An Echo Of Things To Come – Time To Shine

32498052I have an interesting review for you today about a book (and series) that I am particularly attached to. Back in the blog’s first year I was testing out ideas for thought pieces to complement my reviews. One of the first ones I did was this piece on perception.  At the bottom of that piece I tell a story about how a free self-published book I got through Amazon Prime, The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, turned out to be one of the best books I read that year. I had initially dismissed the novel due to its cover and because I got it for free, but soon learned a lesson in the age old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Since then, Islington has gotten picked up by Orbit and his novel has been reprinted with one of my favorite covers ever. In addition, last week the much anticipated sequel, An Echo of Things to Come, finally hit the shelves and I am excited to say that this story is shaping up to be one of the best ‘farm boy with a destiny’ stories I have ever read.

Echo is the second book in the Licanius series, an epic fantasy centered around time travel and time magic. This was a bit of a red flag to me at first, as I have never been one who enjoys time travel or prophecy in my stories, but I was surprised to see Islington take these elements in a different direction than usual and I ended up really enjoying them. The plot of this series is astoundingly complicated and I am not going to pretend I can do it justice in this short review, but I will give the elevator pitch a shot. Essentially the Licanius series takes place in a magical world where a good god and an evil god went at it. The good one lost (and presumably died), but not before locking the bad one behind a giant magical barrier in the north of the world. Since then, humanity has tried to survive to the south with the traditional set-up of multiple countries that hate one another. In addition, the world has three distinct groups of magic users that have fallen in and out of favor over the age. The first and most common are the gifted, mages with the ability to alter the world around them – usually with some form of telekinesis. When our story begins in book one they are an oppressed and feared people due to their powers, but allowed to live with a brand that makes them unable to use their magic to harm others. Next we have the augers; these much rarer mages have various abilities to manipulate time and occasionally see into the future. The augurs, after ruling the world poorly in the wake of the evil god’s containment, have been hunted and killed wherever they are found due to their dangerous abilities. Finally we have the venerate, a small group of super augers who have ascended to deity like power and are essentially immortal. The books follow a group of individuals from a mix of these magical (and other non-magical) groups as they help the reader piece together the history of what happened in this world and how to stop the release of the evil god stuck behind the barrier.

I know that what I just said sounds fairly generic and vague, but the story isn’t and I have to be because part of the magic is just piecing together what is going on. Book one spends the majority of its time worldbuilding and introducing the cast. Islington did an incredible job investing me in his characters and showing me that his world was worth exploring. Book two however, is where the plot starts to really become clear. The Licanius series is all about time in many senses. While the magic of the world surrounds manipulating time’s flow, the themes that are explored by the cast also revolve around time. Some characters have lost their past and are working hard to discover who they are and what happened to them. Some characters are trapped in a terrible present that they want to escape, and are searching for anyway to rewrite the past or find a future with hope. And some characters have seen an echo of things to come and must prepare and plan to deal with what they know is inevitable. It is a beautifully crafted series with both a kick ass world on the surface and a lot of deeper themes hidden below. As a side note, I also want to give Islington a huge hug because he put a detailed book one synopsis, glossary, and index in Echo that made keeping things straight possible as the series can get really confusing.

While it might be unfair to both series, I can’t help but think that Licanius is shaping up to be a better version of The Wheel of Time. It has all the things that made that classic great; a diverse cast, a sweeping epic world, an unambiguous evil to fight against, and a protagonist rising from nothing to greatness. But it also shores up a lot of the issues I have with Wheel (such as its pacing issues); however, no book is perfect. One of the POV’s in the story is a man recovering his memories. His segments are often used to give you insight into the backstory and history of the world as the character and reader discover his past together. This can unfortunately result in some confusing sections as following conversations with people he used to know can be difficult. On the other hand, if you can put up with being a little in the dark you will eventually have enough puzzle pieces to understand who everyone is and what is happening – and the payoff is definitely worth it.

