Review: The Orc of Many Questions by Shane Michael Murray

(“A book with nonhuman characters” from the Reading Challenge)

I got this book specifically because it seemed like it would have an unorthodox take on orcs, and I was not disappointed.

The story follows a young orc (a “blunc”) who unusually has a fairly sharp mind and a very inquisitive nature; not attributes that are looked on favorably in his tribe. Large, powerful orcs who can be successful in raids against the humans, elves, and dwarves of the world are the ideal, this being the only way that the orcs can procure food, weapons, goods, and “entertainment.” Talking-Wind wants to know why his people are stuck in this life of constant raiding, and even has some hints that life was not always like this for orcs, but he has more questions than answers, and little time to search for them. Talking-Wind’s curiosity draws unwanted attention not only from the other young orcs, who are all too happy to bully someone smaller and weaker, but also from the dragon that demands regular tribute from the orc clan. When the dragon comes for him, Talking-Wind needs all his wits in order to have a hope of surviving long enough to get all of his many questions answered!

This book was a lot grosser than I was expecting, which perhaps should not have surprised me given the subject of the story; there is some gore, but mainly a lot of unpleasant bodily functions! This does not detract from the story, but might be something to be aware of.

It also does a good job with starting to break down the standard fantasy trope of “orcs are evil because they are evil,” which has bothered me more and more in recent years. A certain well-known fantasy series that shall not be named recently doubled-down on this, after spending several books/years looking like they too might be reversing or at least questioning the trope, which annoyed me. Partly for that reason, I’ve been looking for stories that do better and don’t automatically go the route of saying that some races are actually evil by nature. To me, that makes for much less interesting villains/enemies. Easier to kill with a clean conscience, perhaps, but not much else.

There is a sequel which I have not gotten to yet, but do hope to read soon! I would recommend this one to anyone who is interested in a subversion of typical fantasy tropes, anyone who likes a very down-to-earth-complete-with-bodily-fluids type of story, or anyone who happens to be interested in orcs as a fantasy race.

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Review: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán

My first thought when I finished this book was “I have died and gone to heaven…or maybe just to Paradise.”

In many ways, this is just another Alternate-Medieval-Europe fantasy (though quite well-written); it has bloody battles, secret (and not so secret) religious fanatics of various flavors, and plenty of political intrigue. I appreciated the author’s way of using languages; the book is written in English, but he uses a blend of English and other languages to give the sense of the different countries, for instance giving titles in both Spanish or French as well as in English. It leaves the reader not needing to guess what unfamiliar words mean, while still getting to see them, learn them, and appreciate the varied vocabulary.

In many ways, it is just another fantasy…but it also has dinosaurs.

Some reviewers have made the point that this story is not a Medieval Jurassic Park. I agree, and would then add that I think it’s much better than that. If you are a Jurassic Park fan and your favorite part is that a bunch of people run around screaming and then get eaten by the dinosaurs, this may not be the book for you (though some people do get killed/eaten by dinosaurs in the story).

I think the best way to describe it is to say that dinosaurs exist in the world of Paradise; they are animals that inhabit the land, and people have learned to exist with them, much as we exist with the many animals around us today. There are some unique challenges to life with dinosaurs, given their often-large size and definite ability to cause harm to humans, but in this world those are challenges that people have undertaken. Some dinosaurs still roam the wild, and are hunted for meat or sport or self-protection by the humans. Many have been tamed or domesticated to one degree or another; they are beasts of burden, war-steeds, pets. The dinosaurs in the world of Paradise feel real, because they are part of the landscape and the ecosystem and the culture; much better than attractions at an amusement park.

To many of the characters, this is all dinosaurs are: part of the landscape, a familiar backdrop to everyday life. But to a couple of the characters (and to the author, I believe), the dinosaurs are more than that: to these characters, dinosaurs are a source of awe. Even as they fully understand and constantly deal with the realities (pleasant and otherwise) of coexisting with dinosaurs, they never lose the lingering edge of breathless wonder at the existence of these great creatures. That, more than anything, was what sold me on this book’s premise and world (and not surprisingly, those two characters are my favorites so far!)

I did enjoy the story itself, and am interested to see where it goes in the next two books of this (I believe) trilogy. This is a very adult book – plenty of gore, sex, violence, and foul language. If you don’t mind those things, then I would recommend it to fans of dinosaurs (the author seems to have done his research fairly well), fans of epic medieval fantasy, and fans of stories with battles and political intrigue.

