• Blog Tours,  Reviews,  Something Special

    Cheltenham Literary Festival: Grimwood – Nadia Shireen

    This is a somewhat special post. The Cheltenham Literature Festival is running from the 8-17 of October 2021 and has a fabulous programme full of interesting events around books and literature. To get the word out, Midas PR invited me and a whole bunch of other bloggers on a huge book tour to spotlight a surprise book from one of the authors featured at the festival! You can see the full schedule for week one of the tour up top – it’s a two week tour.

    I was sent the wonderful Grimwood by Nadia Shireen, who will be doing an in-person event at the festival on Saturday 9th of October, showing readers how she draws the characters from her book and doing a bit of a reading. You can get tickets for what is sure to be a very fun afternoon here. I loved the book so much and am already plotting how to get it into the hands of children I know.

    Many thanks to Sofia Saghir at Midas PR and Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.

    SUMMARY: Fox cub siblings Ted and Nancy are on the run from Princess Buttons, the scariest street cat in the Big City. They flee for Grimwood, expecting to find refuge in the peaceful countryside. Instead, they are met with thieving eagles, dramatic ducks, riotous rabbits and a whole host of unusual characters. Grimwood is… weird. But when Princess Buttons tracks them down, Nancy and Ted and the animals of Grimwood must unite in a mind-bending race against time… (from Simon and Schuster)

    OPINIONS: Grimwood is absolutely delightful. It is laugh-out-loud funny, adorable and just a fantastic children’s book. I devoured it in a single sitting and it massively improved both my day and my mood and I want to throw this at every single child I know. The story follows fox siblings Ted and Nancy who are sweet and charming, crafty and prone to mischief as they get themselves in and out of trouble. An unfortunate incident with resident mean cat Princess Buttons sees them running to Grimwood where they meet new friends and get into many new adventures – and ultimately have to face their enemy again.

    This is probably good to be read to kids five and up, and easy enough for young readers getting comfortable reading on their own to understand and read. It is highly illustrated throughout in black and white, which further enhances it and makes Grimwood a lovely packaged book. This is definitely one to watch and I can see Nadia Shireen being a major new children’s author for years to come.

    If you have children in your life in any way, they’ll probably enjoy this. I think it’s best suited for ages seven to nine, but grown-up me loved it too. You can experience the magic of Grimwood by adding it on Goodreads here or ordering it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Something Special

    A Spotlight on Grace Draven: The Best Epic Fantasy Author You’re Not Reading

    Like many patrons of this blog, I possess an unabashed gluttony for books. I’m a voracious reader, but a voracious reader that is keenly aware of her preferences. I would characterize myself primarily as a genre reader. Yes, I appreciate and regularly read the Classics. And yes, I read the occasional piece of literary fiction or non-fiction recommended by a friend or family member. But the vast majority of the content I read falls squarely into one of two genres:  Fantasy or Romance.

    And also, like many patrons of this blog, I am continually in pursuit of those perfect books, books that speak to my soul, books that seem to have been written just for me, because they deliver on all the elements of literature that matter to me specifically. These perfect books cater to my literary preferences, they resonate with my life experiences, and they scratch the itch of how I like to be entertained.

    Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what the search for those perfect books looks like for me as a reader and why, especially with respect to an author that I have found consistently delivers content that is thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying for me personally: Grace Draven. This essay attempts to unpack my thoughts on Fantasy-Romance and explain my appreciation for Grace Draven’s works as first-class examples of both genres.

    The title of this post makes a bold claim – “The Best Epic Fantasy Author You’re Not Reading” – and I admit to being provocative in the title. While Grace Draven is often included in Romance recommendation threads, you don’t often, if ever, see her name in recommendations outside of that context, or more specifically in requests for Epic Fantasy. My hope is that by reading this, Romance-wary, Epic Fantasy fans might decide to pick up one of her books and discover what an amazing fantasy author she is, and that her name will start to materialize in Epic Fantasy discussions and not “just” Romance. And for Romance readers out there that are unfamiliar with her work, here’s hoping you decide to dive in to one of her fantastical worlds.

    My search for the next perfect book often begins perusing selections from the branch of speculative fiction that I prefer above all others – Epic, or Heroic, Fantasy. When I think about what appeals to me within the Epic Fantasy subgenre, the immediate answer, for me, is the scale of the world-building. I enjoy being completely immersed in another world, and I want to explore that world in detail with the characters through the plot. I want that world to contain lands, climates, races, and magic that is truly outside the realm in which I exist. I want to be transported to another time and place so different from my own, that when I enter that world through reading, my own ceases to exist.

    Layered on top of this world is a plot that is equally epic in scale, where the actions of the protagonists and the battles they face have world-changing consequences. There is good and evil, and our heroes must overcome both external and internal conflicts to ultimately defeat that evil. My favorite fantasy authors are my favorite fantasy authors because they deliver on these two aspects of Epic Fantasy; Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, and J.R.R. Tolkien are writers whose world-building and plots are expansive yet detailed, imaginative yet grounded, and high-stakes yet personal.

    My search for perfect books also seeks out the aspects of the Romance genre that I find especially enjoyable. While the primary relationship-building is essential, (and, personally, I like some steam), the biggest draw for me is the superb characterization delivered by the genre. I often see Fantasy readers requesting “character-driven” books or “strong character-building,” and honestly, when I read that, I immediately want to direct them to a Fantasy Romance. The depth of characterization in a Romance novel is often unparalleled. Because the Romance genre focuses on the relationship of the couple as the primary plot, Romance authors must necessarily delve deeply into the backstory, motivations, and struggles of the characters in order to establish the basis for and evolution of their relationship. The characters must change or evolve in some significant way as part of the romantic plot in order for the resolution of the relationship to occur. The depth of characterization required to do this well leads to three-dimensional, well-balanced characters, fleshed out to a degree that you may not otherwise experience, and an investment in their success as individuals and as a couple that results in a thoroughly satisfying ending. You won’t find much better characterization than in a good Romance book!

    Understanding what appeals to me from each genre helps focus my search on the next perfect book. I want a book that checks all of these boxes, a book that delivers the best of what both Fantasy and Romance has to offer. I want a full, A-plot, adult Romance that is richly developed with nuanced characters right alongside the heroic quest set in a deeply imaginative world. Over the course of the past several years, I have found several of these diamonds-in-the-rough: Milla Vane’s A Heart of Blood and Ashes, Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles series, and C.L. Wilson’s The Winter King, to name a few. But I have also found an author who’s entire canon consistently and adeptly delivers on the promises and expectations of both the Epic Fantasy and Romance genres: Grace Draven.

    I am convinced that fantasy fans that have not taken the plunge and read a Grace Draven book are missing out on one of the best, contemporary Epic Fantasy writers out there. My goal is that this explanation of how her work delivers on the genre expectations of both Fantasy and Romance entices you to take a chance on something you may not otherwise have picked up and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.

