Interview with Matthew Dawkins II - They Came From Beneath the Sea
21, Dec

Hey my fellow tabletop gamers,

We have a great new interview today with MATTHEW DAWKINS, Onyx Path Publishing's best writer and content maker. Today, he's here to talk to us about the company's newest Kickstarter for THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. It is a retro-scifi 1950s B-movie influenced roleplaying game.

You can check out the Kickstarter here:

1. What is the premise of THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA?

The premise of They Came from Beneath the Sea! is that you get to play the strong-jawed veterans, plucky journalists, mad scientists, and grizzled everymen of the 1950s, where the Cold War is starting to boil and suddenly, without warning, aliens invade our perfect towns! It's a game strongly set in the world of B-Movies of the era, which can be played as seriously or as farcically as the table desires.

2. TCFBTS is inspired by 1950s B-movies. What ones in particular did you draw from? Why did you choose this as a format? What made you think this would be a great game? (three questions in one, I know)

There are so many fantastic B-Movies. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is of course a classic, but don't overlook It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), the former of which is a magnificent Ray Harryhausen piece and the latter is a Roger Corman oddity. Of recent movies, I strongly recommend the work of Larry Blamire, especially The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) and The Trail of the Screaming Forehead (2007). Both really evoke the humour present in these kinds of movies. I enjoy this format for cinema, but it took many playtest iterations to land upon it as an RPG medium. I've found groups love to have fun and laugh around the table, and a game that encourages that is a rarity in this market.

3. What sort of rules system does this game use?

We use the Storypath System (d10, dice pools, standard difficulties of 8) for They Came from Beneath the Sea!, as established in Scion, Trinity, and Dystopia Rising. However, our version is slightly modified to account for some of They Came From's unique powers and features.

4. How would you describe the game's tone? Funny? Horrific? Horror comedy?

The tone of this game is what you make of it. I've now run so many games of it with different tone and flavour, I can honestly say They Came From can be horrific or comedic, or any mixture of the two. While the game is set up to allow you to make a funny game, it doesn't dictate to you what good humour is. We're very conscious of allowing groups to find their own levels of fun.

5. Do you think fans of the Fallout or Bioshock games will like this game?

There's definitely a little of the Fallout tongue-in-cheek humour to this game, especially with all the talk of atomic devices in day-to-day life. I love BioShock, but we've not really attempted to emulate any sort of genetic splicing-Randian horror. Not yet, anyway.

6. Will the communists in the game be evil baddies or sensual slavs seduced by the heroes or heroes themselves?

While the default setting of the game is 1950s America, making "commies" default bad guys in the eyes of G-Men and other stalwart American "patriots", this game doesn't dictate that all communists, Soviets, Russians, or indeed any other group acts in a set way. Think of how they're portrayed in your favourite movie of the era and roll with that in your game.

7. What can you tell us about the enemies of the game?

There are so many! The writers on this book knocked the Threats out of the park. We have gill-folk, crab people, were-lobsters, teenage shrimp, centopus, the Prefecture of the Pod, the Sirens of Ness... So many! There are plenty more than that, each divided into the brackets of Destroyers, Invaders, Enslavers, Spies, and Primordials. Each has its own ecology and motivations, and they don't necessarily get on.

8. What sort of heroes will be the players be expected to play?

Heroes will tend to be the kinds of characters portrayed in B-Movies of the 1950s and 1960s. A little wooden, a little hammy, but ultimately earnest in their beliefs and ambitions. You'll have everything from the small-town sheriff just looking to get a restful night's sleep, to the blue collar everyman wanting to defending his patch of land. There are five Archetypes: Everyman, G-Man, Mouth, Scientist, and Survivor.

9. The 1950s are a frequently satirized period of history. Will this book engage in any social satire?

There's definitely some social satire. In some of the fiction within the book, men underestimate women, communists are taken as uniformly black-hearted villains, governments want a pacified populace, and scientists are unpredictable lunatics. In most such cases, expectations are thwarted with the foolish party soon taken to task. Also, Joseph McCarthy gets eaten by a giant clam.

10. What are some of the Kickstarter rewards which donors will be able to get?

The Kickstarter is the best place to look for such things, but at bare minimum we're offering the PDF of the game, through to the book, a Director's screen, and cards for your Quips and Cinematics. If the Kickstarter hits stretch goals, we might see additional supplements or artwork for the game, among many other things.

11. Do you see this as a potential ongoing series of books or a limited collection of them?

I could see a whole series of They Came From games if this one were successful. Spitballing here, but I could see a Hammer Horror-influenced game, a Goosebumps-inspired game, and others that take inspiration from other forms of cinematic media. I'd love to do one based on Italian giallo cinema, but I understand that would have a limited audience (outside Italy).

12. Describe to us a typical adventure of this game in your view.

The typical adventure sees your characters reacting to a rapid invasion of bodysnatchers such as the crab people, or a ship offshore going missing and your heroes having to investigate the whereabouts of its crew. Adventure thus unfolds!

13. What projects will you be working on after this?

I have a few V5 books to develop, the Contagion Chronicle to get finished, and a bunch of projects for companies other than Onyx Path such as an unannounced Chaosium book, Solemn Vale for Dirty Vortex Games, and pushing forward with my Onyx Path media role! If you've not subscribed to Onyx Path on YouTube and Twitch, please do so! Content will be thick and fast come 2019!

SPFBO 2018 - BookNest's Finalist
05, Dec

I am happy to announce that BookNest is done with the first round of this year's SPFBO. Like last year, our team, consisting of 3 guests (Rob J. HayesDyrk Ashton & Lynn Kempner) and 3 of our very own members (C.T. PhippsMichael McLendon & Katerina Papasotiriou)  read and reviewed all 30 books assigned to us, picking 6 Semi-Finalists in the process. You can see all 30 reviews HERE. The 6 Semi-Finalists are:

Runeforged by Justin DePaoli

Orconomics by Zachary J. Pike

The Stars Were Right by K.M. Alexander

We Ride The Storm by Devin Madson

The Tainted Crown by Meg Cowley

The Curse Recalled by J.E. Merritt

I was then tasked to read those Semi-Finalists and pick the best one among them to represent in the 2nd round of the SPFBO, as our Finalist. Over the course of the last 4 days, I eliminated 4 of those Semi-Finalists on our FB Group (The Stars Were RightRuneforgedThe Tainted CrownThe Curse Recalled) and now I'm here to let you know which one of the final two (We Ride the StormOrconomics) will be our finalist. Without further ado:




In a surprise plot-twist, I've decided that my very own anthology Art of War: Anthology for Charity will represent us on the se... Alright, alright. Here's we go:





We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson is one of the best books I've read this year. With a personal score of 8.5/10, I think it's capable of winning this year's SPFBO (As a comparison, last year's winner finished with a 8.1/10 avg rating). Alas, it has the misfortune to be paired with Orconomics, one of the best books I've read in my life. Therefore, my pick for BookNest's Finalist for this year's SPFBO is Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, sent forward with a perfect score of 10/10

