Tag Archives: Best in Fantasy

#BookReview: The Witchwood Crown by @TadWilliams

I am a great fan of Tad Williams’ work, in all its many incarnations. The Witchwood Crown is his most recent release, a follow up to his masterpiece series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. It is a fitting continuation of the original story featuring four great characters, Simon Snowlock, Miriamele, Binabik, and Jiriki.

I became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered the world of Osten Ard and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Simon was such a complex, sometimes clueless character that I was immediately drawn to him. Miri was also clueless and naïve. Binabik, Tiamak, and Jiriki had the wisdom needed to guide these two toward making good decisions.

Throughout the original series set in Osten Ard, it seemed like each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The bigotry and arrogance shown by some members of each race, each believing in their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a sad truth about the real world.

When this new series set in Osten Ard was announced, I was curious as to how Tad Williams would maintain that deep connection to the story after such a long absence. In my opinion, The Heart of What Was Lost proved Williams had not lost his touch, that indeed, he had matured as a writer.

I bought the Kindle version of The Witchwood Crown, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. I read along with his narration, which is an awesome experience.

The Witchwood Crown, by Tad Williams

  • Series:Last King of Osten Ard (Book 1)
  • Hardcover:736 pages
  • Publisher:DAW; First Edition edition (June 27, 2017)
  • Language:English

MY REVIEW (as originally posted on my review blog, Best in Fantasy):

This book is not a light read. Tad Williams’ work is brilliant and complex because he understands the character arc and the importance of agency and consequences. Change and growth or degeneration happen to each character over the course of the story—no one is allowed to stagnate. With a character-driven plot set in a fantasy world, the growth of the characters is the central theme. The events, shocking and yet unavoidable, are the means to enable that growth.

The story opens some thirty years after final passages of To Green Angel Tower. Many events have occurred in that time, leaving scars on those who have lived through them. Prince Josua and his family have vanished. The League of the Scroll is no longer what it was, death and age having taken most of the people who had the knowledge. Simon and Miriamele have lost a son to a deadly fever, and are deeply concerned about the behavior of Prince Morgan, their grandson and heir. They have reservations about their son’s widow and fear her influence has ruined him. They also fear for their very young granddaughter, Lillia.

There are other problems for Simon and Miri to contend with. Political unrest, lack of hospitality and rudeness by the King of Hernystir, trouble in Nabban, and rumors that the Norns are stirring. Simon, who has always been gifted (or cursed) with prophetic dreams, is no longer dreaming. A council is held, and it emerges that Binabik the troll also has concerns.

Prince Morgan is more than just a womanizing young noble, but he doesn’t know it. Jiriki and the Sithi will have a large part to play in Prince Morgan’s journey, as they did in his grandfather Simon’s journey to manhood. Whether or not Prince Morgan is the kind of man his grandfather is, remains to be seen.

The Witchwood Crown is an epic fantasy which will put some hoity toity literary purists off. It is literary, illuminating the internal lives of the many characters, and is centered upon how the perception that the king is dying has gendered plots and plans for coups among many factions. This lack of focus on one primary hero will put off the genre purists who need more noise and sixty-second sound bites in their literature. Those readers will find it difficult to follow the many threads.

Osten Ard is a place of contrasts. Dark, in many ways Gothic, negotiating the rough waters of this dark-age world is not easy. The three main cultures differ greatly from each other and are worlds of extremes. These contrasts drive the plot and frame the story in such a way the world of Osten Ard seems more real and tangible than this world. The room in which I read grows colder when the Norns breeze into the narrative.

In the years since the original publication of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams has matured as an author. His prose is beautiful, almost poetic yet not going there. Harsh, lush, and carefully designed with layers of allegory and subtext, some readers will find the narrative too literary, difficult to read. Williams has a large vocabulary and sometimes takes the long way rather than dumping you into the fray immediately. He isn’t afraid to use compound sentences, which makes it an adult read. Other, more avid readers, like me, will devour it, savor it, and think about the deeper concepts long after closing the book on the final page.

I give this novel five stars for its complexity, maturity, and sheer originality. A powerful narrative, this book left a different kind of mark on me as a reader than the original series did. That series is young and brash, detailing the early days of kitchen boy who became king. A young and brash author wrote that first amazing series. This book is mature, not only because the author has matured in the craft but because the king is older—it shows us who that boy became, what kind of man he is, and offers us a glimpse of who might succeed him.

I look forward to the next chapter in this very large story.


