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Into The Weird: Exploring The Swords and Sorcery Genre

So I’m nearing the completion of Warglaive Volume One’s second draft. As this is a book largely inspired by Sword and Sorcery (and to a lesser extent Planetary Romance) , I wanted to explore some of my favorite aspects of this once-popular genre. What makes it distinct from the Tolkienesque or D&D-inspired fare of today? Here’s a few thoughts on what I feel are the genre’s essential elements.

The Weird, Pulpy Settings


One of the things I find really lacking in much of “modern” fantasy is the sense of the truly weird. Fantasy nowadays is filled with familiar tropes and archetypes such as your orcs, elves, dwarves and manual monsters. Back in the 20’s and 30’s however, these tropes weren’t anywhere near as prevalent. Before the widespread appeal of Tolkien and D&D, pulp fiction authors came up with a weird cocktail blend of jungle opera, cosmic horror and mythic adventure.

You never quite knew what you were going to get with a “fantasy” story, as the “genre” wasn’t playing by any rules yet.  One story might have wizards in an Aztec-style temple attempting to stop a giant ape, while another might have Throngar the Barbarian astrally projecting himself through NYC’s Central Park. One of my favorite author quotes comes from an interview with Michael Moorcock, where he compares fantasy to early rock n’ roll. This was back in the day when “rock n roll” meant everything from Black Sabbath, to Led Zeppelin and DEVO.  And in his words, when you know what to expect from rock n’ roll, “the rock n’ roll dies.”

There were downsides to this approach, namely that the worldbuilding was usually far less rigorous than that of Epic Fantasy. Fantasy readers, especially in the age of the internet and wikis, tend to enjoy more fleshed-out and lore-rich worlds like Middle Earth. However, Tolkien’s influence is a double-edged sword, in that most of these secondary worlds look suspiciously like Frodo’s.

One thing I think many people forget is that despite coining the term, Tolkien’s Secondary World really isn’t one in the strictest sense. Like Hyboria and the world of the Wheel of Time series, Middle-Earth is meant to be our world from a long-forgotten age. The trend these days however, is completely different universes, such as World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. These worlds tend to have a very “familiar” feeling though, which makes me wonder…what happened to the fantasy? For such a fantastical genre, it can be awfully derivative at times…

Which leads up back to pulp Sword and Sorcery. While it does have its tropes, said tropes are spread out across a million genres ranging from horror to sci-fi, dark and heroic fantasy, sometimes crossing into full-blown slipstream. And that’s something I really love about this style of fantasy fiction.

Speaking of which…

The Sci-Fi and Horror Elements


I’m the sort of person who really likes sci-fi peanut butter in my fantasy chocolate if you couldn’t tell. The juxtaposition of science and sorcery is one of my favorite tropes, and something I feel the writers and creators of the 60’s and 70’s really took advantage of. Ralph Bakshi’s excellent film Wizards is a microcosm of the cultural struggles and fears of the time, pitting an evil Nazi sorcerer against the good Fey folk of the woods.

Horror is yet another major influence in the S&s genre. While I previously discussed the “weird” aspect,  Gothic, Post-Apocalypse and other Horror tropes are also present. A good example of this is the influence of the “mad scientist” trope in games like Path of Exile, where ancient temples and eldritch horrors coexist with frightful technology. Creeping crypts, horrific monsters, unspeakable cults and dark magic are all common fantasy tropes “borrowed” from the horror side of Sword & Sorcery. Which is something largely born from pulp authors borrowing from one another’s respective settings.

When I first started writing, I started writing horror. Halloween’s always been tied with Christmas as my favorite holiday, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode of Tales From the Crypt. Which is why the horror stuff in pulp fantasy appeals to me so much. There’s just something really bad-ass about heroes going toe-to-toe with monsters that utterly terrorize in other stories. Sure, the vampies in Salem’s Lot are spooky, but Conan has f*cked vampires up beyond recognition and that’s just cool.

Individual Heroes Struggling Against a Dangerous World

Though it’s the third item on this list, individualism is arguably the most important facet of this genre. According to an article on the genre by Black Gate Magazine:

“Sword and sorcery tells the tales of men who are free from all constraint. Their stature and skill mean they are free from the tyranny of other men. Their birth and raising free them from the morals and mores of society, and the lack of higher powers unbinds them from any concept of fate. Thus the heroes of sword and sorcery become the true representatives of free-will, and through their stories, readers are able to imagine the capabilities and the triumphs of men who are completely free to chart their own destiny.”

Heroes such as this are notably different from those in Heroic and Epic fantasy stories, who often work in service of a higher power. These stories are often inspired by myths and epics, while Sword and Sorcery’s roots lie largely in the culture of the Pulps. Stories written for and by working-class individuals, from the same cultural landscape that brought us heroes like Superman.

And ultimately, I feel that’s why the archetypes of Sword and Sorcery (if not always the genre itself in fiction) has lasted as long as it has. Conan for all his failings, was a hero of the downtrodden, freeing slaves and saving those who needed his help. Is he a selfish character compared to say, Superman? Hell yes. He was after all, created as a power fantasy for the dock-workers, factory men and youths who flocked to his stories. But beyond that, he and other heroes like him represent the power to affect change (good or ill) of their own volition, free from (and often against) the will of deities, daemons and meddling kings. Which is just as powerful and timeless a message as you can get.

The Bad and the Ugly


There are of course, issues with the genre despite all my gushing. And while some of the decline of Sword and Sorcery can be chalked up to over-exposure in the 80’s, there are other reasons.

One of the biggest culprits in my opinion is the pulp short story format. The formula where Conan, or other pulp heroes like The Shadow would encounter an enemy/trial, defeat it, and repeat the cycle anew. While great for one-off stories in the era of newsstands, in today’s Netflix-and-Kindle focused landscape, this sort of storytelling is sub-optimal. People love progression, and characters that dynamically change over time. Which isn’t to say that Robert E. Howard’s characters never changed (Barbarian to Pirate to King). But said stories were done in a very episodic, almost monster-of-the-issue sort of way.

Nowadays with the aforementioned Netflix and Kindle, it’s much easier to include story and character progression without having to worry if you missed an issue of Weird Tales. And as a result, modern readers have begun leaning more towards doorstopper epics and even web serials.  Although one notable figure who transitioned to new online stardom is H.P. Lovecraft, whose work was introduced to many a modern kid via the “creepypasta” (necro)phenomenon.

There’s also the overexposure the genre had in the 1980’s, after a glut of genuinely terrible films like Deathstalker, Ladyhawke, Red Sonja, Krull, Conquest, Hawk the Slayer (it’s rubbish, deal with it) and many more. There were also a number of knock-off Conan characters in toys, comic books and novels that sanded off the bloody, sexual edge and made it woefully PG-rated. By the time the 90’s rolled in, everything “cool” about Sword and Sorcery had been cannibalized by both Heroic Fantasy (Barbarian characters, big monsters, epic adventures) and Grimdark (all the violence, sex, nudity and horror).

Sadly, the sense of the truly weird got lost as a result, as did many of the strange and alien locales. Gone was the sci-fi, and the weird horror. And while there are many aspects of Sword and Sorcery that can use an update, I feel there’s still a lot of elements unique to the genre that can still work. Whether they be other genres borrowing from the classic pulps, or new takes on old styles of storytelling, there’ll always be a future for Swords and Sorcery!


This is Absolutely NOT a Giveaway, Whatever You Do, Do NOT ENTER (Super Duper Serious Post)

You may have heard of a cabal of fantasy authors in the indie space. Rumors of folks banding together to promote their books and other vile things. A Cabal, if you will.

Well I’m here to tell you that there’s no such thing. And there’s certainly no giveaways happening either. Absolutely no giveaways whatsoever. The notion is preposterous, just as silly as MKUltra, or the ridiculous notion that Mars brand candy bars were *snickers*, invented by actual martians in Topeka, Kansas in 1921 with fission chocolate. I mean, who would believe something so ridiculous?



Anyway, don’t click this link. I’m dead serious, there’s nothing good there, especially not free books. Or mars bars. There is no “cabal.” folks. No bizarre cult of fantasy authors giving away free books and stealing your scarecrows at night.

Go back to sleep.

Artist Spotlight: Travis Anderson

So recently I revealed the cover art for my upcoming book. That art was done by Travis Anderson, an artist who’s worked on many projects, including the Dragobourne TCG, SYFY’s Deadly Class,  and the VR title Gadgeteer, which you can grab here on Steam.  He’s also the lead artist at indie board game studio Tabula, creators of the card game Volfyirion.

