Two Serpents Rise – This Sequence Gets Craftier

2sr-coverMy father was 60 years old when I was born. Kind of an odd thing to start a book review off with, but those of you who are the guessing sort are probably guessing that this will be tied into the review later on. Bonus points for you. As for the rest of you, just bear with me. 60 years is a long time, and when you think about how much of a generational gap there is between those of us born on the cusp of the millennium and those born as recently as the early 80s, one can imagine just how different my father and I were. I loved him dearly, but we had what some would call a tempestuous relationship. It’s something that I regret, but am unable to change since he passed.

I touch on this because the story in Two Serpents Rise, the second book in The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, is a departure from what was the main theme of book one, Three Parts Dead. The first book in the series, as you can read in Andrew’s review here, was an exciting and satisfying look at difficult workplace dynamics. Two Serpents Rise, on the other hand, examines how we can deal with the family we’re born into, and how important it is to build another family for ourselves through our friends and loved ones.

Caleb Altemoc, the protagonist of this book, is a risk manager and avid card player working for Red King Consolidated. For those of you new to the world of The Craft Sequence, the gods fought a battle with some powerful sorcerers known as the Deathless Kings…and lost. As you can probably guess from the name, RKC is run by the Red King, a skeletal sorcerer of immense power. After an infestation of some frankly horrific water demons (they take the form of arachnids, imagine drinking some water infested with them and having them form inside your stomach…shudder), Caleb is embroiled in a variety of plots as he tries to keep the city of Dresediel Lex, and the company he works for … afloat (I had to).Caleb interacts with his boss frequently, and The King in Red is an absolutely fantastic character. We are given some incredible insight into what could drive someone to become something so inhuman, and how underneath all that…bone…is something that was human once and may be human still. I think the scenes where we learn about the Red King’s past and his history with the city of Dresediel Lex are some of the strongest in the book.

The city of Dresediel Lex and its history is as large a character as any of the human/skeleton/whatever(s) in the book. Drawing heavily from mesoamerican history and mythology, Gladstone has created an incredibly unique city, at least in terms of fiction I have experienced. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been exposed to cities in fantasy that were influenced by Aztec culture, and even fewer of those that weren’t simply relegated to “BLOODTHIRSTY GODS WANT BLOOD”. While human sacrifice is definitely something that is explored, the conflict of what constitutes true sacrifice and how those sacrifices are offered is a huge aspect of the book and I thought it was handled very well. I also want to really quickly touch on how unsettling the bug taxis are. They’re giant dragonfly-type things that suck your soul out as taxi fare. I am so uncomfortable thinking about that, just the description gave me shudders every time.

The conflict between Caleb and his father, Temoc, is one of the main driving forces of the book. His father is an Eagle Priest, a powerful and uncompromising worshipper of the old gods of Dresediel Lex. He is very much of the old guard and his belief that human sacrifice is an absolute necessity to appease the gods is in direct conflict with Caleb’s views of it as murder by another name. The descriptions of the arguments they’ve had playing out for the thousandth time reminded me a great deal of my relationship with my dad, and I was left upset and shaking my head when I saw myself in Caleb’s shoes, unable to understand his father and unable to make his father understand.

My only real complaints with the book come from the pacing and the climax. In terms of the pacing I was left feeling like more time had passed in the world than made sense for the story, though that could be a personal gripe. In addition, I felt the climax was rather abrupt. While the end of the book was exciting and certainly not short of spectacle, the actual final showdown with the ultimate enemy of the book was over very quickly and felt almost glossed over. I was expecting more going into it than I received, and while this is an issue, I think it’s a minor one when considering the story as a whole.

Two Serpents Rise is most definitely not the book I was expecting when I started it. After the funny and quirky romp that was Three Parts Dead, the introspective nature of this story really surprised me. I think, though, that the mileage of this story may vary for readers that aren’t in my shoes. In our book club discussion of Three Parts Dead, the ratings varied along the lines of those who enjoy their work and those who don’t. I Imagine that ratings would vary similarly in readings of Two Serpents Rise for those who have difficulties dealing with parts of their family and those who don’t. Regardless of that fact, though, Two Serpents Rise is an enjoyable read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoyed the world of The Craft Sequence and wants to delve further into this land of gods and the people who live with them.

