Fantasy - Tor/Forge Blog

Map-i-matical Considerations from R.R. Virdi

Is it really a Big Epic Fantasy Book if there’s no map to be seen? R.R. Virdi, author of The First Binding—Now available in paperback!—says NO WAY! Check out his thoughts on maps in fantasy books, PLUS an exclusive first look at the map you’ll find inside of The First Binding, right here.

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By R.R. Virdi

Fantasy reader, or writer, you’ve probably formed an opinion on maps in novels at one point or another. You expect them as normal, especially if you’re a reader from the 90’s. You’ve opened up the Wheel of Time books and have the image of Two Rivers burned into your mind. Maybe you’ve memorized all of Randland. Maybe you’re a collector who has a book full of folding maps of Westeros and all the other lands in A Song of Fire and Ice.

I know I do.

You can’t have an epic traveling fantasy (especially a Silk Road inspired one) without a map that lives up to all of that. The lands, the fantastical, and of course, the epic part. We lovers of fantasy want to see mountain ranges and vasty plains inhabited by strange and wonderful things. We want the sense of wonder that comes with seeing rolling seas in storms and maybe monsters in their depths. I always have, and growing up as a child of two worlds (South Asian heritage, and American birth), I’ve been fascinated by travel and the layout of the world.

Of worlds. Real or otherwise.

So of course I leapt at the chance to have my own map represented and brought to life by the amazing Priscilla Spencer (who’s done work for the talented line up: Seanan Mcguire, Jim Butcher, and more). It’s a childhood dream, and more than that, this is a traveling fantasy series. One full of secrets, including some hidden in places you might not think to look. Or, maybe you would.

Like a map.

Priscilla and I got to talking over the crudely shaped map I’d first made to roughly place the lands I needed where they would be. We dove into the geography, cultures, and trade routes I’d established for my Golden Road, and then slowly, it all began to come to life. Her attention to detail and understanding just how many layers and secrets exist in this series and world shone through in the development.

People who’ve already read the ARCs might find pleasant little secrets hidden within this map, if they have the eye and patience to give it that look. But some of the things I can share?

Priscilla dove into the history of existing maps/records from travelers along the Silk Road of old. Design styles, and storytelling techniques used in maps (and yes, maps are stories of a sort as well. The stories of where we’ve been, would like to go, and what we imagine a place to be).  They all bled into the final creation. Every detail in this map speaks to something – nothing is fruitless or wasteful design.

This is a map that shows the roads all manner of people travel, and along those roads, heroes, monsters, and the ones between. Stories, legends, lies, and truths. And sometimes they are all one and the same.

Her creation lives up to all the depth this world and story offers, and all the size and scope of the plot, and Ari’s travels, as well as his legends.

Or lies.

She gave the Mutri Empire the nod to India I wanted, and made it the heart of my world, as well as the map. There are images and nods to things all hidden throughout the first book, and all the ones to come. Something that will make this map rewarding to look at as you continue to read and hopefully, if you so choose, decide to reference this throughout your travels along the Golden Road.


A map isn’t just a map. It’s a key, a guide, and a story.

And all of those are secrets, show the way to secrets, and in fact, open secrets.

R.R. Virdi is a two-time Dragon Award finalist and a Nebula Award finalist. He is the author of two urban fantasy series, The Grave Report, and The Books of Winter. He was born and raised in Northern Virginia and is a first generation Indian-American with all the baggage that comes with. Should the writing gig not work out, he aims to follow his backup plan and become a dancing shark for a Katy Perry music video. 

Order The First Binding in Paperback Here:

The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

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Which Dysfunctional Fantasy Crew Should You Join?

by a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat & a cat

Rolling with a fantasy crew is no dream! Surprisingly, conflict management is actually not made easier with magic and swords.

Find out which dysfunctional fantasy crew you ride with by taking this quiz!

And while you’ve got books on the brain, the Moonfall Series by James Rollins is pretty cool. You should read it.