An Echo Of Things To Come is a wonderful book in a great series that I already want to reread. It manages to both be fun, emotional, and deep at the same time. The book is gigantic and holds my current record for the longest time to read this year – but I do not regret a moment of my time with it. If you like epic fantasy like The Wheel of Time, if you like time travel and oppressed magic users, or if you just like good books The Quill to Live recommends you pick up The Shadow of What Was Lost and An Echo Of Things To Come if you haven’t already.

Rating: An Echo Of Things – 9.0/10

Blackwing – Making A Mark

51mvvrp6kfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Today I have a review on one of 2017’s big debuts, Blackwing by Ed McDonald. This is the first book of the Raven’s Mark series and it has been getting a lot of praise, and a little disdain, from a good deal of people in the reviewing business. As such, I was very excited to sink my teeth in and form my own opinion. What I found was I agree with some points on both sides of the fence and that Blackwing is an exciting debut to a new series with a talented author, but it could use a little bit of polish.

The plot is a little complicated, so bare with me – I promise it is worth it. Blackwing is a harrowing grimdark novel that follows the story of Ryhalt Galharrow (get it because I said the book was harrowing earlier? Please don’t unsubscribe) as he makes his way in a dystopia torn by devastating war. In McDonald’s world two sets of god like beings, The Nameless and The Deep Kings, have been fighting each other for millennia. Ryhalt fights for the side of The Nameless, the mildly more sympathetic side who aren’t actively trying to kill every human – unlike The Deep Kings. However, though the Nameless are the only thing that keeps humanity from being destroyed by The Deep Kings, they certainly are not benevolent and kind rulers. The magics of both sides have warped and destroyed people and land alike. In particular, one of the Nameless set off a bomb to drive back a Deep King invasion that turned a huge portion of the continent into a wasteland called The Misery – killing a huge chunk of the population at the same time. While it is implied that there were once a large group of Nameless, at the start of our story there are only about four left. Ryhalt works for one in particular, Crowfoot, and is one of his Blackwings – apostles that feel something like park rangers that patrol the Misery against possible incursions. While the Misery is a hellscape one wouldn’t want to enter willingly, what actually keeps humanity safe from the Kings is a colossal weapon designed by another of the Nameless called ‘Nall’s Engine’ – basically the universe’s largest set of artillery cannons aimed at the Misery. Humanity must constantly gather magic and shove it into the engine to keep it primed, a task that leaves any who have the talent chained to the engine powering it until it cripples them. Our story begins with Ryhalt getting a message from Crowfoot that the engine might not be running quite as well as everyone expects, and to investigate.

I know that the plot seems like a convoluted mouthful, but McDonald has a real talent for worldbuilding. The world, culture, power structure, magic, and infrastructure of his setting are all extremely detailed and well fleshed out. Blackwing has a strong sense of identity that makes it feel like you are reading about a real functioning world – not a fantasy construct. It can feel messy, but messy by design not through lack of effort. Additionally, the magic of the book is both original and exciting to read. Humanity has sorcerers who gather light and turn it into energy. This is used both to power cities and Nall’s Engine, as well as in combat in a form of pyromancy. On The Deep King’s side, the minions we meet have a huge variety of powers straight out of a horror novel – most of which revolve around corrupting others. It makes for some edge of your seat action sequences that I really enjoyed.

On top of the world, McDonald has a great cast of interesting characters that I was very invested in. We meet members from all areas and walks of life that show us all the big and small jobs that keep humanity from succumbing to The Deep Kings. Speaking of which, The Nameless and Deep Kings had more depth than I was expecting and I really enjoyed learning more about them, in particular when a few get time in the spotlight. However, there is one exception to this praise about the cast, and it is really my one big issue with Blackwing – I really didn’t care about Ryhalt.