Rating: Two Serpents Rise – 9.0/10


The Burning Isle – Grilled Vengeance, Served Hot

burning-isle-coverRevenge stories are tricky. They are inherently sad and depressing stories that require a keen eye for detail, and a lot of planning to execute correctly. Nothing good happens when you set out for revenge. Even the most cynical readers can agree that while vengeance might feel good in the moment, it leaves a person empty with nothing to live for once completed. This can make it hard to write a story that feels immersive, as protagonists are often in a terrible mental place that can be hard to relate to or get behind. However, when done right revenge stories can be captivating, exciting, and mind blowing with their excellent twists and their delicious comeuppance. The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo, makes the cut and is one of the better vengeance stories I have read in years.

The Burning Isle is the story of a mage named Cassius with a mysterious past travelling to a ghetto port town for unknown reasons (its revenge). We follow him around the city as he slinks, schemes, and puts things in motion to pull apart his enemies piece by piece – slowly finding out why he is doing it. The place where this book shines like a jewel is the worldbuilding. The Island of Scipio is a rough ghetto with a lot of flavor and a fascinating back story that kept me wanting to know more and hanging on every juicy detail. Panzo does an incredible job making Scipio feel like a real place with a complex history that has giving birth to numerous conflicts and the character dynamics and the power struggles in the town only deepen that flavor. In addition, the magic in the story is quite enjoyable. Cassius is a rune caster, which is essentially a group of magic users who rape and pillage the magical identities of several other kinds of magic. By taking the spells of other groups and imprinting them on gems, they make magic quick, easy, and collectable – ensuring the dominance of rune mages without having to invent new magic themselves. Panzo does a great job introducing the magic concepts, but I would have loved to learn more about the magical school that Cassius goes to in his backstory.

Speaking of our protagonist, I had a love/hate relationship with Cassius. Personality wise, Cassius was an interesting and likable protagonist that I could very much get behind – but he is sold as a Gary Sue in the book and does not fully hold up. A top graduate from the best magic school in the world, I expected Cassius to wipe the floor with his foes in a bunch of instances that he barely claws his way through. A little too much of Cassius’s success in the novel felt due to luck as opposed to methodical, brilliant planning. In addition, some of the twists were telegraphed way too early in the book to have deep emotional impact. I was able to guess Cassius’s backstory correctly by about 40% of the way into the book, and the reveal comes in the last few pages. However, these were not large issues and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book very much.

The Burning Isle also wins big points with me because it is both the first book in a series, but also completely stand alone. The book speaks of Scipio essentially being a test run for Cassius for greater things to come and it manages to both build out Cassius’s character, lay the groundwork for future books, and have its own great plot. I will definitely be continuing with this series, but I hope Panzo can iron out a few of the small details I mentioned before to make these books shine like a rune gem. The Quill to Live recommends The Burning Isle by Will Panzo.

Rating: The Burning Isle – 8.0/10

Ex-Heroes – Oversexualized Is An Under Exaggeration

51govlfazdl-_sy344_bo1204203200_For my day job I am doing some work in the comics industry, so I am on a bit of a superhero kick at the moment. I have read a few superhero novels over the years, but it seems to be a genre that is starting to expand, as I presume that these stories have historically been contained within comics. It is surprising to me that that the genre isn’t more popular with the rise of superheroes in pop culture, but who knows, maybe the book wave is just starting. Along those lines, I decided to pick up Ex-Heroes, by Peter Cline, first because of its awesome naming convention of “EX” before each title in the series and second because it is about superheroes vs. zombies.

The premise of Ex-Heroes is that a meteor hit the earth and a whole bunch of people woke up one day with superpowers. Interestingly, there weren’t many super villains and heroes mostly stuck to cleaning up drug cartels, gangs, and petty crime. That is until a death plague hit, turning 99% of the population into zombies. Now all that is left of humanity is small bastions that are holding out against the plague – many with superpowered guardians. Our story follows a small cohort of heroes holed up with a thousand civilians in an old movie studio in Hollywood. The book deals with all the classic plot lines in a post apocalyptic world that revolve around anarchy and discovering the source and cure of the virus, with some nice superhero flavoring to mix it up. The lead protagonist is the Mighty Dragon, a hero with low level flight, super strength, and a little bit of pyrokinesis – giving him a suite of powers to emulate a dragon if that was not clear.

While I usually start with book pros, and then move to cons, I am going to mix it up as this book has one gaping problem that sinks it – the oversexualization (and general treatment) of women. It is bad, REALLY bad. Two top of mind examples of this issue: first one of the female leads is introduced as a girl who “wears shirts that are sizes too small so that you can clearly see her brightly colored bras underneath” as her one defining characteristic, and a second female protagonist feels she is cursed with the power of being too hot, so she hides her face so as to not be objectified all the time. To clarify, she doesn’t have a superpower that makes her hot, she is just so hot that people have bent to her will her whole life and she doesn’t like people not taking her seriously. I am not a Puritan from the 1650’s, but most of the female characters had absolutely no substance to them other than sex appeal, which is a problem. I almost feel like this was a satire that is just flying over my head, because the treatment of women in this book sucked the joy out of me like some sort of psychic vampire. This is a shame because the book is great in lots of other ways.

The characters (except for Stealth, the hot woman mentioned before) are interesting, with unique backgrounds and stories that kept me invested. The book alternates between backstories of the heroes and present day between chapters, and uses the backstories to explain how the death plague came about in the first place. It is a really good storytelling mechanic that worldbuilds effectively while also staying fun and captivating. The action is well written and and the plot has some good twists that made me want to read the next book despite the women problem.

Ex-Heroes can be a lot of fun if you can look past the terrible treatment of women in the book. However, I would not be surprised if it was too much to move past for any individual reader. If you like superheroes and zombies and aren’t bothered by terrible female characters, you might enjoy Ex-Heroes, but if you are looking for something that empowered women in ways that aren’t sexual I would look elsewhere. I myself am going to check out the sequel in the hopes that Clines addresses the women issue so the series can really shine.

Rating: Ex-Heroes – 6.0/10

Duskfall – Neither Night Nor Day

duskfallAfter a stint of science fiction, I decided it was time to dive back into some good old sword and sorcery fantasy. Thankfully, there is a recent release that promised all the swords and magic that I could hope for: Duskfall, by Christopher Husberg. A party fantasy (or a fantasy that follows a party of characters), the book tells the story of a group of POV’s as they all journey across the land seeking answers to different questions.

The group is comprised of an amnesiac, a psychic addict, a priest, a prophet, a vampire, an elf, and a warrior. While it sounds like the start of a bad fantasy bar joke, the group’s eclectic make up actually was one of the biggest selling points of the book for me. However, one negative issue that runs parallel to this book strength is that the group only comes together about a third of the way into the book. Duskfall begins with the various characters all dealing with separate personal problems in their own corners of the world. Each of the main cast discovers that the answer to their problems lies in the same general direction as one another and they slowly group up and go on an adventure.  The characters are quite enjoyable, despite two of them possessing character attributes that I personally can’t stand (addiction and amnesia). Their personalities vary enough to make group interaction and dialogue lively and fun, and the amnesiac and addict were refreshing enough that I enjoyed their POVs despite my initial misgivings.

The world of Duskfall is an interesting one, with well developed factions, cities, and cultures that made the worldbuilding feel fleshed out. The magic system of the world revolves around psychics who come in the three traditional flavors, telekinetics, telepaths, and clairvoyants – though Husberg adds enough spice to make it his own. The majority of the plot rests on the back of our amnesiac, Knot, and his quest to discover who he was. Near the beginning of the book he discovers he has many skills he doesn’t know about, some of which revolve around being good at killing people. His journey of self discovery is the keystone from which the other characters stories are built, and I was actually impressed with the reveal of his past. There are enough twists in the book to keep you on your toes, but not so many that they seem outlandish.

The book’s issues actually come from two primary areas for me. First, while I enjoyed the city and culture world building a lot, there seemed to be a surprising amount of information missing from certain elements of the plot. I had a lot of trouble understanding the happenings of a few of the later events in the book. While I got the sense that Husberg was trying to create an air of mystery, it ended up confusing me. Second, I sometimes found the prose to be a bit halting, with shorter sentences taking me out of the action with an overuse of punctuation.

Despite my complaints, Duskfall was still an enjoyable read. For me it landed squarely in the middle of the pack of this years releases – neither bad nor mind blowing. I think I will check out the sequel when it is eventually released, but it will not be the top of my list. If you enjoy party fantasies, and are partial to any of the character types I listed before, you might want to check out Duskfall.

Rating: Duskfall – 7.0/10

The Dispossessed – Capital L Literature

51ob3ljckjl-_sx300_bo1204203200_In October my book club wrapped up its final month of our 2016 schedule with The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. When the book was originally suggested for the roster, I had no idea what it was, but I had heard only the best things about Ursula K. Le Guin and decided to look into it. The praise I found for this classic science fiction novel was astounding, and it rapidly became one of my front runners in our convoluted voting system for book club books. After winning its way onto the schedule, and having to wait an entire year to read it with the group, I got to read one of the best examples in my memory that some science fiction can be considered Literature.

First, a quick rundown of what the book is for those who don’t know, its basically a huge metaphor for the US and Russia during the cold war. The story follows a brilliant physicist called Shevek during two parts of his life simultaneously, past and present. Shevek lives in a solar system with two inhabited planets, each refusing to communicate with one another. The first planet is Urras, a capitalist planet with multiple states that is an allegory for the US. The second, a communist moon called Anarres that is Russia. Shevek grows up on Anarres and finds the communist mentality stifling, so he decides to break a 100 year cold war/embargo and go to Urras to pursue his science. Shevek’s past timeline chronicles his time on Anarres and his present timeline follows his story on Urras. Both timelines alternate chapters and chronicles his experience with both societies.

The Dispossessed had a feast or famine effect on our book club. People essentially fell into two groups, those who devoured it and could not stop talking about it and those who could not finish the first chapter. Let’s talk about the second group first; the book is dense and requires work. This is not a beach read and requires a lot of work, or active reading, to be done by the reader as they go through the story. Its heavy use of metaphor and minimal concern for captivating plot means it is not really a fun book. It feels more like reading a philosophical dissertation/history book on the cold war than a fictional story. However, for the first aforementioned book club group, it was an intense and one of a kind reading experience.

I myself fell into the first group, and cannot recommend this work of art more. While Le Guin definitely favors one world over another, she only reveals which near the end, and colors it as her opinion more than a fact. All throughout the rest of the book it feels like she fairly breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of both societies while also delving into them and providing insights about their workings that I have never heard before. I am a staunch capitalist in real life, but I found myself considering if there was merit to communism and raptly listening to Le Guin as she showed me other things I should consider about the human condition. Regardless of your stance on either form of government, I think you will find that Le Guin’s points are well thought out, complex, and well argued. The writing is also gorgeous, with elegant prose that does not waste a word. Le Guin manages to somehow be eloquent and minimalist simultaneously in her writing, and I really enjoy her style. The book sparked up an enormous amount of discussion with those who completed it, and it generated what was probably the most rich and expansive conversation we have ever had in our book club. We spent an hour talking about the first chapter alone, and those that read it are still talking about it a week later.

To me, The Dispossessed is a work of art that everyone should try to read. You might really, really not like it, but if you don’t hate it you will love it. I understand now why this book is considered one of the best science fiction novels written, and I believe it firmly demonstrates that science fiction novels can be more than just fun. And on a topical note, if you are feeling burnt out by democracy and capitalism this week (as I know many of us are), why not pick it up and learn some of the merits and weaknesses of good old communism.

