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Review: The Wrack by John Bierce

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The Wrack is a unique fantasy novel that focuses on the spread of a disease called the Wrack and how it affects the people, their cultures, politics and the world at large. An interesting read in pandemic times, and the author mentions how weird it was to be writing and releasing it during the pandemic. Even though the book is a work of fiction about a fictional disease in a world where magic exists I found the inner science nerd in me extremely excited while reading this book. I also love epic fantasy and I think the author pulls of an amazing feat by showing how the Wrack spreads across this entire world, showing the large, epic scale while still having so many beautiful, close, character moments.  In some ways, The Wrack itself is the main character. There are some characters that show up a couple of times, but in general, don't expect to follow certain characters throughout the novel. The work of fighting the pandemic is a global one and the author allows us to see so many pers

Review: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

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Gunpowder Alchemy is an excellent steampunk book set in 1800s China. In the midst of the Opium war a young woman named Soling, who is working as an assistant to a physician in a small town and trying to keep her family fed, ends up getting embroiled in the war between the Empire, the English, and a band of rebels that is growing into a dangerous army. She has to confront her past, her father's old position in the court, and her family's current disgrace.  It's an immersive, well-told tale with amazing characterization at the heart of it that drives the story. It's so rare when a protagonist's family relationships feel real. She goes on an adventure that takes her away from them, but she thinks about them and tries her best to make sure they're safe and to contact them and that makes all her interactions feel real and genuine.  There's action, there are interesting clockwork contraptions, gunpowder warfare, ships, and so many other exciting things. The story

Review: Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

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  Burning Bright was the story I didn't know I needed to get me out of this reading slump. It's like a period drama by Austen mixed with a naval adventure story (ala Horatio Hornblower) mixed with magical powers/superpowers. Very interesting combination and a well-written story.  Elinor Pembroke's power manifests one night while she's asleep... and she sets her room on fire. She's 21 and unmarried so her parents - mostly her father - decide that this Extraordinary power she has to control fire makes her a more eligible match and they try to find her some rich/powerful husband. This is the interesting thing about the worldbuilding that reminded me a little bit of Temeraire, the author has put these powers into this historical time period and they're being used within the society like in the army, in fire brigades, etc. Elinor is a noblewoman, so her family doesn't expect her to use her power for anything, especially since she manifested late/at an older age,

Epic Sale of Beloved SFF

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Hi everyone, For the past couple of months I've been collecting recommendations of beloved books and asking the authors of those books to put them on sale! The result:   - 53 awesome SFF books on sale for only $0.99 each  - Recommendations so you know why the book is awesome   - There are SPFBO and SPSFC books in here for those following those contests  Check it out:  https://www.talesfromthecircle.com/epicsale2021.html Last year I picked up Between the Shade and the Shadow based on Calvin Park's recommendation in this sale and it was one of the best books I read in 2020! I can't wait to find out what new gems I'll discover this year. And I'll be sure to share my thoughts here!  Hope you find something you enjoy reading!

Guest Post: Building an Immersive World

I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for FanFiAddict about world-building and some of the elements that make readers connect with the world and want to visit it.  Building an Immersive World   In it, I talk quite a bit about Tolkien's Middle Earth as well as some of my favourite immersive reads including K. S. Villoso's Agartes Epilogues and Daniel E. Olesen's Chronicles of Adalmearc.  And to celebrate the guest post I've put up my big epic fantasy book Children of the Dead City up for sale . You can get all 375K words for only $0.99 - and I'm hoping readers will find it immersive and fun! :) 