It isn’t as though I hated the protagonist, it is just that I really never felt attached to Ryhalt in any meaningful way. I believe a lot of that comes from the fact that he seemed to have little to no agency himself. A lot of our time with Ryhalt is spent watching other characters react to his personality, reputation, or rank as a Blackwing. In a large number of interactions between Ryhalt and his support cast involve them reacting to him being a Blackwing and whether or not they should respect him more. This lead to a lot of the supporting cast getting some deep characterization but leaving Ryhalt out in the cold a little bit. By the end of the book I was stuck with two conflicting feelings: the most important part of Ryhalt’s identity is that he is a Blackwing and that I cannot understand for the life of me the point or benefit to being one. It allows him access to insider information about The Nameless, gives him a rank above most soldiers (which in a military dictatorship is a pretty good perk), and helps him make the world a better place (sorta?) but I don’t really get why Ryhalt wants any of these things based on other aspects you learn about his personality. It was a speedbump on an otherwise fantastic novel, and I am hoping that Ryhalt’s character will see more development in the sequels.

With the exception of a slightly forgettable protagonist, Blackwing is an amazing debut that I greatly enjoyed. McDonald’s attention to detail and wild imagination has made a world and story worth reading about. It is definitely one of the more promising new series and I will be picking up the sequel as soon as it is available. The Quill to Live recommends Blackwing for anyone looking for a great dystopian fantasy/horror mashup.

Rating: Blackwing – 8.0/10

Spellslinger – Real Magic

spellslinger_frontalSeries transitions can be rough. This year Sebastien de Castell stuck the landing as he wrapped up his astounding Greatcoats quartet and sealed it as one of my favorite series. Simultaneously he has launched the first book in his second series, Spellslinger. It is always interesting to see the direction that authors go post-series completion. Some authors love to stick with that they know and make spin offs (which there is nothing wrong with). Others like to try something new and start from a blank slate. Spellslinger falls into the second category and I was curious to see if de Castell could recreate the magic of Traitor’s Blade or if it would fall flat. I am impressed to say that Sebastian did neither of those things; instead creating something with a different voice than his other work but just as wonderful.

The concept behind Spellslinger is one of my favorite in recent memory: a boy who is failing at being a mage instead becomes a magician. Our lead, Kellen, is a young mage who is currently trying to pass his mage trials to become a Jan’Tep. He has until his sixteenth birthday to complete a series of texts to be recognized as one of his tribe’s magic wielding upper class. If he fails to pass these texts before his rapidly approaching bday he will instead be relegated to the almost slavelike underclass of his tribe who are forced into servitude of the Jan’Tep. Kellen’s magic is pretty terrible, but he has a sharp wit and keen mind and supplements his weak spells with the skills of a traditional real world stage magician (sleight of hand, illusions, misdirection etc.). Using all these skills and his keen mind he might just be able to escape being forced into a life of servitude.

Spellslinger is a young adult book, but I think that the only place it is noticeable is the subject matter it focuses on: a young boy trying to pass tests and find his place in the world. Sebastien treats his readers as adults and I think this book will be loved by people of every age. As I mentioned before, when I went into Spellslinger I expected a similar narrative structure to The Greatcoats: funny and charismatic characters that run around solving all the world’s problems with their upstanding morals – but with magic this time. Instead Kellen is a more subdued character than de Castell’s others, but that is likely because he grows and changes as a person as the book progresses in a wonderful way. The book is still funny, fun, and an adventure to read, but Spellslinger places more emphasis on worldbuilding and the protagonist’s personal story than The Greatcoats did.

