Seven Steps to Becoming an Epic Fantasy Mentor

Step One: Have a mysterious and tragic past.

You will vaguely allude to this past with a far-off look in your eye whenever the villain is mentioned, followed by a moment of pensive silence and/or moodiness for the remainder of the day.

Step Two: You must have a personal reason to hate the villain (whom the protagonist is obviously destined to kill).

You were lovers until he/she chose the path of evil. More likely, he/she murdered your spouse and/or offspring and/or someone else dear to you.

(This is doubly effective if you go with both ex-lovers and murder, though.)

Step Three: Live somewhere remote and hard to reach.

The only worthwhile mentors are inaccessible. If you must live in an urban environment, be the weird/creepy/dangerous person no one likes. Anything to prevent you having friends.

Step Four: Have a secret artifact that the villain will come seeking.

An artifact that has been lost for years and is only coincidentally located once the protagonist turns up.

Step Five: Silence is golden and so is miscommunication.

Never tell the protagonist everything outright. Let them discover the villain’s secrets (which you obviously know because of your past) through a series of (likely violent) misfortunes on their own.

Step Six: By contrast, micromanage the protagonist’s love life.

You must strongly encourage or overtly discourage any attraction the protagonist has to another character. Either way, you must never be neutral under any circumstances.

Step Seven: Sorry…but this is the part where you must die.

*cough* And now we get to the last one. No reneging. You will most likely be killed by the villain in a traumatic event that shall steel the hero’s resolve to destroy the villain. Hey, at least your death was worth it, right?

Review: Kingdom at Sea (The Kinsman Chronicles, Part #4) by Jill Williamson @Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson’s Fantasy Saga Continues!

In the second volume of Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, a remnant has escaped the destruction of the Five Realms and now lives on several hundred ships adrift at sea. As a flock, they sail north into the unknown in hopes of finding land that might become their new home.

As the king’s illness worsens, Sâr Wilek takes authority over the expedition and struggles to rule the disjointed people, while assassination attempts, vicious serpents, and dark magic endanger his life.

One prophecy has come to pass, but another looms dauntingly in the future. Who is this Deliverer? And if the Magonians have him, what might that mean for the realm of Armania?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I stayed up late to finish this because sleep is for the weak and this book is AMAZING. (Though, it’s from Jill Williamson. I’m not sure what else I expected.) It’s supposed to be a novella, so I’ll keep it short, but count me a rejuvenated fangirl.

The plot:

Like the rest of this series, there are several perspectives we follow through the course of the book. I didn’t expect to be surprised as often as I was. Several times, I was predicting one outcome and got one very different. There

The characters:

I’ll try to limit this to a few lines each. It may be difficult. *clears throat* Here we go.

Wilek: I’ve mentioned before that he reminds me of my favorite character from my favorite film of all time—Prince Hector. He still does. He messes up, but takes responsibility. He tries to do the right thing, but half the time gets screwed over by his father and brother (Janek, not Trevn). I just want him to be safe and happy and LIVE, DAMN IT.

Charlon: I was glad to see more moral dilemmas with her in this one, more conflict. The interactions between her and Zeroah were especially fascinating and I enjoyed that development. Zeroah has also begun to grow on me—probably because she’s grown a (small, but still existent) backbone. (YES!)

Trevn: Ah, my spunky summer child. It’s hard not to love him. The author has admitted he’s her favorite and I see why. Idealist, hardworking, romantic at heart…my sweet baby. Written believably with flaws to match his perfections, he is perfect because of it.

Kalenek: The storyline of a guard who can’t fight has intrigued me from the start. I feel bad about him and Onika just because I don’t see how it can end well, but the relationship between him and Wilek is a bromance for the centuries. Watching Kal juggle his duties as Wilek’s shield, Mielle and Amala’s guardian, and his feelings for Onika was a deeply engaging and truly helped me integrate emotionally with his character.

Mielle: She didn’t get as much page time as in previous installments, but she was still around enough for me to say her and Trevn are an OTP to die for.

Miscellaneous others: Janek and King Echad can die at any point and I won’t be sad. Janek had two sentences where I thought I might reconsider my assessment, but no. The same goes for Rodegoth and Mreegan. Seriously, it can’t happen fast enough. Ulrik is an idiot who needs to be slapped like the foolish child he is, Qoatch should find someone who appreciates his loyalty, and Inolah is awesome. I ship Hinck and Pia and that Tennish High Queen should take a chill pill. Or several. And someone slap Amala, too, because she’s also an idiot child.