Update on The Wizard of Suomen

My editor (Facets Fiction Editing) returned her edits and suggestions to me several weeks ago. She was very positive about the story, and her suggestions were very helpful! Draft 5 was my working through these, and although there were no major structural changes to be made, it is definitely a stronger story now. She also did a copyedit for me, and helped me fix a number of small grammatical issues. (I have to improve my use of commas and em-dashes. >.>)

One of my other beta readers has been kind enough to do a final proof-read for me on a paper copy, and I am going to read through the same paper copy myself one last time, because I am feeling paranoid about everything right now. There will be some last minor adjustments to make, but the story is largely done.

So, that means it’s time to look at the next steps.

I am still very interested in self-publishing this story, and have been doing some research about this. I found the book Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran very helpful in this regard. Not only does he lay out a clear path of the steps you need to go through to do a good job of self-publishing a book, but he also gives a very interesting overview of the history of the publishing industry, Amazon, and e-books, and how these have affected the publishing landscape over the last decade. (I, at least, found this very interesting, and learned many things that I didn’t know.)

My immediate next steps then are getting cover art (I’m looking at some options for this), and formatting the text as an actual e-book. Gaughran recommended Guido Henkel’s Take pride in your eBook formatting tutorial (free), which was very helpful. I also chose to purchase Henkel’s book, Zen of eBook Formatting, which is an expanded and updated version of the tutorial linked above. I am definitely glad that I bought the full book, but if you are putting together a book with a simple format, then the tutorial would probably be sufficient guidance. There were sections of the book that I skimmed, because they described formatting for things that I don’t need to do for my book, but I am glad to know that I have a resource for those things if I need it. Having read the basics twice now, and knowing that I have the book immediately on hand as a reference, I feel confident that I can do this part of the process myself.

I think those are the big things for now! There will be some other minor steps that I may talk about here as I do them, but for now the final editing, cover art, and formatting are my main concerns.

Other writing projects are still in progress. I have backstories for some of the TWoS characters that I’m planning to publish separately as a sort of prequel, and I have started the draft of my other (bigger) fantasy series. I have done a little bit of planning for the TWoS sequel, but that will be out a little ways yet. And it’s possible that I might even finish a short story or two somewhere along the way here. ^_^;;

I’ll continue to post some updates here as I go along. I will be looking for some people to give Advance Reader Copies to, at some point, and I’ll post about that here as well!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me on this project thus far! I’ve learned a lot and it’s really been a lot of fun bringing this world and these characters to life.

~Ethelinda

Rough drafts

As I’m working on book one of the Epic Fantasy Series, I’m trying out the concept of a really rough draft: leaving out names of places and people if I haven’t figured out what they are yet, writing notes to myself as reminders, and just throwing in mini-outlines at certain points if I don’t quite know what’s going to happen in a particular scene yet. This is a different method for a first draft than I’ve tried before, and it’s quite freeing! Rather than get hung up on the details at this stage, I can let the story flow for now, with the reassurance that I’ll go back later and fill in/fix up the things that I’m passing over at the moment.

It does leave me with some (to me, at least) semi-humorous bits here and there, such as:

“…and targeted at the ears of the horses. [is this even a thing? Are horse ears sensitive? As per that one tumblr post, seems like yes, but should look into this]…”

And:

“-C very emotional about losing drum

-they feed him, get him settled for the night?? What time of day even is it.”

(I think it’s late afternoon, actually, but I’ll work it out for sure later. XD)

~Ethelinda

Draft 4 done!

Drafts three and four of The Wizard of Suomen are finished!

Draft three was a line-edit on paper, because it’s easier for me to catch some mistakes that way. I got that done and the edits transferred back to my electronic copy at 12:31AM on February 7, 2016, with the story at 157,594 words, 329 pages in Word.

I finished the fourth draft two nights ago, at 11:00PM on July 26, 2016. As of now, the story stands at 157,228 words, 328 pages in Word.

And, as of Wednesday, I have sent it to my editor! I will be working with Gina Hilse of Facets Fiction Editing. I won’t be doing any further work on it until I get her feedback. Undoubtedly there is still a lot of room for improvement, but I’m looking forward to putting the best possible version of this story out there as a finished product!

In the meantime, I’m going to do some planning on bigger projects, and hopefully get some other short things written (though given my current pace, I make no specific promises. >.>)

~Ethelinda