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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Review and Giveaway - Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff

AuthorSarah Tarkoff
Series:  Eye of the Beholder 1
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, January 9, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  US$15.99 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780062456380 (print); 9780062456397 (ebook)

Review and Giveaway - Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff
With shades of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and Ally Condie’s Matched, this cinematic dystopian novel—the first in the thrilling Eye of the Beholder series—is set in a near future society in which "right" and "wrong" are manifested by beauty and ugliness.

In Grace Luther’s world, morality is physically enforced. Those who are "good" are blessed with beauty, while those who are not suffer horrifying consequences—disfigurement or even death. The daughter of a cleric, Grace has always had faith in the higher power that governs her world. But when she stumbles onto information that leaves her questioning whether there are more complicated—and dangerous—forces manipulating the people around her, she finds herself at the center of an epic battle, where good and evil are not easily distinguished. Despite all her efforts to live a normal teenage life, Grace is faced with a series of decisions that will risk the lives of everyone she loves—and, ultimately, her own.

With each page in this electrifying debut novel, Sarah Tarkoff masterfully plunges us into a nightmarish vision of the future. Full of high drama and pulsating tension, Sinless explores the essential questions teenagers wrestle with every day—What is beauty? What is faith? Do we take our surroundings at face value and accept all that we have been taught, or do we question the mores of the society into which we are born?—and places them in the context of a dark, dystopian world where appearances are most definitely deceiving.

Qwill's Thoughts

Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff is the first novel in the Eye of the Beholder trilogy. This is a YA novel with very strong adult crossover appeal. The story is told from the point of view of Grace Luther, the teenage daughter of a cleric. The setting is the near future America after the Revelation when the Great Spirit revealed itself to humanity. Belief in the Great Spirit has become universal. All other faiths have faded in the overwhelming onslaught of this new god. People are Punished if they do something wrong - their looks are affected. The ultimate punishment is death. But in between the religious and the pure of heart/thought and death via Punishment for a moral failing are the Outcasts. These are people who are disfigured by their sins. The Great Spirit makes it easy to see who is good and who is evil. Stay on the straight and narrow, avoid sins, believe in and follow the rules of the Great Spirit and you are beautiful. Stray and you are disfigured or dead.

Grace is the daughter of a leading cleric in the new religion. She was young when the Great Spirit appeared. Now she is a very well-behaved and pure teenager who believes in the Great Spirit thoroughly. Sinless deals with the gradual (and not so gradual) unraveling of her beliefs. This is Grace's story. I did not initially like Grace. She changes her thoughts and feelings so much that the reader could at times get whiplash. In other words, I found her to be a very credible teenager. I think my problems with Grace stem form Tarkoff spending too little time making the initial changes in Grace's thinking believable. I found that process too abrupt which for me made almost everything she did from that point suspect. Grace is being pulled in so many directions. What and who should she believe? Who is telling the truth? I found her internal monologue at times illuminating but did not really enjoy being in her brain so much. I came to like her though. She struggled with everything and like most people made good and bad decisions. In Sinless she is looking back on the events of those teenage years. It is made very clear in the beginning that Grace is telling her story from a federal prison. How she ended up in prison is not revealed in Sinless.

Tarkoff's writing flows beautifully and the world building is exceptional. The advent of the Great Spirit and the resulting world is very well done. There are some terrific and surprising reveals about the Great Spirit. A world where everyone behaves well because of immediate fear of disfigurement or death sounds peaceful and wonderful but it is not. As Grace learns more about a world she was so certain of so do we. The cracks in the surface of this peaceful world are there. Tarkoff has created a true dystopia.

The supporting cast was interesting. We don't get much background on many of them but then Sinless is not really about them. What is important about them, at least in Sinless, is their interactions and influences on Grace. From her father to the Prophet Joshua, we see them through Grace's eyes.

There is a lot more to learn about this new world of the Great Spirit and many questions that need to be answered. Fortunately there are 2 more novels upcoming in the series. Tarkoff gives the reader a lot to think about - faith, beauty, guilt, and what are you willing to give up to live in an apparently perfect world? Sinless is an engaging and entertaining debut.

