The Jalakh Bow

The Jalakh Bow, Book 3 of The Weapon Takers Saga, has just had its cover reveal over on the Fantasy Hive — check it out, there’s a full series blurb and they’ve displayed all three books in the series – I love seeing all the books together!

 

The formal release date will be 1st April and the eBook is likely to go up on pre-order before that. The book is already up on Goodreads here. I have quite a few things planned to coincide with the launch, so stay tuned! 

I’ll leave you with the blurb for the book to whet your appetite:

 

The weapon takers have bought themselves some time to complete their quest. But when their enemies return, they will find that they have become more ruthless and more terrifying than ever.

In the steppe lands of the far north, Soren must seek out the bow of the Jalakh tribes. In Kalinth, Belwynn must face a mysterious evil disguised as a friend. And in the high mountains of his Krykker homeland, Rabigar must learn a bitter lesson: nowhere is safe.

The Jalakh Bow continues the action-packed series, The Weapon Takers Saga. The series concludes with Book Four, The Giants’ Spear.

 

 

Beyond The Shadows

The grimdark fantasy anthology Beyond The Shadows is now live on Amazon. There’s been a great initial response to the release, with positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

There are 15 stories in the anthology, including my own, Stiff’s Standoff. I’m now a third of the way through the book myself and I’m impressed with the variety of the stories that I’ve read so far. I’m also surprised it’s such a HUGE book – I’ve taken a picture of the paperback which gets across how many words we collectively put out!

Beyond The Shadows on my bookshelf

The eBook version has a new release price of 0.99 until the end of the month, when it will go up to 3.99, so now is a great time to get it.


Bolivar’s Sword Audiobook Out Now!

Greg Patmore and Bridget Thomas have done another fantastic job with Bolivar’s Sword. They really bring the cast of characters to life and I thought it was such a fun listen. Greg was recently nominated for Best Narrator at the 2018 SOVAs and I’m so pleased I’ve got him on board for the series!

The audiobook is now available at Audible, Amazon and iTunes. You can have a listen to the sample below.

audible.com

audible.co.uk

Introducing Lothar ‘Stiff’ Sauer

When the editor of Beyond The Shadows gave the writers some direction for the anthology, he suggested a ‘grimdark’ tone. If you’re new to this term, this is used to denote the relatively recent crop of books whose characters can be described as ‘morally grey or ambiguous’; which forego the traditional good vs evil storylines of fantasy for worlds which are more realistic, or cynical, depending on your outlook. Some of the most well known writers awarded this label are GRR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.

While my current series has some elements of grimdark, it sits more squarely with the traditional fantasy blueprint of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. So my story for the anthology, Stiff’s Standoff, introduces an entirely new scenario with new characters. The main character, Lothar ‘Stiff’ Sauer, isn’t trying to save the world. He’s the leader of a small mercenary group (four of them, including himself) trying to make some money, competing against better leaders with bigger crews.

‘Come on, Stiff,’ said Peter. ‘There’s seven of us here. All professionals. We’ve been preparing for days. What have you got? A fat archer, a psychopath, an old man supping too much beer, and you’ve somehow blundered into a score. You’ve always been sensible. Known when to take a risk and when to back off.’

Patronising shit, thought Lothar, feeling himself rile up. Since when do I take advice from him?

‘I’ll give you 50 pieces for your trouble, Stiff,’ said Anke, making it sound generous. ‘You turn a tidy profit for a day’s work, everyone gets to leave with their reputation intact.’

Now she was doing it. Trying to buy him off for spare change. But Lothar knew something was up. He knew Peter and Anke plenty enough to tell that. Both trying a little too hard to appear nonchalant.

Fantasy characters can tend towards the heroic and the invincible. Lothar is neither – he is an ordinary man in an unpleasant world. He’s just trying to survive in it.

‘What a shithole,’ he murmured, looking around.

He saw a collection of wooden shacks, leaning against each other, on either side of the two roads that met here. The only substantial building was the church, set in its own grounds on the north-east edge of the village. He smiled to himself bitterly. Poor fuckers the world over kept themselves poor by giving all the spare money they had to the Church. It was the ultimate long odds gamble of the desperate and the hopeless.

Footsteps behind. He knew them to be Mirko’s.

‘Shithole,’ said a gravelly voice.

Lothar nodded. He considered the wooden shacks and the people who lived inside.