Rating: The Dispossessed – 10/10

Reading for Love – Kavalierly

A guest post by Quill To Live editor Sean Burns:

We all have that person in our lives. A family member, a good friend, a co-worker, or a significant other. One who loves reading and can’t wait to recommend another one of their favorites to you, and that’s great! You smile as you accept the book, but somehow it comes out looking like a bit of a grimace. You bring the book home and decide to bite the bullet immediately, well maybe not immediately, maybe after opening up a craft brew or some wine, anything to help you relax a little bit. You read the back cover to make sure you know what you are in for, then you take a big gulp of your drink of choice, and you crack the cover. Then, just as you suspected, just as you feared, the book is terrible. Empty. Flavorless. Your loved one has recommended another dud.

I guess I am taking a leap here, I don’t know if everyone has someone like this in their life. Maybe all you get is recommendations like The Greatcoats, Lightbringer, or Malazan. If so, you are one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with relatively few people who have managed to consistently maintain a stellar recommendation list for me (*ahem*the-owner-of-this-blog*ahem*), but I have had close friends and significant others recommend me some of their #favorites to which I sigh internally, grimace, and prepare for the dark work of appeasing them.This post is an ode to the many times I have endured suffering for a loved one, specifically when my most recent girlfriend recommended the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, and I hope you enjoy the telling of my journey.

51o-jqnlkil-_sy344_bo1204203200_My girlfriend had just finished The First Law Trilogy on my recommendation, and wanted to return the favor (perhaps sadistically so?). So she walked over to her bookshelf and reverently drew forth a large red paperback and handed it to me. A Pulitzer Winner, and the premise was intriguing, something about superheroes, young misfits, and comic books. Needless to say, it was enough to pique my interest. My to-read list has never been short, but when your significant other gives you a book with special meaning to them, it gets a free pass to the top. So I brought Kavalier and Clay home with me, and started the book. I read before bed, which usually leads to a tiring morning because I am up too late turning the pages of my latest paper-based love, but let me tell you this, I was as rested as I’ve ever been the first week I tried to get through this book. There were some great, young misfits named Kavalier and Clay with some character driven moments that countered the droop in my eyes, but then I would turn the page and there would be two full pages of description about a partially run down building in New York that served only as a monument to the author’s descriptive ability. And then it would happen again. And again. And then all of a sudden I would wake up with the sun shining through my windows, and the book lying on the floor, where it had fallen from my limp grip after sleep claimed me.

So I quietly hid the book under the rest of my to-read pile, and got back to books that filled me with wonder and joy, all the while making vague obfuscations to my girlfriend about my progress in her beloved book. The guilt of not finishing it began to build up, and soon she and I were headed out on a weekend camping trip. I decided to take a drastic step. I brought no reading material with me EXCEPT for Kavalier and Clay. Gods help me. It had been long enough that I began again from the beginning, and I quickly learned to skip the excessive descriptives. In doing so I began to see some extremely well-written and realistic characters. There are great moments of darkness, light, and the shades in between during the story of two kids becoming friends and eventual business partners. There is a great dichotomy of the successful Kavalier and the failure Clay that brings about questions of friendship. But soon the weight of the prose, and a too slow buildup of the actual story continued to tear at what little interest I had managed to garner.

I tried to hold on to my goal of finishing this book for the sake of love, this book that I would normally have never looked at again after my first attempt. However, after reaching nearly the halfway point I must have let slip one too many sighs into the tent, as my girlfriend looked upon my brow, sweated with the effort of ploughing through the book, and asked if I wanted to stop. I shamefacedly admitted I did, but luckily she cared enough for me to take the book from my hands, set it down, and suggest we go out of our tent on an Amazing Adventure of our own.

All in all, I think it’s wonderful to get book recommendations from loved ones, even if you do have to struggle through them on occasion. The great thing about loved ones is that you can (usually) be honest with them, and they won’t love you one iota less. The same goes for giving recommendations. If your loved one hates City of Stairs, well, surely they have some other redeeming qualities, right? I sure hope they do.