I'm utterly perplexed by the fact that none of the Big 5 has acquired the rights to publish Pike's work, but I'm confident that it will be so by the end of this year's contest. Orconomics is not only better than most of the self-published books out there, but better than most of the traditionally published ones as well (Although the difference between Self-Published books and Traditionally Published books has significantly thinned throughout the years, and the way an author gets his book out there is no longer an indication of its quality, if it ever was). Orconomics is well written, fast paced, with great flow and even greater prose, and most importantly, it's a great story to boot. It's full of heart and joy, but also regret and pain. It is, as GRRM would say, how Fantasy ought to be written. I would also say it's unique, but that it isn't. For it is quite similar (and I hope I'm not doing it a disservice here) to one of my favorite fantasy books ever: Kings of the Wyld. As a matter of fact, I was joking with Nicholas Eames the other day, that if he hasn't in fact ghost-wrote Orconomics himself, then surely Zachary Pike ghost-wrote Nick's books instead. I considered including a full review in this post, but then again I wouldn't be able to tell it better than Dyrk Ashton did. If you want to know more about Orconomics, you can read Dyrk's review HERE.

Now, some of you may have noticed that something didn't add up in what I said above. When I mentioned We Ride the Storm, I said that it's capable of winning this year's SPFBO. But how can this be, you'll wonder, if it's been eliminated, with Orconomics being BookNest's Finalist? Simply said, We Ride The Storm can be someone else's Finalist, for I am pushing it through as a Senlin Safety Net Candidate. For those who are not familiar with the term, the Senlin Safety Net is a safe mechanism, for the rare occasion where one of the Judges has more than 1 book in his batch capable of winning the contest. How it works? I simply push it through as a candidate, and if one of the other Judges isn't happy enough with the books in their own batch, can take it up and promote it to the second round of the SPFBO as their Finalist instead. You can learn more about the Senlin Safety Net HERE. So, worry not, fans of We Ride The Storm. All hope is not yet lost. The book can still make it through, as long as one of the other Judges decides it's better than what their own batch has to offer! 

Thank you all for joining me here today. Huge congratulations to Zachary Pike, and best of luck to Devin Madson with her second chance! I'm looking forward to the rest nine Finalists in the Second Round of the SPFBO



Petros Triantafyllou

Interview with Matthew Dawkins - Chicago by Night
07, Nov

Hey folks,

I am one of the biggest fans of Chicago by Night 1st Edition that exists. For those who wonder what the hell I'm talking about, it is a supplement created in 1992 for the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The premise was the city of Chicago was secretly controlled by vampires ranging from the beautiful Annabelle to the unliving Al Capone. Further figures like Critias of Athens, Helen of Troy, and Meneleus were also undead inhabiting the Windy City. You, as newly created vampires, had the job of navigating the city's complicated politics in order to avoid another sunrise.

Winners of the 2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards
01, Nov

In the first stage, nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm BluesFantasy Book CriticFantasy Book ReviewFantasy-FactionGrimdark MagazineThe Fantasy HiveThe Fantasy InnThe Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (GollanczHarper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John Jarrold & Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency) helped us create the Longlist for this year's BookNest Fantasy Awards by nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018In the second stage, the culling began, and the public chose which ten books from each category would made it to the Shortlist. In the third and final stage, again with a public vote, the winners were chosen, and we're happy to announce them right now!

You can learn all about the Awards and  the Winners in the video bellow. And don't be afraid - there are subtitles for those who can't use sound! 

 Congrats to those who won the engraved swords, & best of luck next year to those who didn't! 


BookNest's second Semi-Finalist, by Dyrk Ashton (SPFBO 2018, Phase 1)
21, Oct

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to have been a guest judge for Booknest in this year's SPFBO competition. The brainchild of Arch-saint of indie authors, the Almighty Mark Lawrence, the SPFBO has become one of the most significant things to happen to self-publishing since, well, maybe ever, and Booknest has waved the torch high for indie books for quite some time. I have to thank Petros T. for asking me to do this. It's been a hell of an honor to be involved.

My task was to read five of the thirty books in Booknest's group, and forward my choice for semi-finalist. Time for a rolling of drums...

2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards (Shortlist)
15, Oct

In the first stage we created a Longlist with the help of nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm BluesFantasy Book CriticFantasy Book ReviewFantasy-FactionGrimdark MagazineThe Fantasy HiveThe Fantasy InnThe Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (GollanczHarper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John Jarrold & Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency), with each one of them nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018.

In the second stage and with the public's help, the ten (10) books and five (5) Imprints with the highest number of votes in each category, made it to the Shortlist (revealed bellow), gaining the chance to compete for the title of the BEST, and the engraved sword that comes with it! 

Now, it's time to pick the winners. You can vote for your favorite books, authors and Imprints by Wednesday 31st October 2018. The Winners will be reveled a day later.

Best of luck to all contestants! 

This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 



This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 


This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 



This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 


This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Winners will be announced tomorrow, November 01, 2018. 

Interview with David Niall Wilson II
11, Oct

Hey folks,

I have an interview with David Wilson, two time Stoker Award winner and owner/operator of Crossroad Press! We're here to talk about his classic book, THIS IS MY BLOOD, which I recently reviewed here.

1.    So, tell us about THIS IS MY BLOOD.

This is My Blood is a different telling of a very old story.  I changed none of the order of things, nor did I change the outcome – only the road to reach that outcome.  Mary Magdalene, raised by Lucifer in the desert to tempt Jesus in the guise of a woman, instead refused – wanting to return to Heaven.  Lucifer cursed her to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, feeding on the faithful, and claimed she would become his undoing.

That is where my story starts.  You will find the king’s daughter, raised from the dead, Lazarus, all the apostles in their flawed faith, and a narrator – in Mary – who does not depend on faith, but sees with the eyes of one who KNOWS what is truth, and is not impressed with the spirituality of men.  Lilith also plays a sizeable part in this book.

All that I learned, figured out on my own, and wanted to repeat of The Bible, Christianity, faith, and – I suppose – of shadows – was tied up in this early work of mine.  I have since come to believe that ancient myths should be left to the ancient societies who created them, and that we should worry more over our own self-worth than that of others.  I don’t believe there are any spiritual rules laid down in the words of long dead men that I should follow, but I do believe that men know, inherently, the difference between right, and wrong, and that all choices made in that area are their own.  No free ticket out for asking forgiveness, and no pit of fire for failures.

2.    How did you come up with the concept?

One day, in the middle of the ocean, a group of us were sitting around, playing music, drinking coffee, and working on the various creative endeavors that kept us sane.  Out of the blue, someone said: “What if Jesus was a vampire?”  There are a lot of flaws in such a story – though others have tried to write it – and I was quick to point them out.  I was, after all, not that far past the period of my life where Christianity and I parted ways.  I had studied with an eye toward the ministry at one point, and I’d read the book – several times.

