Interesting Times


The experience of the past month has placed me in a position of being able to offer a piece of advice. It is extremely specific, but in the off chance it's ever relevant to anyone reading this, I'd like to share what I've learned:

For the love of God, never buy a house in the middle of a presidential election.

That's not to say we didn't get a nice house - we ended up with a beautiful place at a good price. However, watching your country flush its future down the toilet really takes the wind out of your sails when you're trying to move. The past few weeks have been among the most exhausting of my life, and we still have to unpack.

As if that's not enough, Christmas is upon us once more, which means it's time to dust off our annual holiday blog and start pumping cheer into our bodies. We briefly considered taking a year off, but... Mainlining Christmas is tradition now. Besides, if we quit the stop-motion villains win. So head on over for an near-endless string of reviews, articles, and perhaps a couple holiday stories.

Now if you'll excuse me, I still have several pieces of IKEA furniture to reassemble before I binge watch seven seasons' worth of Christmas episodes.

Now Available: A Unique Sickness of Spirit


Book 3 of The Citadel of the Last Gathering is now available in paperback and for your Kindle!

A Unique Sickness of Spirit finds Alaji and Phaesha in an era of sprawling cities, horrific apparitions, and flying ships. They discover a place where the undead have become mundane, and once commonplace magic is the stuff of legend.

The world has been waiting for them for thousands of years... but it's no more prepared for their arrival than they are for what they find.

You can buy a Kindle edition here for just $2.99. Print copies are available for $9.99 here.

If you haven't read the first two installments, pick them up first - I'll even make it easy. From now through the end of this weekend, the Kindle version of A Count of Five is FREE, and A Tide of Ice is just $0.99!

Overview of The Citadel of the Last Gathering


With the third novel about to come out, I thought I should throw together some sort of explanation for what this series is and why you might want to read it. I figured an FAQ would be more fun to read and write than a rant, so I went with that.


What are these books?
The Citadel of the Last Gathering is a series of novels I've been working on for several years and plan to stay with for quite a few more. I've written the first six, though the last two are only first drafts so far. I'm not 100% sure how many there are going to be in total, but my best estimate is between nine and twelve. I know how the series ends, but I'm not certain how many twists in the proverbial road it'll take to get there.


What's the genre?
Well, that gets complicated. First and foremost, these are fantasy, but that could mean a lot of things. In this case, it actually does mean a lot of different things: because the books incorporate time travel, the sub-genres change from novel to novel. The first book is essentially ancient world, the second is sword and sorcery, the third is an amalgamation of Victorian fantasy, steampunk, and some related genres... you get the idea.

If you're inferring elements of SF from the presence of time travel, you're on the right track. While the mechanism is magical in nature, I'm not treating it as a throwaway concept. I've put some effort into crafting the rules of time travel and taking it seriously. In quite a few ways, I'm treating this as a science fiction story occurring in a fantasy setting, rather than a fantasy story with a couple SF tropes.


Oh, you mean this is really happening on Earth
No! I promise, the last book won't end with them going back in time and destroying magic or something. This isn't occurring on Earth - it's a fantasy world.


What's the world called?
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed I haven't named the planet... and there's a reason for that. With very few exceptions, I hate it when SF and fantasy authors create cutesy names for their worlds. While I appreciate it from a branding perspective, it just doesn't make sense.

Historically, people on Earth have typically assumed their world is the only one and just named it accordingly. That's why our planet is still called a synonym for dirt. I'd expect cultures of a fictitious world to act similarly.

I considered having a few cultures do something like this early on in the series, but I decided too many people would assume that just meant it took place on our Earth, which... see the last question.


Is it YA?
Kind of. The main character is sixteen in the first novel, which - by many definitions - makes it a YA series. On top of that, the content tends to lean towards a PG-13 level.

That said, she's going to grow older. The content may get a little darker at times, but not exceedingly so. Also, a lot of YA books follow a pretty standard formula. It should be pretty obvious from the first book this is does not.


Who's the main character?
Alaji, a young woman from the distant past, who finds herself on an adventure spanning countless eons. Along with the spells known to her people, she has developed the ability to skip back in time a few seconds, a simple-sounding effect which makes her a lethal foe.

She is an outsider everywhere she goes, both in appearance and customs. As she travels, she will need to determine her place in a vastly complex world.