Rating for Kavalier and Clay: Did Not Finish (DNF) ~50% (but 100% love)

The Drenai Saga – Part 4/4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Drenai part four, the Drenale. We have come to the end of our journey, and what a journey it has been. The final two Drenai books are a duology about a new character, Skilgannon the Damned. Skilgannon is Gemmell’s take on a hero tormented by his past, and a wrap up character to tie off the entirety of the series. So let’s talk about the final two books of the series: White Wolf and The Swords of Night and Day.

n48612Book 10 – White Wolf The story of Skilgannon begins with him abandoning his people and becoming a rogue warrior. Haunted by his choices as the preeminent general of a warrior queen, Skilgannon decides to leave everything behind and search for inner peace in the world. Skilgannon is less than successful in his search for tranquility, and is soon thrust back into the center of happenings. He eventually meets up with Druss, and they team up to go on a quest.

The story has many strengths, but one of my favorites is how Gemmell depicts Skilgannon’s childhood. On top of being compelling and heartwarming, Gemmell continues to hammer home the concepts of acceptance and love for all people regardless of who they are or where they come from. In addition, I found Skilgannon to be a refreshing take on the tormented hero front. He feels crippling regret for his past actions, and but he does not wallow in it. It is very easy to see how that regret profoundly changes and shapes Skilgannon, but Gemmell never falls into the trap of making him whine about what he did every two seconds. Skilgannon remains a deeper character than just his remorse, and it makes him one of the best tormented heroes I have read.

Rating: White Wolf – 9.0/10

07fc35a0637c9d0a2d7695b745034994Book 11 – The Swords of Night and Day The final book of Drenai is very different than the other 10. This is both the final book chronologically and in publishing order, taking place over a thousand years later than the other novels. Swords follows a magically resurrected Skilgannon, brought back from the dead to fight a rising menace in the future. The magics, and the magic users, from the earlier books have gotten more and more degenerate over the years until they threaten to engulf the world. As a last ditch effort, a small group of mages attempt to resurrect heroes from past ages to see if they can provide solutions to stopping the magic.

The Swords of Light and Day serves three major purposes in the Drenai saga, the first of which is to give a satisfying end to Skilgannon’s story. Tormented for his sins from White Wolf, Skilgannon has been burning in purgatory and seeking redemption. Swords gives Skilgannon a great ending and cements him in my mind as one of the best characters to come out of the saga. The second purpose is to bring together many different plot lines and characters throughout the entire saga. Much of Drenai consists of independent characters from different ages, and Swords brings many of them together for one last party. The final, and likely most important, purpose of Swords is to reaffirm the cyclical nature of history that Gemmell has been preaching since Legend. The final book of the series shows that nothing really ever changes and there will always be shitty tyrants who will try to selfishly rule the world. However, the book also drives home that for every dictator that tries to rule the world, there will always be a hero who stands in their way – no matter how feeble it may seem. Those heroes will keep standing up for what’s right and striving to make the world a better place regardless of the odds, and that through the act of standing up they make a difference. This message is the crux of the Drenai story, and it is one I can get behind with all my heart.

Rating: The Swords of Night and Day – 9.0/10

Reading the Drenai Saga is an incredible experience that I think every fantasy fan should go through. Gemmell is an exemplar of character building, heroic storytelling, and powerful sub-themes that I think every author could earn from. The man wrote the most compelling prologues I have ever read, sucking me into each book by page four every time. Despite each of the books following similar plot structure, having a chaotic timeline, and introducing a new cast every few books, I never got tired of them or felt fatigued by the story. It is easy to see how Gemmell has shaped the current fantasy landscape, as hundreds of authors try to emulate his exciting, touching, and deep characters. My favorite book ended up being the one I thought I would like least, The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, but I enjoyed every single book in the saga more than most of the other things I have read this year. There are hundreds of quotes from the series now embedded in my memory, and I want to sell this series to every person I meet. If you have not had a chance to read Drenai, I highly recommend you do and find out why a generation of authors turn to it for inspiration.

