaps not as engaging as creating my own world, but still a lot of fun.

I’d say my experience gaming has absolutely everything to do with my writing. I’ve always been a writer, always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember, but for the best part of four decades, I honed my skills as a storyteller on all my many players. Sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. When I started writing professionally, I had all of that foundation to build on. A sense of how much foreshadowing is too much. A sense of when the story needs a kick from an action beat. Why world building is important and how too much can be a distraction and suck the pace out of a scene. All of my instinct for that comes from my gaming. (Also reading so very very much in my youth).

That said, I have a D&D campaign world that I’ve run different groups in for…. Wow, is it twenty years now? … There’s a story to be told there, there’s a novel, possibly a trilogy in it. But actually writing the book of the campaign(s)… I’ve tried starting a few times but so far it has totally stumped me.

Wow, twenty years is a huge accomplishment! I bet the world development for that campaign is incredible. Do the characters being played change as the players do, or does each player bring a new facet to the same characters?

Most of the active world building happened for the first campaign — that was a lot — and the original sequel campaign. Those campaigns had the same players, playing different characters two decades apart in the campaign timeline. Since then, I’ve run three variations on the original campaign, always with different characters, always bringing new wrinkles to the way the world works. New characters bring new focus, it’s interesting to see NPCs (non-player characters) who were hugely significant in the original run fading into the background or  taking very different actions and suffering very different fates in later playthroughs. By the same token, NPCs who barely got a name in the original version get the spotlight in later runs.

The most recent version of the campaign fell apart at about the time the pandemic hit. I’ve since decided it’s time to retire that campaign world and start something fresh. Though in this campaign, I’m trying to be a little more improvisational about it all, because I don’t want it to suck the energy out of my writing.

If anyone is super interested, you can get a hint of what some of the setting was like in my short story Virtue’s Blade in the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Magic and Destiny. It’s a new story not taken directly from any specific adventure in that world, but does give a flavour of some of the world building for that campaign. (Or listen to me read it on my podcast here: Episode 39: Virtue’s Pirate · StorycastRob (spotify.com))

You mentioned using your time as DM (Dungeon Master, for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo) to hone your storytelling skills, and how that helped with pacing and foreshadowing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Ascension Machine was that the pacing was never too rushed, nor was it too slow. Your practice definitely made perfect!

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Grey was an interesting character in that, while he was conning everyone, at his heart he had a strong moral compass. Is that sort of “alignment” your go-to when gaming? And dovetailing off of that, do you have a favorite character class? Or do you prefer to shake things up when creating your own character (obviously, prewritten adventures are a little different)?

Oh yeah. I know people can get very excited by evil campaigns or characters, but they don’t really interest me. I’m always the good guy in games as a player, if I ever feel the urge to be evil, I have my DMing for that!

As for character classes, I like my characters to be skilled and versatile. They don’t need to be The Best, but I do prefer competence. In pursuit of it, I’ve dabbled in just about every class over the years, but my big go-tos are Sorcerer, Fighter, Bard. My least travelled are probably Druid and Cleric. My current obsession is Artificer, and I think I might actually get to play one soon.

Grey in The Ascension Machine could absolutely be one of my characters in a game. I’ve played plenty of rogues, swindlers and con artists in all sorts of settings, from Jack “Ace” King, a gambler in a Wild West game, to Agent Duchess, my Spycraft “Face” character. In The Ascension Machine, Grey’s plan on Bantus (no details, read the book!) was basically something I pulled in-character for a D&D game one time. 

 I am almost obsessively honest in the real world, so these characters are pure escapism!

Ah, you claim you’re obsessively honest. Perhaps that is what a dishonest person would say? 😉 I must say, I’ve never played an artificer. I bet it would be a blast, though. What would you say to someone who is curious about playing ttrpgs, but has never played before?

Give it a go! The hobby isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it for yourself. Oh there are plenty of YouTube shows and let’s plays out there that you can watch to get a sense of how things work (Including our own DragonLance play, right Jodie?) but really you have to play it to be sure. Just, try and find a good DM, they really do make all the difference. If someone is asking me, I might well offer to run a session, if we can find some more players.

But if you’re asking how would I describe ttrpgs to somebody…? The grand description is that it’s cooperative improvised storytelling (with dice). It’s “Let’s Pretend” for grown-ups and kids  (with dice).

Any other description can be contradicted (and even the dice thing, one of my favourite games is Amber, a diceless system based on Roger Zelazny’s books). 

Because, yes, it can be an epic tale of heroes battling monsters, saving the world and getting loot (with dice), if that’s the story your group wants to tell. But it could equally be a disturbing tale of standing against unspeakable horrors where only madness and death awaits (with dice), or a political intrigue with backstabbing (and dice), or… whatever else you need it to be.

It is such a versatile hobby. As long as you can find a group of people who want to tell the same kind of story you do, it can be whatever you want it to be. Usually with dice.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards