Justin Blazier (RETIRED)

JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff September 2009 – September 2012) Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on Tolkien. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. Justin lives in a small home near the river with his wife, their baby daughter, and Norman, a mildly smelly dog. He doesn't have much time for reviewing anymore, but he still shows up here occasionally to let us know how he feels about stuff.

Amazonia: A Haggardian adventure for the modern age

Amazonia by James Rollins (aka James Clemens)

A scientific expedition of thirty people enters the Amazon jungle and is never heard from again. One of the expedition’s members was Gerald Clark, a former special forces turned CIA agent after he lost an arm in combat. Four years after he disappeared with the expedition, Agent Clark stumbles into a remote mission — covered in markings, his tongue cut out — and then dies in a fit of convulsions. That’s not even the strangest part. When Agent Gerald Clark comes out of the jungle, he has two arms.

How’s that for a premise? If that’s not a spectacular story hook, then I don't know what would be. While not technically classified as fantasy, Amazonia does contain its fair share of monsters, magic, and lost worlds. It’s fantasy in nearly every way except marketing. Mos... Read More

The Broken Kingdoms: Adventure and tragedy

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The world has changed over the last several years and the opportunities that are now possible are too hard for Oree to resist, so she left home to seek a new life in Sky. Oree is an artist with a gift for seeing magic, but magic is the only thing she can see. She has set up shop in a promenade section of the great city and has created a pleasant life for herself there amongst friends and Godlings. Things start to get ugly, though, when Oree stumbles upon a dead Godling. The gods have become angry and the religious factions are looking for someone to blame. Oree’s unique abilities and proximity to the crime make her a prime suspect.

When I read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I was taken completely by surprise. It was one of those rare moments where I read a book I was confident I wouldn’t like, only to be left speechless at my misjudgment when I was done. I had tremen... Read More

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Different

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

CLASSIFICATION: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is epic fantasy that mixes together court intrigue, mythology, romantic/family drama, and celestial magics. It brought to mind everything from Jacqueline Carey, Lane Robins' Maledicte, and Marie Brennan’s Midnight Never Come to Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge / Lord Tophet, John Scalzi’s The God Engines, Read More

The Windup Girl: Mixed opinions

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My Body is Not My Own…

Having just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, I’m left rather bereft at how to describe, let alone review, The Windup Girl. I am not a big reader of science-fiction or dystopian thrillers, which means that no obvious comparisons come to mind, and the setting and tone of the novel are so unique (to me at least) that they almost defy description.

Set in a future Thailand where genetically engineered “megodonts” (elephants) provide manual labor and “cheshires” (cats) prowl the streets, the world’s population struggles against a bevy of diseases brought on by all the genetic tampering that’s been going on. Oil has long since run out, Chinese refugees flood the cities, the seas are rising, and power now lies in the hands of “calorie co... Read More

Kevin Hearne talks about IRON DRUID CHRONICLES and gives away four books!

Thanks to retired reviewer Justin Blazier who recently caught up with Kevin Hearne at his local bookstore. Kevin is celebrating the release of Staked, the next installment in his popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Leave a comment for a chance to win one of three paperback copies of Hounded, the first book of the series, or one hardcover copy of Staked. This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada... And here's Justin:Last week, Kevin Hearne, author of THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, was scheduled for a book signing in Crescent Springs, KY, which just happens to be about a mile from my house. I had just recently discovered Kevin’s work at that very book ... Read More

Blood of the Mantis: A slower, more thoughtful sequel

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Things begin to slow down some in Blood of the Mantis (2009). The third book in the SHADOWS OF THE APT series is the smallest, and yet took the longest for me to read. Adrian Tchaikovsky maintains the same level of writing established in the first two, but seems to be struggling a bit with middle-book syndrome. The events in book 3 are too important to completely leave out of the story, it’s too long to be split between other books, and feels a little wanting after the first two books’ onslaught of awesomeness.