I chose Travis due to his stunning and strange art, which blends the fantastical, alien and dreamlike into something truly unique. Because of the eclectic gene mix I was looking for, I felt he was the perfect artist to bring Argos to life for the cover for City of Tombs.

Continue reading

The Shield Hero Watch-Through is Over

So first off, I’d like to thank all the folks who enjoyed my blog posts on this show. They’ve gotten, and are still getting a good deal of traffic, and people really seem to like them.

Seeing the fantasy genre through a different cultural lens is really neat, and I think the subject of Japan’s influence on the western fantasy genre is a topic worth exploring. But as of now, I’m afraid I’ll be ceasing the weekly episode breakdown due to me starting the second draft of my Sword and Sorcery novel. With that underway, my free time is now 100% focused on getting the damn book done.

If you haven’t checked out Rising of the Shield Hero yet, wholeheartedly recommend it, as it’s a fairly good look at trends in Japanese fantasy fiction, warts and all. The warts aren’t too bad though, and I had (and am having) a blast watching this show. You can read my prior episode breakdowns here, complete with links to legally stream the show or buy the books.

But at the end of the day, this is not an anime review blog, it’s an author/writing blog, and I have news and announcements regarding my current project. So yes, while I’m still watching and enjoying the show, the weekly blogs are over. I’ll be doing a review of the first season though, as well as a post on what Western authors can learn from J-Fantasy and Light Novels. But there’s author interviews, book marketing research, and writing that needs to be done, and my time is limited.

Still, thanks for joining me on this short but fun journey. Maybe sometime later we can do a Witcher Play-Through, or Moorcock Read-through or something.

Rising of the Shield Hero Watch-Through Episode 5 & 6: “Filo” and “A New Comrade”


So last week, I had to take a break from Shield Hero reviews, and had to deal with some personal stuff. This week I’m playing catch-up however, and giving you guys a two-for-one special!

For those who are new to these breakdowns, I’m covering each episode of “Rising of the Shield Hero” and looking at Japanese fantasy and light novel adaptations from a western writer’s perspective. You can check out my prior watch-through articles here, and if you want to check out the story yourself, you can buy the novel on Amazon, or watch it for free on Crunchyroll. With all that out of the way, let’s dive into these breakdowns and meet the latest addition to Naofumi’s party, Filo!


Episode 5 starts off with the world’s Queen, who’s doing recon with some spies seen in earlier episodes. Apparently she’s aware of what her daughter’s done, and is relived that Naofumi’s making progress and has a party member. Why she’s away and what role she’ll play in the future episodes remains to be seen, but at least she seems fairly sane, unlike the other royals.

Back at the Melomarc castle, each of the Cardinal Heroes are being handed out payments by the King. Spear Hero gets the largest amount, and Naofumi predictably gets shafted. He initially is only given 500 silvers (compared to Spear Hero’s 4000, and the other two’s 3,800) but the King claims the cost of removing Raphtalia’s brand means he can’t pay Naofumi anything. This is of course, such flagrant BS that the Bow and Sword hero speak out immediately. Naofumi angrily takes the silvers, and Raphtailia sasses the King because she’s just that good.

We cut to Raphalia getting the slave crest tattooed on her again, which was apparently her idea, possibly as a giant middle finger to the royals. She sees it as a sign of her faith in him, indicating that she’d never lie or betray Naofumi. And also as a sneaky way for her to attempt flirting with Naofumi, as after it’s been applied, she asks him “what do you think?” Naofumi doesn’t seem to take the hint, and ignores her, instead noticing he’s gained a “slave user’s shield” ability. Monopoly Man then suggests he sell Raphtalia, and Naofumi jokingly considers it, much to Raphtalia’s dismay. Naofumi is distracted by a bunch of eggs which the slaver informs him hold different sorts of monsters. Basically, they’re old timey loot boxes, as each one has a mount hatchling, with the possibility of a cool dragon. Naofumi decides to plink down his money for one of the loot boxes, despite Raphtalia’s protestations.

After this, Naofumi does the rounds, going to various shopkeepers who all seem to be much, much cooler with him then they used to be. Though it’s not explicitly shown, it seems that word’s going round about how Myne’s accusations basically amounted to “Fake News.” And after meeting with a witch who offers him grimoires and thanks him for saving a relative in Lute Village, Naofumi notes how people are actually thanking him for once. Naofumi decides he needs to learn how to read this world’s language so he can learn magic, and Raphtalia says she can help. They focus on that for a bit, but the next day, Naofumi wakes up to find his loot box hatching. And…

It’s a chocobo filolial. No cool dragon, no rare mount, just the fantasy equivalent of getting a ratty skin in CSGO. He decides he needs a mount anyway, and takes her with her as he hunts. It seems she’s growing quite fast under his care, and in no time at all, “Filo” as he so un-creatively dubs her, grows to be a pretty big birdy. As well as super fast. But as he notes how Filo’s grown, Naofumi notices a commotion in the village. As it turns out, Myne is causing a scene, as she declares the Spear Hero is the lord of this village, and also that the taxes are going way, WAY up. Naofumi can’t help but butt in, and points out that the taxes are literally more than a HUNDRED TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE than a night at the inn. The townies are (understandably) pissed, and before anyone can do anything, the same cloaked figures who met with the Queen appear in front of Myne, offering her a letter from Mommy Dearest, no doubt telling her to cease her bullshit. We don’t see the contents, but whatever it is enrages Myne to the point where she challenges Naofumi to a race to determine the fate of the village. If Spear Hero wins, her rule is law. But if Naofumi wins, things go back to normal.

After some protestations, Naofumi accepts, and Raphtalia notices that Filo is giving a nearby dragon mount the stink-eye. As it turns out, this is Spear Hero’s mount, and when he arrives to mock Naofumi and Filo, Filo responds with a swift kick to the dick. Which is apparently so bad it required healing magic.

So yeah, I like Filo. If for nothing else, than for that.

After the sausage repair’s been administered, Naofumi and Spear Hero race. Myne, being the psychotic individual she is, pays some of her knights to lay Mario Kart-esque spells and traps on the track. Despite this, they seem to have about as much effect as ACME gadgets have on the road runner, and she and Naofumi win in the end. After this, Filo seems to undergo yet another change, as she becomes a Fat Chocobo Filolial, and Myne accuses him of having a special mount and thus, cheating. But just the, the queen’s agents point out that Myne seems to be the one who cheated, and she leaves in a huff. The thankful villagers hand Naofumi a wagon and a trader’s pass as thanks, which’ll allow him to enter any city without paying the toll.

The episode ends with everyone nodding off after a long day, and seemingly everything’s back to normal…until Naofumi wakes up, only to find a small, suspiciously winged human child where Filo once was, who knows Naofumi’s name and demands to be fed.

Episode 6 picks off where 5 left off, as it turns out Filo is in fact, a super-rare Filolial Queen, with magical abilities that include wind and shape shifting into a humanoid form (aka the aforementioned child). Her shape-shifting proves problematic however, as she goes through clothes like Bruce Banner on Tax Day. Fed up with having to constantly buy her clothes, Naofumi goes to see a magic textiles merchant, who apparently is in love with how cute Filo is. In classic RPG fashion, she says she can make magic clothes that change shape with Filo if he can get a special gemstone that can help her convert raw mana into wearable thread. Naofumi then sets off to get it, as Filo pulls his cart cheerily, singing a little song about how she’ll kick Spear Hero in the dick if she ever sees him again. It’s precious. That alone brought her up a few notches in my personal character ranking for this show.

On the way to town however, Naofumi comes across a man who’s travelling on foot to heal his sick mother. Naofumi decides to unhook Filo from his wagon (in bird form, obviously) and give the man a ride on her back. After healing the sick woman, he makes a habit of acting as a doctor to each village he travels, using his prior medical knowledge to heal and make some money on the side. Shortly after this, a new reputation begins to spread, one of the Shield Hero being a healer of the people, riding a carriage pulled by a filolial goddess. Naofumi is blissfully ignorant of this, until he meets an “accessory trader” who tells him all this. Things soon turn south however, as a bunch of bandits attack the wagon and make some very untoward passes at Raphtalia. This turns out to be a terrible idea, as Filo and Raphtalia make short work of them. As they beg for their lives, Naofumi flips on Villain mode again, and threatens to feed them to Filo. When they plead for their lives, Naofumi agrees to spare them…after they give him all their belongings.