In short, this series is amazing and you can download part 1 for free for all major eBooks. It’s awesome. I highly recommend you READ IT as well as the companion trilogy, the first of which is also free. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have downloaded part 5 and have a date with my Kindle.

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Review: The First Chill of Autumn (Shards of a Broken Sword, #3) by W.R. Gingell

29614612Llassar is an occupied country– but nobody seems to know it.

Fae began to filter slowly into the land shortly after the birth of the crown princess, Dion ferch Alawn, supposedly fleeing a dark threat in Faery known as the Guardians. But that was fifteen years ago, and now there isn’t a town in Llassar that isn’t populated by or under the control of the fae.

Smaller, weaker, and less talented at magic, Llassarians are quickly finding out that there’s no fighting the invasion that crept in so quietly and politely. Even the castle isn’t free of fae: those closest to the king and queen are faery advisors.

When Dion ferch Alawn returns from a carefully sanitised tour of Outer Llassar, the most exciting thing she expects from the near future is the present her twin sister Aeron promised for their seventeenth birthday.

Then her carriage breaks down, and Dion gets a taste of what the real Llassar has become: desperate, enslaved, and ripe for rebellion. Getting home safely is just the first problem she faces: the real struggle begins when Dion returns to the castle. Her new knowledge is inconvenient and unwelcome– to declare it, treason.

Her parents expect her to publicly embrace the Llassarian policy of acceptance and deference to the fae.

The common Llassarians, their injuries passed over and their weapons long since confiscated, expect her to fight for them. Dion must choose between doing what is convenient and politic, and what is right.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

This is the final book and with impending doom, so it’s just a tad darker than the other two. There was still plenty of laughs and cute, sweet “aww” things, not to mention the return of the characters from the first two books. It was a splendid ending (especially since I was rooting for Barric from the beginning—shh!) and I loved it.

The plot:

Since it’s a novella, the story moves along quickly, following young Dion from toddler years to when she fulfills her destiny and saves the human world from Faery. I very much appreciated the whole “political correctness” storyline with the faeries and how the humans basically outlawed defending themselves. It was strikingly familiar to some real world historic issues. At the same time, we get to meet wonderful, awesome, lovable faeries and some sides of familiar faeries we really haven’t gotten before. It was a good, realistic balance, I thought, and definitely a take I had not encountered before.

The characters:

Dion is sweet and brave, having accepted from a  young age that she is destined to die for her country. While she starts out naive and too trusting, she is forced to learn quickly. She’s the kind of character we admire most for her heart.

Just in case that opening paragraph misled you, there are no—I repeat—NO LOVE TRIANGLES, okay? There are two love interests (Padraig’s sweet and brave and awesome, but the other one is the perfect one), but no love triangles. There was still bittersweet romance tossed in with cute romance, we get to see Markon and Althea in their banter-filled wedded bliss and Carmine play damsel in distress to his warrior princess, plus Rafiq and Koto be awesome dragons together.

Novellas get taken for granted too much, but this one is definitely a series worth a shot. Magic, quests, and romance mix together in clean fairytale-flavored adventures any retellings fanatic is bound to love.

Find The First Chill of Autumn on Goodreads

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Read my reviews of Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword, #1) and Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword, #2).

Review: Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword, #2) by W.R. Gingell

27311803A princess in a dragon-guarded tower. The prince who is to rescue her. The prince’s ensorcelled dragon. And one enchanted keep that might just be enough to kill them all…

It’s widely known that Princess Kayami Koto is held captive in the Enchanted Keep by a dragon of great ferocity and skill. So when the bold, daring and crafty Prince Akish attempts to rescue her, it seems only sensible to bring his own dragon, Rafiq.

But the Keep’s dragon is only the first Circle in the Keep’s Seven Circles of Challenge, and both Rafiq and the prince will have to keep their wits about them if they’re to survive and rescue the princess.

There to help them is the princess’ serving maid, Kako. But why does Kako seem so familiar to Rafiq? Will she really help them, or does she have her own agenda? Rafiq isn’t sure, but he knows one thing: Kako may be the only person who can free him from his bondage to the prince, and that’s worth any amount of risk.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

What if the dragon was forced by the prince to help kidnap the princess? That’s the best way to describe this novella. Once I was far enough in to get the main concept, I just sort of went “wow.” Ms. Gingell has written an amazingly original story once again and I cannot be anything other than amazed.