Speaking of which, the worldbuilding is incredible. Spellslinger is not a very long book but Sebastien establishes a deep and enrapturing world in an impressively short amount of time. In addition, the cast of characters in the book is great. The cast feels fresh and new, both from his other series and the genre as a whole. There is a sub-theme running through the book surrounding turning fantasy tropes on their head, and I love it. One example is that instead of getting a magical animal familiar like his fellow mages, Kellen gets a business partner. It adds absurdity and humor that I love to the story, and makes it one of the most memorable I have read in years. There are so many books out there about the ‘Chosen One’ rising up to save the world, that Kellen (who reads like budget Harry Potter, and I mean that with the highest level of praise, I promise) really stands out and instantly found a place in my heart. On top of all of this, the plot of the book is fantastic and had me on the edge of my seat from page one, and I read it in a single sitting. Much like the late and wonderful Terry Pratchett, de Castell is a masterful author who weaves deep and poetic ideas and points into his humor and this trend continues in this novel. His comments on family and friends hit hard for me and the book managed to make me both laugh out loud and cry within a few pages.

de Castell is one of the best authors of our generation and it is wonderful to see that his enormous talent is not restrained to a single series. Spellslinger is a tremendous success in its own right that I encourage you to pick up as soon as possible, but it also shows that de Castell will be an author I follow for the rest of his career. I ecstatically recommend Spellslinger to everyone and I eagerly await the sequel, Shadowblack, later this year,

Rating: Spellslinger – 9.5/10

Arcanum Unbounded – A Different Game

91dtll3xxtlI don’t talk a lot about Brandon Sanderson for two reasons. One, most people already know and read him. He is an extremely successful author, for good reason, and people don’t need me to help discover him. Two, I really, really like his work and I do my best not to review books I know I am going to unconstructively gush about. However, recently Sanderson has released a new book, Arcanum Unbounded, which I really enjoyed – but works as a great case study in why Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors: he is simply playing an entirely different game than anyone else out there.

What do I mean when I say he is playing a different game? To put it better, I think Sanderson has one of the most impressive writing styles I’ve seen. He sets different goals from many other traditional fantasy writers and has built a relationship with his readers beyond what other authors have achieved. See while most writers are focused on creating a successful book that people want to read, Sanderson’s focus is on telling stories- and while the difference might seem like pretentious pedantic line drawing to you, it makes a very big difference to me. Of course, Sanderson wants to have successful books as well, I am not trying to deify him as an altruistic writing god – but when you listen to how Brandon talks about making his stories you can tell that he just wants to bring you into his a world/universe. He is one of the most prolific writers on the scene today, consistently publishing 1-3 books a year (often giant in size). When I once asked him why/how he writes so much, he told me something that has stuck with me to this day: I have a lot of stories to tell you, a lot of worlds I want to show you. If I don’t keep churning them out and putting them on paper, I am going to die before I have a chance to take you to them all.

So what does this all have to do with Arcanum Unbounded? Well if you do not know, and it’s totally fine if you don’t, a large portion of Sanderson’s books all take place in the same universe. While all his stories are almost completely independent, he has had some minor crossovers throughout his books – for example a planet hopper who shows up in every book to give sage advice to protagonists. Sanderson has always stated that he wants his series to both have an independent identity (which he has succeeded at) and to eventually come together into a larger picture. Arcanum Unbounded is his first major step toward unifying all of his worlds and series. Arcanum is a collection of short stories both from worlds that Sanderson has already written about and those he plans to explore in the future. When I went into the book I was expecting some short pieces that were fun and well written and starting to give us a glance at Sanderson’s long term plan. This is exactly what I got, but the stories and the plan blew my expectations out of the water.

While the entire collection is characteristically great, The Emperor’s Soul is the standout story (and it won a Hugo for best short story). The collection is more beautiful and detailed than I expected. Sanderson’s plan and universe is bigger and better than I imagined. .He stretches my imagination further than he has before, employing art and a level of detail I didn’t think was possible in a book. Like a literary Matryoshka doll, there were layers upon layers of storytelling on both a micro and macroscopic level. As with everything he does, the scope that Arcanum reveals is astounding and if there is any writer I trust to deliver on big promises it is Brandon.