Other major characters will come and go - some may even overshadow Alaji as the primary lead for a book or two - but the series will tell her story. She'll also be the only character to appear in every novel.


How about romance? Is there a love interest?
There will be some romance eventually, but not for quite a while. It'll be a factor in the later books, but it's never going to be the primary point of this series.

I like a good love story as much as the next person, but I'm a little tired of a couple meeting and discovering they're soulmates. That can be a fine premise, but it's been done to death.


Will I like these books?
I hope so! Most reviews I've gotten have been very positive. The few tepid exceptions generally cite time travel as the element the reader disliked.

I don't think genre fans familiar with the trope will have an issue, but if you've never encountered a time travel story you enjoyed, this probably won't break the pattern. I don't think I've made the books too complicated, but I do assume readers will be familiar with the concept of time travel and will be willing to explore some unusual spins on the idea.


Why should I read them?
The settings are dynamic, shifting from book to book, as the world is transformed by geological changes, a shifting climate, evolution, and catastrophic magical events... not to mention Alaji's actions, which will leave a lasting mark on humanity, the world, and history.

It's fantasy at a very large scale, filtered through Alaji's changing perspective of the world she's altering. All of that on top of the action, comedy, and suspense you'd want from a genre series - these books are both philosophical and fun to read.

It's by far the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken, and I'm extremely proud of how the books are coming together. I hope you'll give them a shot.


Where can I get them?
Amazon. I publish the paperbacks through Createspace, Amazon's print-on-demand service. The digital versions are only offered through Amazon, as well, formatted for Kindle:

Book 1: A Count of Five
Book 2: A Tide of Ice
Book 3: A Unique Sickness of Spirit

If you're a fan of a different e-reader format, I apologize. I used to offer other books on other platforms, but the sales never justified the effort. When Amazon started offering promotional options in exchange for exclusive access, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to reach a larger audience.

Sneak Preview: A Unique Sickness of Spirit

A Unique Sickness of Spirit, Book 3 of The Citadel of the Last Gathering, will be available for the Kindle on October 6th. You can pre-order now and get it delivered to your device the moment it's out.

Here's a short passage to hold you over until then:


*

Eventually, the path came to the remains of a stone bridge, which reached only a third of the way across a chasm several hundred feet wide. Alaji approached to examine the stonework.

"Careful,” Yemerik said. “I’m not sure that’s sturdy.”

“I won’t go far,” Alaji promised, taking a few steps onto the structure. Vines hung from the edges, and moss grew everywhere. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s a bridge,” Phaesha said dismissively. “Or it was one.”

“They had ones like this in Hathari, but they were smaller. The stones were less… smooth.” Alaji said, kneeling down to run her fingers over the rocky floor. She rose and returned to the others, who were peering into the ravine. “I’m sorry. It’s still new to me.”

“It’s a good sign. Even in this state, it means the area is important enough to warrant attention. There are likely other roads nearby. We just have to get across. Fortunately, the slope looks gentle enough. We’ll have to be careful, but I think we’ll make it down alright.”

“I can barely see the bottom,” Phaesha replied. “I’d expect you’d want to wait for morning.”

“I didn’t like the look of those tracks,” Yemerik explained. “I’d rather not wait around for whatever made them to find us.”

“You’re assuming it’s not waiting for us down there,” Phaesha said.

“Well, I don’t have a better idea.” He turned to the others in case they did, but he was only met with blank faces. “I’ll go first then.” He lowered himself over the edge and slid down in as controlled a manner as possible, knocking several rocks loose as he did so. “I’m alright!” he called up, once he’d reached the bottom. “The smell is awful, but other than that it looks fine.” He stood up and began brushing the dust from his back. Behind him, he heard the sound of stones shifting. He stepped forward to give Alaji or Phaesha room.

“Yemerik! Look out!” Alaji screamed.

He turned to see something emerging from beneath the ruined bridge, crawling from a hidden cavern cutting into the hill. He could tell it was large – at least twice as tall as he was – but beyond that, it was a dark shape shifting in shadows.

Yemerik started away across the bottom of the ravine. Then, ahead of him, he saw a large rock lift up as something pushed it out of the way from underneath. He turned back. The thing coming from the bridge was joined by another, slightly smaller but still more than eight feet tall. Now that they were in the open, he caught a bit more detail in the moonlight: long slender limbs attached to fat, round bodies.