Tad Williams is a California-based fantasy superstar. His genre-creating (and genre-busting) books have sold tens of millions worldwide. His considerable output of epic fantasy and epic science-fiction series, fantastical stories of all kinds, urban fantasy novels, comics, scripts, etc., have strongly influenced a generation of writers. Tad always has several secret projects on the go. 2016 will see the debut of a number of them; March 2017 brings ‘The Witchwood Crown’, the first volume in the long-awaited return to the world of the ‘Memory, Sorrow & Thorn’ novels. Tad and his family live in the Santa Cruz mountains in a suitably strange and beautiful house.

You can find out more about Tad Williams and his books at www.tadwilliams.com  


Credits and Attributions

This review of The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams, as reviewed by Connie J. Jasperson,  was originally posted on Best in Fantasy,  on November 16, 2017

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Kacey Vanderkarr, Poison Tree (Reflection Pond, Book 2)

As you know, I love to talk shop, and love to hear what other authors have to say about their work and the craft. Recently I read a deep, well-crafted novel written by indie author, Kacey Vanderkarr. The book is called Reflection Pond and I liked it enough to feature it on my book review blog, Best in Fantasy. (You can read my review of her wonderful book here.) Kacey has consented to answer my inelegant questions (further down this post) and what she has to say is quite interesting!

She has written a sequel, Poison Tree (Reflection Pond, Book 2),  and I am happy to have been offered the opportunity to be one of the first to reveal the cover–and a lovely cover it is. And she has also agreed to answer a few questions regarding her work and her life as an indie author–and wow, what great insight into the industry she has.  But first–THE BLURB:

Poison Tree

By Kacey Vanderkarr

Release date: December 2, 2014

The road to the City of War is dangerous.

With their home in ruins, Callie and Rowan are Eirensae’s last hope of stealing the cauldron back from Fraeburdh. They must travel into the human world where the Fallen hide. The banished fae wait for Callie, desperate to sacrifice her before she comes of age.

If Callie and Rowan survive the journey, something worse looms in Fraeburdh. Rowan is destined for a dark family legacy too horrifying to accept, and his father is anxious to welcome him home. Once the truth is revealed, will Callie ever look at Rowan the same way?

Trapped between feuding cities lost in a centuries’ old war, Callie and Rowan will face their biggest rivals yet, and neither of them will make it out unscathed.

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(Just so you all know, I am definitely going to buy that book!)

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And now the Cover:

poison-tree-ebook

 

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That’s an awesome cover to go with such an intriguing blurb.  And now, we meet the author, an amazing woman who is a driving force in the writing life of Flint, Michigan.

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

KV: I began writing back in high school, though I didn’t officially consider myself a writer until I was on summer break from my first semester of Ultrasound school. Inspiration struck in that four-week break and I spent it writing my first complete novel, a YA Fantasy that I’ve since rewritten. I fell in love with those characters, and to this day, I still have a soft spot for them. It took some time, but I realized that I could fall in love with other, different, characters, and I have again and again, through novels and short fiction. I think writing is part neurosis and part pure joy. There are times when I love and hate it equally!

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

KV: Poison Tree is Book 2 in the Reflection Pond Series. It’s the continuation of Callie and Rowan’s story as they make their way from home into the dark faerie city, Fraeburdh, which is also known as the City of War.

I’ve always been fascinated with fantasy. In doing some research, I found information on a legend involving four treasures. My own story is loosely based on the original four treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

KV: I am a certified winger. Swooper. Pantser. Whatever you want to call it. I usually have a general skeleton of a story when I start, a beginning, middle, end, though I never outline. There may be an idea for a scene or two as well. My joy doesn’t come from structure, but spontaneity. I’ve tried outlining before, and then I feel determined to stray as far from that plan as possible. I love the blank page, the possibility. I save the note taking for after I’ve written the rough draft.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

KV: I think that Reflection Pond and Poison Tree take risks. I had a reviewer suggest that Reflection Pond be marketed to ages 17+ because it has a “handful of profanity” and “alludes to child abuse.” It doesn’t allude. It happened, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not scared to examine the dark parts of life, and I don’t condone blindfolding my readers to make them feel more comfortable. These books cover a lot of dark topics, and I’m proud of that, especially when reviewers say that it’s handled in a sensitive manner. The truth is, bad things happen to people who read YA, and everyone needs a character that they can relate to. Not everyone will be able to connect to my characters when they read and that’s okay. But for those who have suffered and survived, there is still hope, and I want them to find it when they read my books.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

KV: I write based on inspiration. A lot of that manifests as YA, though I have written a few adult short pieces, some new adult, and some straight up fantasy. I think young adult looks at a very transitional place in a character’s life. It gives a lot of options to the writer. That being said, I have absolutely no idea where my career will take me. Right now, I consider myself a YA writer, in the future? Who knows!

