Review – The Desert Prince

By Author Peter V. Brett

When I started working in the bookselling business almost a decade ago, I had been stuck in a long reading hiatus. I had read a bunch of fantasy novels before and was already quite of fan of the genre, but like all my hobbies, it ebbed and flowed with time. I don’t always recall when I’ve read certain books, but I will always remember when I first picked up ‘The Warded Man,’ from the shelf of my store. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I was drawn to the cover and the synopsis gave me some good vibes, so I picked it up. That book sparked and reignited my passion for reading, and not only has it not faltered since, but it’s grown to burn brighter and stronger, leading me to start this blog among other things. I absolutely adore ‘The Demon Cycle’. I have recommended that particular series to more customers than any other series in the last eight years, no contest. One day I hope to do a re-read of the series and post reviews about those books. For now, let me just say that for a long time it stood as my favorite fantasy series since my teen years when I read ‘Dragonlance’ and fell in love with Fantasy. As things stand today, only ‘The Faithful and the Fallen’ has garnered as much of my admiration and praise as ‘The Demon Cycle’. All this to say, when Peter V. Brett announced his next book would be a direct sequel to his first series, I flipped the duck out. I could not be more honoured to be reviewing an early copy of this book. And so without further ado:

Warning: Some significant spoilers from ‘The Demon Cycle’ inevitably made their way into the review. If you have not read it already, drop everything and go read it you fools!

‘The Desert Prince’ picks things up fifteen years after the events of epic proportions that closed out the last book of ‘The Demon Cycle: The Core’. The demons have all but been exterminated by the heroic actions of Arlen, the warded man himself, as well as his friends and companions. The demon queen has been destroyed and a new generation of humans can now grow up in a time where people can finally feel safe.

I was absolutely giddy at the thought of coming back to this world filled with the characters I loved so much. Even if literally all my favorites didn’t make it to the end of the Demon cycle, there were still plenty of old faces to make me smiles from the nostalgia. I knew from the get go that this new series would be featuring the children of our old heroes as the main protagonists, but yet the first thing I wanted was to see how their parents were doing. The ones who I followed through tears and laughter for five books all those years ago. I cannot tell you how good it felt to see Gared, Rena, Leesha, Jardir and yes, even Inevera, again. I think the author really stroke a perfect balance by giving us old school fans enough time with our old favorites while using his undeniable talent for character development to slowly, but surely, make us care about our new heroes.

Speaking of which, I cannot talk enough about how impressed I am at how the author wrote one of his main characters as intersex. This was a first for me and I certainly cannot claim to know much about living life as someone who was born with both reproductive organs. However, reading about Olive Paper’s upbringing in a world where she is raised as a woman, and who is later confronted with her masculine side in very meaningful ways, was something completely unique and very compelling. I really like this character and her development arc is one of my favorites in any novel. To hear her thoughts, to witness her confusion, her internal questions, and the frustrations of her reality really deepened the bond I felt with her and gave a lot of substance to her character. The fact that Olive is the child of Leesha Paper and Ahman Jardir also bring it’s very own tapestry of expectations to Olive’s life and no one understands her struggle with her family’s legacy more than our other main character.

This bring us to Darin Bales. The only child and son of Arlen Bales, the Deliverer himself, and of his wife Renna. Two of the most formidable warriors of their time, who accomplished more heroic deeds than almost anyone else during the Demon Wars. Living with that kind of legacy hanging over your head cannot be easy, especially when you don’t seem to have many of the particular gifts that made your parents so legendary. Even myself as a reader, I started this book with sky-high expectations for Darin. I wanted to see him do all kinds of epic stuff life his parents did before him. I really enjoyed some of his inner dialogue, often noticing people looking at him in weird ways, almost as if they were waiting to witness something awesome. I saw myself in those bystanders. I saw the same eagerness, and at first, the same disappointment. I don’t know if these were written with this kind of phenomenon in mind but if so, kudos to mister Brett for being so meta! Indeed, Darin is not his parents, and his self-confidence suffers a lot from it. I think it’s fair to assume things will develop for our young characters and that they will hopefully forge their own paths out of their parent’s shadows onto their own glorious deeds.

We also meet the children of Rojer Half-Grip, who was such an important character in the Demon Cycle and one of my favorites from that series (I’m still mad at you Peter btw). Before his demise, Rojer’s wives were expecting children of their own and I was so glad to see them show up in this sequel. I am a bit sad that they were not main point-of-views, but I have a feeling that might change in the future. I am especially eager to learn more about Arrick, who is the son of not only Rojer, but also of one of my absolute favorite characters from the first series, Sikvah. Together with his half-sister Rojvah, they are an important part of the story and while they were not as developed as Olive and Darin were, I am hopeful we will see more of them in future books.

It’s also worth noting that The Demon Cycle was written using third person perspective, whereas this book is using the first person perspective. I found the change quite refreshing and it also showcases Peter V. Brett’s talent as a writer and storyteller. I find it especially apropos in this book in regard to our two main character’s inner dialogue which is so vital to their development and hearing it as told directly by them was a great choice.

One of the things the author had really impressed me with in his debut series was his sense of pace and his knack for writing exhilarating action sequences. I was glad, if unsurprised, to see that like his storytelling abilties, he’d honed his craft at writing those in even more impressive ways. From the gore-filled demon attacks to the more personal one on one sharusahk-driven fights, every single battle is glorious and terrible to behold.

‘The Desert Prince’ is a statement by it’s author that his first series’ popularity was no fluke, and cements him as a top notch author in my book. Peter V. Brett not only brings everything he does so well back to the table, everything he was already great at feels even better this time around. This new book is pure joy for fans of ‘The Demon Cycle’, but also offers such a solid story and thrilling entertainment on it’s own that even new readers will have no problem in finding themselves enthralled by this world. I’ve said it many times over the years that this world, it’s story and it’s characters, would be perfectly suited for a TV adaptation if given the proper care and support to respect the original material. Until this happens, I will be perfectly happy reading them again and again until the next book comes out.

Score: 9.5/10 – Masterpiece

Review – Empire of the Vampire

By author Jay Kristoff

I feel very fortunate to have gotten a chance to read an ARC of this hotly anticipated title. This 800 pages monster seemed so daunting before I opened it up, but once I got started, it was hard to stop. It did take me longer than usual to read this book, to be fair. Sure, some of it can be attributed to the fact that my wife had just gotten me a Playstation 5 and my hobby time was split between gaming and reading for a few weeks, but it also needs to be said that this book is very dark and at times quite grueling to read for long periods at a time. I sometimes had to put it down for the night as I had gotten my fill of dread and despair the day.

Now, you’re probably saying “oh I don’t know if I’m up to read such a dark book”. Honestly, if you are not a fan of grimdark Fantasy, maybe this isn’t your cup of tea. However if you consider yourself a fan of darker stories, you absolutely need to give this book a go. Even if the story got really grim at times, I cannot deny the hold it had on me and the fascination I had for it’s characters. I will say that for the last 40% of the book, I had gotten used to it’s darker nature and I blazed through the ending in a couple of nights.

Empire of the Vampire brings us to a world where the sun has been blocked by some sort of cataclysmic event, and so vampires have now full liberty to roam the lands during the day as much as during nighttime to hunt and feed. We start this story with the last of the Silversaints, a sacred order of half-monsters dedicated to fighting back against vampires and other dark forces, inside a prison cell atop a tower. Captured by vampires and kept alive for the unique purpose of him to tell his story to their historian for motives unknown, we get most of the story through flashback sequences of the retelling of his life. I very much enjoyed this type of narration and storytelling style. It gave the prose a little something special. I particularly liked having our main character, Gabriel, and his vampire jailer Jean-François interrupt the story from time to time with some well crafted banter and foreboding interactions.

The story is also being told from two different points in time. We first get the story of Gabriel when he was but a boy, and witness the tragedies that forced him into the care of the order of the Silversaints. We are also brought much later into his life, to a point in time where certain events that occurred are of particular interest to Jean-François. The neat thing for me was that instead of having each point in time told in chronological order, and in one go each, the author has Gabriel go back and forth between both timelines in his retelling of his story. This allows for him to reveal certain key elements of the story at the right moment to really add some spice to the many twists and turns of the book.

As I mentioned previously, this tale is very dark. If books had the same rating systems as movies, this one would absolutely would be given an R rating for mature content, harsh language, intense graphic violence and more. While in certain novels this particular style might feel a bit out of place, for this specific book it just worked. Imagine Deadpool not being R rated? Makes no sense. Same goes for Empire of the Vampire. You want to have the gritty, raw dialogue between characters. You need that meticulous description of the violence pertained by the creatures of this world. In most cases this could feel gratuitous, and some might still think it does, but for me it was that extra level of commitment to the darkness that anchored me in the world and made me feel I understood what Gabriel was going through. Which was a lot. I can’t remember a protagonist going through so much suffering of different shapes and forms in a single book.

The action in this book is awesome. From Gabriel’s training days to his many hunts, the battle scenes were always adrenaline fuelled and you never know who or what will survive. The only thing we know for sure is that our main character inevitably finds himself captive of the monsters he was trained to destroy. While not oozing with originality, the magic system was also refreshingly pleasant, was easy to understand and it added a lot of variety and tension to each fight scene.

I can’t say I am usually drawn to vampire stories but this one made me a believer and I am eagerly waiting for the second one to be available, though I suspect it will take some time before we get there. In the meantime I will definitely be adding this book to my list of recommendations.

Score: 8.5/10 – Must Read

Book Club Review – The Hypnotist

For April 2021, The Hypnotist was picked as our monthly read. This was my first book from Lars Kepler and it serves as a staring point for the Joona Linna detective series. I am always intrigued by any kind of detective-driven mystery so I happily dove into this 600+ page monster. I wasn’t ready for what was inside.