    So, how do Grace Draven’s books appeal to readers of Epic Fantasy? First and foremost, Draven’s world-building is both expansive and thorough including original magic systems, diverse races, languages, kingdoms, and cultures, and even the mundane minutiae of day-to-day life like food and attire, all of which coalesce to make for a truly immersive experience. Her attention to detail in establishing the form and function of her worlds is remarkable and serves to strengthen the authenticity of the plot and create a deeper basis and context for that plot and the characters.

    Draven’s two ongoing series, The Wraith Kings and The Fallen Empire, are both set on an epic scale that is reflected in the world-building of these two worlds. Take The Wraith Kings, for example. There are multiple races, two of which are phsyically very different, and the romance plot actually brings these two races – the humans and the Kai – together. But even among the humans there are a number of courtly kingdoms politicking and vying for power as well as nomadic mountain clans that follow an entirely different social structure. Eventually, these disparate peoples must come together to fight a demon horde that threatens all of the peoples in their world regardless of race, kingdom, or alliances. There is magic in this world that is the purview of the Kai, but also a mysterious Elder race who existed long ago and holds keys to that magic. Magic, and in particular necromancy, must be used in order to summon enough power to defeat the evil and banish the horde to their alternate realm. Draven needed an expansive world to provide ample setting and context for a multi-book series based in the classic trope of good versus evil, and she delivers such a world in spades!

    But the appeal doesn’t stop with world-building. Draven’s ability to weave intricate stories that consistently contain both an “A” Epic Fantasy plotline as well as an “A” Romance plotline cannot be overstated. Neither plotline feels like it is less important than the other; they stand on equal footing and are written in such a way as to contribute to and complement one another. In Master of Crows, Silhara is plagued by the demi-god Corruption and is the only sorcerer powerful enough to defeat this evil, but he knows that even his power may not be enough. Over the course of the book, the relationship between Silhara and Martise begins to develop, and we learn that Martise has latent magic that allows her to feed power to Silhara’s sorcery. Suddenly, the “A” Epic Fantasy plotline and “A” Romance plotline are thrust together in a most unexpected and yet meaningful way. Martise is completely devoted to Silhara and his quest to defeat Corruption, and Silhara knows he can use her power to feed the spells necessary for its ultimate demise. But he also knows that it will probably kill her, and using her as a vessel of power makes him no better than the slave-owners that have captured her soul and therefore her life. The Epic Fantasy and Romance plotlines present the reader with difficult moral questions and tension because of they way they are artfully woven together. Here, the sum of the parts has a far greater impact, and Draven expertly employs this structural device throughout her books.

    Another aspect of her writing that will appeal to Epic Fantasy readers is that Draven does not limit explicitness to sex. Her writing is often raw and brutal, depicting violence, pain, and loss in the same detail as her sex scenes. Her books deal with dark themes like torture, slavery, inequality, and prejudice, and she doesn’t shy away from tackling these themes head on through explicit scenes. There’s a brutality in her brand of evil that is more often seen in Epic Fantasy than in Romance, but serves to enhance the authenticity of both aspects of her books; when every facet of life is depicted to the same level of detail, when it is not only sex or violence that is explicit, a balance is achieved, and the reader is left with an impression of a more realistic world in which both pleasure and pain exist on equal footing. In Phoenix Unbound, we are introduced to a throughly depraved villainess and exposed to explicit scenes of her atrocities including mass sacrifice by fire and the brutal torture of our MMC, Azarion. These scenes are more reminiscent of content you might read in grimdark, but they are not gratuitous; these scenes are purposeful in establishing the depths of the character’s evil and also as a device used to provide compelling contrast to the explicit tenderness depicted when Azarion and Gilene finally unite.

    And speaking of romantic couples uniting, let’s not forget that Grace Draven also writes Romance! These relationships are adult; they are not YA, neither in age nor in content. These are adults embarking on adult relationships and is one of the things I appreciate most about her books. There is no “pining and whining.” The struggles and the concerns of the characters are not those of individuals embarking on their first relationships. These are adult men and women, experienced in life and relationships and wrestling with internal and external struggles commensurate with their age and maturity. And oh is it refreshing! Her romances are high-tension and the resulting pay-off is quite satisfying. When couples do come together in her books, the sex is steamy and explicit. It is well-written in that the scenes are never sappy or cringey, they are long enough to be engaging without becoming a focal point, and, most importantly, they contribute to the romantic plotline as opposed to being merely gratuitous.

    Finally, and independent of the Fantasy and Romance genre expectations, I find Draven’s prose, for lack of a better word, delicious. It’s meaty. It has pulp. Something you can sink your teeth into. It is eloquent and elevated without being purple or dense; there are no extraneous words – every word is perfectly placed. I would go so far as to call her prose “literary.” Her word choice is often surprising, yet refreshing, pulling from vocabulary I’d like to see more of in writing today. Her phrasing and imagery compliment the tone of her books as well as her world-building and plotting in a way that amplifies setting and action; in other words, her writing serves to enhance the overall reader experience.

    Some of you may be thinking, “Alright, Kat, I’m sold. Grace Draven sounds like an amazing Epic Fantasy author and I’d like to give her a shot, but where should I start?” Great question! To help guide new readers of Draven’s work pick something that might resonate with their particular tastes, here is a list of her seven full-length novels (in order of publication) that includes a break-down of both Fantasy and Romance tropes contained therein.

    Publication Date: 2009

    Publisher Summary: This is the question that sets bondwoman, Martise of Asher, on a dangerous path. In exchange for her freedom, she bargains with her masters, the mage-priests of Conclave, to spy on the renegade sorcerer, Silhara of Neith. The priests want Martise to expose the sorcerer’s treachery and turn him over to Conclave justice. A risky endeavor, but one she accepts without hesitation–until she falls in love with her intended target.

    Silhara of Neith, Master of Crows, is a desperate man. The god called Corruption invades his mind, seducing him with promises of limitless power if he will help it gain dominion over the world. Silhara struggles against Corruption’s influence and searches for ways to destroy the god. When Conclave sends Martise as an apprentice to help him, he knows she’s a spy. Now he fights a war on two fronts -against the god who would possess him and the apprentice who would betray him.

    Mage and spy search together for a ritual that will annihilate Corruption, but in doing so, they discover secrets about each other that may damn them both. Silhara must decide if his fate, and the fate of nations, is worth the soul of the woman he has come to love, and Martise must choose continued enslavement or freedom at the cost of a man’s life. And love.

    Tropes: Good versus Evil; A Destroyer is Coming; Politicking of a Magical Conclave; Sorcery; Master-Slave Love Interest; Subservient FMC meets Reluctant MMC; Slow-Burn

    Publication Date: 2013

    Publisher Summary: Afflicted by a centuries-old curse, a warlord slowly surrenders his humanity and descends toward madness. Ballard of Ketach Tor holds no hope of escaping his fate until his son returns home one day, accompanied by awoman of incomparable beauty. His family believes her arrival may herald Ballard’s salvation.

    …until they confront her elder sister.