Order The Cradle of Ice Here:

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The Music Behind Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Image Place holder  of - 14Do you have a playlist you listen to for writing inspiration? TJ Klune, author of New York Times bestseller Under the Whispering Door, joins us to discuss the musical inspiration behind the book and the role music plays in his writing. Check it out here and don’t forget to snag Under the Whispering Door, now available in paperback!

By TJ Klune

Music has always played a big role in my writing.

This, of course, comes with a caveat. Because I’m weird like that.

You see, when I’m actually writing, I listen to NPR. Yeah, I know how that sounds, but there is something comforting about the low murmur of voices in the background while I’m typing away.

And when I’m editing, I listen to Christmas music. Not necessarily because I have a great love for it (which I do—I’m of the firm belief that there is nothing wrong with putting up Christmas decorations in September), but because of another reason. When I was editing my first book before publication back in 2010, it was around the holidays and all I listened to was old-fashioned Christmas music, particularly the ones recorded in the 1950s-60s. When that first book came out, it sold pretty well, so I decided the music played a role in that (just go with it—superstitions can be dumb like that). So when I edit any book—no matter what time of year it is—I listen to Christmas music.

But when I’m writing the first draft, deep in the story, I tend to curate playlists for the book that remind me of the story. I listen to those playlists constantly when I’m not writing, something that keeps me focused on the world I’m creating. Most of the time, these soundtracks are just for me, something I put together without necessarily thinking about sharing it. I have shared some before for different books, selecting a few out of dozens and dozens that I think really fit with the heart of the novel.

The same is true for Under the Whispering Door, my upcoming novel about ghosts in a teashop. At its heart, Under the Whispering Door is a story about the tremendous power of grief, about looking back on a life through the lens of death, and realizing the opportunities wasted, the chances missed. It’s about trying to become a better person, and giving your all without the expectation of anything in return. It’s about hope and tea and finding a place in the world, even when your heart no longer beats.

The following playlist took me a long time to make, given I needed to pick out these ten songs from a list of hundreds. But these songs are the best representation of the novel and give you a good idea of the journey to come. Please support the artists by streaming their music or purchasing the songs and/or album. Each song I’ve listed is one I’ve bought because creators deserve to be compensated for their hard work. I’ve also included a lyric or two that I feel speaks to me about my ghosts. I hope your ghosts enjoy them too.

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The Show Must Go On by Queen

Does anybody know what we are living for?
I guess I’m learning
I must be warmer now
I’ll soon be turning, round the corner now
Outside the dawn is breaking
But inside in the dark I’m aching to be free

Stabat Mater by Windborne

Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius

(Translation: At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last

Linger Longer by Cosmo Sheldrake

Distant thoughts become cluttered mind
What is a drop in the ocean?
Far and few, but long behind
We’re spun by the heavenly motion

Impossible is Possible by Black Violin

There’s a moment when you understand
You don’t gotta follow all their plans
It’s time to open up your hands
Don’t leave it up to chance
We can do anything

In Your Likeness by Woodkid

I know
I’m not made in your likeness
You’re not made for my darkness
I know
I’m not made in your likeness
I do try, but I’m hopeless

State Lines by Novo Amour

I’ve been awake in every state line
Dyin’ to make it last us a lifetime
Tryin’ to shake that it’s all on an incline
Find me a way, I’ll be yours in a landslide

Stand By Me (cover) by Florence + the Machine

If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Go Wherever You Wanna Go by Patty Griffin

You can get up on some sunny day and run
Run a hundred miles just for fun now
Heartaches and yesterdays don’t weigh a ton now
You can get up on some sunny day and run

The Parting Glass by Hozier

But since it fell into my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

Burning Fire by Camino

I long for the day when I see your face
I know, we’re on a road to a better place
I hope the one I love waits for me
‘Cause I know you will find me

Home by Edith Whiskers

Oh, home, let me come home
Home is whenever I’m with you
Oh, home, let me come home

TJ KLUNE is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Under the Whispering Door, The House in the Cerulean SeaThe Extraordinaries, and more. Being queer himself, Klune believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive queer representation in stories.

