Rising of the Shield Hero Watch-Through Part 1: “The Shield Hero”

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Japanese “Light Novels” are something I’ve been wanting to cover on this blog for quite some time. Essentially a cross between pulp fiction and YA, they’ve grown hugely popular in the last few years, and are starting to affect the western book market, especially in fantasy. Like LitRPGS? You can thank Sword Art Online and Log Horizon for that. Like Sufficiently Advanced Magic?

Recently, a show based on one of these Light Novels popped up, and has garnered both praise and controversy. Like the LN Goblin Slayer before it’s become very popular very rapidly due to some of the initial backlash it’s received. And since it’s somewhat topical at the moment, I’ve decided to dive into Shield Hero to dissect both the good and bad of Light Novels, and what western writers can learn (and avoid) from them. After watching a couple episodes, I feel Shield Hero is one of the best series for dissecting the tropes and elements of Light Novels, and what western authors can gain from them.

If you want to read the book, you can get it on Amazon here. If like me, you plan on watching the show, you can do so legally on Crunchyroll. There are massive spoilers ahead, so unless you’re okay with that, I recommend you check out the source material first (Crunchyroll is free but ad-supported).

For the sake of my more book-focused audience, I’ll be staying away from any terms or anime-specific wording, and will treat this as if I were discussing a western fantasy book or story. The one exception to this rule is the term “Isekai,” a LN genre where characters from Earth get transported to another (usually fantasy) world, often after dying and being reincarnated. The Chronicles of Narnia and Thomas Covenant series are kind of similar, but Isekai has its own tropes, such as the earth-heroes being reincarnated, or the world looking less like Middle-Earth and more like Dragon Quest.

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s get on to the episode’s summary.

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New Year, New Title Reveal!

So it’s 2019, and looking back, I’m honestly a bit stunned at all the stuff I’ve accomplished with writing. I released my short horror story, and a sword and sorcery one is coming next. I started author interviews with folks like Mark Lawrence, Christopher Wolf and Alec Hutson. And I’ve started work on not one, but two books I plan on releasing this year. So I thought I’d share a bit about what I’m cooking up, revealing a title and the ideas behind both books.

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The first is The Shrouded Emperor, an epic fantasy story inspired by late 17th century America and paranormal horror. It contains all the elements you’ve come to enjoy from the genre such as warriors, wizards, questing, battles between good and evil…the whole nine yards. However, there’s a bit of Lovecraftian horror thrown in the mix, as well as firearms and some old-timey tech. Think Johnny Tremain meets Wheel of Time with a dash of Call of Cthulhu and The Nightmare. Weird stuff, but I’m seriously digging what I’m writing, and I think you’ll really dig it if you’re a fan of more Robert Jordan/Tolkien side of things.

The second is a swords-and-sorcery inspired novel. Very much a Conan-style “wandering warrior beats the sh*t out of wizards” kind of deal, but set in a trippy setting that’s less like the middle ages and more like a prog rock album cover. Morrowind, Pirates of Dark Water and John Carter of Mars were all inspirations for the setting, a weird, almost alien world of brass cities and perilous sorcerers. As this is a tribute to Moorcock, Conan, Lieber and other such writers, it’s going to be very short and very weird. Like, I know what I described above sounds a bit out there, but this one has it beat by quite a lot. Maybe play some Pink Floyd in the background when reading this bad boy. Title is still TBD, but very close to being picked.

My swords-and-sorcery book’ll most likely come out before Shrouded Emperor as it’s one third the size. I’m working on cover design for that right now, and the cover for SE is already done. I’ll be revealing that later on in the year however, around mid to late summer 2019. Expect a cover reveal for the swords-and-sorcery book in the next couple months.

Author interviews will continue, but in the months leading up to the release dates of my books, they’ll decrease somewhat. I will however, be bringing some really cool ones to the table, including the #SPFBO finalists and a few more. So stay tuned for that as well!

Overall though, 2019 will be the year this blog focuses more on my content, now that I’m beginning to release it. I’m really looking forward to sharing these stories with you all, and hope you enjoy them when they’re out!

#SPFBO Interview: Mark Lawrence, Author of Prince of Thorns

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Mark Lawrence. If you’re familiar with the “grimdark” subgenre of fantasy, you’re probably well aware of his work, most notably the international bestseller Prince of Thorns. He’s up there with some of the best and most well-known fantasy authors out there. However, as I got into the indie fantasy scene, I noticed him being brought up with even more frequency.

As it turns out, Mark doesn’t just work in the trad publishing space, but also hosts the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, a contest for indie genre authors. Having covered the SPFBO a bit in prior posts, I was curious to see what inspired Mark to start it, as well as his thoughts on other related topics.

MARTIN: So for those who are new to all this, what exactly is SPFBO?

MARK: The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is a contest that exists to shine a light on self-published fantasy. Ten blogs judge 300 books each year to find ten finalists and one winner. It exists to find excellent books that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It aims to help readers select, from the enormous range of options, books that have a better chance of entertaining them than a random choice, thereby increasing reader faith in finding a quality self-published read.

MARTIN: As most fantasy readers are no doubt aware, you’re traditionally-published, and an international bestseller. So what got you into the indie scene?

MARK: I think it arose through a combination of survivor’s guilt and the fact that I enjoy competitions. I always felt traditional publishing to be a lottery and, when I got a “big” book deal, I never believed it to be because I was somehow head and shoulders better than all the others striving to be in the same place. I encountered a number of self-published authors after being published myself and, before being published I interacted with many unpublished writers on critique forums, so I knew that the reservoir of top class talent out there was huge. I also saw how hard it is for a book, regardless of quality, to somehow show itself above the noise barrier when so many titles are competing for attention. A brilliant book can fail utterly, but that same book, with even a modest publicity push can take off.