Normally when I read a book, I spend a lot of time making notes and recording my feelings and thoughts so I can write detailed and informed reviews after. While reading this book I had the rare experience of just being awestruck and losing myself in its pages. The first bits of Sanderson’s master plan defied my imagination and filled me with the kind of excitement you get from something you have never seen before or an idea you never considered. In one of the short stories in the collection, one character asks another if they are sure they want answers to the questions they ask – because once you get the answers, you will understand how small your current problems are and how big the universe’s problems can be. I agree with this statement completely, and due to it I do not recommend Arcanum until you have at a minimum read his Stormlight series, Mistborn series, Elantris, and Warbreaker. They are all amazing stories in their own right, so it won’t be so bad I promise. Once you do, I whole heartedly recommend you pick up this beautiful collection and start to find out what Sanderson has in store for us. The Arcanum Unbounded is designed as a piece for Sanderson readers who have read his greater catalogue and want to look behind the curtain in OZ; except instead of finding a frail old man at the controls, we truly find a wizard.

Rating: Arcanum Unbounded – 10/10

Sins Of Empire – Feels Like A Sequel

28811016We have something called the “20% rule” here at The Quill to Live. We believe that a sizable number of authors simply don’t know how to start a book. It is the single most common issue we find with novels; authors have great ideas and prose but just don’t know how to get the story moving from page one. This birthed the “20% rule”, we never give up on a book until we have read at least 20%, as many books take off after the initial build up. This rule sparks a lot of discussion with the team on what I would consider a GOOD introduction for a comparison point, and whenever I am asked this I always say “anything by Brian McClellen”. This long winded introduction is simply to bring up that Brian McClellen is one of the punchiest, exciting, and fun writers I have read – and his recently concluded Powder Mage Trilogy is a real bang (reviewed here). This year Brian has launched a brand new spin off series in a different part of the world, but it isn’t a sequel…

… or so he says but I am actually going to disagree. Brian if it look, talks, and feels like a sequel, it is probably a sequel. Brian’s first book in his new trilogy, Sins of Empire, is a new chapter on a new continent with a newish cast – but for those of you looking for more of the story from the first trilogy you will definitely get your fill. The first trilogy ends at the culmination of a major war that almost destroyed the country of Adro. Tired of a war that spanned multiple books, the side characters Vlora and Odem from the first trilogy decide to take a mercenary army and travel to the frontier of civilization to seek employment. Once there they quickly become embroiled in local politics and revealing anymore would be spoilery.

Sins of Empire is a really interesting book to review, because McClellen has both grown as an author tremendously – but also feels like he should get a little more out of his comfort zone. First the bad: the POV structure of Sins of Empire is identical to The Powder Mage Trilogy (three POVs – a general, a warrior, and a spy). I would have liked to see Brian mix up his cast a little more, but despite retreading old ground he has shown enormous improvement. Brian’s first trilogy had an incredible plot, but it showed clear signs of being made up as he went. The books had this lingering feeling that Brian thought of amazing plot elements he wanted to incorporate, but always thought of them a little too late. This resulted in some confusing pacing of the plot and a few aggressive advancements of character development to catch them up to the rest of the cast. Brian clearly learned a lot from this because Sins of Empire has none of these issues. The book has some of the best pacing I have ever read (and he still knows how to start a novel with a bang), and the intrigue surrounding what is going on almost resulted in me finishing the book in one sitting. Sins is one of the most exciting books I have read this year and the ending left me begging for more.

While I made negative comments about Brian not expanding the cast a bit, I actually love his new trio. Vlora, the adoptive daughter of Tamas from the first series, has been wonderfully fleshed out and is a joy to read about. Likewise, Michel and Styke both bring a lot of fresh perspective to their roles and it took me about 30 pages to get attached to all of them. The location for the book is a place previously talked about in the first trilogy. The world building in Sins does a great job both giving you more information on past books while also bringing an entire new location to life. The city of Landfall where most of the story takes place is a captivating place with a very cool culture. I was a big fan of the roses that demarcate rank in the government roles as well as Brian’s inventive ghettos in the Greenfire Depths. Sins is the perfect blend of old and new, quenching my thirst for more of the plot from books 1-3 and building an entirely new platform to launch a new story from.