‘What possesses someone to decide to live their life in a place like this?’ he asked.

‘Because the place they’ve left is worse.’

To survive in this world, Lothar has developed a personal motto. Don’t get into something you can’t get out of. When temptation comes his way, will he stick to his motto and survive another day? Or will he get dragged into a situation from which he can’t escape?

Beyond The Shadows is set to be released on 5th January, featuring 15 short to mid-length stories.

Striking Out

Starting over is hard. Sometimes it’s the only option.

Since she was a young girl, Moneva has worked for the most powerful crime lord in the Empire. A chance encounter offers her a way out. Can she take it?

 

Introducing my short story, Striking Out. This is a prequel story, set five years before Toric’s Dagger starts. It’s written from Moneva’s point of view, and develops aspects of her backstory that are mentioned during the series. I enjoyed adding some flesh to these bones, and also featuring some other characters from the series in the story.

 

Moneva sighed. She really didn’t like Barissians. Some indefinable, can’t put your finger on it reason, that made her think they were all a bunch of arseholes.

 

Striking Out is not available to buy and is currently exclusive to members of my newsletter, who can download it FREE from Bookfunnel. I will also be featuring it elsewhere as a free introduction to the series.

 

Fuck thinking things through. Fuck always being in control. Fuck being patient, waiting for the right moment. And fuck Salvinus. She was going to kill him, here and now.

 

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The Chronicles of the Black Gate: Books 1-3 by Phil Tucker

So here I’m reviewing a pretty well known and widely read series, The Chronicles of the Black Gate by Phil Tucker. In particular, I bought the eBook ‘box-set’ featuring books 1-3 of 5, which the author offers for an incredibly competitive price and is therefore a great introduction to the series. Having finished Book 3 I am therefore half way through the series, but I thought I would drop a review at this point. I may do a follow up post when I complete the series. The short story is, this is a great series with a wide appeal.

 

Characters

We follow the point of view of a number of characters throughout the series, with a chapter devoted to each one, reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire. Asho, depicted on the cover of the first book, The Path of Flames, is a Bythian, a white haired slave race.  He has left his underground homeland to become a knight, but does not fit in, is treated with disrespect and has an XL size chip on his shoulder. Kethe is the daughter of the baron Asho serves, who wants to break with social convention and train as a warrior; Iskra is Kethe’s mother. Audsley is the unathletic, studious ‘magister’ who works at the same castle. Indeed, all of the main characters are already quite well intertwined at the beginning of the story, all except for Tharok. He is a kragh, an orc/ogre type creature, with ambitions to unite his race and take on the humans.

There is a real blend and variety of characters here, Tucker does a great job of getting the reader inside their heads early on. You have warriors and non-warriors, older and younger, male and female, different classes etc. It’s great for readers like me who enjoy the variety, and even if you don’t, I would expect most readers to find at least one character they root for. Some of the backstory is quite dark, and I would certainly define the series as epic fantasy with grimdark elements.

All in all I liked the characters, the author does a good job of developing personality while also allowing the plot and action to develop at a nice pace. Personally, I enjoyed the Tharok chapters, perhaps because they were a bit different, but also because his storyline is separate for so long, it felt like a nice change of pace/scenery when he came along.

 

Worldbuilding

Tucker really knows his genre and he does a good job of fitting all the pieces together, not a straightforward task when you write fantasy. The world he creates is highly original. The different parts of the world are connected by magical gates – aka solar or lunar portals. My understanding is that these gates are required to travel from one region to another, though I never quite got a grip on the geography so I could be wrong. The humans are therefore divided into different regions, and each has a different role to play in the Ascendant Empire – Bythians are slave labour, Ennoians are the warriors, Aletheians the elite, Noussians scholars etc. Not only that, but there is an important religious element to this structure too, so that when you die you pass from one stage to another – a higher stage if you have lived your life well, a lower one if not, i.e. some form of reincarnation. An interesting aspect to this is the reader is never clear how true this really is – is this belief system purely fictional, half true or not.

Magic is linked to this worldbuilding, so that some characters appear able to use magic because they are connected to the White Gate (think: heaven), the top of the structure, others because they are connected to the Black Gate (think: hell). Once a character has this magic they become pretty awesome overnight – their swords light with fire, they can do 20 somersaulting back flips in a row etc etc. During the book some of the characters transform in this way into ‘superheroes’, far superior to ordinary humans.