The Giveaway

What:  2 copies of Sinless (Trade Paperback) by Sarah Tarkoff. 2 books - 2 winners - 1 book each US ONLY

  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Sinless“ with or without the quote marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the novel(s) and is provided The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.
Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a United States mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on January 18, 2018. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

The winner of the September 2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars is An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King from Harper Voyager with 25% of the votes. The cover design is by Kapo Ng.

An Excess Male
Harper Voyager, September 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner
From debut author Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male is the chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives.

China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.

Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.

The Results

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

The September 2017 Debuts

2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September Winner

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint

Please welcome Ausma Zehanat Khan to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Bloodprint, the author's first speculative fiction novel, is published on October 3rd by Harper Voyager.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Ausma a Happy Publication Day!

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Ausma:  I’ve been writing since I was a child, mainly because my head is filled with voices and writing seems like a good way to expunge them. As I grew up and became more serious about writing, I realized I have stories to tell—stories about people from backgrounds like mine. I wanted to be able to add my voice because it was something I didn’t see very much of when I was growing up. Representation is so important to your sense of yourself, it helps you understand the value of your contribution. Writing was one way to explore that.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Ausma:  I’m definitely a plotter. Part of it is stress factor—I can’t handle the stress of not knowing outcomes or how to get from A to Z. But mostly it’s because I like to do a lot of reading beforehand which helps me flesh out my story and lay it all out in my mind. I’m not completely rigid though—I outline very thoroughly, but if something new comes up, I try to follow where it leads.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ausma:  I’d have to say it’s deadlines. There’s simply not enough time in the day to read, plan, write, and keep up on social media. So often I want to curl up with a book or visit family or get other things done, and I really have to work at being disciplined.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Ausma:  The Ngaio Marsh mysteries with their gift for language. Dune by Frank Herbert was an awe-inspiring work of science fiction for me. The Shannara series by Terry Brooks for making me fall madly in love with fantasy. And I try to read a lot of history and books in translation so I can have a better sense of how rich and diverse our world is, and how we all fit together. I can never decide if my favourite book is Dune or if it’s Samarkand by Amin Maalouf. Both have influenced The Bloodprint.

TQDescribe The Bloodprint in 140 characters or less.

Ausma:  Arian and Sinnia, two powerful women warriors, embark on a quest for a sacred text that will help them defeat the oppressive rule of the Talisman.

Did I make it under 140?

TQTell us something about The Bloodprint that is not found in the book description.

Ausma:  The Bloodprint features a slow-burning, long-thwarted romance between two of its lead characters—Arian and Daniyar. It was my favorite part of the book to write!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Bloodprint? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?

Ausma:  I visited the Chamber of Holy Relics at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul several years ago. I was in the presence of a sacred manuscript and the room around me was filled with reverence for the written word. I wanted to capture that feeling in a book.

I like the narrative freedom that writing fantasy offers. I love its scope for building new worlds while relying on touchstones that we recognize from our own. Much of the fantasy I read is about the struggle between good and evil and the desire of good people to reclaim their worlds from darkness. I find that necessary and relevant today.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Bloodprint?

Ausma:  I read a lot of books about the history of the Silk Road, particularly the routes through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. And I read a lot of political history about Central Asia. I became more than a little obsessed with the accomplishments and conquests of the Mongol Empire. I also watched documentaries, and studied hundreds of maps and photographs to get a better feel for the kind of world I wanted to create.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Bloodprint?

Ausma:  I love the cover designed by Steve Stone! It completely suggests a world in turmoil and under threat. And it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the main stronghold depicted on the cover represents the Citadel of the Council of Hira, a powerful group of women mystics. My protagonists Arian and Sinnia are members of the Council of Hira—the Citadel is their home.

TQIn The Bloodprint who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Ausma:  The easiest character to write was Arian because I’d been thinking about what drives her for so long and I had a strong sense of her personality: she’s stubbornly dedicated to doing what she thinks is right but she’s willing to listen to the wisdom of others…in most cases. I know her background, her history and what she’ll sacrifice in pursuit of her quest. The hardest character to write was Daniyar because he keeps so much to himself and he resists when I want to push him to the forefront of the book. He reminds me that this is Arian’s story. But I worked at making him more flawed and relatable, so he isn’t just this aloof, sexy warrior.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Bloodprint?