The Hypnotist starts with the truly gruesome murder of an entire family. Every member of it has been butchered and only one of them barely survived but is in a coma due to the trauma. The is the setting for our two main characters, who must do everything in their power to find a way to speak to the sole survivor in order to prevent more carnage.

Joona Linna is a police officer who know what he is doing. His interactions with people around him are kind but cold, and he throws himself completely into his cases, never giving up and mostly ending up being right, which he takes immense pleasure in letting his detractors know. There was something very satisfying in following Joona as the main investigator of the story. I like it when the lead knows what they are doing, are competent and act with confidence. That is not to say there are no flaws in Joona, who also gives us glimpses of a dark past that isn’t fully fleshed out in this volume but which I have no doubt will mean a great deal in future adventures.

Dr. Erik Maria Bark made a promise a long time ago. He promised he would never hypnotise anyone ever again. But when he is called at Joona’s side to help communicate with the comatose victim, he must make a choice. Will he uphold his oath or will he do what needs to be done to potentially save more lives? Erik was a very fun character to read. A family man, a loving father and a caring husband, Erik too has some darker events locked away in his past that he would not want to revisit. After making his choice, his life will be thrown into chaos.

This story here was compelling throughout the book. I did find some slower passages but the chapters were very short for most of the time and so the flow still kept a steady pace. This is a real crime novel. Full on police investigation, and while I enjoyed myself enough, I still prefer the more classic approach to detective stories. This was a satisfying read as a whole but I am not sure it was compelling enough for me to seek out other books in this particular series.

Score: 6.5/10 – Good

Review – The Shadow of the Gods

If you didn’t get a chance to look at my top 10 most anticipated books of 2021, let me spoil it for you: This book was number one on it. I have been a massive John Gwynne fan ever since reading his Faithful and Fallen series (and the follow up Of Blood and Bones trilogy), and I absolutely could not wait to see what he would craft once he set his sights on a new world, story and characters.

I won’t make you wait for it. This book blew my mind. I didn’t have any expectations other than to be completely captivated by it, and exceed said expectations it did. This Norse mythology inspired tale is one following the paths of three main characters and their individual adventures, forging their way toward glory, revenge or redemption. Each one of these characters have their own distinct voices, in a very Gwynne fashion. By which I mean I always feel a familiarity with them, and I root for each and every one of them with everything I have almost right from the start. He makes me care about his characters in ways I have very rarely experienced in novels. I don’t want to give you much more details on them than what is currently known from the synopsis as I think one of the best parts is to get to know them more as the story flows forward.

The Faithful and the Fallen is probably my favorite fantasy series of the last 20 years (if not it is top 2 for sure), but the only small, tiny thing I would have changed was to incorporate a bit more magic in the fabric of the story. In Shadow of the Gods, Gwynne steps up his magic game in a big way and it is glorious to behold. Someone with his expert talent for breathtaking, epic battle scenes injecting a heftier dose of magic into the mix really takes things to another level. The magic is present in more ways than one and it truly deepens the lore of this harsh, brutal world. I’ve always had a particular interest for shapeshifting magic and, well, let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

Like I said before, we follow the narrative of three different characters, and while this is the lowest number of point of views Gwynne has used in his books so far, I felt it was perfectly balanced. It really gave me the time to grow my interest for each of them and their individual stories. It’s funny because sometimes it can feel like you are reading three different books with the only common thread being the continent where they are all taking place, and yet slowly but surely, these characters inadvertently journey towards one another. That is always a huge hook for me, the tantalizing possibility of your heroes finally coming face to face, for better or worst. This is another aspect of storytelling where Gwynne exceeds, in my opinion.

Gwynne’s love and passion for Norse mythology and Beowulf legend really transpires in his story and world-building here. Even I, who have only ever known about Norse lore what TV has tough me, was able to immediately recognize this world as steeped in viking flavour and Norse legends. The language used in his dialogues and to describe certain specific world elements is clearly influenced by those inspirations and really helped me immerse myself in his narrative.

There is nothing more satisfying then waiting for something for a long time and finally getting the that magical moment where you get to experience it. Being able to finally sit down with this book, read the first page and actually savour each and every chapter has been pure delight. I usually try to read my books in a quick fashion as there are so many I want to get to, but once in a blue moon, I do the exact opposite . I purposefully take my time and take breaks from it, even when I crave more, just to make the experience last longer. This is what I did with this book, taking my time to enjoy each moment to the fullest, all the way to the Gwynnado (as my pal Petrik would say) of action in the last few chapters, and to the reveal on the last page. And boy, was it ever worth it. Book 2 cannot come fast enough.

Score: 10/10 – Masterpiece

Image by Sean Vo

Review – The Masked City

The Masked City is the second book in the Invisible Library universe and I had a really good time with the first book, so I was quite excited to go back in to see what Irene, Kai and Vale had been up to lately. Turns out, a lot. If you have not read the first book (The Invisible Library) yet I would consider reading my review for it first and reading the book before reading on as some plot points from that book will be mentioned here.