CJJ: I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

KV: I am all over the place when it comes to publishing. My first book, Antithesis, was published by Inkspell Publishing, which is a small press. That was a great experience for me. I learned how to market, how much work it is to publish a book, how to work with an editor and cover designer. Inkspell is very supportive and patient with their authors. However, for my second book, Reflection Pond, I opted to self-publish. I’d sent it to agents, had a few bites of interest, but nobody wanted to pick up the series. At that point, I had to make a choice. Who did I write this book for? In the end, it was myself, and if I wanted it to be out there in the world, then I had to publish it myself, too. It was a long process with a lot of ups and downs and uncertainty, but I’m SO HAPPY I did it. Self-publishing has opened even more doors for me and widened my net of contacts. I’m proud of these books because every page is mine.

However, I still want an agent, which is why I’m now querying a different project. So, I’ve done a bit of everything. I’d love to have an agent and publish traditionally. The important thing is patience, which is what I keep telling myself!

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

KV: I think both traditional and self-publishing have their pros and cons and neither one is better than the other. What matters is the work. Traditional publishing is a bit like having good luck. Your writing can be amazing, but you have to attract the right agent at the right time, and then again with an editor and publisher. Self-publishing gives you more freedom. You get to choose who you work with, have say in what your cover looks like, make editing decisions.

Both paths are hard.

If you indie publish, I suggest making friends with someone who knows the ropes and can help you get it done. That’s the great thing about writers, we’re friendly and helpful, colleagues not competition, because we’re also readers who love good books.

The last bit of advice is DON’T GIVE UP. If you want to indie publish, do it. If you indie publish and still want an agent. Go for it. There is no wrong way. Don’t let the industry, your family or friends, or yourself keep you from your dreams. Just remember, the publishing industry moves SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, so have patience and trust your gut.

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I have to say, I really enjoyed reading her answers–Kacey Vanderkarr has some awesome advice for all authors, not just indies there!

 

Kacey VanderkarrKACEY VANDERKARR is a young adult author. She dabbles in fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, complete with faeries, alternate realities, and the occasional plasma gun. She’s known to be annoyingly optimistic and listen to music at the highest decibel. Kacey is president of the Flint Area Writers and the Social Media Director for Sucker Literary. When she’s not writing, she coaches winterguard and works as a sonographer. Kacey lives in Michigan, with her husband, son, and crazy cats. In addition to her novels, Antithesis and Reflection Pond, Kacey’s short fiction is featured in Sucker Literary Vol III, Out of the Green: Tales from Fairyland, and will appear in Spark Vol VII and the inaugural issue of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. Check out her website: www.kaceyvanderkarr.com.

You can purchase the wonderful book that begins this series at:

Reflection Pond on Amazon

If I were you I would Add Poison Tree on Goodreads--I just did!

And here is her Author Facebook Page–go out and ‘like’ her–she’s an awesome person!

Kacey Vanderkarr’s Blog-check it out!

And finally–you can follow her on Twitter!

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Stephen Swartz, A Dry Patch of Skin

A patch of Dry Skin, Stephen SwartzToday, my dear friend, Stephen Swartz, author of the new book,  A Dry Patch of Skin has consented to answer a few questions for us. Stephen is a true renaissance man–an accomplished musician, and the author of seven published novels, he is also a professor of English at a well-known university in Oklahoma.

I became friends with Stephen in 2011 through ABNA, and we have remained good friends since. I find him hilarious, and I really enjoy his work. He has kindly consented to sit down and allow me to “virtually interview ” him. I am especially curious about his wonderful new book, which is a vampire tale. It’s most certainly not your mama’s sparkly vampires! If you are curious, here is my review: Best in Fantasy: A Dry Patch of Skin

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

Stephen Swartz 2007SS: It seems like I’ve always been making up stories, much to my parents’ chagrin. I began by drawing panel comics, then added dialog, then began writing paragraphs. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, plus the classics of literature. They influenced my writing mostly by pushing me to try to “out-do” those authors with my own stories. My early writing was limited by the limitations of typewriters and correction fluid. When I got my first computer in 1986, all of my vast library of stories finally could be written. And the world shuddered….