Order Under the Whispering Door Here:

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The Future is Fantasy: 5 Great Fantasies Set in the Future

The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsImagine a fantasy world set in the distant future, where wizards sail the stars in magically engineered spaceships, or the ruler of an ancient empire waking up from a thousand year slumber to a world run by A.I and nanotechnology? Last year, we dug into five SFF titles that skillfully blend the futurist and the fantastical, and now we’re bringing that list back in celebration of The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins, the continuation of his epic Moonfall series. 

A fellowship was formed to defend the world from lunar apocalypse. Armies wage brutal war around them as they run hunted from hostile forces that would disband them bloodily to prevent what their quest might unleash…

By Kaleb Russell

The Starless CrownImage Placeholder of - 62 by James Rollins

It’s the start of the Moonfall series, now in paperback! A departure from his thriller works, James Rollins treats fantasy readers to an adventure of epic proportions as a band of four outcasts embark on a journey to uncover an ancient secret that can save the world from a prophesied apocalypse. With flying ships and prophetic gods, The Starless Crown makes for a valued addition to the futuristic fantasy subgenre.

Image Place holder  of - 65Shadow & Claw: The First Half of  ‘Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is a Herculean figure in the world of SFF—his Book of the New Sun series a staple of the genre. Set in a distant future composed of aliens the size of mountains and strange sorceries, we follow the life of Severian, the apprentice torturer, as he wanders through the strange corners of one of SFF’s most iconic worlds.

Placeholder of  -36Black Sun Rising by C. S. Friedman

Originally published in 1991, Black Sun Rising tells the story of sorcerers from Earth who travel to the planet Erna to settle their new colony. Upon their arrival, they come into contact with the fae who have inhabited the planet for generations. Friedman transports us into a world of darkness that will surely have readers chomping at the bits for more books of its ilk. 

Place holder  of - 5Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

This book needs no introduction. In the follow up to the earth-shattering Gideon the Ninth, Muir delivers another mad cap science-fantasy epic including, but not limited to, woefully depressed necromancers, the malignant ghost of a murdered planet, and a labyrinthine narrative that will leave your head spinning.

Poster Placeholder of - 33The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain

In this raunchy and wildly inventive novella, we meet djinn King Melek Ahmar awakened after a millennia long slumber hungry for conquest. With his unshakeable hubris, he sets out to conquer the city state of Kathmandu, ruled by a tyrannical AI known as Karma. Melek Ahmar finds an unlikely ally in the old knife wielding Gurkha soldier, Gurung.  Together, the two vagabonds uncover a deeply hidden secret that, if brought to light, can reshape the city as we know it. This is an absurdly entertaining novella set in a post climate change future made inhabitable by nanotechnology. Despite the dystopian setting, there is ample levity, cheer, and inventiveness to keep any reader engaged.

What is your favorite futuristic fantasy? Let us know in the comments! 


Our Favorites Foods in Fantasy

Do you know what’s cooking in fantasy? A whole array of treats, teas, and other delicacies are brewing in some of our favorite fantasies featuring food. Check out the list below!

Legends & Lattes by Travis BaldreeCinnamon rolls from Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Come take a load off at Viv’s cafe, the first & only coffee shop in Thune. Grand opening! In this novel of high fantasy and low stakes, Viv, the orc barbarian, cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score and plans to open the first coffee shop the city of Thune has ever seen. And with that coffee shop comes a decadent menu of caffeinated beverages and sweet treats, including the most decadent giant cinnamon rolls we’ve ever seen.

Donuts from Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiLight From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Looking for a sweet treat to help start your day? Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki is all of this and more! A defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts, the only thing sweeter than this story are the donuts that bring our favorite characters together.

Tea and scones from Under the Whispering Door by TJ KluneUnder the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing. The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through. In this hilarious and haunting book from the New York Times bestselling author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, love and family are found over a cozy cup of tea and a hearty plate of scones.

The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanBooks from The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Can we snack on some delicious books? Alas, no, but that doesn’t mean we can’t devour The Book Eaters and appreciate the flavors author Sunyi Dean conveys in the book snacking. To The Family, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries. What kind of books would you want to devour?