What I proposed, eventually, was that it made much more sense if someone close to Jesus was a vampire.  Someone he trusted.  Someone who could account for the rising of the dead in three days, without it actually being the man himself behind it all.  I didn’t write about it then, I thought about it, and I filed it away with a lot of other ideas.  Eventually I wrote a novelette – A Candle in the Sun – that was published in Starshore Magazine, then reprinted in Year’s Best Horror XIX, edited by Karl Edward Wagner, and has since been reprinted nearly a half dozen more times.  It was good – everyone agreed that it was good, but I knew that it wasn’t complete.  I just wasn’t ready to do the thing justice.

Then, on a completely different cruise, locked in a transmitter room with a 386 computer, a Deskjet 500 inkjet printer, and a CD Player loaded with Concrete Blonde & Depeche Mode, I realized it was time.  I had a marked up, four inch tall copy of the New Testament that the Gideon Society had presented the ship with, and I had notes.  I started out, jumping from gospel to gospel when some part of the story either had a hole, or was missing something important.  As I went, I crafted large chunks of The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot, because I’d always thought he got a raw deal in the original mix, and I wanted him for a hero.

3.    How would you describe Mary?

Mary is the key to the story. I’m working on a treatment and screenplay – adapting this novel – and the book I’m reading describes the type of book I’m writing as a “Superhero” story. Someone with extraordinary ability dropped into an ordinary setting (If you can call the fictional times of the gospels ordinary).

She is a fallen angel. She has suffered… she has been offered hope. During the novel there are several key moments in her development as a character… and I would dearly love to get into those, but I don’t want to spoil the story for people who have not read it. Suffice it to say – she does not require faith. She does not doubt Jesus, or God, or Satan – she knows them. Stuck in human form – albeit powerful and vampiric – she learns about pain and death and emotion as only men can celebrate them. She learns about the “Heavenly Father” and prophecy in the same way. She has n irresistible perspective on mysteries we can only ponder.

4.    How do you handle figures like Jesus, the Devil, and other historical/theological personages?

Most of the points where these characters interact with the story are told through passages from the fictional Gospel According to Judas Iscariot. There are scenes with Jesus, of course, and many with Judas, who is something of a hero himself – a counterpart to Mary who was born human, with all of our faults and fears.
The rest I tried to portray in the same way the unknown authors of The New Testament did. In the form of biblical verse, or in a very carefully worded narrative. They all serve the same purposes they did in the original story – but I did not want them to intrude in the story I was telling and I also did not want them to overshadow my main protagonists… they are very much the God, and Lucifer, people would recognize from Bible school. I was careful not to just write something blasphemous… it was never the intent.

5.    What do you hope people take away from this book?

QR codes for all of their friends and relatives to buy the book?

Seriously, I didn’t write it with other people in mind. I wrote it because I spent a number of years of my life reading and studying a book of ancient mythology I thought (at the time) was the answer to life, the universe, and everything… then I grew up. I started to take charge of my thoughts, and my life, and to think – really think- about all those years spend feeling guilty for things that should inspire no guilt, and spreading the same nonsense to others… There is a meme out there in social media – a group of religious leaders gathered around a table… the caption says … Religion – where grown adults argue over who has the best imaginary friend.

So I think what I hope people will take from my book is the experience behind it, the part of me that I wrote into the words and pages. I hope they take something out of it that sticks with them, or leads them to another of my books.  I hope it influences them in some way. But I didn’t write it for them… I wrote it for me, and then I gave myself to the readers. That’s what one of my other projects is all about – a non-fiction half-memoir, half book on writing titled “Writing What Hurts.”  This one did.

6.    Do you think vampires mix well with religion?

Traditional vampires are tied straight in with traditional religion. Crosses, sanctified graves, holy water. One would not be the same without the other, but in the case of my novel, it was just a marriage of convenience. There were too many ways a vampire might fit into the holes in the original plot. And as is the case in most urban horror and fantasy, modern monster tales, and stories about creatures beyond the standard limits of mankind… the point of the story is not that there is a vampire, or that there are monsters. The vampires, fallen angels, etc… are just characters. They are *in* the story… but their powers and situations are outside that story.  In the days of Dracula, the story was about a monster that was a vampire. Mine is a novel that happens to have a vampire in it.

7.    How was the response to the book?

Critical response was wonderful. Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal loved it.  I can honestly say that the closest to a bad review I’ve ever gotten from an actual review site, or a reader, was one person who had no biblical background and admitted that she liked the story, but was probably missing something. The response has been unbelievably positive… and small. It’s like a cult thing. Those who know the book will go on about it at length… but there just aren’t enough of them (yet).  It’s even listed in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene…

One reader (back in the Navy) actually came to me with tears in his eyes after finishing it – which was bizarre. The original publisher bought it over a phone call from Crete (two weeks after I finished it and sent it to him) but – as noted above – he never published it. I have had the odd reaction from several that this book renewed their faith, and others have asked the (kind of silly) question “Did you make up the Book of Judas… or can I get that somewhere?” (Yes, I found a long-lost text that explains that there were vampires in Jerusalem… the church has (of course) suppressed this)

8.    Have you ever considered doing anything similar?

Define similar? I’m currently writing a novel titled “Jurassic Ark” wherein Noah is building a great boat in the desert. There are dinosaurs, and the people of the city nearby believe he is crazy. This could have been a comedic story, but is turning into something much more similar to This is My Blood, without vampires. There are Elohim and very, very old men – the aforementioned dinosaurs – the point of it is to sort of show how ridiculous the notion of a 6000 year old earth with living dinosaurs would have been, but along the way it gathered substance, and the characters started to matter… and just like with This is My Blood, I’ve heavily researched Noah’s family, the Ark, and all the notes on his family in the book of the Great Space Fairy.

I wrote On the Third Day where I explored what might happen if a priest actually experienced the Stigmata … how the Church might react, how others might react… how the world might treat it…

I wrote “The Grails Covenant Trilogy” for White Wolf where a vampire is on a quest to find the Holy Grail…

There are similar themes in a lot of my books… not all, by any stretch, but many. Even in Deep Blue – my big book, Stephen King and Dean Koontz style supernatural thriller, there are elements of spirituality and explorations of odd Christian folklore.

9.    What appeals to you about vampire fiction?

People always ask questions like this about vampires, horror, etc.  Nothing in particular. I write the stories that occur to me – I never (ever) set out to write “a vampire story” or a “horror novel” – I just write what moves me in the moment. Vampires are familiar modern icons – they are characters people are comfortable with now in ways they were not in Stoker’s time… The one thing I will say (and I wrote a very short story about this once) is that the thing that I wonder about with vampires is … after so many years… so much experience… how do they fight off the boredom? I also explored that in the Grails Covenant Trilogy with a character named Kli Kodesh who spent his years creating intricate puzzles and games for others to live out to keep from going even madder than he already was.