    Determined to rescue her sibling from ruin, Louvaen Duenda pursues her to a decrepit castle and discovers a household imprisoned in time. Dark magic, threatening sorcerers, and a malevolent climbing rose with a thirst for blood won’t deter her, but a proud man disfigured by an undying hatred might. Louvaen must decide if loving him will ultimately save him or destroy him.

    Tropes: Beauty and the Beast Fairytale Retelling; Magical Curse; Strong, Assertive FMC; Tortured MMC

    The Wraith Kings Series

    Publication Date: 2014, 2016, 2020

    Publisher Summary (Book One): Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.

    Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.

    Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.

    Tropes: Power-Hungry Queen; Court Politics; Old Magic; Demons; Necromancy; Large-Scale Battles; Arranged Marriage (Radiance and Eidolon); Friends-to-Lovers (The Ippos King)

    The Fallen Empire Series

    Publication Date: 2018

    Publisher Summary: Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire’s capital – her fate: to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village’s tithe has been the same woman. Gilene’s sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

    But this year is different.

    Azarion, the Empire’s most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion, and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. And unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

    To protect her family and village, she will risk everything to return to the Empire and burn once more.

    Tropes: Roman-Empire-Inspired World; Gods and Goddesses; Elemental Magic; Evil Empire; Rebellion; Enemies-to-Lovers

    The Fallen Empire Series

    Publication Date: 2020

    Publisher Summary: Magic is outlawed in the Krael Empire and punishable by death. Born with the gift of earth magic, the free trader Halani keeps her dangerous secret closely guarded. When her uncle buys a mysterious artifact, a piece of bone belonging to a long-dead draga, Halani knows it’s far more than what it seems.

    Dragas haven’t been seen for more than a century, and most believe them extinct. They’re wrong. Dragas still walk among the denizens of the Empire, disguised as humans. Malachus is a draga living on borrowed time. The magic that has protected him will soon turn on him–unless he finds a key part of his heritage. He has tracked it to a group of free traders, among them a grave-robbing earth witch who fascinates him as much as she frustrates him with her many secrets.

    Unbeknownst to both, the Empire’s twisted empress searches for a draga of her own, to capture and kill as a trophy. As Malachus the hunter becomes the hunted, Halani must risk herself and all she loves to save him from the Empire’s machinations and his own lethal birthright.

    Tropes: Roman-Empire-Inspired World; Healer Magic; Dragon Lore; Dragon Shifter; Evil Empire; Rebellion; Slow-Burn

    I hope this essay has piqued the curiosity of Epic Fantasy afficianados and will create an entirely new group of Grace Draven fans. I know that her books have hit a sweet spot for me, masterfully blending Epic Fantasy and Romance in a way that is both entertaining and utterly satisfying as a reader searching for those special books that deliver on the promises of both genres. Hopefully, we’ll all start seeing more Grace Draven recommendations for Epic Fantasy! Happy Reading!

  • Something Special

    The Evil Cat Book Tag

    Our friend (and wonderful blogger) Peat mentioned that he was working on a tag based on the frustrating things cats do. I (Fab) loved the idea (my favourite ever D&D character that I’ve played was a very annoying Tabaxi) – so I’m very excited that it’s live now – check out THE EVIL CAT BOOK TAG over at Peat’s blog here! I snagged Kat and here are our choices for Peat’s prompts (prompts and flavour texts are copied from him).

    Knocking shit off of high places – A book with a cliffhanger

    We’ve all seen it right? The majestic leap up high. The tentative dab of the paw at something on the high surface. The crash if you don’t get to them quick enough. Hopefully it wasn’t breakable. Or your wedding ring. But, really, this wasn’t the cat’s fault. It’s yours. Some things shouldn’t be left near cliffs…

    Fab: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the first book in a duology about two sapphics who fall in love while married to the same guy in a terrible system and burn down the status quo in the process. It ends in a way that I did not see coming, and the wait for book two was truly torture. This is a series where you really need to have both books ready to binge.

    Kat: Dying on Second is the fourth book in the Marie Jenner Mystery series by E.C. Bell. Marie has a secret – she can see and speak with the deceased. Like her mother before her, she helps the dead to move on to the next plane of existence. Needless to say, because of her unique abilities, she’s seen and experienced some pretty heavy stuff, but nothing compares to the situation she faces in the conclusion of book 4 – talk about a cliffhanger! To see what happens to Marie and how she gets out of this latest mess, readers will have to check out book 5 in the series, Hearing Voices.

    Howling at 3am – A book you didn’t sleep to finish

    To you, it is sleep time. To the cat, it is playtime. Or maybe they’re hungry. Or just evil, for ’tis the witching hour. Whatever the reason, you should be awake. The cat says so. Some books are similarly insistent…

    Fab: All of Us Villains by Christine Lynn Hermann and Amanda Foody (finally out in November…) was one of those books that I simply could not put down. Think Nevernight meets Gossip Girl, with a dash of The Hunger Games. Addictive YA at its best, with a cast of morally grey characters who compete for power and survival. Magic that has been kept secret now unveiled by a tell-all book, and perhaps working together might be a solution after all? This one definitely kept me reading until I was done, and I’m still impatiently awaiting the sequel. Even though book one isn’t published yet.

    Kat: I read the entire first trilogy of Ilona Andrew’s Hidden Legacy series in three days. That’s right folks – three books, three days. Needless to say sleep was not a priority. This series is near perfection for me, and Burn for Me will knock your socks off with its action-packed plot and inventive magic system. The over-arching, series-wide plot is well-paced, each book contributing significantly to the development of the conspiracy and uncovering more hints as to the identify the ultimate big bad. The romance is slow-burn, with tension building over the course of the first two books, exploding with steam in the second, and then coming to the HEA conclusion at the end of the first trilogy. Highest of recommendations to fans of Urban Fantasy Romance!

    Hiding before a vet visit – A book with a self-destructive character

    Some people have a sixth sense for impending calamity. Most cats have a sixth sense for an impending visit to the vet and hide. Who cares if it’s for their own good? We’ve all read someone like that…

    Fab: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo is an excellent book. But damn, Alex Stern is a self-destructive character. She has no sense of self-preservation or caution. She leaps head-first into danger without thinking twice about what could happen. Partially because that girl carries a shit ton of baggage around with herself, partially because of who she is. But I can’t think of a more self-destructive character than our dear Galaxy.

    Kat: I think we can all agree that our favorite detective has issues with self-preservation. Storm Front is the first book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, and our introduction to Harry’s peculiarly adept ability to put himself into danger. I mean, how many wizards do you know willingly visit a powerful blood-sucking vampire at night in her demesne and then exposes her true form for everyone to see? Terrible idea, Harry. Terrible. That’s not the last time Harry puts himself in a terrible situation in this book, and certainly not the last time across the broader series. Despite his assertion otherwise, Harry Dresden has a serious death wish.