 

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN is a contemporary vampire story, but not at all modeled after any of the current vampire TV shows, films, or the books they are based on. I deliberately tried to keep it real. Thus, I researched diseases which cause symptoms approximating the vampire’s condition. In that way, I wanted the reader to experience what it would be like to become a vampire. I decided to tell the story through the POV of a man who is transforming against his will into something he does not want to become. All the tropes and memes of vampire stories are there, but they are realized in a medically accurate fashion—as much as possible. It gets a bit religious at the end, so…call it magical realism.

 

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

SS: I had the idea in rough form ever since Twilight came out and I tried to explain to my daughter, who was hooked on the Bella/Edward story, what “real” vampirism was. For that explanation, I recalled a report years ago on one of those news magazine shows about a man suffering from porphyria, sometimes called the “vampire disease”; the medical explanations for his affliction made perfect sense in terms of why he might be called a vampire if he happened to live in a certain time and place rather than modern America. Watching that interview (he wore a hood to cover his face), I could truly feel the anguish of being in that situation, and given that my art is answering What-if questions, I sought a vehicle for illustrating that awful situation.

 

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

SS: For A DRY PATCH of SKIN, I worked a bit differently than usual. I began with snatches of my real life, anecdotes that were humorous or telling in some way, then fictionalized them. My initial goal was to explore the character I was inventing, to get down his personality, way of expressing himself, his identity, and so on. As a story set in 2014 in the same city where I live, it was quite schizophrenic to write fiction about the places I regularly visit.

Unlike some authors, I generally do not make lists of traits or compose background profiles of my characters; sometimes I do not know all about them when they come on stage and I get to know them as readers do. (Of course, I go back in revision and make it all fit together.) I do collect information as I create them but it stays in my head. Sometimes browsing the internet will bring me an image that fits what I see in my head.

I knew from the start the direction A DRY PATCH of SKIN would go but I did not have the exact action of the climactic scene until I was mid-way into the writing. Once I “knew” how it would end, the direction of the plot shifted a bit to head toward that conclusion. I found by the end, fortunately, that I happened to have dropped some good seeds along the way which conveniently blossomed in the final chapters—much as Chekhov’s musket in Act 1 must be fired by Act 3. I suppose it’s a matter of how my twisted mind works; I’m not always conscious of the big picture under the cacophony of surface features, but my deeper self knows…because he sleeps with my muses.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a personal challenge, something in a genre I have not written previously. The saving aspect for me, however, was that it is, at the core, a tragic love story. (Is that a spoiler?) The trappings of vampire transformation become the vehicle for pulling off that tragedy. Or is it that the transformation, the struggle to avoid it or prevent it, is made more tragic with the love interest? At any rate, I’ve consciously tried to go counter to all the usual tropes of the vampire genre. In fact, the characters often mention, critique, and spoof some of the popular works of the genre during their conversations. I hope this novel will be both a fun “review” of the vampire literature as well as a realistic portrayal of a biological problem; in that sense, it’s a medical thriller.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

SS: A DRY PATCH of SKIN was a departure from my usual kind of novel (contemporary anti-romance or sci-fi on a grand scale). I was intrigued by the question and wanted to see if I could write it if only to see how such a situation might play out. I seldom write as a challenge or game, but this time I did. For writing in general, I simply want to follow my desire to see what happens next for the people I create and the situations I put them in. I know that sounds cruel, but that’s how I roll. It probably keeps me out of jail or the mental hospital.

Next, I’ve been challenged to write an epic fantasy with dragons. Epic fantasy is no problem; dragons are—because it’s in my nature to try to explain them in an authentic zoological way.

CJJ: I certainly can’t wait to see what sort of spin you give dragons! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

SS: Strange you should ask because while I have always done things my way (Thanks, Frank!), the results have not always been glorious. After a health scare a few years back, I realized what I wanted most in whatever time I thought I had left was to publish one of the books I’d already written. Years before that, I had gone through the lengthy process of soliciting with actual reams of paper in mailing boxes and the 6-12 month wait for a response by paper form letter. But just a few years ago, the world apparently  changed and querying and soliciting were being done electronically, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was impatient, for health reasons, so I caught the attention of a small publisher with a book I entered into a contest. That did not go so well but I did get a taste of the brave new world of publishing. The rest is what some call history—and others call serendipity.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

SS: I suppose there are all kinds of reasons and they tend to be settled on an individual basis. I described my situation, but even without that push from Father Time I’d probably still discover the small and indie publishers and hook up with one of them eventually. If I were young and had a market-ready book with a ready-made audience, I’d query that thing to the farthest star. If you are short on time or believe your work is specialized and thus out of the mainstream, you probably have to go indie.