Ausma:  I have a background in human rights so human rights issues are always at the forefront of my mind. I’m interested in exploring the question of what happens to societies that have experienced the hardships of war. What emerges from those broken politics? And what kinds of social and political conditions lead to authoritarianism or state breakdown? A common outcome of state collapse is the extreme vulnerability of women, children and minorities. The Bloodprint explores that kind of world and examines the question of what it would take to change things for the better.

TQWhich question about The Bloodprint do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Ausma:  Do I know a man like Daniyar in real life? Let’s just say yes and leave it at that!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Bloodprint.


       Silence and isolation were the legacy of the wars of the Far Range, the countryside despoiled and dangerous, outsiders viewed with suspicion and distrust. Women caught in the open were sold to slave-chains. Men were conscripted to the Talisman cause.

       And so the vast, wild country of Khorasan had shrunk into these pockets of ignorance and fear.

TQWhat's next?

Ausma:  I’ve completed the second book of the Khorasan Archives—the sequel to The Bloodprint—and will begin work on the third installment soon. I’m hoping to do some travel for research, but in the meantime, I’m finishing edits on my fourth mystery, A Dangerous Crossing, which will be out next February. I’ve also begun work on the fifth book in my detective series. It’s been a completely hectic but wonderful time!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ausma:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Bloodprint
The Khorasan Archives
Harper Voyager, October 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint
The author of the acclaimed mystery The Unquiet Dead delivers her first fantasy novel—the opening installment in a thrilling quartet—a tale of religion, oppression, and political intrigue that radiates with heroism, wonder, and hope.

A dark power called the Talisman, born of ignorance and persecution, has risen in the land. Led by a man known only as the One-Eyed Preacher, it is a cruel and terrifying movement bent on world domination—a superstitious patriarchy that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women. And it is growing.

But there are those who fight the Talisman’s spread, including the Companions of Hira, a diverse group of influential women whose power derives from the Claim—the magic inherent in the words of a sacred scripture. Foremost among them is Arian and her fellow warrior, Sinnia, skilled fighters who are knowledgeable in the Claim. This daring pair have long stalked Talisman slave-chains, searching for clues and weapons to help them battle their enemy’s oppressive ways. Now they may have discovered a miraculous symbol of hope that can destroy the One-Eyed Preacher and his fervid followers: the Bloodprint, a dangerous text the Talisman has tried to erase from the world.

Finding the Bloodprint promises to be their most perilous undertaking yet, an arduous journey that will lead them deep into Talisman territory. Though they will be helped by allies—a loyal boy they freed from slavery and a man that used to be both Arian’s confidant and sword master—Arian and Sinnia know that this mission may well be their last.

About Ausma

Interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The Bloodprint
Photo by Athif Khan
Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a PhD in international human rights law with a specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans.  She is the author of the award-winning debut novel The Unquiet Dead, the first in the Khattak/Getty mystery series. Her subsequent novels include The Language of Secrets and Among the Ruins. A British-born Canadian, she now lives in Colorado with her husband.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @ausmazehanat

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male

Please welcome Maggie Shen King to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. An Excess Male was published on September 12th by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Maggie:  Thank you for having me. It is a real pleasure for me to tell your readers about my book.

I studied English literature in college and have been an avid reader my entire life. I took one creative writing class in college and have always dreamed about becoming a writer some day. About ten years ago, when my youngest child started middle school and I had more time at my disposal, I sat down and gave writing a serious try.

I discovered that I really liked inventing stories, puzzling together scenes and situations, and polishing sentences over and over until I got them right. Writing suited my temperament and helped me find myself after a decade and a half dedicated to raising my boys.

I am very fortunate to live next door to Stanford University, and I started taking creative writing classes there.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Maggie:  I have been both a plotter and a pantser. An Excess Male is my first published novel, but my second attempt at writing one. My first effort, Fortune’s Fools, was written with an outline which I found very comforting at the time. I did not always follow it, but I had a fuzzy idea where I was heading.