    The turd dangling from their behind – A sequel that was a bit, er, turd

    Sometimes cats eat hair. And sometimes when they do, it gets stuck post-defecation, with a little bit of said defecation attached to it. So when your darling cat goes by and you get excited, you soon realise there’s something horrible behind them. Just like a bad sequel…

    Fab: I have to admit, I wasn’t as hyped about Children of Blood and Bone as most of my friends were. But I still enjoyed it quite a lot and was excited for the sequel. (And, I truly hate being negative about books on the blog! Peat, you’re worse than a cat with a turd stuck to its butt for making me be mean on purpose!) Children of Virtue and Vengeance was probably my biggest disappointment of 2020. Not the worst book I’d read – I mean, I did finish it – but in terms of what I expected and what I felt when reading.

    Kat: What’s worse than a sequel that’s a bit of a turd? The final book in a trilogy that’s a bit of a turd. I absolutely adored the first two books in Amanda Bouchet’s The Kingmaker Chronicles series. I blew through them so quickly with the fresh Greek-mythology-based world-building. I was genuinely excited to see how the series would end, and unfortunately I DNF’ed the final book, Heart on Fire. To me, it seemed to be a complete departure from the tone and focus of the first two books. It was almost like it was written by someone else entirely! Very disappointing. However, the first two books are solid, so if you’re the type of person that doesn’t need to read the full series to feel complete, I highly recommend them!

    Puking on the carpet – A book with a betrayal

    We all know this one. And we all know it’s not really the cat’s fault. But why now? And especially, why there? Why not a nice easy to clean surface? Right or wrong, it feels like a betrayal…

    Fab: With a title like A Lesson in Vengeance, Victoria Lee’s latest book is bound to be prime real estate for those backstabbing sapphics. Felicity and Ellis spend most of the book betraying each other and the people to various degrees and it’s a joy to read. Highly recommend this for some premium cat puking on the carpet betrayal energy.

    Kat: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie is one of the best revenge books out there. But in my opinion, it is also contains one of the most powerful betrayals I’ve ever read in that it subverts the entire quest for vengeance and exposes its futility. You’ll have to read the book to discover the details of the betrayal, but suffice to say it helps solidify Abercrombie’s well-deserved reputation as the master of grimdark fantasy.

    Dragging in live animals – A book with shocking violence

    One time I heard a great commotion and looked up to see a pigeon flying up my hallway, pursued by a mighty predator bounding away. I get that you are a mean lean hunting machine, but do you have to bring me the final act to watch? Sometimes it all just seems a little over the top…

    Fab: There are a lot of books that have a liberal approach to violence. But knowing Peat and his tongue in cheek approach to this (and the cat chaos energy of this tag), there was only one choice for me: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey. Yes, this is a delightful sapphic found family witchy YA novel. But also, it starts with an accidental murder by exploding penis. I am not kidding. It’s also not a spoiler because it’s the inciting incident for the story. So yeah. That’s that. Highly recommend the book. It is actually quite wholesome.

    Kat: Grace Draven is not one to hold back on graphic content, and that’s not just limited to explicit sex. There is often a strain of brutality and rawness in her books that can be quite unexpected for Romance readers. When I first read Radiance, I didn’t know what to expect; so, when I reached the torture scene (I won’t spoil who is tortured by whom or why), I was shocked. While not the most violent scene found within her canon, this scene was my first encounter with violence in her books. It’s honestly one of the things I appreciate about her as an author, though – she is graphic across all aspects of her writing!

    Looking you in the eye before misbehaving – A book with a character desperate for attention

    It’s one thing to be naughty, nay, malevolent. But to look right at me before you do it? Just to make sure your cry for attention will get attention? Why not lie in front of the television ins- oh, you did that too. Cats just really love attention…

    Fab: I did not have to think long about which character I think is the biggest attention whore when Gideon is right there. The star of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is swagger incarnate. Just look at her on that cover. She needs to be the focus of every room that she walks into. Especially if she is supposed to be lying low. Subtlety is not one of her strengths. But that is part of why I am so damn in love with her.

    Kat: He may groan about being called the Thorn of Camorr, but make no mistake, Locke Lamora loves to be the center of attention. From his elaborate disguises and public performances to his desire that his targets know who bested them, the protagonist of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series is a just bit of an attention whore. The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in this thrilling series centered around this lovable yet frustrating character and his merry band of trouble-makers.

    Shredding things- A book with a destructive character

    Soft furnishings. Wrapping paper. Your jeans. The loo roll. If a cat can shred it, a cat will shred it. One of my cats once got into a multi-pack of loo roll and pretty much redecorated the house. Some types are just inherently destructive

    Fab: Zetian in Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow is the female badass version of a suicide bomber. She joins a special ops division purely to get revenge for her sister’s death at the hands of a mecha pilot – and proceeds to kill him within a few chapters. She has no moral qualms, is out for revenge and her own survival is an afterthought. Neither she nor this book take any prisoners, and I knew within a few pages that I was in love. Read this as soon as you can.

    Kat: Need someone murdered? Beat-up? Blown-up? Dani, a super-human vigilante, from Kit Rocha’s Mercenary Librarian series has got you covered. She’ll be the first person to offer up her destructive services and is downright excited at the prospect! In Deal with the Devil, she doesn’t understand why her team doesn’t think a rocket launcher or C-4 are appropriate items to pack for their quest. When things go south, she doesn’t hesitate to comment, “Now aren’t you sad I didn’t bring the C-4?”

    Has never been fed, never – A series you can’t get enough of

    Whether it’s the incessant yammering whenever in the kitchen, the attempts to trip you up and get their food quicker, or the naked theft from your plate, many cats give the impression of having never been fed before. But hey, we all know what it’s like to be insatiable, right…

    Fab: I’m not the best at reading whole series. Because I tend to read books as they come out, I forget about series as I wait. But I’ve recently been obsessed with the Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, starting with A Natural History of Dragons. I still haven’t quite forgiven my friends for letting me sleep on these books for so long. They’re smart, featuring a nerdy, ambitious female lead who is prickly and not always the most charming and sociable – someone who is a lot like me. I raced through the five books of the series this summer, mostly in audio book, and I highly recommend them.

    Kat: I cannot get enough of Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series. There are so many things to love about this Victorian-era Historical Romance series, the least of which is the fact that the MMC in the first book, The Duchess Deal, swears in Shakespeare! Her wit, humor, and banter are thoroughly entertaining, but what I really can’t get enough of is the quirky band of eccentric women who attract and join forces with an equally unique group of misfit men. Oh, and did I mention the steam? Whew! I am not-so-patiently waiting for the next book!

    Be so cute you forgive them anyway – A book with a wicked MC you like

    This set of tags might make you think I hate cats, but I love my little hyperactive gremlins like few other beings. There’s many reasons for it, but one is they’re so bloody cute. Some characters definitely have that energy too…

    Fab: Everyone’s got to have one problematic fave, and Mia Corvere from Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight series is mine. She is such a messed up character, but she is also a bisexual icon and she helped me figure out who I am. She would also fit into so many other categories in this tag – she is also both self- and outwardly destructive, the books in the series have kept me up late reading and they most definitely end on cliffhangers. They are also bloody and addictive. Yes, there are problematic aspects to the series, and I will not deny them (one of the characters is named after the Jewish word for God that is not supposed to be uttered, the name for the society infamous for blood sorcery is very close to a subset of the Jewish people and a society presented as barbarian in the books can be read as similar to the Aborigines/Maori people), so do approach these books with caution.