Irene is now settled in her particular sphere of London where she acts as the Library’s agent in that world. Things are going seemingly smoothly when Kai gets abducted. This starts off a chain of events that Irene was not expecting so soon. From there, she sets off on a quest to find her missing student and friend, enlisting the help of some unsavory characters, meeting with royal dragons and traveling deeper into the chaos then ever before, to a particular parallel version of Venice, which is in a perpetual state of carnaval.

Knowing the main characters right off the bat, it didn’t take me long to fall back into the groove of their fun banter and fast moving adventures. Having one of the main characters from the first book kind of disappear early on in the story bothered me a little at first as I was looking forward to get to know Kai more, but I rapidly changed my tune on this. Spending more time with Irene by herself, using only her wits and limited magical abilities to find her missing partner, gave me a deeper appreciation of her intelligence and resourcefulness. That is not to say that she is stuck by herself the whole time. Peregrine Vale is back as well and with him we get more of that intelligent, calculating logic of his. The detective has developed a strong friendship with Kai and it does not sit well at all to be left behind as Irene delves deeper into Chaos to find her apprentice.

The Masked City was a very enjoyable read from start to finish and cemented my appreciation and love for this series. It really gives me a unique combination of two genres that I thoroughly enjoy, detective adventure and fantasy with a hint of steampunk with all the old school technologies. I will be very excited to jump into book three, quite soon.

Score: 7.5/10 – Great

Image by Andrey Vozny

Review – The Bone Shard Daughter

The Bone Shard Daughter had been on my radar for quite a while. I had heard it mentioned in many conversations about 2020’s best debut by some of my favourite book bloggers. I’m always careful about not getting *too* hyped up about new releases (unless it’s the next book of a series I love), but I can safely say now that this book absolutely delivered on all fronts.

The Bone Shard Daughter bring us into a world of waters and islands. For centuries, the children have been forced to give a small piece of bone to the emperor as tribute. This offering is meant to be a form of payment for his protection against an ancient civilization that once ruled the world. With these shards, the emperor built constructs of all shapes and purpose and fuelled them with bone shard magic to help him oversee his vast archipelago empire.

This setting was already intriguing enough for me, but the plot revolving around the main characters took things to the next level. You follow in the footsteps of four main characters. What I found very interesting and quite unique is that two of those characters were written from a first person perspective, where as the other two were written from a third person perspective. This gave each chapter a different voice and style, and kept things interesting at a more fundamental level then I am normally used to in Fantasy novels.

The first character you meet is the emperor’s daughter. She hopes to one day take her place as the rightful ruler when her father eventually passes away but has to deal with harsh memory loss and the shortcomings of her own skills in bone shard magic. Next we have a sailor on the run from his past and on the trail of a lost loved one. He soon finds himself bringing unwanted attention to himself through unplanned acts of heroism.

Then we have the highborn daughter who is madly in love with a peasant who is herself working with rebels to overthrow her love’s family from their castle. They would go to the ends of the world for each other but are on different sides of society, and war is brewing. Finally we meet a girl, who is lost on an island, and who doesn’t know who she is, how she got there, and what her purpose even is. A heavy fog of mystery surrounds her and the island on which she lives with countless others suffering the same state.

These four character’s stories will intertwine in very unexpected ways, and they will slowly lift the shroud of mystery enveloping this world and it’s future. I am very hyped for the sequel. It is on my top 10 list of my most anticipated books of 2021 and for good reasons!

Score: 8.5/10 – Must Read

Image by Steve Simmons

Review – A Chorus of Fire

It took me about five minutes after having finished reading The Bard’s Blade to open it’s sequel, A Chorus of Fire, up and plunge back into this captivating story. I won’t venture into spoilers territory here, but if you want to know absolutely nothing about what happens in the first book, you may want to skip to the last paragraph of this review.

In this second book of the trilogy, we continue following Lem and Mariyah on their quest to find each other and survive the new world they have been forced to live into. They each have gone down their own individual shadowy paths. In order to survive, Lem has become something dark and cold. He does what needs to be done to stay alive and find his love. Whatever it takes. On her side of the continent, Mariyah has learned she has some rare talents that can bring both good, and evil to the world. She is stronger, smarter, and will use every political tool and magical gifts she has access to to achieve her goals. However, the more she learns about the dangers of the world, of the evil that may be making it’s way back into it, the more she is torn between finding Lem and doing what is right.

I really enjoyed how the author developed the lore of the world even more in this second volume. Sorcerers and Bards have a secret, buried history that we slowly uncover, revealing terrible truths that will bring heavy consequences. Magical blades that kill with a touch, musical melodies more powerful than an army of warriors and magic as beautiful as it is terrifying, there is no shortage of fantasy goodness. Of course nothing drives the story more than our two protagonists’s powerful love for each other and their desire to reunite. But now there are other elements and new people wedging themselves between Lem and Mariyah, which kept me even more invested in their relationship. Could one of them start doubting their feelings for the other? That is a reality I was not ready to deal with or accept, but that would build tension throughout the book up until the very end.