Image Placeholder of - 43Party snacks from The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. And what comes with parties but some of our favorite snacks, and maybe a glass of champagne or two.


Our Five Favorite Comfort Fantasies Reads

By Kaleb Russell

We love a good sprawling fantasy epic as much as the next person–those stories are loads of fun, and bring intensity, drama, and Big Feelings to our hearts. BUT, some days it’s nice to crack open a book that makes you feel as though you’ve been wrapped in the warmest blanket, one to turn to for pure, wholesome escapism when the weight of the world weighs heavy on your shoulders. Here are 5 fantasy books to seek out for a warm reprieve.

Place holder  of - 48Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

A famed war hero does the unthinkable after decades of raising hell on the battlefield: opens the first and only cafe in the great city of Thune. Legends And Lattes is a special kind of epic fantasy novel. This is a fantasy novel about what happens after all that cataclysmic business is done and over with. A heartening read about pursuing your dreams and finding a new way to be…maybe a new way to love, too.

Image Place holder  of - 64A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Two men from opposite worlds must set aside their differences to uncover a magical conspiracy in an alternate version of Edwardian England. A fascinating blend of Red White & Royal Blue and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, fans of “enemies-to-lovers” will surely enjoy this quiet, tender romance.

Poster Placeholder of - 51Weave A Circle Round by Kari Maaren

A fantastical romp for the ages! Come check out the book publishers weekly regards as “offensible Odyssey through the past and future”. Read about the mind-bending journey of a tired high school girl and her pair of wacky neighbours as they travel through space and time.

Placeholder of  -84A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Follow Lady Trent as she recounts her journey to becoming a peerless accredited dragon naturalist in this book written in the style of a memoir. Part travelogue, part romance, part cozy mystery. This book has it all, along with some gorgeous illustrations of dragons.

Image Placeholder of - 62The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus Baker is a Case Worker for the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth, responsible for inspecting government sanctioned orphanages for magical children to ensure the children’s “safety” and that they don’t enter the eyes of the general public. One day, he’s given an assignment by Extremely Upper Management to observe six children who may or may not bring about the end of the world–one of which just so happens to be the Antichrist– as well as their charismatic caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, who will do whatever it takes to keep his children safe. The House In The Cerulean Sea is well regarded by many as a relentless delight sure to brighten any reader’s day. Featuring a tender romance between two caring men from two different worlds, this is a heartwarming story about finding love and family in the midst of hard times and insidious Injustice.


Excerpt: You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

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Place holder  of - 29You Let Me In delivers a stunning tale from debut author Camilla Bruce, combining the sinister domestic atmosphere of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects with the otherwordly thrills of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she?

After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy—everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far).

Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body—just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript.

Then again, there are enough bodies in her past—her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother.

Cassandra Tipp will tell you a story—but it will come with a terrible price. What really happened, out there in the woods—and who has Cassie been protecting all along? Read on, if you dare…

Please enjoy this excerpt of You Let Me In, available 04/21/20. 


I have sometimes been asked why I remained in S— after the trial. After the man you knew as Tommy Tipp died. It would have been so easy then, to slip away and move somewhere else, to a town or a city where people didn’t know me. A clean slate was what Dr. Martin prescribed.

A fresh start.

Of course, I didn’t particularly like staying in S—. All the eyes staring when I walked down the street or bought ground beef and carrots at the grocery store. My name had been on everyone’s lips for months, my face gracing the front pages. If they didn’t know me before, they certainly did by then. But I had reasons, as you’ll come to understand.

And things weren’t quite as they seemed. Tommy Tipp was not what you think he was.

I know you liked him, he was always good to you children. I remember him taking Janus fishing and spinning with Penelope on the lawn. You picked him flowers once, do you remember, Penelope, those daisies and bluebells you gave him? Even your mother warmed to him, eventually. Told me how happy she was that I had finally found “an ounce of happiness,” that I was “settling down”—even with Tommy Tipp.