10.    Do you recommend any other vampire stories?

I have read a lot of other vampire novels that I loved. George R. R. Martin’s Fever Dream, The Golden by Lucius Shepard, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, Vampire$ by John Steakley (Still cracks me up, that name for a vampire novel author) – Dracula, of course, and Christopher Golden’s Of Saints and Shadows. For humor, it’s hard to beat Bite Club by Hal Bodner, or your own Straight Outta Fangton, but as I’ve said in other parts of the interview… those are novels that have vampires in them, and not necessarily “vampire novels” in the traditional sense. If the fact there is a vampire or vampires is not the central plot, for me, the vampires just become accepted characters.

11.    What are some other books you have written you'd like to recommend?

Well, I recommend them all, of course. The problem with a question like this is that I’ve written in so many genres. For Horror I have This is My Blood, Deep Blue, Ancient Eyes, On the Third Day, Maelstrom and others, for Science Fiction I have Star Trek, Stargate, The Second Veil, and more, fantasy and urban fantasy fans might prefer my “Donovan DeChance” novels, and fans of southern or gothic horror might like the Cletus J. Diggs supernatural mysteries.

I have a small stack of collections spanning 200 plus short stories, and a book about baking pies… American Pies – Baking with Dave the Pie Guy – and even a political satire written with Patricia Lee Macomber- Remember Bowling Green – The Adventures of Frederick Douglass -Time Traveler - where 80% of earnings go to the ACLU. It’s a question, in other words, that requires perspective – knowledge of the particular reader. Then, of course, I’ve written a lot of books for White Wolfand their World of Darkness – mostly medieval vampires, but also in their worlds of Wraith and Exalted.

12. Do you have any upcoming new works?

Next in print will be my historical thriller The Orffyreus Wheel, already available in eBook and audio. I’m currently writing five books… A Midnight Dreary- Book V of the DeChance Chronicles, the aforementioned Jurassic Ark, a serial killer thriller titled Tattered Remnants, a writing / memoir non fiction book (also mentioned in the above rambling) Writing What Hurts – and a photo / meme / lol book with my dog Gizmo – Everything I needed to know about Dogs I Learned from Being One.

Purchase THIS IS MY BLOOD from
Purchase THE O.C.L.T. novels from
Purchase DEEP BLUE from
Purchase ON THE THIRD DAY from

2018 BookNest Fantasy Awards (Longlist)
01, Oct

Nine popular Fantasy Blogs (Bookworm Blues, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book Review, Fantasy-Faction, Grimdark Magazine, The Fantasy Hive, The Fantasy Inn, The Grim Tidings Podcast & The Weatherwax Report), three big Fantasy Imprints (Gollancz, Harper Voyager & Orbit), and two well-respected Agents (John JarroldJoshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency) helped us create the Longlist for this year's BookNest Fantasy Awards by nominating their favorite books in each of the first three categories (Best Traditionally Published Novel, Best Self-Published Novel, and Best Debut Novel), published between October 1st 2017 and September 30th 2018. Now, with your help, we will begin the culling. Only the ten (10) books with the highest number of votes in each category will make it to the Shortlist, gaining the chance to compete for the title of the BEST, and the engraved sword that comes with it! Aside from the three Awards we hand out every year, this time around, we're introducing a brand new category. You can now vote for your favorite Fantasy Imprint! Who brings you the best Fantasy books every year? Whose logo adorns most of the spines on your bookshelf? You can now thank them for it! From the initial ten (10) contestants in the Longlist, only five (5) will make it to the Shortlist

You can vote for your favorite books, authors and Imprints by Sunday 14th October 2018. The Shortlist will be revealed a day later.

Best of luck to all contestants! 


This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Shortlist will be revealed on October 15, 2018. 


Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.


Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.



Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.


Note: Some of you may get the error message "You've already voted in this poll today".

You can ignore it. Your vote has been counted in *without* an issue.


This stage is now over. You can no longer vote.

The Shortlist will be revealed on October 15, 2018.

Interview with Ulff Lehmann
15, Sep

1. So, tell us about Shattered Hopes.

It’s a book. (insert canned laughter). Ok, more serious answer. (insert canned applause, moderate). Shattered Hopes is the recently published sequel to my first novel, Shattered Dreams. It used to be bigger than its 150k words. Around 300k words, to be precise. David Wilson, my publisher, suggested I cut it into two parts because it was too big. Dreams, in comparison, was only 158k words or thereabout, so I looked for the perfect cliffhanger; and I think I found it.

When I was still planning to self publish I wanted a trilogy, because fantasy trilogy is a thing, and it’s cool. Now it’s a pentalogy, more of a tongue twister, but David’s correct, at almost 700-800 pages, it would have been freakishly huge. I should know, I had a proof copy of the initial version. If I make it big, this will be a one of a kind collectible… if not, a handy doorstopper.

Starting with Hopes, I have changed my approach. Gone are the in-chapter viewpoint shifts, now it’s like A Song of Ice and Fire, one chapter, one viewpoint.
The story begins almost immediately after the events of Shattered Dreams come to a close, things are shit, the enemy army is at the gates, and winter is coming. (Yeah, that’s a trigger phrase, but that’s actually something the defenders are hoping for because the besiegers can’t maintain the siege, if supply routes are snowed shut) And more shit is piling on… good stuff.

2. What separates your universe from other fantasy on the market today?

The realistic mythological approach, I believe. What’s that? I love mythology, Greek, Roman, German, Norse, Celtic, always been infatuated with the tales of gods and heroes and all the good stuff. So I approached my world that way. If you look at any of the old myths, everyone is, basically, Greek or Roman or Viking, even Etzel who appears in the German Nibelungenlied is a Germanic king, even though he is Attila. They all speak the “native” language, worship the same gods, etc, and it has to be that way because if the Greeks were, for example, to meet the Phoenicians with their different gods and whatnot, the entire thing would fall apart. How can the titans have formed the world and the gods created it, if there are other gods?

So I started with what I like to call creation fact. This is how it all began, and I developed it from there. There is only one language, yes, but over the years it changed, like every living language does. So while the language the, say, elves use is the same the humans learned, there are differences (not that I write things phonetically, but still) -- think American and British English. It’s the same gods that are worshiped everywhere, skin tones will, of course vary, but even that has an in-world explanation.

Since I wanted a more Dark Age-y feel to humanity, I made the conscious choice to have my humans be a young people. They are the inheritors of the elves, at least in the region the story takes place in, and they are technologically far less advanced than the elves of old. Where does the realism kick in? Well, the world is brutal. You don’t see knights in shining armor. There is no good or evil, people are, by and large, just people. (cue Depeche Mode) And while there are places where people fling shit out of windows, it’s not the places that also have running water.

3. Would you consider your work to be grimdark? Why?

I don’t know. My characters are flawed, for the most part, sure, but I don’t relish in having bronze broadsword cut through silver mail to have guts spill out onto the marble. If the Saw-esque torture porn of psychotic killers doing their super-heroic butchery on the pages while swearing like Hit-Girl on an acid trip is grimdark, then I would not consider it grimdark at all. If that is the definition of grimdark, I don’t want any part of that kingdom.