The trader is impressed by this, and through him, Naofumi gains access to traders’ circles, where he begins to pick up information through the collective grapevine of merchants. Of particular note is that the Spear Hero found some miracle item that made plants grow in one village. He also learns how to craft magic gems, and eventually finds a location where he can grab a gem capable of extracting mana for Filo’s dress. Unfortunately, said gems are only located in the abandoned lab of an evil alchemist. And after meeting with the old witch from Episode 5, she agrees to accompany them to recover the gem. When they first enter, things seem pretty low-key, and the only thing of note is a pedestal bearing a plaque that warns that the item here is an “evil seed that must not be disturbed.” Ominously, it seems it’s been taken from its box, and Naofumi ignores it for now, instead going toward s the source of the gems. After encountering some monsters, Naofumi makes it to the “Boss Room,” where a fearsome Nue guards the treasure. This is actually a pretty bad-ass monster, almost like the Chimera from Greek mythology. And as it turns out, it’s highly perceptive, and has lightning elemental magic to boot.

Though the Nue proves tough, Filo and Raphtalia’s new magical abilities prove quite useful in this fight, and showcase how far they’ve come. Raphtalia in particular has an affinity for illusion and shadow magic, making her a sort of ninja/rogue fighter that compliment’s Naofumi’s shield tanking. Filo on the other hand, has really strong kicks that are literally capable of shattering a monster’s skull.

And on that note, a bit of an aside. In order to get my point across, I’d like to share a personal anecdote with you all. I was at a grocery store at one point, and I met a guy who had this big half-wolf dog on a leash. I’d never seen a wolfdog in person before, and was curious what they were like. So being a dog person, I said he was a beautiful dog, and asked if I could give him a quick pet.

“Sure thing, he’s a good boy. He loves making new friends.””

So I pet him on the head, and the first thing I noted was how ROCK SOLID his skull was. Like, it felt like it was actually made of granite or something. And at that moment, I realized this thing could easily kill me in a matter of seconds if I so much as moved the wrong way. But as the owner said, he was a good boy and loved making new friends. Which is why I’m not currently in a box six feet under the ground.

What’s the point of this story, you ask? Well, looking back, I realized that this was the closest I’d ever gotten to what was biologically speaking, a wild predator animal. And given that the Nue in this story was even bigger than that, can you imagine how hard that thing’s skull is? With that in mind, think about how much force it required for Filo to shatter that thing’s skull. Probably several tons of force delivered at lightning speed, right?

Now consider this. The force required to shatter that rock-solid, murderous skull of a wild animal was what was unleashed at full force onto the Spear Hero’s dick. It was enough force to send him flying several feet in the air, and required actual healing magic to fix his shattered pelvis and groin. This has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but I feel it’s worth mentioning all the same, because that sparkly douchebag had it coming.

Anyway, they kill the nue and obtain the gemstone. Filo gets her transforming dress, and will no doubt look adorable as she delivers untold carnage to the Spear Hero’s nether regions should their paths cross again. So yeah, these were fantastic episodes, if for no other reason than that.


I missed my watch-through post last week, but given how both episodes are short and focused on Filo, it made sense to group them together.

I’m not entirely sure what to think of Filo, because her entire purpose seems to be “annoying and cute,” and I guess to have a mascot character in the show. I feel like Raphtalia fills all those niches (minus the “annoying”) part, and does them better. That said, I was expecting her to be almost Jar Jar esque for some reason (The Filolial designs look really annoying, I dunno) and while she is a little like that, she’s also not unbearably horrible either. She just seems kind of bland compared to everyone’s favorite trash panda lady, though seeing adult Raphtaila get jealous whenever Naofumi pays any attention to Filo is just hysterical.

One thing I do find really funny is their relationship dynamic. Filo is basically just a baby chick with shapeshifting powers, so because she sees Naofumi as her dad she takes the form of a little girl. But Naofumi already sees himself as a father figure to Raphtaila, who’s apparently SHOCKED AND DISTRESSED upon hearing this. So both Filo and Raphtalia low-key hate each other because they both want Naofumi’s attention, albeit in very different ways. I’ve seen some folks on social media saying Trash Panda literally got “daughter-zoned,” and the fact that that’s even a thing is very, very funny to me.