    Kat: I have to admit that I shouldn’t like Ryder as much as I do, but what can I say – I’m a complete sucker for his over-the-top brand of wickedness. In Fighting Destiny, we are introduced to a deliciously sexy and wicked MMC who is clearly terrible for our female heroine on multiple levels. But as the book – and series – progressed, I found myself increasingly intrigued and rooting for this unlikely and oftentimes morally ambiguous MMC. Let’s be honest – his wickedness just made him even more hot!

  • Something Special

    Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards 2021 – The Finalists

    We’ve been reading. We’ve been deliberating. And we have made some tough but necessary decisions – whittling it down to the finalists in all the categories. Without further ado, here are the 2021 SKCA finalists!

    Best Fantasy

    The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

    The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow

    Best Science Fiction

    The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson

    Goldilocks, Laura Lam

    Best Debut

    Legendborn, Tracy Deonn

    Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas

    The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

    Best Blurred Boundaries

    The Bone Shard Daughter, Andrea Stewart

    Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu

    Best Novella

    The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo

    Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark

    Best Short Fiction

    “You Perfect, Broken Thing”, C.L. Clark, Uncanny Magazine 32, available here

    “Yellow and the Perception of Reality”, Maureen McHugh, Tor.com, available here

    Best Series

    The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang

    Dominion of the Fallen, Aliette de Bodard

  • Something Special

    Readalong for The Age of Madness Series by Joe Abercrombie

    Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness series is a lot of fun. Grimdark, but fun. So I couldn’t resist when Will at Gollancz reached out with the idea of a massive readalong. This is WEEK 4 so we’re going from the Sinking Ships to The New Monument chapters of A Little Hatred today. Check out the previous posts in the series here (WEEK 1 Grimdark Magazine; WEEK 2Novel Notions; WEEK 3Alhambra Book Reviews). But without further ado, let’s dive into the story. These chapters really take us into the meat of the revolution breaking out which means there’s a lot of action – and especially a lot of re-action from the various factions introduced earlier in the story.

    Sinking Ships brings Vick and Tallow to Valbeck, where they join the Breakers, one of the factions planning the looming rebellion. This chapter does well showing the discontent spreading through the lower classes of the city and how there isn’t much tinder needed to set them aflame. Vick and Tallow find out that the Weaver, their leader, is in fact Superior Risinau, one of the members of the Inquisition that the Breakers (and their more violent cousins, the Burners) are rising against.

    Welcome to the Future – oh the joys of capitalism and industrialisation! Vallimir shows Savine the budding factory which is teeming with child labour and exploitation. Not like they care though, it makes them money. But this is where things start to go really sour for the rich: they are attacked when the rebellion and its accompanying riots break out. Savine almost dies, and manages to rescue herself with the help of a handy river.

    The Little People is the kind of chapter in which Abercrombie shines. I think he’s at his best in these mood-setting atmospheric snapshots. This chapter shows the impact of the beginning rebellion and riots on the population of Valbeck through a series of vignettes showing minor characters and what happens to them as the violence breaks out. I really loved this chapter in particular.

    In Something of Ours, Savine is reeling from the heinous attack that she just survived. She is desperate to find shelter, though it is no easy feat. Eventually, May, a maid, recognises her as someone of importance due to the expensive clothes she wears (which are in rags by now) and takes her in.

    The Man of Action takes us to the court of the Royal Family, where everyone is in uproar after news of the rebellion in Valbeck has reached them. The Crown Prince Orso is dispatched to help combat the rebellion – and of course ensure the safety of the story’s darling, Savine dan Glotka. (Hi, yes, can you tell she’s my fave) This, of course, means that he can’t follow his plans of going North to fight there…

    Ugly Business brings us to Rikke and Leo dan Brock. We meet them again, tangled in bed, discussing royalty and war, when the army camp they’re in gets news of the events in Valbeck. As Rikke says “Reckon we’ll have to save ourselves.”

    In the Mirror – the chaotic events in Valbeck are mirrored in the chaos at the court of the King of the Northmen. King Scale is holding a feast, when his nephew Stour returns, late, disappointing the king. Nevertheless, Scale officially names Stour heir – to the dismay of his advisors but much raucous feasting.

    A Deal. Savine is recuperating with May and her family. They are simple people, and Savine is exceedingly grateful. May gets her to enter a deal: in return for taking care of Savine and rescuing her, Savine will use her influence to gain immunity for the family, so exchanging protection for protection.

    The New Monument takes these chapters full circle. We’re back with Vick and Risinau, overlooking the destruction that happened during the course of the riots. Monuments have fallen, but what new ones will arise? Or will they all perish?

    So, much that happened in those chapters, especially in terms of setting the scene and worldbuilding. There was a big focus on atmosphere, which I really enjoyed. On to the next nine chapters now!

  • Something Special


    Last summer (let’s be honest, FAR too long ago), Team Bkmrk was kind enough to send me a full set of books for their #ReadWithPride campaign that they are doing with Lucy Powrie – As I’ve been reading a lot of hefty adult fantasy, this stack of queer YA has been proving a great summer distraction (and then taken me all winter to actually finish with them because I am a horrible person and can’t be trusted), and I thought I’d share mini-reviews of all of the lovely books with you!

    A massive thank you to Hachette Children’s Publishing for providing me with the books!

    Heartstopper is the first volume of the print version of a webcomic focusing on two teenage boys falling in love. It is adorable and emotional – I read this in a single sitting while feeling lonely one night and almost cried. It makes me so happy that books like this exist and are accessible nowadays – I think I would have figured out quite a few things about myself a lot earlier if YA was as inclusive in the early 2000s as it is now (even if it isn’t perfect). Alice Oseman poignantly tells the story of Nick and Charlie as they navigate being queer, teenagers, and coming-of-age in today’s Britain, accompanied by wonderful art. I very much recommend and I can’t wait to keep reading this series.

    Becoming Dinah by Kit de Waal is a modern reimagining of Moby Dick – it took me quite a while to grasp that and the references to it, as it was not clear from the blurb (should have guessed, given that one of the characters was named Ahab, but that’s heatwave and Covid brain for you). It is the story of a teenager discovering her sexuality and coming to terms with her life, told through the lens of a dusty classic that most of us have only heard of. Kit de Waal manages to make the story accessible, relevant and immediate, though for me the stakes of the story didn’t come through enough. It led to the tension lagging and the pace dragging a bit, but that might be more due to me as a reader than the book itself, as I do rarely read contemporaries these days.

    Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence was one of the books on the stack that tempted me most – but it didn’t work for me at all. I almost DNF’d it so many times, as to me, the plot was not believeable at all. This is the story of Silva and Becks, London teenagers left alone while their newly married parents are on honeymoon. A story of obsession, love and its aftermath. I know this sounds weird coming from a fantasy reader, but when I read contemporary, I do have to be able to somewhat see the story as realistic. Maybe it is due to a cultural disconnect from how and where I grew up, but this didn’t work for me, though reviews indicate it does for many others.

    Alice in Wonderland is my favourite classic. It is wonderfully weird and quirky and nonsensical, and I love it more than anything. Wonderland by Juno Dawson is just as strange and wonderful. Technically the third in a series of interconnected novels, it reads just as well as a standalone – it is the first of Dawson’s works I have read and I did not feel like I was missing out on anything. The Wonderland allegories are sometimes very heavy-handed, but that is what created the magic for me: half contemporary thriller about a trans girl, half crazy psychodelic trip through Wonderland. It is not fully realistic, nor a work of fantasy, but something in between – I enjoyed it a lot. Alice’s transness and bisexuality – and unashamed sexuality – just happened to be part of the story rather than the main element being interrogated, which was refreshing. Yay for incidental queerness!

    After that, Only Mostly Devastated was the calm after the storm. Back to the roots of contemporary YA rom-com. Refreshing, cute, but still nuanced, the story of Will and Ollie is a cute summer read – exactly what the doctor ordered to distract myself from my problems. After they have a summer fling, Ollie finds himself moving to the same town as his crush Will, only to realise that Will isn’t out yet… Chaos and shenanigans ensue, they run hot and cold, and the importance of friendship and being true to yourself is explored.

    Sadly, I did not enjoy Can Everyone Please Calm Down? by Mae Martin at all. Conceived as a sort of guidebook to modern sexuality it read more as a very self-indulgent autobiography of coming to terms with the author’s own sexuality in a supportive environment rather than being a helpful handbook for struggling teens. The tone was often cringeworthy and had me rolling my eyes throughout. I think a book more along the lines of Kelly Jensen’s recent anthology Body Talk specifically aimed at sexuality would hit the spot much more (see here for my review of the anthology).

    The same is true of Read With Pride by Lucy Powrie. I was not able to connect with the book at all and ended up abandoning it after about eighty pages. I think part was as I am clearly too old to be the target audience for the novel, as it is a lower-YA aimed book, but also I felt like issues were over-explained and plot elements were too predictable. But as the book has a 4.22 rating on Goodreads, it is likely more of a me-thing than anything else!

    The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta was probably my favourite book out of the bunch. On paper, it’s not my thing at all – I’m not a poetry person and this is a novel in verse, but I fell in love with it. It is raw and honest and deals with figuring out who you are away from home as you grow into being an adult. I thought it was brilliant and devoured it in a single sitting. And oh, how strong its sense of fuck you to society and conformity is. This is the kind of book every teen needs, especially teens with marginalised identities. Michael is a fabulous leading character, because he doesn’t have any answers, he makes them up as he goes and is just as clueless as most of us are.

    Last, but not least, The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. This is the only book on the list that I’d read beforehand – I’d pre-ordered it in hardback and was now sent it in paperback too. This is the story of Dracula’s brides, and how they came to be. It is a story of fierce girls, of sisters who love each other more than anything, while being incredibly competitive with each other. It also features a very sweet sapphic relationship between two traumatised girls – I’m all here for the slow-burn and helping each other heal. And Kiran’s writing is stunning – she is a brilliant writer in all her book, be it this YA or her MG or adult work.

  • Something Special

    A tour across the world with the help of YA novels

    Just like many of you, I really miss exploring the world. I miss going new places so much, but for now I have to do all my traveling with the help of novels for now. So I’m very happy that I’ve got to read some books with wonderful worlds recently – and here are mini reviews for a few of them!

    These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy takes you to a Slavic inspired world, in a queer retelling of the story of the Firebird. Izaveta and Asya are sisters, one raised at court as the future ruler and the other with her aunt, the Firebird. The Firebird is a creature of magic, making deals with the people for favours in exchange for a steep price. This is a beautifully written tale of magic, sisterhood and growing up. It has all the elements of a great story, the kind of YA fantasy escapism that the world needs right now. It evokes some similar vibes to Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series or Lana Popivic’s Wicked Like Wilfire duology. I love it – I preordered my copy ages ago, and I can’t wait to reread this in its finished form. It came out on the 20th of April, and you can get your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Our next stop on this tour is the Spanish inspired Puerto Leones of Zoraida Cordova’s Illusionary. This is the second in a duology. Incendiary, the first one was one of the most compelling YA fantasy novels I read in 2020, and this follow-up takes everything I loved about it and made it even better. Renata Convida is a great leading lady, and the reader can’t help but be charmed by the rebel prince of Puerto Leones, Castian (and his brother Dez, raised by actual rebels). All of the characters undergo massive growth arcs over the course of the story, and I loved the way the book ended. It felt very apt, without being overly cliché. And we get to spend time with Leo again who is just an amazing cinnamon roll of a person. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, please do. Illusionary will be released on the 11th of May, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood takes you to Ethiopia. This reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre story interprets the heroine as a debtera, a religious sort of exorcist. Andromeda, orphan, thrown out by her mentor, takes a job in a fancy manor house, owned by a mysterious and rich man. While it largely follows the known storyline of the classic, Lauren Blackwood manages to twist it into something new and unexpected. Yes, obviously Andromeda and her dark and brooding employer end up together as they do in Charlotte Brontë’s version, but the journey there is what makes this interesting. It is deeply rooted in its Ethiopian background, and also explores the role of foreign, colonial, influences. This won’t be out until the 9th of November, but preorders are open, and you can get a copy via Blackwells here.

    Last, but not least, our trip around the globe takes us to the US, to Oregon. You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is a contemporary YA, though with a supernatural twist. Julie is shortly before high school graduation when Sam, her boyfriend, dies in a car accident. The story follows her as she navigates her grief, and rebuilds her life after this massive upheaval. But this isn’t made easier by her being able to call Sam on her phone. Somehow, they are able to have conversations across the boundaries between life and death, and Julie gets a chance to say goodbye all over again. This is heart-wrenching – though not as emotional as I was expecting it to be. But it’s still a very solid read, even if I personally didn’t fall in love with it. This is also not out until November, but you can pre-order a copy from Blackwell’s here.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Gabriela Houston

    And today we have Gabriela Houston and her debut The Second Bell stopping in. This one not only sounds brilliant, but I’ve also reviewed it on Grimdark Magazine (read my review here). I loved this book so much, and I hope this will make you want to check it out too. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book

    The Second Bell is a Slavic-mythology-inspired fantasy novel, about a striga and her mother.