Sins of Empire blew my expectations out of the water and I am so excited to see Brian fix issues I had with his first series. The Powder Mage Trilogy is one of my favorite series despite its narrative and pacing problems, but Sins is on an entirely different level. If you enjoyed his first trilogy, if you want to check out a great flintlock fantasy, if you just enjoy great books it would be an…empire-sized sin…for you to miss this new series from Brian McClellan.

Rating: Sins of Empire – 10/10

Grey Sister US Cover Reveal

Just a reminder that Red Sister exists and that you should go read it, and also a kick ass sequel cover.

that thorn guy

It is with great pride and near-giddy joy that I hereby reveal this stunning US cover from ACE and artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharmefor Mark Lawrence‘s upcoming book: Grey Sister

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In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and…

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Age Of Swords – Needs A Whetstone

18052164One of my favorite authors is Michael J. Sullivan. In one of my first ever posts on the site I described his work as “the comforting home cooked meal of fantasy” and I stand by that statement. I would not describe his work as boundary pushing, but his classical fantasy stories have always been something I look forward too as I never get tired of them. He currently is working on his third series set in the same world, set of five “Ages” that set up the world for his other books. You can find my review of the first book in the series, Age of Myth, here – but today I want to talk about book number two that just came out, Age of Swords. This review has mild spoilers for the first novel.

Age of Myth is set in a time in Sullivan’s world that is almost prehistoric, where humans have barely invented fire. The world he has created is dominated primarily by three races, humans, elves, and dwarfs. The first book shows that the power structure between these three is decidedly one sided: with humans at the bottom of the food chain worshiping the elves (and the dwarves somewhere in the middle after losing a war to the elves badly due to powerful magic). The aptly named Age of Myth sees a shift in this power structure as the humans stop revering the elves as gods, and instead see them as powerful oppressors that need to be thrown down with an Age of Swords. The story in book two is about answering the question: how do we beat a race of semi-immortals who have magic that can shatter mountains?

Age of Swords expands Sullivan’s series a lot from the first book in a variety of different ways. First, we are introduced to a large number of new characters and POVs that tell the story. While some of these new characters had minor appearances in the first book, they are much more fleshed out in Swords. Sullivan states in a foreword at the beginning of Swords that his cast for the series was simply too large to introduce in one book, and I find I agree with him. While I like almost all his characters, the cast is enormous and I found myself a little overwhelmed by it at some points. However, while it was a lot to take in at first I eventually found myself adjusting to, and appreciating, the number of characters.

On top of expanding the cast, Age of Swords does a fantastic job of fleshing out the world and culture of Sullivan’s world. In his previous novels and series, he focused heavily on humans and left the culture of the other races a bit to your imagination. In Swords we get to dive a little more into the elves, but more importantly into the story of the Dwarves. Something interesting about Sullivan’s writing is that what often feels like lazy copying on other authors, feels like intentional tribute with him. The plot lines around the Dwarves in Age of Swords surrounds them being ousted from their homeland by essentially a Balrog. While that sounds like he ripped of Tolkien, it feels like more of a reimagining of the classing LotR story that Sullivan has made his own. It was by far my favorite part of the story and it left me wondering why we don’t spend more time with dwarves in classic fantasy and why everyone is so obsessed with elves.