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

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Reading the afterword of this book cemented a realization that I had already made a while ago: I love to read Ursula K. LeGuin, but I mostly love reading her non-fiction essays/thoughts about writing more than her actual fiction. ( Check out my review of The Disposessed here. ) That afterword, where she explains what she was thinking when she wrote the book and discusses the ideas behind it, was much more interesting to me than the actual book. I respect what she was trying to do with this book and I found myself enjoying small sections of her writing, but overall the distant tone in which this book was written kind of hindered from engaging with all these great ideas in a meaningful way.  In a coming of age story like this that was supposed to be about the main character understanding himself it really would have helped to get to know his thoughts first-hand, but LeGuin never really tells us what he's thinking. Instead, she tells us the names of all kinds of Islands and towns and

Review: The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K. S. Villoso

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  The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng is the third and final installment in the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen Series. Read my reviews of book 1: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and Book 2: The Ikessar Falcon . Just like other two books it's a wild ride. A first person POV following Queen Taliyen as she struggles to save her son and her kingdom from so many threats that she couldn't even have imagined at the start of this series! It's fast-paced and action-packed, full of battles, political intrigue, and truly desperate/hopeless situations that Tali has to navigate. It's also full of amazingly well-crafted characters that feel real in all their imperfections. There's a lot more magic in this one and we get to learn so much more about Tali's kingdom Jin-Sayeng and its history and secrets. I binge-read over the past 3 days - I couldn't put it down and didn't want to do anything else!  This third installment brings together many different pieces that click together so perfectly

Review: The Ikessar Falcon by K. S. Villoso

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The Ikessar Falcon is the breathtakingly excellent sequel to The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. Check out my review of Book 1  here. It's going to be hard to do a proper review without spoilers, but I'll do my best. Let me start by saying that it's a must-read and shows once again that Villoso is a master when it comes to epic fantasy. I couldn't tear myself from the pages!  Just like The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the Ikessar Falcon is written in first person from Talyien's POV and just like book 1, this limitation of POV doesn't stop the author from telling a sweeping epic tale, showing us a vast and rich world, and building several characters who feel real and have excellent development. It's not just Tali that gets development, it's all the characters.  World-building is one of my favourite aspects of reading and why I love epic fantasy so much. I loved this world when I read the Agartes Epilogues (which are being re-released soon, I think!) and I loved it when I read t

Review: Shimmerdark by Sarah Menginsa

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It's only April, but I already know this book is going on my top reads of the year. Sarah Mensinga has written another excellent fantasy book with unique world-building, excellent character development, a wonderful exploration of systemic problems within a society, and lots of magic and adventure! Shimmerdark starts off in the claustrophobic environment of a cave where the main character Xylia is sheltering from vicious nocturnes with a few others during a month-long darkness. I wasn't necessarily hooked right from the start with this introductory chapter, but I've read another book by the author and I know she's got excellent world-building skill so I kept reading and was soon glued to the pages. The story and world became extremely interesting as Xylia and her friends got rescued from the island they'd been shipwrecked on and went back to their intriguing world. I particularly love how the steampunk-like technology is woven in with the magical powers that exist in

Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

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Amari and the Night Brothers is an excellent middle-grade fantasy book that can be read and enjoyed by adults. It follows the adventures of a young girl named Amari who discovers that there is a supernatural world that exists right alongside and within the normal world she's so used to. Her brother, who is now missing, has left her a nomination for a tryout at the Department of Supernatural Affairs, so she has the opportunity to go to a summer camp and try out for a position in the Bureau. This not only open up a whole new world for her, it also allows her to find out more about why he's missing and to look for him.  What follows is an excellent adventure where Amari learns to deal with an navigate her role in the supernatural world while at the same time learning to deal with and understand the racism and prejudice she faces in the real world. From the very beginning of the book the author shines a light on the prejudice that Black children face in their schools and daily live

QuaranCon 2021 Online Fantasy Convention Starting Tomorrow

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QuaranCon 2021, a free, online fantasy and scifi convention is starting in less than 15 hours! I'm involved in the behind the scenes planning and I can tell you it's going to be awesome. There will be free to watch panels, workshops, and readings!  See the full schedule here:  https://www.quarancon2020.com/2021schedule And check out our sale of amazing SFF books:  storyoriginapp.com/to/qpUCuho There's so much awesome content planned! Here's tomorrow's program:  I'm very excited for the SPFBO panel, the magical systems panel, and the reading with Allan Batchelder. This is going to be awesome! Hope you can tune in and enjoy all the great content. 