They were mystified, I think, Olivia and her friends, and Mother too, as to why Tommy Tipp chose me. He was dashingly handsome in a dangerous way with a shock of blond hair and very blue eyes, body lean and skin tanned. He was the man all the women in S— dreamed of at night while lying in their husbands’ arms. He was at the center of that guilty, sweet lust they could not curb, no matter how respectable, how well adjusted and successful, they were. Tommy Tipp could ignite a fire in virgins and widows alike. Married women were his specialty; they cost him very little both in effort and in risk. Before he met me, he made a business of it, sleeping around for gifts and favors. He was a champion of secret daytime trysts, every one of the women thinking herself the only one. We all knew he had been to prison, of course, that his past was littered with battery and theft. S— is a small town. But who doesn’t love a redeemed villain, an angel with the alluring taint of sin? I never was so blind, never wanted him for being dangerous; I already had a dangerous lover—already knew the taste of sin. No wonder the ladies were cross, though, when his gorgeous body was found in the woods.

But I’m moving too fast, we’re not there yet. A lot of things happened before that.

One thing you must know: I was never a good girl.

Never like your mother, all compliant and soft. She reveled in praise, that one, twinkled like a star when someone told her she did well. I was the awkward older sister, ungainly and thin where she was soft and round. Olivia’s hair shone like polished copper, mine was wavy and brown. Her skin was like milk, mine marred by freckles, but a sprinkle of pigments makes no bad girl, of course, it runs deeper than that, runs in the blood. Some of us are just born wrong.

Your mother would have told you we were never close. How we were never the same, she and I. Especially after the rumors and, of course, after the trial, she was eager to forsake me.

I remember it differently, though. I remember summer vacations spent at the seaside, small golden anchors pinned to our chests. I remember looking through the glass-like water in shallow ponds, teasing crabs, collecting seashells. I remember sand between our toes, sweet ice cream melting on our tongues. I remember cake on the porch, fat pieces of fruit embedded like jewels in the sponge. The setting sun before us bleeding a golden light that turned her hair into a coppery river, turned her milky skin a darker, softer shade.

I remember the dolls we got one Christmas morning; pale skinned and black of hair. The home we made for them under the dining room table; white walls of tablecloth, eggcups as goblets and silken pillows as thrones. Medieval princesses both. We picked roses in the garden and adorned their hair, wrought thorny stems as crowns, and had our brother, Ferdinand, serenade them with his recorder, which he played with zeal if not delight.

I remember laughing together, like sisters. I remember that, and more.

Olivia would tell you it never happened. Maybe she’s forgotten that it did.

Copyright © Camilla Bruce 2020

Pre-Order Your Copy

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A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

A Fond Farewell—Series We’re Saying Goodbye to in 2020

Everything ends eventually, and that is (sadly) true for several Tor series in 2020. This year marks the conclusion of some of our flagship sagas, as well as one epic fantasy that we’re releasing in a four-month sprint (bingebingebinge)! So, if you want to make sure you’re all caught up, here’s a list of everything ending in 2020. But don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of new and ongoing series to take you well into 2020—and beyond!

Image Placeholder of - 3Heart of Black Ice– The Nicci Chronicles –Terry Goodkind 

Taken captive by their enemies, King Grieve, Lila, and Bannon are about to discover the terrifying force that threatens to bring destruction to the Old World. The Norukai, barbarian raiders and slavers, have been gathering an immense fleet among the inhospitably rocky islands that make up their home and are poised to launch their final and most deadly war.



Place holder  of - 72Song of the Risen God– The Coven Series – R.A. Salvatore 

The once forgotten Xoconai empire has declared war upon the humans west of the mountains, and only a small band of heroes stand in the way of the God Emperor’s grasp of power. But not all hope is lost. Far away, an ancient tomb is uncovered with the power to stop the onslaught of coming empire and, possibly, reshape the very world itself.



Image Place holder  of - 13Servant of the Crown– Dragonslayer Trilogy – Duncan M. Hamilton 

A swordsman and a dragon make an unlikely pair as they team up to defeat the Prince Bishop. This trilogy started just a year ago, so if you haven’t gotten hooked yet, now is the time to dive in. Come for the swordplay and magic, stay for the compelling characters searching for meaning in their lives.