Also, grumpy dad Naofumi is still best Naofumi. Again, characterization is where the show really shines, and I feel that the metamorphosis of Naofumi’s character from vengeful and angry to kind of surly and grouchy yet caring is one of the show’s most fun aspects. He still plays the villain card when it suits him though, but it seems he’s warmed up to commoners at the very least. In the early episodes, he was a dickweed to pretty much anyone, but now most of that hate is reserved for Spear Hero, Myne/Malty and that geriatric asshole king, who’s probably my least favorite character in this entire thing.

Speaking of Spear Hero, let’s dial it back a bit to Episode 5. One big criticism I have of the show as it goes on, is that I feel Spear Hero is kind of becoming a sucky antagonist. I was expecting him to play more of a Gaston-esque role, and Episode 4 was the closest we ever got to seeing that. But in “Filo,” he just kind of seems like an idiot who’s being manipulated by Myne. He literally stands there as villagers protest to being taxed out the hoo-hah, and just kind of smiles like a giant jagoff, completely oblivious to the damage he’s caused. Granted, it makes Myne out to be an even worse person than we thought (apparently that’s possible), and if it wasn’t blatantly obvious by now, she’s clearly a sociopath who enjoys harming those of “lesser status,” be they the Shield Hero or defenseless commoners. At first I thought she just wanted to target Naofumi, but that isn’t the case at all. Anyone and everyone is fair game to her, men women and children alike. As long as she can get away with crimes against vulnerable people, she gets her kicks out of it. It’s really sick, and if that “evil seed” happens to be the same item Spear Hero got to “replenish the crops” or whatever, she’s even more blatantly evil than I thought.

Interestingly though, Myne/Malty’s increasingly terrible actions are beginning to get noticed. And it seems more and more people aren’t treating Naofumi like an actual monster. I think as time goes on and word gets around, people have begun to realize that Myne’s full of it. Shieldbro’s saved multiple lives at this point, going out of his way to heal the sick, fight bandits and show a level of care that most Cardinal Heroes wouldn’t bother with. Granted, he still demands payment for all this and puts on a “surly hardass” routine all the while. But it goes back to what I feel is the show’s main theme, “actions speak louder than words.”

Though these two episodes were pretty laid-back, I feel they’re setting up for something really, really big. Everything seems almost too relaxed, and the hints they’ve given so far are pretty ominous. I expect the next few episodes to have some major revelations, and possibly some more Snidely Whiplash-ing from Myne. In any case, I’m excited to see what come next, especially as Wave Two draws ever nearer…

Like this episode? If so, please like and share, and tell us who’s the better party member! Is it Trash Panda Girl, or Bird Child? Leave a comment and let me know who’s your favorite!

SPFBO ’18 Finalists: Where to Start With New Self-Published Fantasy


So Self-published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 wrapped up not too long ago, and I recently realized I never put a list together! Yes, I’ve been meaning to do this, but some personal stuff’s been eating away at my time as of late, and I’ve only now put together my summary of the finalists. There’s a lot of cool stuff to be found here though, and If you’re a new reader looking to dive into indie fantasy, these fresh new picks are a good way to get started!

For ease of browsing, I’ve separated all these into different genres. Links go to the books’ Amazon pages, and you can check out a list of the reviews and scores at Mark Lawrence’s blog. Speaking of Mark Larence, you can check out the quick interview I did with him if you’re curious about #SPFBO and how it came to be.

And with that out of the way, here’s our list of last year’s finalists!


We Ride the Storm by Devin MadsonGrim, Asian-inspired worlds of horseriders and swordslingers. There’s a preview up online that I read, and it reminds me a bit of the Dothraki bits from early Song of Fire and Ice. Devin Madson is again, no newbie when it comes to writing, and if you like Asian fantasy, she’s written other books with that theming.


Symphony of the Wind by Steve McKinnonVast worldbuilding, multiple POVs and some light steampunk elements. If you’re looking for another deep, rich world to sink your teeth into, this novel’s worth a read!


The Anointed by Keith Ward Some really interesting concepts here! Immortality, proxy-bodies, dragonriders and water that things cannot float on (meaning no boats — and probably no Pennywise either). This one seems to be almost a lost breed of epic fantasy, one which has almost sci-fi-esque concepts in worldbuilding.