An Excess Male was a writing experiment and an education every step of the way. I first wrote “Ball and Chain,” a short story which was published by Asimov’s Science Fiction. I was intrigued by the experiences of each member of this potential family and wrote alternating chapters from their points of view. I liked their voices but had no idea where they would lead me. It was fun and, at times, nerve-racking.

I thought I was writing a modern twist on the marriage plot with a male protagonist at its center. A fifth of the way into the writing, I realized that I also had a speculative dystopian novel on my hands and had to learn about the genre.

When I was at 90,000 words, I experienced a small panic attack. I didn’t know if my year-plus effort had an ending. I still remember meeting for coffee with my writing group pal, M.P. Cooley, and the two of us forcing each other to think through to the conclusions of our respective books.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Maggie:  Not get distracted by email and all the tantalizing things on the internet is my biggest challenge. I think best with my fingers on the keyboard, and I find that if I am able to do that, the words and ideas usually come.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Maggie:  I think my greatest influences first and foremost were my writing teachers at Stanford Continuing Studies. I’ve had the fortune to learn from Professor Nancy Packer and Stegner Fellows Eric Puchner, Thomas McNeely, and Otis Haschemeyer. They taught me the craft of writing and much, much more.

In writing An Excess Male, I looked to a number of books for guidance. The Handmaid’s Tale is quite similar thematically to mine. It fascinated me that the draconian measures in both The Handmaid’s Tale and in my book began as well-intentioned efforts to solve serious crises. The theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale was facing an eroding environment, sharply declining fertility rates, and possible extinction while the State in An Excess Male was contending with overpopulation and mass starvation. The original intent in both cases was good, yet the practice in actuality was the legislation of what can and cannot be done to women’s bodies.

Another book that was very much on my mind was Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. My book also had a situation where an entire citizenry was made disposable by a national narrative, a setting where everyone was aware of the unspoken subtext in public utterances, where it was not always safe for one’s outward actions to mirror what was in one’s heart. I was really inspired by a passage in The Orphan Master’s Son—a talk every parent must have with his or her child about how they must speak and act in the way expected by the State, yet inside they must still be a family and their true selves. They must hold hands in their hearts.

Some other books that helped me with world building and speculative dystopian novels: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Vampires in the Lemon Grove and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell.

TQDescribe An Excess Male in 140 characters or less.

Maggie:  Under the One-Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son. Now 30 million of them can’t find wives, and the State must intervene again.

TQTell us something about An Excess Male that is not found in the book description.

Maggie:  The many hours I spent at children’s laser tag parties helped me dream up scenes in this book.

TQWhat inspired you to write An Excess Male?

Maggie:  I got the idea five years ago when I opened up the morning paper and read about the gender imbalance in China brought on by its One Child Policy and cultural bias for male heirs. By the year 2030, 25% of men in their late thirties—nearly 30 million people—will never have married.

I learned that the natural sex ratio at birth is about 107 boys to 100 girls. The skew is nature’s ingenious way of making up for the higher mortality rate among males. During the 37 years in which the One Child Policy was law, the ratio got as high as 137 to 100 in some rural provinces.

Even with the phasing out of the law starting in 2015, this society will be testosterone-fueled, prone to aggression and crime, and plagued by an undercurrent of loneliness and dissatisfaction for decades to come. And to make matters even more intriguing, all of these unmarried men are the only children in their families, accustomed to the undivided attention of doting parents and grandparents.

This news story had more zip than my morning coffee, and I was convinced right away that it held the premise for an interesting novel.

TQWhat appealed to you about writing a near-future novel about what might happen due to China's One Child Policy?

Maggie:  After the Great Leap Forward, China was facing food shortages and mass starvation. Population control was essential, and the One Child Policy was China’s answer to a very serious crisis.

This policy also became one the largest scaled and longest lasting social engineering experiment of all time. It was enforced by Chinese officials and at times, by its citizenry in ways that often violated widely accepted rules of ethics and human decency. Despite the cultural bias for male heirs and repeated warnings from census data, the law remained in effect for nearly forty years.

It was an experiment that created serious unintended consequences, a true cautionary tale against man’s attempt to interfere with the natural order.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for An Excess Male?