As far as second books in a planned trilogy goes, it rarely gets better than Chorus of Fire. Everything I liked in the first book is built upon and made even more spectacular. The characters feel more fleshed out and the stakes have never been higher. So far this series has felt like a breath of fresh air between heavier reads. It’s themes of music, love, hidden darkness and redemption are weaved together to form a literary melody that’s absolutely delightful to experience.

Score: 8.5/10 – Must Read

Review – The Bard’s Blade

The Bard’s Blade was absolutely captivating and incredibly very well written. The prose is simple yet extremely engaging. The story is crafted in a way that makes it effortless to read, and I absolutely mean this as a positive. It is one of the reasons this book sank it’s teeth in me early on and did not let go until the very end.

At it’s core, The Bard’s Blade is a character driven story, which is my absolute favorite kind. There is something that just hooks me in when we spend a lot of time with characters and really get to know who they are, how they think. I loved meeting and following the two main characters, Lem and Mariyah, on their many misadventures. The Bard’s Blade is also centred around two themes that I feel we just don’t see enough, in my humble opinion, in the Fantasy landscape: Music and Love.

Sure, you will most likely see those themes in most SFF stories in some form or another, but in this one they are at the forefront of everything else. Lem is one of the world’s most gifted musician, his talent is only rivalled by his love for Mariyah, who very much feels the same way about him. Without spoiling much, they are somehow separated early on in the story and while there is a much bigger and darker story overarching everything else, their love and desire to reunite very much drives the story forward. I found myself really caring about them and wanted them to find each other. But nothing is as simple as that, unfortunately.

For you readers out there who are drawn to a lot of action in books, it’s important to note that there are not a lot of “action scenes” per say in this one. That is not to say that the book doesn’t have it’s moments that filled me with angst and had me turning the pages with one eye closed. It definitely did. It’s just worth mentioning that this isn’t one of the main aspects of this story. We do however get very rich world building and lore to go along the character driven story. This was more than enough to keep me reading late into the night.

The secondary characters also added some very interesting additional voices to the story. They had very distinct, fleshed out personalities of their own and made me care about (or absolutely hate) them in unexpected ways. I really loved how these characters gave life to Lem’s and Mariyah’s individual paths. They each grew in different ways while apart from each other and while I was always wanting them to reunite, seeing how they evolved on their own added shades of grey to their story and I am intrigued to see how things develop from here.

Reading the synopsis, I wasn’t expecting to love these characters and this story as much as I did. It really surprised me in all the best ways and I am really excited to get into book 2 as soon as possible.

Score: 8/10 – Great

To wait, or to buy. A look at the impact those who wait to buy and binge-read series can have on the book writing business.

Working in a book store, I get to chat about a lot of different book-related topics with customers. Some of the most commonly asked questions are “how many books are in this series?” and “how many of them are currently published?” More often than not, they will wait for the entirety of a series to be out, and then buy the whole thing all at once. As an avid SFF reader myself, I have often been faced with the desire to buy a new book that really piqued my interest, while considering that I might regret not waiting to binge-read the series once it has all be released. Reading books as they come out or all at once is certainly a matter of personal preference, but my experience as a bookseller indicates that the majority of people prefer to wait for a series to be completely published, buy it all then and read it all in one go. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone in this day and age where almost every TV show out there can be binge-watched in a day or two. That is what we now expect and want from those who create content to be consumed. Should this be taken into account by publishers?

Over the last few months, I have seen more authors and bloggers comment about this topic on social media and I wanted to write some of my thoughts and experiences down for sake of discussion. One of the first things I discovered when I started following the SFF community on twitter, is how most authors are really counting on a first book of a series to sell in order to get the publisher to order more books from that series. I certainly cannot pretend to know about the intricacies and caveats of the publishing world, but at its core, the simple fact remains: waiting for a full series to be out before buying it can hurt authors more often than not.

As someone who loves books, their authors and want to support the book writing business, I decided to look deeper into this issue, and list out the different scenarios I encounter at work. Over the last 8 weeks, I have talked with over 200 customers who were browsing the SFF section about this topic. It was great that most of them were interested in sharing their take on it. In the end, these are the two most common scenarios I encountered:

  • 76 people said they usually prefer looking for a new book to read and don’t care if the book is a stand-alone, the first of a series that is already out, or the newly released first book of a series. They will buy what they think they will enjoy right now and won’t worry about anything else.
  • 131 people responded they were mostly interested in buying series that are completed, where they can binge the entirety of it without having to wait years for the next entry to be released. This was often due (though not always) to a preference to immerse themselves completely in the world and story as they felt that reading the series in one go will provide them with the best experience possible.