I’ve always loathed the good vs. evil shit that is going on in far too much fantasy, and I agree with you, Charles, that A Song of Ice and Fire has, ultimately, become the same black and white thing. The white walkers are evil, humanity is not. Sure, there might not be a straightforward goodness to most characters, but overcoming the evil from without is still the endgame.

Are there monsters in our world? Yup, some even rule countries. But I think most people just want to get by. You know, do what’s right, care for their kids, work, help others. The psychopaths are the exception. And even most of them aren’t categorically evil, because that would require a direct agenda other than “I do what I want because no one is my equal” or “The rest of humanity is but meat”. Good and evil are concepts that go along with monotheism. Even Loki or Hades weren’t evil, they just did their thing.

Look at our society; does the CEO of Monsanto see himself as evil because they produce toxins that fuck up the planet’s eco system? Most likely not, he just doesn’t care. That’s not evil, that’s sociopathic. Or sociopathetic if you will. You have people like Rockefeller who thought they were chosen by their deity to be grand, which was reason enough for him to manipulate and sabotage all his competitors. I bet he didn’t see himself as evil either, far from it.

So, taking a mythological world and populating it with real people, people who doubt, smile, fear, fight, even kill to make it just to the next day or week or month, that’s what it is… whatever that is.

4. What is grimdark to you?

To be honest, the bit of grimdark royalty that I read is as appealing to me as poking my eye with a chili peppers. What others might consider grimdark is, to me, merely realistic fantasy, scifi, or whatnot. The really revolting psychotic stuff is like rape porn, to me, shit I don’t want to watch, find in no way appealing, and don’t want to touch again.

5. Tell us about your protagonists.

Drangar Ralgon – a broken man on his path to uncovering more of his past.
Kildanor – a warrior bent on helping Drangar find peace.
Ealisaid – last of the Phoenix Wizards, a novice mage with delusions of grandeur.
Rheanna – a priestess of the god of justice, one of the Riders, warriors who kill wrongs.
Jesgar – a spy in training.
Anne – warleader of the invading army.
Urgraith Mireynh – High General and warlord of the invaders.
Lloreanthoran – an elven mage with a mission.
Darlontor – leader of the Sons of Traksor.
As you can see, it’s quite a list and I can’t really talk about that much since it’s all tied to the story somehow. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot going on and to explain one story thread would also unravel the rest.

6. What inspired you to write this universe?

I wanted to get away from good vs. evil, shining heroes vs. vile villains. I wanted something that is wholly my own. Sure, I put a twist on almost every cliché in the book, my elves are vicious, my humans aren’t much better, but I didn’t want the “oh – an orc kingdom here, let the gnomes live there” D&D-ish approach. There’s a reason the elves are farther along than the humans, it may not make sense to most readers, but it has to make sense to me. There has to be a logic to everything on a grand scale. Developing languages doesn’t interest me, especially when there’s bronze broadswords to avoid.

One day, I’d love for someone to just take a step back and look at what I created and say something like “Damn, that is brilliant…” not as praise, I couldn’t care less about that, but appreciation of the logic that went into the world. I want things to be there for a reason, not the haphazard shit with “wouldn’t it be nice to have a Viking culture next to this renaissance society?” or “Hey, there’s a huge desert with this city in the middle” with no river or major roads that people still use, you know the shit that actually causes cities to be built. If they’re missing, people will abandon these places. Cahokia, Pi Ramesse, Petra, all places that were abandoned because the circumstances changed!

7. Who is your favorite character?

Truth be told, I have two. Drangar, of course, since he’s been with me since 1992. And the squirrel I killed off in Dreams. And YES! I know people hate me for it. But I needed at least one hero in the story. (Heroes are those that give their lives to save others, the rest are survivors.)

8. What would you say the themes of your book are?

In the end, I think, it all boils down to choices and living with the consequences. Who am I? Part is my surroundings, part is my parents. We’re all so many parts of something or other, and in the end we must decide which parts we allow to dominate our lives. Some parts we can’t escape, or if we try, we cut off a part of ourselves. Which are the parts worth keeping? Which are save to discard?
Life… life’s the theme.

9. What sort of things bother you in fantasy today?

To be perfectly honest, I barely read fantasy anymore. First it was because of it distracting my own work, now it’s that and I have discovered a passion for crime/thriller books and such. But in essence it’s the same thing as I addressed over various prior answers. Lack of consequence, realism, even normal physics. Sure, one might say that physics have no place in fantasy, but since the people still wear boots, use rain coats, and horses, we can be sure that gravity does work, rain still falls down, and mounted movement is still more comfortable than walking. So yes, this stuff matters, and a city without fresh water for fields and such is about as useful as nipples on a Batsuit.

10. How has the response been to your book so far?

Shattered Hopes has just been released, but the reactions so far have been very positive, but only time will tell.

11. Would you recommend any other indie fantasy writers?

See 9, but Dyrk Ashton comes to mind, his Paternus stuff is out of this world. Damien Black, his work, the level of detail and the richness of his world reminds me ofKen Follett. I’ve a few books lined up that I’m giving a try soon. (Once I’ve finished Lucifer’s Star by this dude called Charles Phipps, mad as a hatter, I tell ya! And I love him for it.)

12. What can we expect from you next?

Right now we only have the ebook version of Shattered Hopes out. The city map my friend Faith has been sweating blood and tears over for over a year now requires a further touch up for the print version of Hopes, when that’s done, the dead tree version will be released. After that I have a short story coming out in an anthology edited by Charles Phipps (shameless plug, I know, but still).

Shattered Fears, the third book in the series, is complete, but we haven’t determined when to release it yet. Another short story is in the works. All the short stories take place in “Drangar’s world” (for lack of a better word), including the one published in Booknest’s own Art of War. (plug again!) And last but not least I’m developing something super insanely amazing for Charles Phipps’s Lucifer universe… seriously, I almost shat myself when I came up with this idea.

Purchase Shattered Dreams
Purchase Shattered Hopes

Interview with Michael Baker
08, Sep

1. So tell us about The Thousand Scars.

I’m pleased you asked! The Thousand Scars is only the first step into what I hope will be a long writing career, and the first of my Counterbalance series. The Thousand Scars tells the brutal story of a land in turmoil, as two desperate superpowers battle for survival in a war of terror and clashes of morality. A complex series, it involves bloody battles and sieges, vengeful necromancers, rampant mercenary companies, a young man desperately searching for a new home, and powerful conspiracies. For good or evil, The Thousand Scars shall bleed the world…and they will save it. Or will they? If you’re fond of brutal battles, rich fantasy worlds and deranged necromancers, you will hopefully enjoy this as well!

2. What separates it from other examples of its genre?

An interesting question for certain. I would say maybe that it covers the POV of what some would call the villains as the good side? Possibly. Counterbalance is full of darker factions all with their own agenda. It also has a lot of focus on military, particularly influenced by Greek, Persian and Roman cultures. I’d say that’s rare?