Blood of the Mantis is not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just not as good as the first two. It had some seriously high standards to meet after Dragonfly Falling. Dragonfly Falling blew me away and is ... Read More

Dragonfly Falling: It’s weird, but it works

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Between introducing the uniquely imaginative concept of ‘Insect-kinden’ and showcasing a well-rounded display of characterization, world-building, story, pacing and prose, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Empire in Black and Gold was not only an impressive debut, it was also a memorable start to an exciting new fantasy series. A direct continuation of Empire in Black and Gold, Dragonfly Falling is basically more of the same, just on a larger and more entertaining scale.

Like Empire in Black and Gold, the highlight of Dragonfly Falling is once again the Insect-kinden who, with their diverse Arts and philosphies, continue to lend the saga a distinctive quality despite utilizing such familiar fantasy themes as war, slavery, conspiracy, racial/cult... Read More

Kitty Goes to Washington: A fun “popcorn novel”

Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Goes to Washington, by Carrie Vaughn, is the second book in the long-running Kitty Norville series. I enjoyed the first book, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, enough that I read the second at the first opportunity. Kitty Goes to Washington picks up immediately after the events of book 1, when Kitty gets a subpoena to appear before a congressional committee that is investigating a government program for paranormal research. Kitty has been called as an expert witness due to her semi-celebrity status as a radio DJ who claims to be a werewolf. The motives behind her being called in to testify before the committee seems suspicious, and much of the intrigue in the story is built around the committee and its... Read More

Empire in Black and Gold: Ought not to work

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

If all I had to go by was the cover art (Tor 2008 edition), the title of the book and the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t give Adrian Tchaikovsky’s debut a second glimpse. After all, the artwork fails to capture the eye, the book title is bland, and the summary makes the novel sound formulaic. I mean how many times have authors written about a powerful ‘Empire’ bent on conquering the world and the unlikely heroes determined to stop them? For that matter, how many novels feature youthful protagonists who become much more than they ever dreamed of, haunted forests, a spy who can steal peoples’ faces, rescuing characters from slavers, inciting a revolution and so on? These are all common fantasy conventions utilized by Adrian Tchaikovsky, not to mention the requisite world map, hefty page count, and inevitable sequels. Yet, Empire in Black and Gold is ... Read More

Kitty and the Midnight Hour: A Denver DJ with a little extra bite

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a radio DJ that hosts a late night talk show about various paranormal topics. She often gets strange calls from the very subjects she talks about. She usually ends up giving out advice to these callers since they have very few options for advice available to them. As a werewolf herself, Kitty is in a unique position to dispense helpful information to those that need it. Her show became popular and that did not sit too well with some key players in her life. Her own pack was made jealous of her success and that created tension in the ranks that she is forced to deal with. Not to mention the vampires, werewolf hunters, and other denizens of the night she has managed to irritate with her openness of sensitive topics. All of these things make Kitty Norville’s life complicated and scary.

I’m a big fan of the Mercedes Thompson series by Read More

Schemers: Stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals

Schemers by Robin D. Laws (editor)

Schemers is a collection of short stories by an excellent list of authors: Jesse Bullington, Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, Jonathan L. Howard, Nick Mamatas, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Tania Hershman, Kyla Lee Ward, Robyn Seale, Laura Lush, Molly Tanzer, John Helfers, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.  These are stories of complex plans and gut wrenching betrayals. It is a great theme for a collection of short stories.... Read More

Game Review: The Keeper’s and Investigator’s Guides for Achtung! Cthulhu

The Keeper’s and Investigator’s Guides for Achtung! Cthulhu by Modiphius Games

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a character in your favorite story? I think everyone has wondered this at some point. Using the imagination to transport you to a place that doesn’t exist in the real world is one of the fundamental reasons we read speculative fiction. It’s a chance to escape reality for awhile. You can take your imagination a step further by actually playing the role. I’m talking about Role Playing Games — games in which you become the character you’re reading about and partake in pseudo-imaginary adventures with your peers.

I was never into RPGs and wrote them off as mostly a past-time for the more “serious nerd.” I chose to occupy myself with way less nerdy endeavors like making Anime Music Videos or painting Steampunk robots. My introduction to RPGs really began at Gen Con. I started Read More

Justin reports on Gen Con 2013

Gen Con, which I attend nearly every year, is the largest RPG/Gaming convention in the world. For the last few years I have gone primarily as the eyes and ears of FantasyLiterature.com. The fantasy genre and game playing have been hand in hand since the 70's, and maybe even further back if you count the various forms of story-based play acting and parlor games that have been played over the centuries. Gen Con is the culmination of all things Fantasy and game related. There are bigger conventions out there, such as Dragon Con and Comic-Con, but neither of those is as singularly focused on one element of the genre.