Looking at the data gathered, it would be safe to say that for an author, the first group of customers provides more immediate support than the second. As we will see below, most authors depend on their first book’s pre-orders and early sales to get publishers to sign off on the next books planned for their series. If those early sales are not hitting projections, the author could very well be facing the grim reality of having their series cut down to fewer books, or simply cancelled.

It seems the only viable solution that would be satisfactory to series binge-readers who also want to support authors by buying their books on release, would be for them to purchase all the books they are interested in as they are released, stack them on their shelves and wait a few years for all the books of those various series to be published before actually reading them the way they prefer. As a consumer, this solution definitely has it’s disadvantages. The main one being that if you buy the first book of a series, proceed to read it right away and realize this isn’t your cup of tea, you probably won’t spent more hard earned dollars on the next book of that series and will look for another one that is more to your liking. In this instance, the reader would probably not feel like they lost money as they still ended up reading the book they paid for.

Now imagine the same person but instead of reading that first book when they buy it, they shelve it until five to six years later, when they finally have the complete series ready to go. When they finish book one and realize it is not for them, they would assuredly feel that they lost money on the other books of that series they never plan to read. Sure they can give them to someone who might very well enjoy them, and that is great, but assuming this person does the same process for every big Fantasy series they plan on reading, they might end up quite unhappy about having paid for more than a few books they never end up reading. This would obviously be affected by personal taste, but it doesn’t change the concept illustrated here.


From the Authors

If we want to understand this situation from all possible angles, there are none better positioned to explain these realities then the authors who live them. I have reached out to several authors in hope of asking them questions about this issue and share some of their thoughts and experiences with the public. Here is what they had to say.

Nicholas Eames – Author of Kings of the Wyld

https://nicholaseames.com/

Q – As a published author, could you share your insights on pre-orders and early purchases of a book, and their influence on your ability to write more?

A – “For a new author, or any author whose books aren’t blockbusters, pre-orders and early sales are huge. Publishing isn’t the juggernaut it was, say, two decades ago, and I’m not sure most readers realize how tenuous a writing career can be. I know I didn’t. I thought every author wrote full-time, and that once you got published you were set for life. But boy, was I wrong. Unless your book sells extremely well, most authors can’t survive on the money they earn through writing alone. My book, Kings of the Wyld, had a very successful first year. It was, I think, among the top three best-selling fantasy debuts in 2017, and yet a lot of readers were surprised to learn I was still serving tables in restaurants two years later so I could pay rent.

When a book gets a lot of pre-orders, or garners a lot of buzz within a few months of being published, that tells the publisher that the author is worth investing in. If a book doesn’t sell well and is part of a planned series, then the author (especially a new author) is in very real danger of having their series cancelled and their careers cut short. This was a shocking realization to me, and it’s scary as hell.

Q – Is it different after you have had success with your first series? 

A – “Definitely, yes. If an author earns out (which is to say their share of the book’s profit exceeds what they were paid as an advance) then they’re considered a success. Heck, even if they don’t earn out it’s possible the publisher, who makes a lot more than the author per book, has recouped enough money to offset the cost of publishing and marketing the entire series, in which case they’re likely to see it through to the end. 

That said, just because you’ve had success with one series doesn’t necessarily mean your readers will follow you to the next. So while you’re undoubtedly in a better position than most, until you’ve reached a truly meteoric level of success, you can’t help but feel like you’re treading water.


K.D. Edwards – Author of The Tarot Sequence

http://kd-edwards.com/

Q – Could you share your thoughts on this particular issue authors are facing?

A – “I know plenty of people who say they won’t touch a series until more than 2 are out. Hell, I’m that way myself sometimes. So I accept the fact that some people won’t pick up my series until more is out. In some ways, I’m a bit interested to see what happens when Book 3 comes out — whether there will be a bump in new readers.

I’ve been pretty blessed with constant growth. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone into Goodreads and HAVEN’T seen new reviews for my books — including THE LAST SUN, which was published years ago by now. (And I go into Goodreads at least twice a week.) And I think a lot of that growth is due to the accumulation of reviews I have — it gives people a certain comfort zone in spending their time or money on me.

Honestly, maybe that’s it? I think it comes down to people waiting to know a series is worth their time. Personally, as an author, I’m hoping that having 3 books out, plus a really decent slate of reviews on GR and Amazon will be a good thing for me.”


Peter McLean – Author of Priest of Bones

https://talonwraith.com/

Q – Have you ever experienced this issue as an author, and could you share your thoughts about it?

A – “I have very much experienced this. My first series, The Burned Man, ended on a massive unresolved cliff-hanger that wasn’t my choice. The reason? Partly that the publisher changed hands and my editor left, but also partly because sales of the third book just weren’t where they needed to be. It was supposed to be a five book series with a definite ending, but  it ended up being a trilogy that just stops. Not what I had in mind. It’s business, it happens, and it happens a lot more frequently than many authors are prepared to admit. And the whole “I won’t buy into an unfinished series” thing is a big part of why. I had, and five years later still have, fans who are very unhappy about this. I can’t say I’m best pleased either. 