Review: A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

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  A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher is a compelling fantasy adventure that follows a young 14 year-old girl whose power lies in her ability to magically enhance her baking skills. I found the story to be a page-turner and finished it in just over a day.  The thing that hooked me from the start was the voice of the protagonist Mona. She's got a very compelling personality and I genuinely enjoyed reading from her perspective, even though I don't think I've ever truly enjoyed a first person story before. There's a fun, almost sarcastic kind of humour in the way she describes and comments on the events of her tale that just kept me reading and turning the pages. Her voice was very refreshing and very genuinely the voice of a young person trying to navigate the adult world.  And the author clearly shows through this story that you can write something aimed at a younger audience, something clean, and easy to read that feels "middle-grade" and

Review: Of Blood and Steel by Seymour Zeynalli

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Of Blood and Steel by Seymour Zeynalli is an easy to read, adventure story that I was happy to turn to whenever I had free time. It follows the adventures of a young woman who is trying to get herself and a baby safely through rough terrain and the hardened old assassin that she hired to escort them. I thoroughly enjoyed that traditional fantasy feel of these people going on a long journey and facing interesting new threats and creatures and situations along the way. And as they go on, they also discover more about each other and about themselves. There's a great story here, hints of great world-building, and clearly a lot of storytelling potential by this new author. I'm going to be keeping an eye on his later works, because I think with a bit more experience he's going to soon be telling some exceptional stories.  I mentioned that this has that traditional fantasy adventure feel that I enjoyed. I must also mention that the author set out to bring the unique flavour of the

Review: Child of the Daystar by Bryce O'Connor

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Child of the Daystar by Bryce O'Connor is another great book I picked up in the r/Fantasy megasale. I picked it up based on the cover, which featured a humanoid dragon figure, and even though I had not read the description and didn't really know what to expect I ended up enjoying this book a lot. In fact, it's been one of the few books I've been able to actually enjoy in the past few months.  The protagonist Raz, the "Child of the Daystar" from the title, is a toddler from the dragon-like race of Atherians, who starts off at the beginning of the book in chains, being transported through the desert by human slavers. The boy is very strong, though, and in his bid for freedom he ends up seriously injuring some of the slavers and killing two of them. In the struggle, one of them hits him over the head and he is presumed dead and left in the desert next to the bodies of the two dead slavers. He is found, and eventually taken in, by a family of desert dwelling nomad

Review: Heartscale by Lola Ford

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Heartscale is an excellent book exploring the relationships between dragons and humans in various different kingdoms. I had picked up and put down several books before reading this one, unable to find one that caught my interest. Then I picked up Heartscale and I was into it from the start. It follows the story of two main characters who discover and form bonds with dragons. One of them, Graith, is a farmer living in a land where dragons are feared and killed on sight - a land where dragons were hunted down and killed off years ago. He finds an injured dragon in his barn one night. The second character is a girl, Nerie, who finds a way to go see the hatching of the dragon egg in the royal palace. In her kingdom, the dragons choose the next ruler and give them legitimacy. Both storylines are gripping right from the start. Around the 20% mark I found the story dragged a little bit because it was following the minute details of their lives, but a couple of chapters later it became very in

SPFBO1-6 Sale

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 Hi everyone,  I got together with a group of authors of SPFBO books past and present to put our books on sale. So if you've been meaning to check out some books that have been in the SPFBO you might find what you're looking for here. We've got some great books on offer, including finalists and semi-finalists of the competition.  I'm also currently participating in a couple of other great promos. Check them out:  And  I hope you find something you enjoy among all these great-looking titles! 

r/Fantasy Holiday Megasale

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 There's a huge sale going on today on r/fantasy. Over 100 authors are offering over 250 books either for free or for 0.99 for the day! Check it out!  My own epic fantasy Children of the Dead City is available for only $0.99 on all retailers in all geos! 