The plot:

I kind of figured out what was going on, but at the same time I kind of didn’t. Regardless, it was a little bit of a surprise ending and I loved it. The themes of morality and how the tests revolved around a person’s character were a wonderful, mythology-flavored throwback. The romance was cute, but not overdone. I did want more, but I do think what the author did was realistic for the characters. But in the third book…oh, wait. That’s a spoiler.

The characters:

Since this is a novella, I won’t go into too much detail. With the exception of a few short scenes, the entire story is from the perspective of Rafiq, the dragon. He is more or less under mind control to a prince who is rather easy to hate. Rafiq on the other hand, is a dragon shifter with a passive-aggressive streak and a heart of gold. Just like Markon, I loved him to bits.

I especially appreciated the positive family portrayals for one of the other characters. We don’t see those enough in fiction these days and it was most refreshing. I went and downloaded the third novella almost immediately and you can be expecting that review next week! This is a wonderful series by a wonderful writer filled with magic, morality, and sarcasm with a touch of romance. It’s the perfect weekend read for a fantasy lover and I hope you all give the series a shot!

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Interview: Intisar Khanani @booksbyintisar

Years ago, I came across a Kindle free promo for a book called Thorn. It looked cool and, well, FREE, so I went ahead and made my first venture into eBooks. Guess what? It was awesome. Not long after, I started talking to the author and found out she was awesome. To prove it, I’ve asked her to drop by for an interview today and show you all herself!

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Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters.

thorn_coverfnlrevfnlf_low_resWelcome, Intisar! It’s been a while. Can you tell us a little about your latest release, Memories of Ash?

Memories of Ash starts up a year after Sunbolt ends, once Hitomi has had a chance to recover from what she did to herself (trying to be spoiler-free here) and study some magic with her new mentor, Brigit Stormwind. But our pasts don’t tend to leave us alone, and Hitomi’s past comes back with a vengeance when Stormwind is called before the High Council of Mages to answer charges of treason—charges brought forward by none other than Hitomi’s old nemesis, Arch Mage Blackflame. With Hitomi’s fine-tuned sense of honor she isn’t about to let her teacher be unjustly imprisoned, and thus begins her next adventure. Using equal parts magic and trickery, Hitomi must sneak into the seat of the High Council itself to free her mentor. If she succeeds, she’ll spend the rest of her life running from rogue hunters. If she fails, she’ll be enslaved by the Council and slowly drained of her magic until she dies.

Yes, DO go check this one out guys. What’s the weirdest thing you researched for this book?

Not too many truly weird things, but I did research some fun things! I learned about the eastern method of tattooing called tebori. I researched the basic structure and design of historic row boats in South Asia, and then ended up cutting that chapter (*sob*). And by far the most fun, I researched the Festival of Guilds, a three day celebration that used to take place annually in Ottoman-era Istanbul, complete with parades, sporting competitions, theatre, street performances, and “the burning of the fortresses” (massive wooden models)… pretty much all of which made it into the book!

One of my favorite things about your books is you bring a massive array of cultural influences from this world while still making it unique to your fantasy worlds—something I don’t believe many writers do well. Is there a particular approach you take to writing diversity?

My approach to writing diversity is to pull from world cultures I am somewhat familiar with and then research the heck out of them in order to gain a deeper familiarity with the culture and place. If possible I talk to people from the cultures I’m writing, if not I do my best and figure a little error is allowable given that it’s a fantasy land. For example, in Memories of Ash, the great city that Hitomi visits is based on historic Ottoman Istanbul. I read first-hand historic accounts from visitors to the city, pulled on my own memories of visiting the old parts of Istanbul, and then spoke with Turkish friends to both name the city and act as a sounding board for some of the details. The city itself plays a relatively small role in the story, but having a sense of culture, gender norms, architecture, food—all of these create a more robust world. Of course I took licenses, but usually they were relatively minor and related to introducing magic to the world. So, I replaced the great government-run universities with the Mekteb-e Sihir, or School of Sorcery. I think the biggest road block for me was learning to get past the euro-centric worldview of most fantasy. Once I was able to envision a world with different cultures, and characters who were from those cultures, writing diversity suddenly became twelve kinds of awesome.