ON SALE: 03/10/2020


Poster Placeholder of - 41The Poet King– The Harp and Ring Sequence – Ilana C. Myer 

The nation of Tamryllin has a new ruler, who proclaims himself the first Poet King despite not all in court supporting the regime change. Meanwhile, a civil war rages in a distant land, and former Court Poet Lin Amaristoth gathers allies old and new to return to Tamryllin in time to stop the coronation.

ON SALE: 03/24/2020


Placeholder of  -68Last Emperox – The Interdependency – John Scalzi 

The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from her enemies, but “control” is a slippery thing, and the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020


Queen – The Sibyl’s War Series  Timothy Zahn

Nicole Hammond was just trying to survive on the streets of Philadelphia, then she and her partner Bungie were abducted by a race of mysterious moth-like aliens and taken to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.

ON SALE: 04/14/2020



The Cerulean Queen– The Nine Realms Series – Sarah Kozloff 

 The series that starts AND ends in 2020! Perfect for binging, this is an epic fantasy that’s part kick-ass Disney princess and part Game of Thrones. The exiled Princess Cerulia of Weirandale was raised in obscurity. She has no resources, no army, nothing that can help her against her enemies—except their gods.

ON SALE: 04/21/2020


Critical Point – The Cas Russell Series – S.L. Huang 

When a demolitions expert targets math-genius mercenary Cas Russell and her friends, the hidden conspiracy behind her past starts to reappear. The past, present, and future collide in a race to save one of her dearest friends.

ON SALE: 04/28/2020



 The Shadow Commission – The Dark Arts Trilogy – David Mack

In The Shadow Commission we jump forward almost another decade from the events in the previous Dark Arts novel, The Iron Codex. Now it’s November 1963, and Cade and Anja have been living in hiding, training new mages. But when President Kennedy is assassinated, a series of murders whose victims are all magicians forces Cade and Anja to learn how to fight back against the sinister cabal known as the Shadow Commission.

ON SALE: 06/9/2020


The Unconquered City – Chronicles of Ghadid – K.A. Doore 

Seven years after the Siege — a time when the hungry dead had risen — elite assassin Illi Basbowen must find the source of the monstrous guul that travel across the dunes. How much can she sacrifice to protect everything she knows from devastation?

ON SALE: 06/16/2020



In the Kingdom of All Tomorrows – Eirlandia – Stephen R. Lawhead 

Conor mac Ardan is now clan chief of the Darini. Tara’s Hill has become a haven and refuge for all those who were made homeless by the barbarian Scálda. But when a large fleet of the Scalda’s Black Ships arrives, Conor must join Eirlandia’s lords to defeat the monsters. And so begins a final battle to win the soul of a nation.

ON SALE: 07/14/2020


The Last Uncharted Sky – The Risen Kingdoms Series – Curtis Craddock 

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste, but the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition. Meanwhile, a royal conspiracy threatens to undo the entire realm.

ON SALE: 08/11/2020


Breath by Breath – Step by Step Series – Morgan Llywelyn 

The residents of Sycamore River emerge from nuclear war caused by the Change and its effects on technology. As they try to rebuild their shattered lives, they discover the Change continues and that for some, the air has become lethally toxic.

ON SALE: 08/25/2020


The Hellion – Malus Domestica 
S.A. Hunt 

Robin Martine has destroyed witches all across the country, and now makes her way to the deserts of rural Texas where a dangerous gang leader wields an iron fist over his wife and daughter. Robin vows to protect these Latina women from harm, but may be underestimating how powerful Santiago Valenzuela is… and how his shapeshifting powers may pose a threat to everyone Robin holds dear.

ON SALE: 09/15/2020


Never Out of Date: The Past as Fantasy, and Our Fantasies of the Past

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In honor of the upcoming release of Amnesty, the third book in the Amberlough Dossier series by Lara Elena Donnelly, we’re revisiting her guest blog post about how the past influenced the writing of AmberloughAmnesty is on sale April 16.