Maggie:  In the process of writing two books, I discovered that for me research could become an excuse for not writing. After doing some reading on the subject in newspapers and magazines, I did internet searches as I wrote when the need arose. I also searched for appropriate photographs online to help me visualize settings and capture moods. Researching in this manner saved me time and made me focus on the story, and the material I found was exactly what I needed for the scene I was working on.

I joke with my friends that I should thank Google’s search engine in my book’s acknowledgement page, but it is really not a joke. It is mind-blowing the amount of information that is at our fingertips. Except for my visit to Beijing, I was able to find everything I needed online.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for An Excess Male.

Maggie:  The cover was designed by Kapo Ng. I loved it at first sight. The very modern male figure with the movie-star good looks pulled me in right away. I felt compelled to focus on him only to discover that his substance is composed of his city scape. He is a man defined by his homeland. The two bold, diagonal red stripes seem to place him behind bars, to circumscribe him in a way. Despite his winning looks, “An Excess Male” is nevertheless stamped across his visage, and the rather unforgiving, institutional labeling with the Buran USSR font (love that name) of the title further restricts him. The color scheme completes the cover by perfectly encapsulating the authoritarian elements of the story.

When I received the finished copy of the book, I was pleasantly surprised by the gloss that was added to the red stripes and title. It made the cover even more eye catching.

TQIn An Excess Male who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Maggie:  I found XX the easiest and the most fun character to write. He was on the autism spectrum and had a very distinct voice, one that was so logical it defied logic. There was no artifice to him. He began the book with the least amount of influence and power within his family, yet by just being who he was, he was able to make himself indispensable during a family crisis. Achieving that kind of reversal for a character was immensely satisfying.

I found my central female character, May-ling, the most difficult to write. Women were so rare in this society, they became nearly subhuman, a resource to be protected, commoditized, and allocated. She was the product of greedy daughter breeders. I wanted May-ling to be true to her upbringing and environment, and I had a difficult time with her youth and naiveté. She was initially focused solely on her relationships with her husband and son, and it felt stifling to confine her powers to the domestic realm. What she most desired—true physical and emotional connection with Hann—was absolutely crucial to her marriage, and her ability to vocalize and assert her need was instrumental to her growth. But the day-to-day drama of it began to feel repetitive and petty. It was when she moved out of the domestic situation into the the bigger world—into confrontations with other mothers at the park, with MONKeyKing, and with Tommy and Quality Gao that she comes into her own for me and finds agency.

TQWhich question about An Excess Male do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Maggie:  What is your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene is the last merengue at the TV station. The book starts out with the dance and comes full circle in this scene. I love the cacophony of the crashing heels, the pathetic step and drag of the movement, the helplessness and desperation in the gesture, but also the power in these small acts of rebellion.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from An Excess Male.

Maggie:  How about three quotes that together sum up the premise and tone of the book?

“The government has awarded us—members of ‘The Bounty’—official status, investing in public campaigns to make the phrases ‘unmarriageable,’ ‘excess,’ and ‘leftover’ men unpatriotic and backwards.”

“The distraction and physical exhaustion of a thoughtful exercise plan are as non-negotiable for [members of ‘The Bounty’] as sleep, food, and weekly, State-arranged sex.”

“These days, only fools speak freely amongst strangers.”

TQWhat's next?

Maggie:  Here is one of the ideas I’m playing with: In addition to 30 million unmarriageable men, the One Child Policy has produced yet another set of victims—girls whose hukou or household registration were saved by their parents for a younger brother. These girls, called heihaizi or shadow or ghost children, are undocumented, illegal, and non-existent in the eyes of the law. They have no rights to health care, education, or legal protection. They cannot ride public transportation, marry, obtain or inherit property, or have children. The 2010 Census estimated the number of “nonpersons” to be at least 13 million. You can read my short story at:

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

An Excess Male
Harper Voyager, September 12, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male
From debut author Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male is the chilling dystopian tale of politics, inequality, marriage, love, and rebellion, set in a near-future China, that further explores the themes of the classics The Handmaid's Tale and When She Woke.

Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.