I don’t mean to sound bitter; part of me understands this. I know how a P&L (profit and loss statement, basically a projection of sales revenues versus incurred expenses) works, and I know a publisher has to make a return on their investment before they’ll consider renewing an author’s contract. That makes perfect sense. But here’s the thing: there is an elephant in the room that it seems we’re not supposed to talk about, but as you asked me I’m going to. There are two, maybe three very famous fantasy authors with unfinished series, and two of them at least don’t look like they’re ever going to be finished. This has upset a lot of people. An awful lot of people, who have been waiting ten-plus years for a book they may never get. 

I’m not going to speculate on the private lives of gentlemen I don’t know. There may well be very valid personal reasons for this. But none of those potential reasons is because the publisher dropped them. I guarantee it. These guys are mega-sellers. Mega-sellers are what publishers bank on to support the rest of their list, the mid-list authors like me and the debutbooks that they take on from new voices. These guys don’t get dropped, ever.

Something that’s changed in recent years is publishers’ risk appetites. It used to be normal that you sold a trilogy off the back of the first book, and contractually they had to publish a trilogy. Now it’s more common to see offers on the first two books, maybe even just the first book, and they’ll offer on the subsequent ones if sales are good. That’s a business model, but it relies on those early books selling. If they don’t, because people won’t buy into a series until it’s complete, then that almost guarantees it never will be complete because early sales won’t be where the publisher needs them to be. This is self-defeating for all concerned; publisher, author, and reader.

I saw this again with my current series, War for the Rose Throne. Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies have done pretty well. They’re in development for television by Heyday Production as we speak and have sold to multiple foreign territories, but I still got dropped by my US publisher because sales didn’t hit what their P&L said they needed them to be. Maybe they just paid me too much up front, I don’t know. There is nothing quite as opaque as another company’s P&L forecast, and we can only ever speculate. Thankfully my UK publisher Jo Fletcher Books has renewed the series for the final two books, Priest of Gallowsand Priest of Crowns, and picked up US distribution too, so in this instance the series will definitely be finished worldwide. But despite its relative success, it nearly wasn’t. 

And this is because of three authors. Big, famous ones, yes, but only three authors nonetheless. The vast majority of us, the hundreds of mid-list sellers with our smaller but no less enthusiastic fanbases, reliably put out a book every year to eighteen months. If you want us to be able to keep doing so, please consider buying and ideally pre-ordering our books on release, rather than waiting for us to be done. Otherwise we may never have the opportunity to be done.”


Peter V. Brett – Author of The Demon Cycle

https://www.petervbrett.com/

Q – Could you share your opinion on this very real situation authors and readers are facing?

A – “Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts. I think it’s important to talk about, because your concern is very real, but also not a weight readers should carry around their shoulders. It is absolutely true that even to this day, first-week sales numbers on a book can dramatically affect how that book is received, and how much investment the publisher makes in the subsequent releases in the series.

But long tail numbers matter, too! If all your readers come and go on launch day, your work quickly fades into obscurity. To have a sustainable series, new readers need to continue to start the journey, and sometimes that takes time as word of mouth builds interest.

First books in a fantasy series are usually self contained stories. You can read just one and feel satisfied that you know what that author is all about. If you like to sample new worlds and then move on to something new, reading a lot of book ones, that’s great.

 If you are the type of person who jumps in with their whole heart, and enjoys the exquisite agony of longing for more of a thing you love—a pain I know well—then dive into a new book one! Give a debut author a chance to shine in their moment. Support authors whose voices you would like to amplify.

But if you are the type of person who just wants to binge, that’s cool, too. And you shouldn’t have to feel obliged to buy books you don’t intend to read in the near future. They’re not going anywhere. Buy what you want to read NOW.

Great, GREAT authors publish the final books in their series all the time. Many of them have languished for lack of readership, and could absolutely use the boost of a binge reader going to the bookstore and walking out with a stack of books to plow through. I do this with my daughter all the time.

Supporting art is important. I believe people should absolutely give something back for the content they consume. But no one should be asked to support art they are not consuming, or to consume it in a way that is not convenient to them out of a feeling of obligation. It’s ok to be the kind of consumer you are!”


Conclusion?

Taking in the very informative statements made by these authors, a few facts are made quite clear. Most authors need early sales of their books to have the best chance of building their careers. But they also want the readers to buy the books they want, without feeling pressure to offset the invisible sale targets put in place by publishers. They encourage readers to show their support for authors they want to read more of, while realizing that not everyone shops for their next reads the same way and are very understanding of that fact.

So how to we find a solution that works for everyone? I doesn’t seem like there is much to be done from the authors themselves, who can only keep creating their art, and hoping that the public take a chance on their books. There isn’t much else to be done from the reader side either, other than bring awareness of this issue to more people, so they might make more conscious decisions to support authors whose work they like. Maybe something needs to change from the publisher’s side? Could there be more leeway when negotiating contracts with authors? I believe there can, and there should be.