Written by Lara Elena Donnelly

Victorians, Edwardians, the Great War, the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, the Greatest Generation… The past is always a time when Men were Men, a time when Good fought Evil and triumphed, a time when glamor was more glamorous. Just look at all those Greats: things were real back then, were bigger, better, nobler, more.

The reality, of course, is much more ambiguous. Masculinity takes many forms. Good and Evil are two ends of a spectrum with a lot of gray in between. It’s sometimes hard to tell, from where you stand, where on the spectrum you’ve planted your feet. Nostalgia can lend glamor to banality and even ugliness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the tropes and trappings of vintage-inspired media lately, thanks to the impending release of my debut novel Amberlough: a vintage-glam spy thriller that draws heavily on the culture and climate of Berlin in the early thirties, with some interbellum England and a little bit of Fitzgerald’s Paris and New York City thrown in.

Though there is no magic, though there are no dragons or witches or spells, Amberlough is a fantasy novel; it takes place in an invented world. A world I invented because, like many people, I am in love with elements of the past. But I’m also troubled by the way we talk about it and portray it in media. So I made my novel a playground where I could put characters in impeccable evening dress without rules for who wears a gown and who wears tails. Where the color of a character’s skin doesn’t imply the conclusions we might jump to, because this history is not ours.

Which isn’t to say Amberlough City doesn’t have problems. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have rules. But because those rules are different, when someone breaks them, the transgression doesn’t carry the baggage of our real-world expectations. Because the rules are different, they require detail and elaboration in the text.

Often, period fiction fails when creators replace this complexity with nostalgia and stereotypes. Robert Zemeckis’ recent film Allied is an example: the characters are largely empty shells acting per the dictates of a “World War II Romantic Thriller”: earnest good ol’ boy fights Nazis, gets girl, loses girl, defeats Nazis. No surprises, no suspense, no moral ambiguity. Nothing to inspire emotional investment. Contrast this with the reality of Lily Sergeyev, who almost changed the course of World War II because the SOE lost her beloved dog at the border. I first read about her in Ben MacIntyre’s Doublecross, and spent most of the book as desperate as Lily herself to know: what had happened to Babs? Would she betray the D-Day plans to Germany to avenge the loss of her dog? This woman was willing to sacrifice the free world for a tiny terrier mix. If you’ve ever loved a dog, the story strikes an uncomfortable chord. What might you do, in her situation?

Some fans had negative reactions to Agent Carter’s portrayal of Peggy’s struggle against sexism in the SSR, because in Captain America: The First Avenger we had already seen that her male colleagues respected and admired her. Falling back on simple sexism as a conflict—get the coffee, Agent Carter, stand back and let men do the real work—felt lazy and insulting. Yes, there was sexism during the Cold War, but there were also women doing vitally important, difficult work, and men who trusted them to do it. John Glenn wanted a black female mathematician—Katherine Johnson—to double check the calculations for his orbital trajectory, because he believed that if the computer had made an error, she would catch it. “Get the girl to check it,” he said. Though racism and sexism are inherent in his choice of words, Glenn followed it up with “If she says the numbers are good, I am ready to go.” If prejudice and trust can coexist in life, they can in fiction too.

Downton Abbey, soaked in nostalgia for the peerage, is full of examples of this kind of stereotype-driven storytelling, but perhaps the most egregious is Thomas Barrow. He is presented as conniving, greedy, and cruel, with the implication that he became these things to survive as a gay man in Edwardian England. A conniving, greedy, cruel, gay footman could be a fascinating character if the story gave compelling reasons for his cruelty other than “it’s hard to be gay in 1914.” But here Downton lets us down.

In these properties, we are meant to understand the characters’ motivations and challenges solely through popular assumptions about their era. The past was a “time of absolutes.” The past was a time that valued a very specific type of masculinity. The past was sexist, racist, homophobic. Press too hard on the why of any narrative decision, and the glittering façade cracks: there is no reason beyond “that’s just how it was, right?”