My goal when attending Gen Con for FanLit is to capture some images of crazy costumes, find out about upcoming Fantasy games, and meet cool Fantasy enthusiasts. This year I was only able to at... Read More

Extinction Point: A zombie-free apocalypse

Extinction Point by Paul Antony Jones

Emily Baxter is a news reporter for a large paper in New York City. Emily loves being in the city, surrounded by people, and finds the hustle and bustle to be comforting. Then, one morning she is sitting in a cafe writing her next article when the red rain begins. Within a few hours, everything Emily loves about the city is gone. Everyone is dead, and not only is she now totally alone, but the Earth is changing. The plague brought on by the red rain is all-consuming. The book follows her escape from New York City and the terrors she encounters along the way.

I'm a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. One of the problems with this sub-genre is that it’s often hard to find a unique story. Apparently there are only so many ways to end the world. Lately zombies are the way to go, and frankly I’m pretty tired of them. Good news, everybody: Extinction Point is a zombie-free apocalypse. It’s ... Read More

The Folly of the World: Bullington’s best work to date

The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington

In a flooded 15th century Holland there are very few opportunities available. Jan may have an amazing opportunity at a life full of riches, but it's hidden somewhere at the bottom of a flooded town. To reach his greedy goal in the dark moldy depths, Jan enlists the help of a wild young girl with a knack for swimming. Add Jan's slightly psychotic but ever-faithful partner Sander to the mix and you have yourself a watery adventure with a cast to remember.

In both of his previous books, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death, Jesse Bullington went to great lengths to defy our expectations in every way. His characters were immoral, his language was foul, his violence was graphic, and his subject matter was often nauseating.

His fans will be pleased to know that The Folly of the World Read More

Jesse Bullington’s problematic protagonists

I'm briefly coming out of retirement today to introduce Jesse Bullington, one of my favorite "new" authors. I like  classic Fantasy, a lot. However, I like it more when a writer takes Fantasy to places where it doesn’t belong. Jesse takes Fantasy into those Dark places. He writes stories  filled with macabre humor, twisted characters, and uninhibited violence. Jesse’s writing is disturbing, comedic, and most certainly brilliant. The mixed feelings that The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart brought out amongst our staff is a testament to his qualifications for writing questionable characters. I cannot think of anyone better suited to lead our discussion of today’s topic: problematic protagonists. 

For my money, characters, whether we’re meant to root ... Read More

Red Country: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with swords

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

As a fan of Joe Abercrombie’s other books, such as The Heroes, Red Country was a must-read for me. Even though I had no idea what Red Country was about, or how it might be related to his previous stories, it didn’t really matter because I was certain that Joe Abercrombie would entertain me.

Red Country feels almost like a Western in the way that the towns are laid out — there’s a quasi general store and a the local saloon, for example — and I was starting to wonder if Abercrombie was breaking away from his usual setting. But the conditions, as in all of Abercrombie’s other stories, are pretty rough, and so very realistic. Red Country has a good setting for the type of hard story that Abercrombie writes.

Shy South is a girl with a hard past. ... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Promising new authors

One of the things we're always getting excited about here at FanLit is the emergence of new talent in speculative fiction. Every time a publicist writes to tell us about a debut author, we huddle together to read the press release, look around at each other, and start to mumble: "Is this the Dragon Reborn one we've been waiting for?  The next King or Queen of Fantasy Literature? Someone who will reach down and lift us out of the wretchedness of our miserable mundane lives?

Alas. Usually no. But over the past couple of years we have read some authors that we're getting pretty excited about, though we don't all agree on who they are.

Personally, one of my favorite new-ish authors is Jesse Bullington. He's rude, foul, disgusting, and warped. I love him for that.