Magic and religion are therefore central themes, and the series has a distinctive setting. As a reader I was left with slightly mixed feelings – the setting was memorable, but I wasn’t always able to fully suspend my disbelief.

 

Plot

Circumstances force Iskra on a collision course with the rulers of the Ascendant Empire. She is supported by her knights (such as Asho and Kethe) and other allies, though they face overwhelming odds. Audsley begins to learn the secrets of the portals, and finds out that there is a corruption at the heart of the Empire. Meanwhile, Tharok finds an iron circlet that gives him the ability to plan a strategic course of action that could unite the kragh under his leadership. Should that be allowed to happen, the Empire will face a far greater threat than Iskra’s small band of rebels.

Each character ends up being given a distinct challenge or storyline, which sees them working alone or together at different points in the series, and in different locations. Tucker does a great job of linking all these storylines together, like a juggler – he never drops a ball, and thus weaves a truly impressive fantasy tapestry together. There are moments, I think almost inevitable if you are going to write something on this scale, when you would like things to move a bit faster. But at the end of Book 3, it all comes together with a climactic crash.

 

 

Overall, as I’ve suggested, this series ticks most fantasy readers’ boxes – epic in scale, though certainly not hard to get through; an original setting, with a hint of mystery; and engaging characters. I would thoroughly recommend!

 

 

 

Beyond the Shadows Cover Reveal

Very excited about my involvement in the Beyond The Shadows Fantasy Anthology. I have contributed a short story to the collection, which is due to be released early in the New Year.

The cover design has just been released so I wanted to post it here so people can get an early view. It’s pretty cool, right?

I’ll be posting more information about my story and the anthology soon!

 

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO)

So. I’ve written my own book. I’ve published my own book. Now what do I do?

This was the position I found myself in during the Spring of 2017, and no doubt the position many other self-published authors have found themselves in. Writing a book seemed like hard work. Getting it on Amazon seemed like hard work. But in fact, that’s just the start. If you want people to read your books, you have to be proactive and go sell them. If you’re self-published, no-one is going to do that for you. But someone might…may…help you out a little.

If you write fantasy books, you have the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Created by fantasy author Mark Lawrence and supported by fantasy bloggers, the first competition ran in 2015. 300 books are entered into the competition. The only real rule, is that your book is self-published, and fantasy. It’s a gloriously level playing field, when such things rarely exist. I hadn’t sold a single copy when I stumbled my way into the competition in 2017 – Toric’s Dagger was on pre-order and not yet out. There were other authors like me, but I was also up against writers who had over ten books out, writers who had been traditionally published, writers with multi-thousand-dollar audiobook contracts. It didn’t matter. My book, along with 29 others, was sent off to one of the ten bloggers, and whichever one she liked the best, was going to reach the final. Name and reputation didn’t come into it.

Clearly, with a one in thirty chance of making the final, most writers don’t get much attention. I was luckier than most. Toric’s Dagger finished in the top ten or so in its group, and in doing so got a full review from the blogger. Who didn’t hold their punches. But new writers need to see the bad as well as the good. And anyway, even in a big competition like this, all opinions are subjective. Take on board the criticisms you agree with and forget about the rest. Did all of this get me any sales? Maybe. Not much. But I learned a hell of a lot from the experience and it’s also allowed me to get to know some of the other amazing authors out there, and learn from them.

Those books that win their ‘heat’ find their way into the final. They get reviewed by all ten participating blogs. This is the point where books can get a load of attention. And for the winner? The book that’s beaten 299 other contenders? That’s massive. Massive, free promotion for the book, and for the author. The winner of the 2016 contest, The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French, was picked up by a big publisher. Yes, agents and publishers are keeping an eye on this, and why not? They’re getting a proven winner out of it all.

 

 

So, the SPFBO. Good for self-published writers. Bloggers get to make a real impact in the genre they love. Agents and publishers get to pick up on new writers and trends. Fantasy readers get to find out about books they might otherwise not hear about. I’m declaring it a win-win and overall good thing.