With a quick incantation, Phaesha hurled a blast of fire at the two by the bridge. They shrieked and covered their faces, though they’d barely been touched by the flames. In that instant, the light revealed green flesh spotted in warts. Alaji stepped into the chasm and began sliding down. One of the creatures heard her and turned.

Alaji jumped as she slid and stepped back in time mid-leap. Once again, the creature’s back was turned to her. She buried her knife into the pale green skin on its back. It cried out in rage and pain and whipped around, throwing her off to one side. Alaji struck the loose stone hill and skidded down to the bottom. The creature turned toward her, baring its teeth.

With a twist, Alaji arced her hand upward, trailing fire behind. Once again, the creatures shielded their eyes and leapt back with a cry.

Phaesha gave a shout and charged down the hill, kicking her legs forwards as broken slabs of rock slid under her. One of the creatures turned to meet her. It swung a clawed hand at her head, but she ducked beneath the attack and sliced into its side with her sword. The monster screeched in pain but gave no ground. Instead, it grabbed for her. Narrowly, she avoided its reach and stabbed into its elbow, catching it in the joint.

The creature growled, then lifted its arm, throwing her backward. It lunged after her, but was turned back by flame.

“They’re afraid of fire!” Alaji cried out, a moment after hurling the flame that pushed back the creature.

“Not fire!” Yemerik yelled, running towards the two women. “Light! They’re trolls! Afraid of light!” He almost reached them when a hand caught his ankle and pulled him off his feet.

Pre-Order A Unique Sickness of Spirit! Also, Other News!


The Kindle copy of A Unique Sickness of Spirit, the third novel in The Citadel of the Last Gathering, will be released on October 6 and is now available for pre-order. As usual, we're not 100% sure when the paperback copy will be finalized. It all comes down to how the cover and map look in print and whether adjustments are needed.

Also, the first novel in the series, A Count of Five, will be free if you pick it up on the 1st or 2nd of September. If you haven't already gotten a copy for your Kindle, do so then and save a few bucks!

In other news, I wrote a pair of reviews over at The Middle Room that you might be interested in. First, I saw Kubo and the Two Strings, a beautiful movie I wish had focused a little more on tone. Nonetheless, it's absolutely stunning, and you should check it out on the big screen before it's too late.

If you have Amazon Prime, you may have heard you can watch the pilot for the new live-action spin on The Tick. If possible, I'd suggest doing so before reading my review (or anyone else's for that matter). It's nothing like I expected, but it's one of the most intriguing starts to a superhero show I've ever seen.

And speaking of streaming TV shows, I wrote up a few thoughts on the use of holiday tropes in Stranger Things for Mainlining Christmas. Lindsay and I both enjoyed the show quite a bit, though we felt like it leaned a tad too heavily on its references. If it had worked in an element or two that felt wholly original or uniquely realized, I think we'd have loved it. As it was, we just really liked it.

Updated Cover for A Count of Five


We're still putting the finishing touches on the cover for A Unique Sickness of Spirit. In the meantime, I thought I'd share an updated cover image for the first book in the series, A Count of Five. This won't alter the print version, but new copies of the digital will now feature this image.

In other news, we saw Pete's Dragon last weekend. It was a decent movie, but Disney made a serious error in releasing it so soon after the far superior Jungle Book. It's impossible not to look at this and be underwhelmed - the genres are similar, but they're just not in the same league. You can check out my review of Pete's Dragon here, and - because I'll take any excuse I can think of to link to my review of The Jungle Book - you can read about one of the year's best movies here.

Medieval Pony Squad Weekend

Not a lot to update this week, but I've got a few things. Lindsay and I had a nice weekend: we swung by the Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake, WA. While we were there, we caught a couple fun acts and bought some costume pieces. It was nice, though a tad smaller than the ren faires we're used to. Growing up on the East Coast spoiled us, I guess.

Pivoting from a faire to Walmart, we came across these figurines. Friendship is Magic is one of many animated series we both enjoy, and these might be the nicest collectibles I've seen from the show, at least at this price point.


I threw together a very brief review with some additional pictures over here, if you're interested.

Shifting gears to movies, we caught Suicide Squad on Sunday. While I can definitely appreciate why the vast majority of critics tore it apart, I had a much more favorable reaction. The movie's got flaws - major structural ones, in fact - but unlike its dour predecessor in the DC Expanded Universe, this one was actually fun. If you want more details on that, check out my review at The Middle Room.