Now 40 million of them can't find wives.

China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.

Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.

In Maggie Shen King’s startling and beautiful debut, An Excess Male looks to explore the intersection of marriage, family, gender, and state in an all-too-plausible future.

About Maggie

Interview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess Male
Photo by Connie Tamaddon
Maggie Shen King grew up in Taiwan and attended both Chinese and American schools before moving to Seattle at age sixteen. She studied English literature at Harvard, and her short stories have appeared in Ecotone, ZYZZYVA, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. Her manuscript Fortune’s Fools won second prize in Amazon’s 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She lives near San Francisco, California.

Website  ~  Twitter @MaggieShenKing  ~  Facebook

Melanie's Week in Review - August 27, 2017

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017

Whoop whoop! Its bank holiday weekend and the weather is lovely. If you have been following my WIR you will know that the weather in the UK has been dismal with a capital 'D' in December. I could actually sit outside this afternoon without wearing a sweater. What a treat! Speaking of treats wait until you find out about what I have been reading.

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
I was super lucky to receive The Brightest Fell, the 11th instalment of the October Daye series, from the publisher via NetGalley. The story starts not long after the events of book 10 - Once Broken Faith - and opens with October's bachelorette party. It was a veritable supernatural convention with nearly every female character from the series in attendance. Just when things are looking up for the unlucky heroine her mother - Amandine the Liar - turns up on her doorstep demanding that October find her long lost daughter (Toby's half-sister). To ensure that October does what she is told Amandine takes Tybalt hostage. Toby has no choice - look for her sister who has been missing for decades or lose the love of her life. Toby needs help and sometimes that help comes from where she least expects it. The path to true love is a thorny one and now Toby is on the clock ...find her sister or lose everything.

I don't want to give too much away so apologies for being vague. I always enjoy the books in this series but I really wish that McGuire would give poor Toby a break. I guess it would make for a boring story if everything was sunshine and roses (well maybe not roses for Toby!) without the near death experiences, loss of loved ones or races against time. There is a lot happening in this instalment as the plot progresses at the same time as we find out more of events that pre-date even Toby. If this was an earlier book in the series then I would have loved it but 11 books in and I just hope that McGuire wraps the series up soon. That said, I do enjoy stories with strong female leads and Toby is nothing short of brave.

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
Again, lucky me as I also received Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill via NetGalley. If you are a science fiction fan then this is the book for you. In fact, this is a must read. This is the story of the rise of the machine - mankind has been wiped out when the robots they created to make life easier destroyed them all. Now two super computers - One World Networks - are fighting for supremacy. There are a few freebots that are left to roam the desolate globe searching for spare parts which are in ever increasing short supply. The story centers on Brittle who started its existence as a comfort bot...charged with taking care of a dying man. As the robot/human war unfolds Brittle makes choices that will haunt it for decades. Amongst the wasteland where both humans and robots died Brittle searches for an every decreasing supply of parts and through that search ends up on a mission that could change everything.....or nothing. What will Brittle chose?

This is a fantastic book, in fact one of my favourite books of 2017. I wasn't expecting to like it so much, especially given the subject matter but I did. Every chapter had a new surprise and I could never guess what was going to happen next. I loved the Terminator films but imagine a world where Sarah Connor doesn't survive. Bleak? Yes, but despite the austerity the world that Cargill creates is colourful and vibrant in its own way. Like I said...this is a must read.

That is it for me this week....and in fact for a few weeks. I am taking short hiatus while I re-charge my reading batteries. Don't miss me too much....or better yet...miss me A LOT! Until then Happy Reading!

The Brightest Fell
October Daye 11
DAW, September 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
New York Times-bestselling October Daye faerie series • Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire • ”Top of my urban-paranormal series list!” —Felicia Day

Contains an original bonus novella, Of Things Unknown!

Things are slow, and October “Toby” Daye couldn’t be happier about that. The elf-shot cure has been approved, Arden Windermere is settling into her position as Queen in the Mists, and Toby doesn’t have anything demanding her attention except for wedding planning and spending time with her family.

Maybe she should have realized that it was too good to last.