    In a remote community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child is considered a monster and is cast out. My story follows a mother who chose to leave with her baby and a 19-year-old striga woman, as they navigate the strict social rules governing the striga village they live in and struggle against the taboos threatening to tear them apart.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Under lockdown a celebration is a relative term. I had two different takeouts with my family during the day and then joined a zoom launch for my book which was lovely.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I have always been quite earnest about my artistic pursuits, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that I made the conscious decision to set up writing as a priority in my life. It works differently for different people, but for me that time in my life gave me the razor sharp focus on what I needed to make space in my life for.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Before The Second Bell I wrote one unpublishable moloch of a fantasy epic. I think it took me too long to complete it, and that resulted in a very uneven, underedited mess. It had some good bones and got a bit of initial interest from agents, but in the end I’m glad it didn’t find a home.

    It was a huge learning curve. I made ALL the mistakes. And that’s great. I try not to make the same ones twice.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I wouldn’t say it changed so much as all my plans and ambitions suddenly became more likely to be realised, which is a wonderful thing. It definitely gives you the push to work more, as you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    No regrets. Except for the one phrase I should have edited out, which I found in the published book. That will haunt me for all eternity.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    I guess my experience so far has been so good, I need to be prepared that not everything will go as smoothly from now on necessarily! As a writer there’s a lot you have no control over, sadly, and I like the control.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Extremely! I have met some incredible people – bloggers, instagrammers, podcasters, other writers! All of whom are passionate about books and are rooting for the debut authors to succeed which is fantastic.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I wrote a book and a half during the first lockdown (UK), which was great. Since then it’s been up and down to be honest, but with all the pre-launch work I was doing, there wasn’t much time to wallow really (and I did want to wallow, for sure!)

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    It’s really hard to tell. There are themes tackled in the book that correspond to some of the wider issues at the moment, but whether or not they would have been seen in the same way under more normal circumstances is really hard to tell, especially as I don’t have much to compare it to.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have defied my agent’s directive to never ever go on Goodreads about a month before the book came out. I guess when you’re dealing with the publishers, your agent, and bloggers/magazine reviewers so much, you get lulled into a false sense of security, where you think “We all like books, right? Book people are my kind of people, the never-be-mean sort of people, who, if they dislike the book, will phrase their reservations in a kind, compassionate manner.”

    Needless to say, I will never again go on Goodreads.

    On a serious note though, even knowing that you can’t please everyone, there is no way you can prepare for people being unkind or dismissive about the work you’ve poured so much love into. But you grow thicker skin. Eventually.

    What are you planning next?

    I have a couple projects ready to query, and a couple of ideas more, but nothing’s set in stone for the moment.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I try to write every day (or pre-launch do writing work every day). I have a writing buddy who I meet on zoom and we both do our work with each other’s faces hovering in the corner of the screen. It helps to keep you motivated, and having someone to talk through the thorny plot bits with is incredibly helpful.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I don’t always have one. It has to be something I know well though, or else I start focusing on the lyrics too much.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Both and either. I’m not picky, but I like sipping on something hot while writing.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Strangers reaching out on social media to tell me they loved the book and that it meant something to them. It never fails to move me.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Stacey Halls’ The Foundling, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, and right now I’m reading the wonderful The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec at the moment.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: R.W.W. Greene

    Another wonderful Angry Robot debut author! Please welcome R.W.W. Greene and his debut, The Light Years. Add it to Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

    Please tell us about your book:

    My debut is called The Light Years and it came out Feb. 2020 just as everyone was gearing up to shut down.  The book is about a lot of things, but I think Kirkus said it best with, “On the surface, you get an engrossing space opera, but if you look deeper you will find explorations of poverty, arranged marriage, and the toll that difficult moral choices take on families.”

    How did you celebrate its release?

    I was fortunate to have a few live events … including one with cake … before the lock downs started.  A couple of nights after the publication date, we did an event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH. I played guitar, did a little reading, answered some questions, ate cake, and drank (really) cheap wine.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    I was a print journalist for about a dozen years after college, but I didn’t get serious about fiction until 2010 or so. I’d segued to teaching high-school English, and the work I was doing with my creative-writing students lit a fire under me.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    I started getting short stories published around 2012 and began nibbling at the ‘find an agent’ thing. I’d written a book as my MFA thesis and sent that out a dozen or so times before shelving it. In 2017, I sent a different book to Angry Robot as part of their Open Door unagented submission process. About a year later I got an email back, and two years after that they published The Light Years.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    Three or four full manuscripts and a few partials. The first was my MFA thesis, and I wrote it thirty pages at a time with a critique of each installment. I likely would not do things that way again. I prefer to crank out a full draft – beginning, middle, and end – and then go back to it rather than move from stepping stone to stepping stone. Probably the most important thing I learned was that writing a book was possible and then repeatable. I recently hit 30K with my current manuscript, and it struck me that once-upon-a-time I would have found that number mighty intimidating.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    I’ve been putting my writing in front of people for a long time — as a “poet” in high school, a journalist, and now as a guy with a book — and the doubts and worries have never gone away. It’s a mix of “Hey, I wrote a book!” and “Please read my humble offering” and “Don’t hurt me!” Writing is a tool that I use fairly well, but there’s still a hard knot of fear in putting it out there.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    I did a lot of work to educate myself in advance, including going to conferences and joining (and later running) my statewide writers’ organization, The New Hampshire Writers’ Project. I got into the writing community pretty deep, and I believe I was as prepared as I could have been.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    The biggest challenge is staying published and trying to build a career out of it. I wrote The Light Years by getting up at 4:30 in the morning for months and banging on a typewriter before going to work. Then revisions. And edits. And queries and submissions.  And you can’t just write one book. An agent is going to ask you “what else ya got?” and you’re going to want a drawer full of work to turn to. It’s almost too hard write successfully solely as a hobby.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    I think so. It was difficult to break into, but now that I’m here, the industry seems curious about the stories I have to tell.

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    I had a really hard time getting anything going for the first several months. The combination of pandemic and Trump created way too much static for me to think through.  I wrote a book in there somewhere, but it getting it out wasn’t easy.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    I don’t believe it changed how it was received, but it might have affected whether or not it was. True, I had a couple of reviews say the book was “too woke,” and that was kind of a Trumpy-political reaction, but the sheer amount of information flying around last spring made it hard to see anything that wasn’t COVID or US election related. And then it go to the point where I couldn’t leave the house to flog it, and I became just another “look at me” on the Internet.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I tend to think reviews are for the readers rather than for the writers, and thus don’t spend a lot of time perusing them. By the time someone reviews something of mine, it’s already out, and there’s no way to bring it back for another round of revisions.  That said, it’s wonderful to get a good review, and sometimes there is truth in a bad review. I’m not perfect, and there is always more to learn about telling a story. The first review that got under my skin was a dude who played the “too woke” card.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ve another novel, Twenty-Five to Life, coming out through Angry Robot in August 2021, and I’m currently working on book two of a planned trilogy. 

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I prefer writing in the morning, but now that I’ve left teaching, morning starts at eight or nine rather than 4:30 [am] . I have a daily 1,000-word goal. Sometimes that takes two hours, sometimes three, sometimes four, but I rarely shut down Scrivener without hitting my mark.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    I like jazz or hiphop or punk or classical turned down low so I can feel it rather than hear it. I want the rhythm not the words.