I am constantly boggled by your depth of research. Do you have any advice for authors wanting to incorporate more diversity into their stories?

sunbolt_cover_e-small1. Diversity = Complex Realities. I think in writing diversity it is vital to remember how complex the world is and how wonderful that diversity of experience and reality really is. Writing characters of diverse backgrounds and experiences is going to change your story, create new nuances and depths of meaning to interactions, and that’s a beautiful thing. And remember diversity implies many things, and the intersection of those things as well—gender, age, culture, mental health, ability, religion, and on… Red alert: if the culture or background of your character doesn’t impact the story, you haven’t quite got a grasp on who they are yet. So, creating an African American cis/het male character who’s lived experience is exactly like a white character’s ignores the probability that he has seen and dealt with institutionalized racism since childhood. That doesn’t mean your book has to be all about racism—but realize that your story should not be whitewashing the background, culture, and lived experience of your characters.

2. Be respectful and learn without judgement. It’s really important to recognize that just because we don’t understand something in a culture, or like it, doesn’t mean we should be critiquing it in our work. Don’t like arranged marriage? Given that it isn’t part of our culture, maybe you don’t understand it. Either way, don’t write it (and the inevitable storyline of running away to seek freedom, or hoping the abusive husband dies an early death) until you’ve done a LOT of research on it, including talking to people who have chosen arranged marriages and reading first hand positive accounts. It’s always easy to find the negative perspective on something, especially something generally misunderstood in the West, so seek out those alternative viewpoints. If you absolutely must write the running away/abusive husband slant, don’t base that story in another culture, because you’re going to end up adding to bigoted stereotypes that people from that culture have to live with every day. It’s both disrespectful and hurtful. OR, make sure your main character has a totally different, positive experience and grant this negative experience to a side character, so that you can explore (and allow readers to appreciate) both the good and the bad.

3. Don’t cherry pick. Don’t jump onto the bandwagon of “Jinn are cool!” or whatever happens to be the next craze, or try to create your own, while only importing that particular element into your story. For example, if you’re writing about Native American mythology, you’d better have some Native American characters, and the one who saves the day or ends up being the Chosen One by the spirits better not be the white character. Then follow points one and two above—so you don’t just have people with, say, Native American names, but you’ve figured out / researched what tribe(s) they’re from, their belief system(s), their history under American governance (or oppression), and their cultural norms. Sure they know how to navigate American / white culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also know how to navigate and love their own heritage, culture, and practices. Throwing in a few names and stealing a mythology is cultural appropriation, not writing diversity, so be thoughtful about what you do, and try hard. It’s okay to mess up, but you’ve got to be trying to make it work. Not sure if you’ve done well? Seek out beta readers from the backgrounds you’re trying to portray and ask them.

moa_fc_fnl16_bn-673x1024Great advice! I’m going to have to ask you back for a blog post just on that, LOL. What is your writing routine? Do you have a regular one?

I write almost every night, once my little people are in bed. Since I’m a homeschooling mama, I usually only have a couple times during the week when both my kids are out of my care and I can write in the daylight hours. The vast majority of my writing happens once they’re asleep. As for routine… I grab my laptop, sit down wherever I can (usually my bed, sometimes my desk), check-in on e-mail and social media (I try to keep this brief), and then get to work.

I do often manage to write online with friends—we check in on Facebook, log off for a writing session, and then check back in at the end of it. (Shout out to Melissa Sasina and you, Elisabeth, as awesome online writing buddies!) This helps keep me accountable and makes writing much less of a solitary endeavor. But when we don’t have a writing session planned, I really don’t have any rituals or habits other than to sit down and start typing.

Shout out back! What for you is the most rewarding part of being an author?

Sharing my stories. Really. Sometimes that sense of having shared comes from a tweet by a reader who enjoyed a book, sometimes it’s reading a new review that’s showed up, sometimes it’s just knowing that my books had a good day of sales and that means someone, somewhere in the world, is jumping into my worlds and (hopefully) enjoying the read.

That truly is an amazing part. If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Writing one-draft wonders. I love writing, and I’m even learning not to hate editing, but the revision process is still the most difficult part of the whole equation. If I could just write a gem of a first draft each time, and not have to do more than tweak a few sentences for consistency before publishing, I would be the happiest little hamster in the cage. (I have no idea what that means. I think I would probably hate being in a cage, but it sounded good when I wrote it. Now we see why I need revision…) Most novels require between 4 and 6 rounds of revision for me, which can be grueling and sometimes take years. Meanwhile, the first draft may only take a couple three months. So yeah, being able to write awesome novels straight off would be fabulous.