My goal the past four years has been to make the books I’ve previously written available, at least that, not so much for my ego as for being able to check them off my so-called bucket list. Then I wrote something new! And made it available, too. And I wrote something new again! I have to give credit to the publishing of my early books for the spark of creativity that caused me to write my new books.

Thank you Stephen, for answering my questions! For those readers who are interested in reading more of Stephen’s writing journey, you can find him blogging at:

Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

 You can purchase all the books written by Stephen Swartz from this page at Amazon.com

stephen swartz's books

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Purple Prose

purple velvet blazerMmmm…everyone loves the lush feel of velvet, the way the texture imparts a depth to any color.

Black velvet feels cool, sophisticated and sexy, a little black dress and a vampire kind of cool.

Purple velvet, can feel royal, rich, but is frequently a bit too over-the-top for me.

Red velvet signifies something daring, just a bit risqué. This opulent fabric evokes emotion in us when we see and touch it.

In my mind, words are like velvet.  They evoke feelings and memories, and can alter our mood just by the way they are used. When we craft our narrative we aim to please our readers, to make them want to read it again.  To convey the atmosphere of our setting,  we use descriptors. We also use descriptors to show our characters, to indicate they are long-haired, dark-eyed, or bearded.

Good prose contains a certain amount of  descriptors, and like Goldilocks, we want to make it just right–not too little and not too much.

Too little, and the narrative is flat, uninvolving. To much and the reader finds themselves gagging.  This heavy, cloying style of writing is called “Purple Prose.”

Like purple velvet, a little goes a LONG way. “But wait, ” you’re saying, “aren’t you being a little hypocritical? What about your love of all things Dickens?  His work is rife with overblown, hyperdramatic descriptions.”  Cool your jets, kids–that was the style when he was alive and rocking out the paranormal fiction. People wanted to spend an entire day savoring the well-crafted poem. That style of writing has a place, but not in the current culture of commercially viable novels.

If you want to sell books, you must walk the fine line between overblown prose and its antitheses, eviscerated, flat narrative

The Elements of Style calls “Purple Prose” “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.”  To be fair, purple prose is subjective and each reader has a different level of tolerance for it, but it is something we definitely don’t want.

Plain: He set the mug down. (my choice)
Somewhere in the middle: He eased the tankard onto the table.
Bleah: Without haste, the tall, blond barbarian set the immense, pewter, ale-filled cup with a wooden handle onto the stained surface of the rough, wooden table.

Spare me the ‘creamy-blue eyes as deep a shade of amethyst as the lush, purple, velvet drapes.”

There is a tipping point where good, descriptive prose becomes distracting and cloying to the modern reader. I opt for a lean style in the majority of my own work, because, while I adore Charles Dickens,most readers just want a good novel that will provide a small diversion from the everyday grind.

Purple Prose done wrong bullies the reader into seeing only what the author tells them to see, and leaves no room for imagination. Telling the reader what to think forces her to walk away rather than suffer a moment longer. That book goes into the recycling bin, or gets deleted from my Kindle.

What I, as the author, think is good and beautiful may be ugly to you, as the reader.

Author Stephen Swartz recently posted a great blogpost on this very subject–available at Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  He loves the nuances of the english language as much as I do, but understands how to create lean narrative that allows a reader to see the scene, but leaves room for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of many authors who manage to walk the line between purple and eviscerated prose, among them Ross M. Kitson, Shaun Allan, Neil Gaiman, and yes, you too, Stephen Swartz.

black velvet dressThese authors give you the framework around which your imagination builds the image, and they place that framework in well-crafted sentences that tease you, inviting you to read more. Like that  little black dress made of velvet, their work is lush, sleek, and sophisticated.

My advice is to read, read, read. If you like a certain style, write in such a way to evoke the feeling the author of that work raised in you. But never , never force the minute details of your vision on your readers. When you bludgeon your reader with the minutiae of your vision, you lose the beauty of story, and you lose your reader.

I think Neil Gaiman nails that fine distinction in this quote from “The Ocean at the End of the Lane:”

Neil Gaiman Quote

Creepy and to the point–and allows us to envision the shock the main character feels at the realization he knows nothing of his past, without beating us over the head with it.

My goal is to write with an economy of words, yet give enough description that my readers can build the environment in their own minds.

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