3. Would you consider it grimdark and why?

Ha! I was quite surprised to see people view it as grimdark, and even more surprised when you dubbed it among the best in the genre you’ve ever read. Which alongside the likes of Rob Hayes and Mark Lawrence, is something I’m pretty proud to be included in. See, I wouldn’t completely view it as grimdark as people say. There are some seriously brutal characters and scenes throughout the first book, with worse planned onwards, but I like to sprinkle a little light in the worlds I create, just in time to snuff it out again. Grimdark is usually reserved for a dark, bleak world with no hope and where nearly everyone in it are assholes. And you would be absolutely right! I do have some genuinely good and decent protagonists however, and they play a vital role in the series.

4. What is grimdark to you?

See my earlier reply on question three. Grim, violent and bleak, but with still fleshed out characters. Having a violent world is no supplement to a good plot or character development!

5. Tell us about the protagonists?

Gladly! Counterbalance is a fairly complex, character-heavy series, but I can focus the storyline on five characters:

Tyrone Cessil: The main character at least early on, and the guy whom you’ll see the most. He was once the heir to one of the Great Families of the Empire, but found a life as a scholar in Valare instead, running away from his duty. When war comes to his doorstep, he’s forced to lead a new life for survival, finding himself in unfortunate and deadly company.

Tyir of Irene: Necromancer, fugitive, murderer and mercenary commander, he is the cause of so much suffering throughout Harloph, with many enemies. His path from a protected man into a tyrant hellbent on vengence is one of the core of the series, but does his path change when he meets Tyrone in similar circumstances?

Lance Ironheart: Who was once a respected diplomat and trader in the capital, he’s now on the run. Exposed for his transgression against Bawsor, his home and family are ruined and he fled south with old friends. He has something to prove, a fear to stop and an old enemy to question. He has powerful allies, but can he survive what he’s discovered?

Nazir Cessil: Tyrone’s father, Nazir finds himself in a bitter struggle to survive in the Great War, as Bane Aldmer’s grip on the Empire tightens. He has concerns for his mortal enemy, but can he focus on the right enemy while faced with horrifying truths about his superiors?

Bane Aldmer: De-facto Emperor of Bale after the previous ruler’s assassination, Aldmer is a young man of great skill and powerful allies behind him. Desperation of loss has convinced him to turn to deadly magic to win his war with the Dominion. Ruthless and with a desire to defend his homeland, he has a dark side every bit as cruel as his adversaries.

6. What's the political-military situation like in the world?

Violent and miserable? Sit back and enjoy. I’m going to make a list of all the major factions in Counterbalance and their current situation. It’s quite the long read.

The Bale Empire – Dominant power on Harloph. Its war with the Selpvian Dominion of Klassos has brought it to its knees, forcing a military coup that conspires to unleash the Counterbalance. They have strong allies in the Pharos Order and the Barta League, but their relations with the rest of Harloph are strained at best with much violent history between them and the other powers. The Faxian tribes have never been conquered, and Uslor has recently won itself independence from the Empire’s control.

The Selpvian Dominion – Largest power of Klassos. Five long years of war with its greatest rival Bawsor has bled both forces dry after the Dominion’s alleged assassination of Empress Adriena of Bawsor. Their territory is so large and unwieldy they have to keep

Kingdom of Beiridge – A destroyed kingdom of Klassos that sided with the Empire during the first years of the war. What was once a protectorate state of the Selpvian Dominion, they rebelled against their rule during the Counterbalance War, where their considerable strength alongside that of Bawsor achieved great victories during the first years. Unfortunately after two massive defeats in the third year of the war, Beiridge never recovered, and its capital city Terroira was besieged and destroyed by the Dominion at the end of the fourth year.

The Whisperers – Espionage organization in the Whisper Isles off the east coast of Harloph. While its origin and ideals are unknown they have a fierce reputation and calibre, but their services are extremely costly and not just in gold coin.

The Pharos Order – Religious “survivors” of New Valia, founded after their namesake. Long-term allies with the Empire. Made up of three major factions set in the Sepulcher, Bawsor and the Kahal. After forming a pact with the fledging days of the Empire, they are each other’s strongest allies.

Although they are known for brutal reprisals throughout Harloph and seen as many as an evil organisation, there are good-hearted Pharos Order people, and they often charity and support the poor with weddings, dealing with people and looking after the sick and wounded, many of the “healers” in Harloph being from the Order. In total, the Pharos Order can muster about 80,000 fighting men, although their military is not the strongest. They have deep enmity throughout Harloph for past events, but they are misunderstood, and strive for peace throughout the realm.

The Barta League – A series of neutral trading cities in the east of Harloph. Prior to the Great War, they enjoyed a lucrative and profitable alliance with both Bawsor and the Dominion. The League’s area is made up of the rich and wealthy, who pay no taxes to the Empire, although both sides enjoy lucrative trading partnerships. This is probably the wealthiest faction in Harloph, and it’s home to many exiles and criminals whom have fled the west. Valare is the strongest of the seven, with a long history and a powerful fleet.

Faxia – A mountainous tribal people in Western Harloph. Their trade is volcanic glass, unique to Harloph. A poor but barbaric land, Faxians have never been conquered by an invading power. Used to serve the Empire as mercenaries before attitudes hardened again. Ferocious and skilled warriors, a harsh and rugged landscape. During the time of Counterbalance, they are dealing with harsh food shortages leading into starvation. The hard life makes the Faxaens (sometimes called Vulcranos) some of the hardiest and toughest people, although they live isolationist lives.

Voyava- The remains of New Valia, where old traces of Valian magic remain. Voyava is known for its religious prophets who can see into the world, called “Oracles”. A pacifist people, but capable of mustering great power. Voyava eventually became a haven for people who took in Pharos as one of the New Gods, but disliked the influence of the Order whom followed Valian footsteps. Voyava is known for its oracles and prophets due to their relatively unrestricted access “into the Mora”, although the difficulty of offensive sorcery makes them only observers. There are many grounds of old Valian ancestry, and the Voyavan people are a relatively comfortable race, with few ties to Harloph.

Seen as a place of peace and religion, the tribes nonetheless command a huge military presence, able to muster over 100,000 men in times of war. They mostly employ large numbers of nomadic horsemen and mounted archers in war, but Voyava has some large cities in its mountinous depths. Because Voyava is so close to the Corpselands, Voyava struggles with harsh climate and some food shortages, but it’s wealth of natural resources (and Valian artefacts), allows them to get what help they need from the Order and Uslor through trade contracts. Voyava is a deeply religious land, dedicated to peace and only mobilising if their lives from outside are threatened.

The Keidan- A religious, feared sect in Harloph, rumoured to be the last pure Valian settlers. They take on acolytes for training, many of whom are converted to the faith of their goddess. They are mostly isolationist, with little interest in the outside world. However, their magical prowess and survival probably makes them the most powerful faction in Harloph. Existing for thousands of years, the Keidan focuses mainly on its own self study and harvesting of knowledge. They do take in acolytes for training and expertise from around its lands, many of which are “converted”. Their soldiers have no faces and wear no visible armour, but their very nature implies fear. The Keidan itself is a huge underground fortress similar to Sirquol, known in Valian as “Wall of Flesh”.