If you want to find out more, the 2018 contest, aka #SPFBO 4, can be accessed via Mark Lawrence’s website

Finally, the casual reader of this article may just want to know, hey, what are the best books to come out of this thing? Well, that’s always going to be subjective, depending on what type of fantasy you’re into as much as anything else. Plus, with 900 books entered in the first 3 versions, there’s no doubt some very good books have been overlooked. That said, here’s a list of books from the competition, either that I’ve read myself and enjoyed, or that enough people have raved about to make me believe there’s a very good chance a fantasy fan will love it. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

2015 SPFBO
WINNER: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung
I would also recommend: What Remains of Heroes by David Benem, Bloodrush by Ben Galley

2016 SPFBO
WINNER: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
I would also recommend: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton, Path of Flames by Phil Tucker, Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft, Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

2017 SPFBO
WINNER: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J Hayes
I would also recommend: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson, The War of Undoing by Alex Perry, The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel Olesen, Faithless by Graham Austin-King, Darkstorm by ML Spencer, The Woven Ring by MD Presley

 

 

Bolivar’s Sword eBook Out Now – 0.99

So, Bolivar’s Sword has now had its eBook release and will be 0.99 on Amazon for the first half of July until it goes back up to 3.99. The first reviews are also now in and seem to have settled on a 4**** average on amazon.com – see here. It feels good having a couple of books on sale now – hopefully the next one won’t take a year!

I have also started a kindle countdown for Toric’s Dagger, which means that it will be available at $0.99 for a week too, but unfortunately only on amazon.com (US Amazon).

 

Art of War Edited by Petros Triantafyllou

Art of War is a fantasy anthology put together by the BOOKNEST.EU blog featuring short stories by 40 fantasy writers. And it’s an impressive line-up: while I’ve only read a few of the authors in this collection before, I knew of and was interested in reading the work of well over half of them, which makes it a great introduction to some of the current writers in the genre. Of course, reading a short story isn’t the same as reading a novel, and (to be honest) I tend to prefer the latter. I think particularly in fantasy, it can be hard to get a story going in a few thousand words. And these stories are generally on the short side (I don’t know how long, and no, I’m not counting the words for you). So, a writer’s short doesn’t necessarily tell you what their series are like. Also, when I got to reading, I actually enjoyed quite a few from authors I hadn’t come across before, which is even better. The other point worth making here is that profits from sales go to Medecins Sans Frontieres, which some readers may want to know.

So, on to the book itself. It’s well designed for a start, and after reading a lot of eBooks recently, it was nice to have a chunky book in my hands. The theme is obviously war. As a collection of writers, obviously the authors approached this from a number of angles. The most common was ‘war is hell’. This is something of a truism and therefore didn’t always spark my interest. Linked to this was a number of stories that were set in trenches, which I found slightly odd in a fantasy story. Given that despite the central truth of war is hell, humans are still engaged in war in the twenty first century, is a depressing fact, but still one that could be explored. War as a driver of social change is explored in Sebastian de Castell’s The Fox and The Bowman, one of the reasons that particular story stood out for me.

Clearly, with 40 stories, the reader is going to find some they liked better than others. There were a few I thought were pretty poor, but only one I didn’t finish, which isn’t a bad hit rate. When writers decide what to write they have to decide whether to build on their previous material or produce something new and self-contained. Obviously the former goes down well with existing fans but can be a barrier to new readers if dependent on prior knowledge of the author’s work.

I’ll give a mention to my top ten – these haven’t been chosen in a systematic way, but rather are the ones that stayed with me for some reason – I could remember the characters and their situation. In compiling this list I think it’s fair to say that the odds of being remembered are higher if the story comes at the beginning or end of the book rather than stuck in the middle. So, in the order they appear in the book:

The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald – what’s in the box? Nothing nice, I fear.

The Last Arrow by Mitchell Hogan – captured the unpleasantness of war without becoming hyperbolic.

This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle – original, atmospheric, definitely made me want to read more from her.

The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastian de Castell – clever, almost like a fable, with some insight on war.

Violet by Mazarkis Williams – made me root for this character.

Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames – genuinely funny, and clever, and about war.

The Undying Lands by Michael R Fletcher – another strong female character, lighthearted feel to it.

The Storm by Miles Cameron – the world-building/setting was interesting.

Flesh and Coin by Anna Stephens – mercenary bands encounter, struck a chord with me because I’m currently writing something quite similar.

The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence – my first introduction to Jalan Kendeth, already on my TBR pile.

 

As I say, nothing very systematic about this list and on another day no doubt the list would be slightly different. There are another twenty-odd quality short stories in this book, so would definitely recommend to fantasy fans, it’s a nice one to dip into in between longer reads.