The SPFBO was just a small way of offering an extra chance, a way to find great books irrespective of the author’s personal marketing skills and to bring them to a wider audience. It’s also a method to filter some excellence from the sea of self-published offerings so that readers could feel more confidence when committing to them – which then steps toward giving self-published titles in general a better reputation and helps all of them engage new readers.

MARTIN:  So onto your books! You latest novel, Grey Sister, came out this April. For those of us who are new to your books, can you give us a quick pitch of the series?

MARK: Gay murder nuns. You said quick.

MARTIN: Short and to the point. I like it! But now, on to the books you’re a fan of. Are there any indie titles in particular you’d recommend to self-pub fantasy newbs, SPFBO or otherwise?

MARK: I’m a slow reader with limited spare time so I’ve really not read many self-published fantasy books, and almost all of those are SPFBO finalists. My big favourite is Senlin Ascends (now traditionally published). The three winners so far all have much to recommend them. The Grey Bastards (also now traditionally published) is excellent.

MARTIN: What advice would you give any readers here who might be considering a SPFBO submission of their own next year?

MARK: I don’t think any advice other than “do it” is required. Otherwise it’s the same things you would do if you weren’t entering. Write a great book.

MARTIN: And for our last question…you’re well-known for fantasy books classified as “Grimdark.” As many SFF and gaming fans know, the term had its origins in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. So I’m curious…do you have a favorite Space Marine Chapter?

MARK: I’ve never read a Warhammer book and know nothing about them. Though, oddly, I was invited to write for them recently.

Mark Lawrence’s next book, Holy Sister, arrives March of next year, and is available for pre-order. You can also check out his Amazon Page to get caught up on his prior work, or his blog for updates on SPFBO and other topics. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, authors and other topics related to genre writing!

Beware the Lord of the Cavern! My First Short Story is Up…

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So a while back (around 3 years I think…) I wrote a short horror story called “Lord of The Cavern” based on a dream a friend of mine had. The dream centered around a shape-shifting creature in a cave or grotto that asked him a bizarre question:

“Tell me your achievements, for it will make you more appetizing.”

This struck me as such a weird thing to ask. Like, what does it mean by achievements? And why wouldn’t it just eat you? And where was the grotto? Even though it was strange, I felt like there was enough to go on to make a story. And well…I did! I’m not sure why I made it a historical story in the end, though Lovecraftian was the first thing that came to mind when adapting the dream. And well, after hours of editing, here it is!

I decided to try out this “Royal Road” site, even though it seems like it’s more of a LitRPG/anime light novel platform. But hey, I do enjoy those from time to time (Log Horizon is good) and anything that lets people read my work is good in my book. If you want to check it out, the link’s below. I’d really appreciate it if you left a starred review as well! Every little bit of feedback/ratings helps me in a huge way.

Special thanks to author Paul Lavender, who acted as my “British Inspector,” making sure everything was period-appropriate and English enough. You can check out his Amazon page here (he was in the Blackest Knights anthology too, along with some other excellent authors!).

Anyway, here’s the short. I sincerely hope you all enjoy it, though be warned. There are some pretty intense and horrific themes in there.

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/22322/lord-of-the-cavern

#SPFBO Finalist Interviews are on the Way!

It’s been a bit quiet for awhile, so I’d like to make an announcement real quick!

I’ve been contacting finalists for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off to discuss their books, the contest, and the indie fantasy scene.  So far, here are the finalists that have thus far agreed to an interview:

Zachary Pike
Barbara Kloss
Angie Grigaliunas
Devin Madison

As more are announced, I will be reaching out to them, and my hope is that all finalists will be represented in the end.  Last but certainly not least, Mark Lawrence will be discussing his involvement in indie SFF, why he started the SPFBO, and other cool stuff. These interviews might take a bit, as Christmas is happening, and we’re all busy. That said, I’ll be posting them as soon as humanly possible, though that may very well be early January.

On an unrelated note, I will be revealing something very special on Jan 2019. As of now I am working on not one, but two books slated for release next year. They all tie into a bigger project I’m working on, and it’s something I honestly can’t wait to share.

Book Review — The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson (Epic Fantasy)

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Below is the review I submitted to the book’s Goodreads and Amazon. If you’ve read the book, but haven’t submitted a review yet, please consider doing so! More good reviews means more sales for the author. With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen.

The Crimson Queen is one of those rare and wonderful books that manages to be both unique and familiar at the same time. Wizards, paladins, rogues, monsters, dungeons and treasure are all present and accounted for, so fans of traditional fantasy need not worry. But in addition to these familiar elements are warriors styled after Chinese swordsmen, eldritch abominations, creepy demons, and truly weird and awesome new elements. The worldbuilding here is on point, and every character from the heroes to the villains feels real and fleshed-out. The plot will have you guessing all the way, and the ending was a satisfyingly epic conclusion that sets up the events of the next book smoothly.

One “flaw” I feel this book has is the lack of a cohesive magic system. Magic in this book, is less like Mistborn and more like Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings. You never quite understand the mechanics behind it, but it still remains cohesive and believable. It’s by no means a deal-breaker though, and everything else on offer more than makes up for it. Overall, if I had to sum up The Crimson Queen, I’d say it feels like a more mature, HBO -ified version of the 80’s and 90’s epic fantasy paperbacks. There were certainly whiffs of Wheel of Time and the aforementioned Dragonlance to be had, but the conflict and characters are way more fleshed out in my opinion. Easily a 5/5 recommendation for me, and worth the hype.

Final Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