Uslor – Once part of the Bale Empire, it is now an independent power fraught with internal fighting and brutal barons. The Uslorian land is war-torn and in turmoil from a recent earthquake in the region) extremely volatile and constantly beset by internal strife and quarrels. As a result, Uslor is heavily militarized at all times, and fickle. Many Uslorians sell their services to outside parties, such as the Kahal civil war and later, Tyir’s rise in the east. They have violent relations with both the Order and the Empire, and remain neutral in the Great War north.

Kahal – In the centre of Harloph, a rich and populous land torn by internal strife and the Order’s violent occupation. Victim of several major wars, including the Voyavan prophet Telijin and the seat of Pharos priest Archon Kramer. Surrounded on all sides, with the prickly and war-torn Uslorians and Pharos Order to the west, the no-mans land separating Kahal and the Empire to the north, and the religious Keeper faction and deadly Skyini clans to the east and south. With the great peril facing the Irenian people to the south, the Kahal suffers a massive influx of refugees from the south, leading to more insurgency.

Out of all the regions/factions in Harloph, the Kahal is probably the one with the bloodiest history. Even before the Order’s assimilation, tribal wars were many and brutal. The Order takeover was not taken kindly, resulting in one of the deadliest wars in living memory (before the Great War of Counterbalance, that is)

Made up of many different rural clans as well as large urban centres, Kahal is a place full of persecution, executions and starvation, with a low-intensity rebellion against the Order ever since the bloody civil war. They are disciplined and fierce warriors, many of whom join Tyir in his war against the Empire and the Order. It is heavily fractured as a result of past events, and such is a hotpot of violence and constant warfare despite the overall good control of the Order. This region is a ruthless and harsh land, undergoing more atrocities under the Kramerian doctrine of the Order.

The Keepers are an organization dedicated to protecting the ancient grounds of Yurn and Sirquol, a deeply peaceful and religious faction designed to guard the legacy of Valian hero and the Order’s man-turned god Pharos, who saved the world during the Chaos. Although they are affiliated with the Sepulcher, they are completely separate from them, and made up of those who wish to dedicate their lives and souls in Pharos’s name. They are allied to the Order, but view themselves superior and isolationist. They think they are the ones who uphold all of Pharos’s teachings and wisdom, and as a result they managed to avoid much of the brutal wars between the bickering sides.

However, they have a dark and bloody history of torturing/imposing the ban on magic and purge from after the chaos, so they are in a constant state of war with the dangerous clans of the Skyini, as well as the Kahal and Irene. Their very presence blocks Irene from travelling into Kahal, making for many hotspots of violence and terrorism against the Keepers.

Irene is a “shit cesspit” of Harloph, and the birthplace of the notorious necromancer and sellsword captain, Tyir. The poorest region, it is made up of countless clans and people desperately trying to survive on the southern fringes of Harloph, relying on fish and cold game to survive. Many survivors of the Chaos were hemmed into the boot of the continent Crops often fail and people constantly try to migrate north. However, there is a wealthy supply of gold, silver and golwood in Irene, which is a good reason why so many decide to stay and make a life of it. It is still a decent populace, but poor and harsh. However, it is pretty sparse in these days, with very harsh and cold weather. Because of the Chaos, much of southern Harloph is now inhabitable, pinning the poor Ireneian people in the end of the world. They lack the technology of the north, using simple weapons like bows and slings in battle, but are a constant thorn in the Keeper’s side, and their constant migration into the richer south has been a hotspot for many wars, sandwiched between the remnants of the Gaols, the Skyini and the Keepers.

The Skyini are a multitude of clans living in relative comfort east of Yurn, sandwiched between Kahal and the Gaolian Mountains. Powerful and dangerous, they command a large professional army despite their tribal status, and have evaded assimilation from the Order or the Empire. There have been wars, but the Skyini have never been fully defeated, although they used to inhabit large parts of Northern Harloph, before a century of warfare pushed them back. Despite this, they are still promiment in their culture, heavily based in the old Agassemi civilisation, which fell shortly after the Chaos. Heavily based around Gallic and Macedonian culture. The Order under the New Magnus turns to the Skyini wealth, cannibalising it and enslaving many hundreds in their quest to finding the last Moment. Many Skyini finally join Tyir.

The Thousand Scars are a mercenary/merchantile force founded by Tyir of Irene. Founded by the renegade scientist and alchemist in the Kahal, they quickly gain notoriety as the necromancer turned his attention to the might of the Pharos Order. Having been imprisoned by the Keepers during his life, Tyir harbored a corrosive hatred for anyone who wore Pharos’s name. During the brutal Sorn rebellion, the Thousand Scars mounted a campaign of terrorism in support of the rebels, slaughtering thousands of Redure government troops and Pharos Order defenders. As the Order gradually wrestled back control of the rebellion, Tyir’s crimes and necromancy rumors reached them, and Hinari ordered a huge bounty on him. Tyir was eventually defeated and captured on the banks of the river Iris, but the Thousand Scars managed to escape destruction, when Tyir blackmailed the captor into letting them go. Despite heavy losses, they continued their brutal resistance, switching to guerrilla tactics. Tyir escaped execution thanks to an inside Order man (Lazarus) and they fled to Valare. From there, Tyir kept funding terrorist campaigns against the Order and continuing his experiments. During the events of Counterbalance, Tyir rebuilds the Thousand Scars, switching from guerrilla to all-out war. His path of revenge leads Tyir into acts akin to his cruel past, but will they forgo their own ambitions for the greater good?

Mercer Duston: Has to be mentioned, because he is an old exile of the Empire. Banished for betraying the ideals of the League and marching on their cities (an act punishable by death, since the Barta League pledged neutrality during the Temp of Sornaotor)He has regained a lot of strength in the lands to the east (remember the League’s stance?) and initally is willing to defend his home against the Dominion. However, the ruthless king Vultor begins to question Mercer’s loyalty, and the old wounds against all that he has lost seeps in.

The Ironhearts. Originally a mercenary company in Beiridge by the late Gollet, they switched allegiance to the disgraced friend of Gollet, the diplomat and trader Lance Ironheart. Superbly trained and disciplined, they are perhaps the most elite fighting force in Harloph at the current time. Made up of 2,500 men initally, they recruit more when Lance has to flee the Empire. They go to Tarantown, kick out the Order garisson and start investigating the rumours in the Empire, relying on Lance’s many contacts. Lance is a gentle and kind man, not used to leading an army, but the commander Triad in Krause, Slanos and Isran are all formidable and experienced captains, whose allegience/loyalty to Lance is ironclad.

Vence – A protectorate of Bawsor, they enjoy relative autonomy, but keep up tax payments to the Empire in exchange for protection. Keeps a control over the old lands of the Empire where it was forced to withdraw from overextension. Depends heavily upon the Stewards of the South for military support.