On the the other hand, while I had a lot of fun with Age of Swords, it definitely had some issues. The first and foremost is that while the book does a good job continuing to develop the plot, it definitely feels like a bridge book that just exists to set up the sequels. The actual movement of the plot in the story felt extremely small compared to Sullivan’s other work – and some of the character development felt forced. In addition to this, I did not enjoy one of the key plot devices of the book. Humans start the novel in the stone age, with nothing but basic tools and knowledge of various crafts. Age of Swords see humans go through a period of innovation where about three people invent about 100 things a piece that radically change the level of technology for humans. These things range from major inventions, such as the wheel and bow and arrow, to smaller things like belts and pockets. The innovation itself feels like it is a bit too much too quickly, and the discoveries that lead to the various inventions can often feel forced and repetitive. This becomes a serious issue for me because inventing these things felt like it took up almost a third of the page space.

In the end I enjoyed Age of Swords, though I think it is unfortunately Sullivan’s weakest book to date. This has not made me think any less of him as one of my favorite authors, and I am hoping that the hiccups that I experienced in this novel will only serve to expand the plot further in the sequels.

Rating: Age of Swords – 6.0/10

Soul Of The World – An Interview With David Mealing

51vgtpwurcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I have been really lucky recently, getting the chance to talk to multiple of this year’s debut authors. This week I got to talk with David Mealing about his massive new book, Soul of the World. It was a huge debut novel that impressed me with its numerous magic systems, giant scope, and interesting world: you can find the review here. Due to how big an undertaking the book seemed to be, I had a lot more questions about Mealing’s writing style compared to past interviews I have done, but there is still some great teasers for book two if you are looking for hints as to what is going to happen! Enjoy:

How would you elevator pitch Soul of the World? When I talk to other people and recommend it I find myself just gushing endlessly as I try to explain all the cool things in it. How would you sell it in one breath?

Fantasy is *so* hard to pitch. I’m terrible at it. That said, my go-to is: “French revolution with magic, set in an alternate-world colonial America. Think Marie Antoinette alongside a magic-infused Iroquois Confederacy.”

There’s a lot more going on in the book (and thank you for any gushing over it!), but I think that’s a fine starting point.

What is your writing process in general? What is the anchor or starting point for your story and how much of it do you map out in advance and how much is made up as you go?

I’m very strict on process. Three sessions per day, with a spreadsheet to track the output from each session against an overall daily/weekly/monthly goal. I’ve always found it hard to work for long periods on any given day – I need at least a few hours in between each writing session to let the scene and story arcs soak before I continue. Usually I’ll do 700-900 words right after I wake up, another 400-600 after lunch, then 500-1000 in the evening.

On the story side, I’m almost a pure discovery writer. I always know what to expect in the scene I’m writing now, the scene I’m writing next, and where the current ‘chunk’ fits in the overall arc of the book & series, but I’m also willing to let the story surprise me and take me in a different direction than I expected it to go. I’ve killed off characters and destroyed entire story arcs because an unexpected death fit the scene I was working on. And I’ve gone back and re-written 40,000+ word chunks because I had a better idea during editing. I find my discipline with daily output gives me the freedom to explore while also meeting deadlines – the best of both worlds, as it were.

Why so much magic? Did anyone tell you having so many magic systems was a bad idea? Did people think it was a good idea? Please tell me more about what your writing process for your magic was like.

Hah! Yes. This is one of the more common fights between me and my editor. Not that she doesn’t love the magic, she just wants to be sure I’ve fleshed each idea out enough and made it grokkable so it has the impact I want it to. (And incidentally, a light book 2 spoiler – let’s just say my editor and I have quite a bit more fighting to do about the number of new systems and powers introduced in the next volume in the trilogy!)

As for where the magic comes from – I write what fits the scene in my head. If it calls for a new magic system, I make one on the spot and polish it during revisions and editing. Very little to no planning beforehand; all the details, rules, powers, etc come about because a particular scene wants to showcase something new.

If you could only have one of your magic systems, which would it be?

No fair! I need them all to tell the story. And which one is my favorite depends on whichever scene I wrote last, most of the time. So right now, that would be a magic system you haven’t seen yet, from one of the epilogues in book 2… 🙂

All three magic systems were amazing, but I enjoyed Arak’Jur’s totem-esk magic the most. Do you have any magical beasts and powers that you rejected or removed from your novel because they didn’t work? If so, why?