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Black coffee by the quart, tea and water by the pint.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    I’m a U.S. writer, and Angry Robot is a UK publisher. My favorite part was the immediate expansion of my active awareness. All of a sudden, I had friends and colleagues in the UK, and my world got bigger and more interesting.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Too many. So many. I love that Netflix allows me to see sci-fi from all over the world. “3%” from Brazil, “Ad Vitam” from France, “Space Sweepers” from Korea … it’s really exciting. I’ve also been getting into plot-heavy video games like “Detroit: Becoming Human” and “The Last of Us.” I just read The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie,  Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe by Zig Zag Claybourne, and The Wayward Children books by Seanan McGuire.

  • Something Special

    Debut Author Interview Project: Chris Panatier

    Welcome to Libri Draconis, Chris Panatier! His book, The Phlebotomist was published by Angry Robot in September 2020, and has one of the most memorable covers I’ve ever seen – AR have been killing it in the design department. Add it to your Goodreads here and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link). And the more I talk to AR authors, they seem like a fabulous publisher, so listen up, aspiring authors!

    Please tell us about your book:

    Thanks for having me! Since it took me so long to get the short synopsis down for The Phlebotomist, that is what I’ll put here, because anything else would miss something:

    To support herself and her grandson Isaiah, Willa works for the blood contractor Patriot. Instituted to support the war effort, the mandatory draw (The Harvest) has led to a society segregated by blood type. Hoping to put an end to it all, Willa draws on her decades-old phlebotomy training to resurrect an obsolete collection technique, but instead uncovers an awful truth.

    Patriot will do anything to protect its secret. On the run and with nowhere else to turn, Willa seeks an alliance with Lock, a notorious blood-hacker who cheats the Harvest to support the children orphaned by it. But they soon find themselves in the grasp of a new type of evil.

    How did you celebrate its release?

    Probably just like every other debut in 2020, in front of my computer! Angry Robot did a great job of introducing the book during the pandemic and I did a host of blog posts and podcast interviews to go along with the release. So, while I’m sure everyone would have preferred to be able to do bookstore events and convention panels, I felt that my book received a nice reception.

    Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

    January 2015. I had just seen the movie Interstellar and read The Science of Interstellar by Dr. Kip Thorne. I was so blown away by the world of astrophysics that I’d been introduced to that I felt compelled to write about it.

    What was your publishing journey like?

    Well, after seeing/reading about all that awesome science, I immediately dashed off an epically mediocre “middle grade” epic fantasy/sf thing, convinced it would break the world. When eighty agents didn’t agree, I was disappointed, but moved on to the next project. Writing had its hooks in me. So, I began writing other novels and also really dove into short fiction in 2018. Short fiction, at least for me, has been key in honing my skills.

    After 150+ agent rejections over two novels, Angry Robot said yes. It’s certainly no lie that you have to put out the absolute best work you can, and then find one person who connects with it.

    How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

    That’s a hard question to answer because there were (and probably are for most writers) a lot of partials. So, I had one full novel written and then four or five partials into which substantial time had been invested. The Phlebotomist was my second finished novel.

    At this stage in my career, all of those words were about learning. My writing, aka ‘the prose’, got better by leaps and bounds—this is, I think, the first thing to improve with practice. After that, came understanding story structure and character development. The chief Big Thing I learned was that all problems in writing are solved with time and practice. I’m still learning a lot.

    How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

    It became a whole lot scarier. That’s not as bad as it sounds, but all of a sudden, you learn your work is going to be out there and judged. It’s a dream come true—and anyone who gets a book deal should celebrate that—but I’m so tightly wound, my celebration was short lived. I worked even harder after I knew The Phlebotomist would be published. Revised and edited until my eyes fell out. More hours, reading more, interacting more with other writers. Since then, I’ve chilled some. I have more perspective, but I’m still largely driven by fear.

    What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

    Angry Robot really takes care of its authors in terms of preparing them and helping to drive publicity for their books. I didn’t feel all on my own. That said, most of the things you learn along the way is really stuff you can only learn by going through it. Experience is the real teacher, I guess.

    What challenges do you face as a published author?

    There is pressure, of course, to improve on the last thing, to avoid a sophomore slump, I guess. My next book is nothing like The Phlebotomist, so I know that it won’t appeal to everyone who liked the first book. Every author feels that pressure, I’m sure, so I’m not unique in that respect. All the same, I have bouts of doubt, imposter syndrome, and all the rest. Hopefully it is successful enough to continue building an audience.

    Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

    Absolutely. The community is very supportive. I have a tight group of fellow writers that I call my friends who I’ve never met in real life!

    How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

    There was a lot going on over the last year that affected everyone, I’m sure. The pandemic was like, just another layer in the crap cake we were all being fed. I had a tough time focusing for a few months, but with no end in sight, I just decided to get cracking. I’ve written basically two full first-drafts since last June. In that respect, it’s become a productive time.

    Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

    My book wasn’t shy about addressing current events in an allegorical—and sometimes on-the-nose—sense. I did see a number of reviews noting that the social commentary of The Phlebotomist was apt for our time. It addressed government control, consent, media manipulation, etc.

    How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

    I have never received a negative review. 😉

    Authors wiser than me warn against reading reviews or caring what they say. That’s great and all except that I am physically unable to restrain myself. I’m a complete junky, I admit it. My first negative review ruined my morning. Having someone point at your baby and say, “that baby is hideous” is tough to stomach. Nowadays, though, negative reviews impact me far less. You get used to it. Writing will teach you real fast that you can’t please everyone.

    What are you planning next?

    I’ll keep writing novels and short fiction. My next novel, Stringers is a humorous sci-fi adventure with all the requisite probing you’d expect from an alien abduction story. It comes out from Angry Robot in April of 2022.

    Do you have a set writing routine?

    I do! I get up at 5:00 a.m., brew coffee, and try to write until at least 7:30 a.m. If the day allows, I’ll write again later on. Getting up early is an awful, terrible, thing and no one should ever do it, but it does keep me from tweaking all day wondering when I’m going to write, because I’ve already done it. Most of my life is spent trying to manage my Type A-ness.

    What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

    Total silence, ambient coffee shop, or instrumental music (Russian Circles, Loscil, Red Sparrows, Tides of Nebula, or Ludovico Einaudi)

    Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

    Coffee. Occasional mint tea.

    What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

    Finding an offer from Angry Robot to publish The Phlebotomist in my junk mail. No lie.

    What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

    Books: Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Shrouded Loyalties by Reese Hogan, Gate Crashers by Patrick Tomlinson, one of several Murderbots by Martha Wells, The Expanse by James SA Corey, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor, etc.

    Podcasts: Ty & That Guy (Expanse Podcast), Writing Excuses, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Writer Files, Smartless, Our Opinions are Correct, National Geographic Overheard.