The Harbonlands – A strip of territory hotly disputed between Bawsor, the Pharos Order and Kahal, a mesh of villages, towns and strongholds where fighting is rife for control of the rich lands. This poor region is often the hotseat of constant battle, piracy and warbands.

Pyra – The “Bow and Sail”, a small coastal nation to the far west of Klassos. The finest archers in the known world, made of the mystical stelwood tree. While Pyra as a nation ceases to exist, being harvested by the Selpvian Dominion and Bale Empire, its legacy as a powerful beacon of history still remains, with most of its military reforms still seen and practiced throughout the continent to this day. Pyran stelwood longbows and practices are a treasured luxury.

So that’s just a little teaser. There’s at least a dozen other little factions as well, all fighting for their own agenda.

7. What were the inspirations for The Thousand Scars?

A Song of Ice and Fire, Lord of the Rings, Time Commanders and Total War games. They were the crux of me building the world and the series. And of course, the swathe of ancient miltary history!

8. I noticed a definite Greek-Persian theme to the world. Was that deliberate?

To an extent, and I’m happy you spotted the theme! I based the human cultures in Counterbalance using a lot of ancient and medieval history. Military fantasy is one of my go-to reads; I find it fascinating.

For example, Imperial Bawsor (The Balian Empire) I created using a combination of Roman military hardware and medieval feudalism, mixed with ancient Greeks. Its rival nemesis the Selpvian Dominion I took aspects from Macedon, Carthage, Parthia and ancient Achaemenid Persia as inspiration for its massive but ungainly territory, mixed with fantasy and magical elements. There are some incredible ancient weapons and tactics I incorporated into the Counterbalance series, and like ancient history I pit different styles together. The disciplined infantry might of the Balian Legion battles the vast mobility and diversity of the Selpvian Army. There are many factions in Counterbalance that employ old tactics like the Greek phalanx or spearwall, with some rather magical archery in the Pyran stelwood forests. There’s a lot happening in my world.

As for the Pharos Order, I took elements from the Papal States, Greek cities and a little bit of LOTR archery and the elves. I took a lot of influences from real-world history into developing the land of Harloph, which is where the bulk of Counterbalance takes place. The Order I will be the first to admit get a lot of hate from other factions in the world because of their history and ideals, and are not the first ones to get poorly treated.

9. What is it like being an independent fantasy author?

It feels very strange! But first, I think it’s a good idea for me to talk a little about my journey and how I got to this point. Not many people know about my history.
I’m currently 28 years old, and for most of my life have loved reading and writing fiction; it’s a great feeling being able to craft your own world and tales with a stroke of a finger on the keyboard or a pen. Onto this. Back when I was maybe 10 or 11, I was creating a fantasy world around which eventually became the skeleton of the world I have now. I also wrote a story called Attack of the Silver Serpent, which I found in my room earlier this year while I was tidying it. Here is a picture down below of the monstrosity.

Image: Michael…that is a green serpent. I cringe reading it now, but it was a fun little thing I wrote when I was ten.

Back to the world. It took a very long time before it took shape, “borrowing” writing books in my English class to type up the battles and lore. I’m happy to say they never got those books back. Whoops. Unfortunately, it seems I have misplaced a lot of this, but I hope that some of it will be salvaged.

Think Time Commanders with loads of information about the armies and battles. This was the original inspiration, and I loved that TV show. Most of it was not brought forward into my fantasy world of today, but some elements remain. Eventually I stopped working on the world and just got on with more boring things like school, education and degrees.

Then time went on, into university. I graduated in 2011 with a degree in History, and quickly ran into the “I’ve graduated. What the hell do I do now?” dilemma. I admit, I took my degree out of interest rather than a business plan, but I do not regret doing it. I always followed my gut instinct on doing things I wanted to do, rather than conform to a life of work and death. Of course, work is vital, but humans should enjoy their life, not just spent the entirety of it training to work to pay bills then fade. I never wanted that.

Next came the slew of health problems. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is messy and really took it out of me during the 2011-12 period, and barely a day went by where I wasn’t in agony from stomach pains. Coupled with a very difficult year in 2012 with problems at home and my continued struggle in finding a job culminated in a nasty bout of depression, which I am not afraid to hide. It was a hellish year, but thankfully I was able to get help.

Dealing with the diagnosis…was not easy. I felt I was letting everyone down, and I had to deal with a few unhelpful people who tried the “people have it worse than you” card. In this mess and while I was starting to recover from the dark period, I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and frankly it blew my mind. (Although now Season 7 has happened, it’s really dropped in quality. Which is a shame. I’ll save my rant for that series for another happy time.)

With the help of useful friends, I secured the first copy of A Song of Ice and Fire and begun reading. Reading George R.R. Martin’s work changed me for the better. Furthermore, it got me thinking of my fantasy world and wondered if I could make it a reality. By this point, I had not touched the world in nearly a decade, but I had already had some experience with writing long fiction, but that was mainly fan-fiction. (Very poorly made fanfiction, I might add, but it was popular at least) In the middle of another failed rewrite of that fanfiction during one of my recovery periods, I realised I could use that knowledge and lessons learnt to work on my own novel.

I thought: “If people could do it, I can too!” And I began my journey then. Call it a rebirth, but it was the start of a long, enjoyable and frustrating journey. It took many years and many harsh lessons, but I feel in a decent place right now. I still struggle with my mental health daily and deal with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis late 2014, but I’m still here, and I’m still alive, which is what counts. There were many times when I didn’t think I’d make it.

10. How has the reaction to your books been so far?

Surprisingly positive. I didn’t come into The Thousand Scars with much, if any confidence. Even now I still find I cannot read my own book due to my own insecurities about it. Down below is some quotes discussing the book.

"In some ways this reminds me of indie Malazan. One of the better unknowns I've read lately."
"The Thousand Scars is grimdark and it is gloriously so. I am going to state that with the exception of WHERE LOYALTIES LIE by Rob J. Hayes and THE GRAY SISTER by Mark Lawrence, it is the purest example of the genre I've read this year. It's also great."

Most people agree the beginning is the weakest point of the book, and there are some teething troubles to fix. These are things I plan to address in the future, and The Aegis Mora should address all of that feedback onwards. I’ve learned a lot of lessons with The Thousand Scars. Already I feel I’ve improved. It took two years to write a first draft of The Aegis Mora, compared to four years for the first book!

11. What can we expect from you next?

That’s hard to say. I’ve decided to take future books away from my current publisher (I want to see what I can accomplish elsewhere), so there is going to be a significant lull unfortunately in getting out books. Currently I am editing THE AEGIS MORA, book two of the Counterbalance series, as well as working on a standalone novel set in the same world as Counterbalance called THE SKELETON EYE, which is a heist novel.

12. Are there any other indie authors you'd recommend?

So many!  Dyrk Ashton, Michael R. Fletcher, Rob Hayes, Devin Madson, Ben Galley, Graham Austin King, Charles Phipps (cough), Lindsay Buroker, Ty Authur and so many more. I’d be here all day otherwise. Thanks for having me!

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