Haha! We’d all love that, I think. Thanks so much for dropping by! 🙂

Don’t forget to visit Intisar and her books in the links below!

Review: Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword, #1) by W.R. Gingell @WRGingell

26790083

King Markon of Montalier is at the end of his tether. His son, Prince Parrin, is afflicted with a rather nasty curse that slaughters, maims, or brutally attacks any woman with whom he so much as flirts. After the rumour that sweeps around the kingdom, promising that any woman breaking the ‘curse’ will be eligible to marry the prince, there is no shortage of willing volunteers. Unfortunately, there is also no shortage of bodies piling up.

Markon needs to do something, but what? Can a visiting enchantress from Avernse help, or is she simply another accident waiting to happen? And will Markon be able to give her up to his son if she does break the curse?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book and not just because the author spells “faery” the same way as me. I lost count of how many times I busted out laughing because of the snark and sarcasm. Markon is a wonderful narrator who manages to be both sympathetic and entertaining. It was wonderful to have a fresh slant to the “cursed prince” archetype and the author made it amazingly new. Things like the repeated pie-related proverbs were particularly funny.

The plot:

I read this in two sittings with one brief break for lunch. In case you hadn’t guessed, I was hooked. A clean, fun slant to fairytale retellings, the story sweeps you along like an undercurrent. I was impressed with the degree and skill of the character development the author wove in during the (implied) timeline of only twelve days.

The characters:

Oh, Markon was adorable. Despite being king, he gets flustered and indignant (mostly internally). When he tries to be flirty, there’s this sweetness and boyishness to it that earns all the <3 ‘s. He is a little jaded and a little cynical, but who wouldn’t be, considering his circumstances? His interactions with his son were precious and the mentions of his past war feats and the woes of his reign helped remind us that he’s been through a great deal.

Althea was an equally anomalous portrayal of the “great enchantress” archetype. Dressing more like a school ma’am than a sorceress, she is nonetheless powerful, strong-willed, and independent. I truly appreciated her portrayal and how the author managed to embrace the feminine aspects of her character.

Most of the other characters come and go, but I mostly enjoyed them as well. The depictions of the fae as being neither benevolent or necessarily evil reminds me more of the original mythology.

Cloistered in my dorm room, I enjoyed this immensely and have already downloaded the next book. I cannot wait to see where the story goes!

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7 ways to identify a fantasy villain

If you’ve just started a new fantasy series and aren’t sure who the villain is, there are some easy ways to find out. Watch for a few key traits and if more than four show up in a character, you’ve definitely found the series baddie.

1. Miserable childhood

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Morgana Pendragon, basically the cover girl for Daddy Issues Monthly.

Fantasy villains cannot have happy childhoods—EVER. In the slim chance one or both their parents weren’t awful, said parent(s) must die a gruesome death, preferably with the young villain watching.

2. Anger management difficulties

Even if the character displays a cold, controlled exterior most the time, they cannot be a villain without an eventual angry outburst, usually in which they do something horrible and violent. Most likely, this results in the death of a character you really liked.

3. Ugly pets/minions

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A face only a villainous taskmaster could love.

Anyone who hires deformed, aesthetically challenged creatures no one else would even look at must surely be a bad guy. However, there is a loophole, so long as the beautiful minions are used for seduction-based intelligence gathering.

4. Racism/Elitism/Sexism/Religious purism/Some other nasty “ism”

The villain will probably be the most prejudiced character in the book. Genocide and lines such as “she’s only a woman” and “it’s my birthright” are dead giveaways.

5. Dysfunctional love life

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Xena and Drago. Some whacked out stuff going on there.

The villain must either a) have lost their soulmate which spurs them on this hellish crusade and/or b) have a long string of serial relationships to put Henry VIII to shame and/or c) wants someone who wants them dead.

6. Is secretly the protagonist’s father/sibling/miscellaneous lost relative

Assuming the villain did not kill the protagonist’s father/mother, then this one of the spot-on ways to identify him/her. Families suck and that is the moral of the story.

7. Creepy obsession with protagonist/protagonist’s love interest

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WTH Rahl? Do you have any idea how bad this looks???

If the villain and protagonist are of the opposite sex, the villain probably has a thing for him/her. If the protagonist is a girl, there will be some rape-y comments in there at minimum, same for a male protagonist’s love interest. The “we could rule the galaxy” speech may also come into play.

Did this list miss your favorite typical fantasy villain trait? Let me know in the comments!