The Gods of Men by Barbra KlossEpic fantasy with bits of Romance, this book is highly lauded, and Kloss is already a proven author witha good track record in adult and YA lit. If you enjoy both those things, as well as fantasy in the Sanderson mold, this book’s for you.


Aching God by Mike Shel Epic Fantasy from a Pathfinder narrative writer who went on to make his own series. Seems to have a paranormal bent, with haunted places and creepy tombs. The series seems to borrow a bit from hack-and-slash RPG sessions, and gamers will probably enjoy this one a lot.


Ruthless Magic by Megan CreweFirst in a YA series about magicians living in our world. It’s described as essentially similar to the best of late Harry Potter, but with a darker edge. As someone who got fed up with the Chocolate Frogs and Whimsy-Dimsy in Harry Potter, this seems like it draws from the cooler bits. Dementors, Aurors, etc. If you like YA and Urban Fantasy, give this one a go.


Sowing by Angie GrigaliunasDystopian YA in a secondary fantasy setting. A lot of YA takes place in our world, but I find I enjoy it more when you add a unique setting to the mix. This one I personally find really intriguing! There’s some real hype here for Angie’s world, and I’m curious to see what it’s all about. Supposedly has a Hunger Games feel, but with more fun fantasy worldbuilding elements.


Sworn to the Night by Craig SchaeferUrban fantasy with other worlds, witches, NYPD officers and other bizarro elements that set it aside from the “Anita Blake Leather-Hunter” type stories. Urban fantasy is one of those things that I feel needs a really strong and unique hook to work. Something like Fables or I Was a Teenage Weredeer. If you like the weirder, dreamlike side of Urban Fantasy, give this one a go.


Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc Urban fantasy about an immortal “healer” who acts as a paramedic. Upon healing the wrong person, his life and the life of those he loves is put into jeopardy. The author himself is a paramedic, so the novel comes with a real sense of authenticity, kind of like a John Grisham law novel. Concept seems like Highlander meets Grey’s Anatomy, which is a huge deviation from regular Urban Fantasy. Probably the biggest curveball in this entire group.


Orconomics by J. Zachary PikeBiting social satire meets RPG tropes. If you enjoy the Discworld series, give this series a read. There aren’t enough comedic western fantasy novels of this sort out there, but Pike seems to be making a name for himself quite rapidly in that space.

THOUGHTS: Epic/High Fantasy is a genre that continues to get a lot of love in the self-pub space. To the point where even a lot of trad Epic Fantasy has its roots in indie (Licanus, Books of Babel, et cetera). What’s really cool though is the emergence of stuff like We Ride the Storm, which is a far cry from the medieval European settings of many books. Also, much like Andrew Rowe before him, we see a former writer from the gaming space (Keith Ward) going the indie route to tell his own story.

YA also had a really strong showing this year, with some titles that seemingly learned a lot from the big names (Harry Potter, Mortal Bones, Hunger Games, etc) but go in interesting and unique directions. Sowing in particular is something I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for. I’ve even heard some folks claim it’s the next Throne of Glass, which is high praise coming from the YA crowd.

Lastly, we got some really strange but cool additions in Urban Fantasy and “Other”. Orconomics has sort of a “Discworldy” feel to it, which is quite unique in a field awash with lots of Epic and Urban stuff. And speaking of the latter, our two Urban entries are strikingly unique and a far cry from the Anita Blakes and Twilights of the genre. All in all, another really exciting year!

PERSONAL PICKS: YA isn’t really my thing, but Sowing has me intrigued. Among the Epic Fantasy books, We Ride the Storm and Aching God look the most intriguing. And while it wasn’t a finalist, D.P. Prior’s Carnifex has me intrigued. I like dwarves, especially the berserk, Warhammer Fantasy-style dwarves, so that has me intrigued. Plus, the title is bad-ass.

Also, while I’m focusing on the finalists, there’s a lot of really good books that made it to second or third place in the contest. Michael R. Baker’s The Thousand Scars gets brought up a lot by fans of grimdark, and I have that one on Kindle on my TBR list. While it didn’t make it to the finals, it does have a lot of fans, and there’s a few more books that are similarly liked that didn’t make the finalist place. If you know of any, feel free to comment below and share your thoughts!