Top 5 Books I read in 2020

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Well, it's that time of the year where I look back and reflect on the great books I've read this year and choose the best out of the bunch to highlight.  If you're interested in finding out about more great books check out my previous "best of" posts:  Top 3 Books I Read in 2019   Top 5 Books I Read in 2018   Top 3 Books I Read in 2017 But moving back to this year: despite the strangeness of the year and the different challenges I still managed to find and read a bunch of great books that I'd love to share with you. These books didn't necessarily come out this year, I just happen to have read them this year so this post is based entirely on my own reading. These are books I enjoyed so much that I would recommend them to anyone!  In no particular order:  Between the Shade and the Shadow by Coleman Alexander  Genre: Epic Fantasy  My Rating: 5 stars Between the Shade and the Shadow by Coleman Alexander is a unique fantasy novel that has excellent characteri

December Writing Update and some Freebies

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It's been a crazy month - a crazy fall semester - a crazy year. But I got some reading and writing done this year. As for the reading, I'm hoping to make a "Top 5 Books I read this year" post soon, so look out for that.  Writing-wise, I wrote a fantasy novella last weekend. It'll be a little while before it's ready to be published. I usually like to leave my stories alone for a while after I've written them so I can look back in a couple of months and see what I think of them later- the distance helps me decide if they're publishing worthy and see any flaws that need to be edited. And, of course, it'll also need a cover. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and I'm very excited to eventually share it with you all. I can tell you it takes place in a couple of different locations in The Land of Sunsets including Red Fern City. I can also tell you that there's one little bit of a scene in the end of the novella that surprised me. Those are always t

Writing Update and Some Deals

So now that I've finished that sci-fi WIP that fantasy story that was bothering me so much suddenly feels a lot less urgent/has left me alone. So nothing unusual, I guess, since that always tends to happen to me. Still, I'm slowly but surely working on planning it and excited to start writing soon. Right now it's looking like it's going to be a series of six stand-alone, but chronological novels.  I'm participating in a few free promos and sales that I thought I would share. There are so many books available here for free or for discounted prices!  Mid-November Miraculous Fantasy Giveaway  Fantasy and Adventure Novels Black Friday/Cyber Monday Book Sale $3.99 and Under or KU Books Paranormal/Fantasy/UF/Sci-Fi And finally, a promotion I've organized myself:  Uncover a Fantasy World I hope you find something among these titles that you enjoy! :)

Guest Post on RockStarLit BookAsylum

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  I had the pleasure of doing a world-building guest post over at RockStarlit Book Asylum. It's all about presenting world-building smoothly and naturally in the story, which is something I always strive to do in my writing. Check it out: https://starlitbook.com/2020/11/16/guest-post-tips-for-presenting-worldbuilding-naturally-in-your-stories-by-noor-al-shanti/

5-Day Fantasy Bargain Sale

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My Short story Wandering Storm is in this great sale among some excellent fantasy books. Check it out:

Characterization and Agency in Children of the Dead City

This blog post is inspired by a thought-provoking post by The Fantasy Inn ’s Hiu over on Reddit. The post was asking a lot of questions about character agency and how necessary it is for a good, well-written character that people will connect with to have agency. Basically, does the character have to have agency in order to be a “good” character.   What I liked about it most was that it inspired all kinds of questions about different types of characters, personalitites, external vs. Internal constaints on a character’s agency, and so on. Questions that are worth asking when it comes to any character. So I thought I’d do a little exploration of some of my own characters and look at them from an angle that I never necessarily thought about specifically and examine their level of agency and how it affects their stories. I’ve come up with nine general questions inspired by that original post and the replies/discussions.   Does the character have agency within their society on a day