How about you? Which SFF aut... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Go buy a book

Tomorrow is National Buy a Book Day, started by author Philip Athans who reminds us that the authors we love and our favorite local bookstores require our financial support. So please stop by your favorite store and purchase at least one book. Of course, we're here to help you with your choices! Here are our suggestions for your purchase(s) on National Buy a Book Day.

We'll be stopping by our favorite stores, too, so please give us your book suggestions in the comments. We'll pick one of you to win a book from our stacks.



Kelly: Buy Icefall by Matthew... Read More

Pass the rolls to Alex Hughes

Today we welcome debut author Alex Hughes, who has a question for you. Her novel Clean will be released next week. One commenter will win a copy of Clean.

I’m Alex Hughes, debut author of the book Clean. I’m also a huge foodie. There’s nothing that makes me happier than sitting down with a gourmet meal — in a restaurant, of course, but especially in my own kitchen. There’s something therapeutic about cooking, about playing with a new recipe and making something delicious.

I’ve always thought that writing, actually, is a lot like cooking for a big crowd. You start with interesting ingredients, add garlic and spices to layer in flavor, and then go rummaging through the pantry to find that last perfect something that will make the dish sing. You set a great table, bring out the food with enthusiasm, and hope they enjoy. That’s what I’m doing now, this September. M... Read More

The Gaming Gateway: Gencon 2012

Justin goes to Gencon!

Drizzt Do'Urden & Guenhwyvar at D&D booth



Games have been incorporating elements of traditional epic fantasy since at least the 1950's, but it wasn't until Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson introduced the world to Dungeons & Dragons that fantasy gaming really hit the mainstream. D&D merged fantasy storytelling with game mechanics and forever intertwined the two types of entertainment. Now there's an entire industry built around fantasy-based gaming.

Gygax started another tradition in 1968: Gencon, the largest gaming convention in Nor... Read More

What makes a great female protagonist?

Today I will be handing over the Thoughtful Thursday reins to Nancy Holzner, author of the DEADTOWN series. Nancy is one of my favorite authors, and her razor sharp writing raises the bar in urban fantasy. It’s a an honor and a pleasure to have her guest post for today’s column.

I write urban fantasy, a genre known for its kick-ass heroines. Over the years, I've been involved in numerous conversations about "strong female protagonists" and what that means. To be honest, the phrase "strong female protagonist" irks me. Why do female characters need "strong" as a qualifier? Personally, I'm not likely to follow a weak protagonist — male or female — through an entire book. I don't mind if a character starts off timid and uncertain, but unless that charact... Read More

Rename that Cover: Leather Pants and Self Decapitation: A Mariner’s Story

It's been a while since we renamed a cover. The cover I chose today is not particularly awful -- it's quite the usual thing for a modern romantic fantasy. Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich received a lukewarm reception by our reviewers but seems to be generally well liked over at Amazon. What got my attention about the cover of Queen's Hunt is the look on the protagonist's face -- it just seems ripe for renaming. It doesn't portray any of the fierceness that I think they intended.

It's like her father is giving her a lecture about not holding a sword so close to your neck and she is impatiently rolling her eyes because he doesn't rea... Read More

Author accessibility

We are well into the digital age of publishing. Almost every book is available from an online source and nearly every author has an internet presence. Contacting your favorite author is as easy as posting a comment or firing off a quick e-mail. More often than not, your favorite author will send you a reply in a reasonable amount of time.

This was not always possible. Back in the olden days (15 years ago)  fans had to write letters and lick stamps, and if even if you got a form letter in response it was something to be treasured. Authors had this mysterious air about them. I always imagined my favorite writers holed up in a dusty office hunched over an antiquated typewriter. I now know that this was likely not the case, but the thought of Isaac Asimov tweeting about a burrito he ate on Tuesday for lunch seems kind of obscene to me.

What if J.R.R Tol... Read More

WWW: July 25, 2012

This week we have a little about The Hobbit movie, and a lot about amazing authors getting some much deserved recognition. In the coming weeks, if you find something interesting you think everyone should read, drop me a line via the contact form and let me know, or just post it below. Let's get started:

1) 2012 World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Awards: Alan Garner and George R.R. Martin win WFC Lifetime achievement awards.

2) Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gets a Few Emmy Nods: A... Read More

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