Finally, it has been suggested by different people in the book blogging community that if authors included small recap chapters at the beginning of their books, it would solve the issue for some readers, and it would encourage more of them to purchase and read books as they come out, without fearing of forgetting important plot points, character moments and more. I asked a couple of the authors who contributed to this text to share their thoughts on this particular suggestion. Here is what they had to say.

Nicholas Eames: “I actually think the reader in me has more thoughts on this than the writer. As a writer, it doesn’t matter to me at all if the publisher wants to put a recap at the beginning of each book. 

As a reader…I don’t think it’s necessary. Any author worth reading is going to make sure the relevant plot points are explained in a way that doesn’t leave the reader feeling lost, and as someone who almost never reads a series in one go (there’s too many great authors out there!) it can be several years before I get to the next book, and within a chapter or three I’m right back into it. If someone really needs to read a synopsis, they can almost certainly find one online.

Peter V. Brett: “I do think an author of a long fantasy series that sometimes has years between installments has an obligation to fill readers back in if they have forgotten important plot points. Some authors do this as a recap chapter, but I prefer to just work reminders into the narration of the story, so you are given the relevant information when you need it, rather than in a big chunk at the beginning. Preferences vary, so it’s fine to seek out and support the writers who do it in a way you like over ones that don’t.”

We can conclude that while recap chapters are something authors are open to exploring if the situation calls for it, the preferred method to help readers catch up and remember important plot details is to incorporate them in the opening chapters of the next book of that series.

Doing the research and writing this blog post has been eye opening for me. For a while now I have been the type of reader who would, in most cases, gravitate towards finished series (or ones missing only the final book). I am part of that specific group, most of the time. Or at least I was. Diving deep into this issue by reading opinion pieces online, talking with authors and other readers like me, it made me want to do things differently. To step out of my comfort zone. I have recently started buying books that have been on my TBR list for a while now. The only thing stopping me before was this need to binge read the whole series at once. I want to try and take a chance on books I think I am going to enjoy, while hopefully supporting authors for their writing. A lot of my most anticipated books of 2021 are first books of new series and I will definitely not be waiting years before indulging, this time.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to highlight this: you should buy the books you want to buy, when you want to buy them. Authors will get your support either way. Having said that, should you find yourself in a book store some day, holding a shinny new copy of a book you are drawn to because the cover is wickedly awesome and the synopsis is getting you all excited and intrigued, maybe give it a shot regardless of how many books of that series are currently available. You might unknowingly be changing your, and someone else’s life, for the better.

Review – The Last Smile in Sunder City

My two favorite genres of literature are Fantasy and Detective-Mystery. So when I first picked up The Last Smile in Sunder City from the shelf at the store and read the back, it took me less than five seconds to know this would end up on my own shelf. It also took me less than 36 hours to finish reading it. I guess you could say, I enjoyed it quite a bit!

Fetch Phillips doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. He’s a man-for-hire in a city that that’s barely holding it together after a world-shaping event took away all the magic from it’s roots and it’s many magic-reliant inhabitants. We rapidly understand that Fetch carries a heavy weight on his shoulders and that he is simply trying to do some good in his now tainted city. But in this world where humans and former magical creatures are constantly at odds, Fetch’s good intentions are as significant as a drop of water in a full bottle of whisky.

While the “detective with a dark past who drinks too much and is searching for self-redemption” isn’t a unique trope, author Luke Arnold’s take on it is well done and brings enough unique twists on it to make it a quality addition to a sub-genre of Fantasy I refer to as Detective Fantasy. The main element that brings such uniqueness to this story is the fact that as opposed to many other series where the world is brimming with magic, this one has none left in it, and we get to see the repercussions it’s absence is having on it’s people, it’s culture, it’s landscape, and all other aspects of society. It’s a very fascinating setting to have as a backdrop to what is at it’s core a detective novel.

The story itself focuses on two points in time. The present timeline depicts Fetch’s quest to find a missing vampire who is also an elementary school teacher. This will see our not-so-hero visit various locations in Sunder city, meet characters ranging from charming to downright malicious, and having the crap beaten out of him a few times for his trouble. I enjoyed the process of solving the mystery at hand and how it ultimately affected things on a grander scheme. The pace of the story was fast enough to keep me interested at all times, and the tone of the writing in first person perspective always brings that instant connection with the protagonist.

The second timeline is when we look back in time to learn more about Fetch’s past. Who he is, where he comes from, what has he accomplished, and more. This part of the book was crucial for me as it took the main story, which I already liked well enough, and gave it much heavier stakes. It really added to my engagement with the world and gave a lot more weight to some events that might have been overlooked at mundane in the present.

I definitely enjoyed my time in Sunder city, and while you can feel at times that this was the author’s first book, there is no doubt in my mind that he has great talent and I am quite excited to get my hands on the second book from the Fetch Phillips Archives.

Score: 7.5/10 – Great

Image by Mei Takizawa