An Interview With The Queen of Blood Author – Sarah Beth Durst

I got the chance to meet Sarah Beth Durst at the Brooklyn Book Festival earlier this year where she was doing a panel with Robert  Jackson Bennett and N. K. Jemisin. After reading her fantastic new YA book (review here), The Queen of Blood, Sarah was kind enough to field some of my many questions about her writing process for the book and the future of the story. The transcript is below, enjoy:


I loved your decision to both give women something special, and keep men equally important in your story. What was your thought process when handling gender differences?

Creating a world is all about making decisions. You choose the fabric of your society. More than that, you choose the threads that comprise the fabric — the threads that determine the color and strength of the weave. One of the earliest decisions I made for the world of Renthia — one of the threads that I chose — was to make men and women equal. It was a very deliberate choice. I wanted to create a kind of utopia… if you ignore all the bloodthirsty nature spirits who want to kill everyone.

The Queen of Blood focuses on the importance of hard work in a word full of the naturally talented, what influenced you to make your protagonist a hard worker instead of inherently gifted?

I didn’t want to write a Chosen One story. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love Chosen One stories. I’ve seen every episode of Buffy, read Harry Potter at least five times, and am still waiting for Merriman Lyon to show up and tell me I’m one of the Old Ones. But for THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I wanted to write about the one who isn’t picked to save the world, the one who isn’t qualified to be a hero, the mediocre student who has to work hard to even be on the same playing field as her peers. Daleina lacks the innate skill and talent necessary to be a queen, but she is determined to protect her family and save her world.

I wanted to write a story about someone whose true magic is her determination.

What is your favorite kind of spirit and why?

Overlooking the fact that they would want me dead… I like the air spirits. Daleina flies on the back of one that looks like an oversize ermine with bat wings (think Falcor but more vicious), and I loved writing those scenes. Granted, I would almost certainly be sick if I were flying on one — I can’t even handle roller coasters — but I enjoy imagining it sans the nausea.

I loved seeing tree villages of the protagonists homeland, but will we get the chance to explore the other countries in your world and do they differ significantly in how they live with the spirits?

Yes!  We’ll definitely see some other lands in future books (especially book three).

The relationship between spirits and humans is the same across Renthia: the spirits want to kill the humans, and the humans don’t want to die. But there’s variation in what type of spirit is dominant in each country. Aratay is filled with mostly tree spirits, who have created massive forests of trees the size of skyscrapers. To the north, Semo has a lot of earth spirits so it’s a land with sky-piercingly huge mountains. In the east, Elhim is dominated by enormous glaciers. And so forth. Renthia is a world of extreme natural beauty, thanks to the spirits.

Were there any books you drew from as inspiration when writing The Queen of Blood? In particular when crafting your magical school?

One of the coolest things about writing fantasy is that you can build on all the literature that has come before. You can take the tropes (such as the Chosen One or the magic school) and really play with reader expectation by either using or subverting those traditions. So while I didn’t craft my world based on any other book in particular, I did shape it with the knowledge of Hogwarts and Pern and Narnia and Tortall and Valdemar and other worlds.

I think all books are written in conversation with all other books. So I’d have to say my inspiration was everything I’ve ever read.

Did you intentionally make friendship a key theme of the book and if so why?

Nope. That arose naturally. I knew from the beginning that Daleina (the idealistic student) and Ven (the banished warrior) would have a student-mentor kind of friendship, rather than a romantic relationship, and I knew that Daleina would have classmates, but I never specifically sat down and said, “Let’s write about friendship.” It evolved on its own. I think it’s important to leave enough space in the creative process for that to happen.

Do you read fantasy and Science Fiction yourself and what are some of your favorite books?

It’s pretty much all I read. I know, I know, it would be good for me to read more broadly, but I love fantasy and science fiction so much! As it is, my to-read stack is so tall that if it fell, it could crush a small mammal.

Some of my favorites are Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Martian by Andy Weir, The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson, and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.

What are you hoping to bring to the book in the sequel? How will it expand on the story so far?

Book two, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, adds a new point-of-view character, Naelin, a middle-age woman with immense power who doesn’t want to use it because she’s afraid that if she does, she’ll die, and she doesn’t want to leave her children motherless. At their heart, these books are about power: who has it, who wants it, what you do with it, and what it does to you.