Some modern narratives rely on tropes rather than constructing complex characters from whole cloth, but I think we forgive it more in period pieces, because we’re told that’s how it used to be, back when. We let an aesthetic stand in for an ethos. This substitution isn’t just lazy; it can be dangerous. When we simplify the past, we erase individual experiences, contradictions, and complexity. People have always been people, no matter the decade or the social construct in which they move. We have always been apt to color outside the lines. No constructed paragon of any era will ever be as fascinating as a flawed, enthusiastic, infuriating human being.

I hope Amberlough avoids the pitfalls of readers’ preconceived notions about how we structure period narratives. The vintage glamour sets the mood, and alludes to very real time of sex, strife, and cynicism, but I hope the characters carry the plot and the emotional arcs, rather than relying on hackneyed anachronistic shorthand. I hope it tells a twisted, tangled, human story, dressed up in lipstick and evening clothes and free from expectation.

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Follow Lara Elena Donnelly on Twitter, on Facebook, and on her website.


Of Sex and Crocodiles

Image Place holder  of - 6Written by Brian Staveley

I can never quite decide if chocolatiers are visionaries or pranksters. A glance over some of the new flavors—hand-wrapped in birch bark, one bar roughly the same price as a thoroughbred horse—makes the mind spin: Hemlock and Blood, Tears and Wisteria, Lemongrass and Cod. I used to think this was all an elaborate hoax, that a cabal of malevolent chocolatiers was hidden away somewhere, cackling over the limitlessness of human folly.

Then I tried the blue cheese and dark chocolate confection from our local crafters of artisanal chocolate. Here’s the thing: I don’t even like blue cheese. Adding blue cheese to perfectly delicious dark chocolate struck me as heresy. Extremely delicious heresy, as it turns out. The unfortunate upshot is that I now spend my royalty checks on obscure flavors of chocolate instead of things like gas, or clothes for my son. The happier result is that I’ve been thinking a lot about the beauty of improbable mash-ups.

Musicians have been hip to this for ages, of course. Witness such unlikely couplings as Nelly and The BeeGees, The Eurythmics and the White Stripes, or one my personal favorites, Taylor Swift with Nine Inch Nails. My wife thinks mash-ups like these were devised in hell, but I could listen to them all day long. In fact, my writing of this piece was badly delayed by a careful review of a few dozen of my favorite mash-ups.

When I sat down to dream up my latest book, Skullsworn, I was torn between a few different ideas. I wanted to write a political thriller about an occupied city on the verge of revolution. But I also wanted to try my hand at romance, preferably romantic comedy. And then, I was quite keen to tell a story about some mysterious killers hiding in the wilds, slaughtering all who dared intrude on their domain. They seemed like three different books, but then I thought of the blue cheese and dark chocolate, I thought of Taylor Swift and Trent Reznor, and I thought, “The hell with it.”

So I wrote a novel that’s one part Predator, one part When Harry Met Sally, and one part Michael Collins. Also, I wanted a lot of music. Did I mention the main character is an assassin?

I had some apprehensions about this at first. I worried that the jokes would play poorly against the serious political backdrop, that all the knives and buckets of blood might dampen the romance. As Pyrre, the protagonist, observes at one point, “Artistic depictions of love tend to focus on softer subjects: lush lips, rumpled beds, the curve of a naked hip. Fewer crocodiles, certainly. Far less screaming.”

A funny thing happened, however, as I started writing. When juxtaposed, the various elements became more interesting to me, more complex. Love is always complicated, but it’s even more complicated when there’s a war brewing; the sex scenes aren’t just sex scenes, and every physical act is also a statement of religious conscience or political principle. Jokes take on a new significance when everyone joking is about to die. And monsters (human or otherwise) start to look different in the presence of so much joy and delight.

It’s not for me to judge whether it all works or not, but I loved writing this book. And now, at the very least, I hope the chocolatiers might now let me in to some of their secret meetings.

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Follow Brian Staveley on Twitter, on Facebook, and on his website.

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