Well thank you. I enjoyed writing those scenes immensely. Arak’Jur’s magic had almost no changes from the first draft, as far as how it worked mechanically. There was one power I gave him in an early scene that I cut and replaced with him using mareh’et instead, strictly to consolidate the number of powers and keep it grokkable. Otherwise it’s all as-originally-written.

One of the most interesting aspects of you magic was the effects of combining the various schools into new powers. Have you mapped out what all these combined effects will do already or are you playing it more by ear?

This was originally *much* more prevalent in the book, for Order magic (the leylines) especially. Originally every binding had different effects when paired with other bindings; at one point I’d mapped out a big matrix of combinations in a spreadsheet trying to keep them all straight. In the final draft though, we opted to streamline this and keep it much simpler – one of my editor’s better ideas, I think. She struggles to rein me in, and most of the time she succeeds, to the book’s benefit.

Where do we go next? The ending of your first novel was fantastic, but I don’t even know where we go next. What is the next stage/arc of your story (if you can share it)?

Again thank you! My goal for the series has always been to peel the onion one book at a time. In book one I introduce a core plot that’s mostly resolved by the end, with a metaplot revealed around the edges of the main story. Book two will fully reveal and resolve the metaplot from book one, but also reveal an even deeper layer, which will then be the focus of book three.

This was your first novel and a huge undertaking, What lessons have you learned from working on Soul of the World that you want to apply to writing book 2?

SOUL OF THE WORLD was my first attempt at writing creative fiction of any kind. I grew an enormous amount as a writer while writing & revising it – with full credit to my editor, my agent, the agency president, and all of my other advance readers (especially my wife!) for helping me get there. As a result, book two’s first draft was a much tighter manuscript than the first drafts of SOUL. I had to rewrite over a hundred thousand words of SOUL before it was ready to shop to potential agents; book two should hopefully see us spending more time on polish and less on fixing rookie mistakes. Otherwise, book two is already turned in and I’m currently waiting for first reactions from my editor. So let’s hope it goes smoothly from here!

In Soul of the World we saw that most of the action in the story is happening in the colonies, but that there is an entire second continent with it’s own countries and people. Since so much of your magic is tied to location, do you plan on visiting other lands in the story or focusing just on the current surroundings?

As the series progresses we’re going to travel a *lot*. Book two will take us west across the New World, across the sea to the Old World, even to undiscovered continents (plural!) that wouldn’t have appeared on any maps in book one. The story gets bigger in a hurry, though I still try to keep things focused on the characters as they respond to the challenges in front of them.

Are you a big reader of fantasy yourself? What are some of your favorite books? What is the last book that you read (of any genre) that you would recommend?

Very much so. Jacqueline Carey’s KUSHIEL’S DART is my favorite book of all time. I grew up devouring and re-devouring Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series whenever a new book came out. I adore Robert E. Howard’s CONAN stories and other classic swords & sorcery stuff like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. N.K. Jemisin continues to amaze me with everything she writes. Additional plugs for Brandon Sanderson, Pat Rothfuss, Juliet Marillier, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

The last book I read was READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline. I loved the audiobook so much I went and bought a physical copy to read too. Can’t recommend it enough, both the audio version and the printed edition. Some of the most compelling storytelling I’ve consumed in years.

What in Soul of the World are you most proud of? Which character, magic, part of the world, or element were you most excited to share with other people?

This answer could change on any given day, but today I’ll say Sarine and Zi. I’ve been the lonely kid watching the world from a distance, and I would have given anything for a magical companion to share it with. These days I have my amazing wife & daughters, but I hope Sarine and Zi’s story connects with people and inspires them to want to be as creative and fearless as she is.

Thank you David for talking with me, and I am super pumped for book two. If you haven’t checked out Soul of the World yet, I implore you to go give it a shot!