When Toby’s mother, Amandine, appears on her doorstep with a demand for help, refusing her seems like the right thing to do…until Amandine starts taking hostages, and everything changes. Now Toby doesn’t have a choice about whether or not she does as her mother asks. Not with Jazz and Tybalt’s lives hanging in the balance. But who could possibly help her find a pureblood she’s never met, one who’s been missing for over a hundred years?

Enter Simon Torquill, elf-shot enemy turned awakened, uneasy ally. Together, the two of them must try to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the Mists: what happened to Amandine’s oldest daughter, August, who disappeared in 1906.

This is one missing person case Toby can’t afford to get wrong.

Sea of Rust
Harper Voyager, September 5, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017
A scavenger robot wanders in the wasteland created by a war that has destroyed humanity in this evocative post-apocalyptic "robot western" from the critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, and noted film critic.

It’s been thirty years since the apocalypse and fifteen years since the murder of the last human being at the hands of robots. Humankind is extinct. Every man, woman, and child has been liquidated by a global uprising devised by the very machines humans designed and built to serve them. Most of the world is controlled by an OWI—One World Intelligence—the shared consciousness of millions of robots, uploaded into one huge mainframe brain. But not all robots are willing to cede their individuality—their personality—for the sake of a greater, stronger, higher power. These intrepid resisters are outcasts; solo machines wandering among various underground outposts who have formed into an unruly civilization of rogue AIs in the wasteland that was once our world.

One of these resisters is Brittle, a scavenger robot trying to keep a deteriorating mind and body functional in a world that has lost all meaning. Although unable to experience emotions like a human, Brittle is haunted by the terrible crimes the robot population perpetrated on humanity. As Brittle roams the Sea of Rust, a large swath of territory that was once the Midwest, the loner robot slowly comes to terms with horrifyingly raw and vivid memories—and nearly unbearable guilt.

Sea of Rust is both a harsh story of survival and an optimistic adventure. A vividly imagined portrayal of ultimate destruction and desperate tenacity, it boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, yet where a humanlike AI strives to find purpose among the ruins.

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon

Please welcome Marina J. Lostetter to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Noumenon was published on August 1st by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Marina:  Thank you for having me! My love for writing started in the fourth grade. I even remember the first short story I wrote, about my friends and I getting lost in the woods (truth be told, it was more or less a long list of the ways that I was prepared for the situation).

I began to pursue writing professionally around 2010, after graduating from college.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Marina:  Plotter, all the way, though my outlines are largely train-of-thought block paragraphs that contradict each other. Outlining is where I get to tell myself the story and not worry if it sounds pretty or makes sense, which means it's the part I enjoy the most.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Marina:  The upside to plotting for me is the focus it brings to drafting a story--the words flow well once I know where I'm going and what I'm trying to say. The downside is my tendency to try to bend the characters to fit the plot. I often write myself into corners because I want events to happen a certain way, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters to make the choices I want them to.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Marina:  Books I read early that still resonate with me include A Wrinkle in Time, Holes, Wolf Tower, and The Giver. As I grew, sci-fi like Hyperion, Vellum, and Calculating God hit themes that I explore in my own work. Video games have also influenced me greatly--the Final Fantasy series from Square Enix especially. I also really love history and science, and non-fiction in both subjects have been a boon for me.

TQDescribe Noumenon in 140 characters or less.

Marina:  It's an epic interstellar adventure featuring clones, rogue AIs, alien artifacts, and dubious signals from a far-off star.

TQTell us something about Noumenon that is not found in the book description.

Marina:  The ship's Inter Convoy Computer--I.C.C. for short--is a central character, and an anti-HAL 9000.

TQPlease tell us about the title of the novel.

Marina:  A Noumenon is the flip side of a phenomenon. It is a thing in and of itself, the unmeasurable reality. While technically everything has a noumenal quality (philosophically speaking), the example I like to give is thought: we know thoughts and ideas exist, they are realities, we can measure their effects and some of their causes, but we cannot detect or measure ideas themselves as individual things.

In the book, the convoy's mission is designated Noumenon because its end is an untouchable reality for its founder. Noumenon as a theme extends well into book two.

TQWhat inspired you to write Noumenon? What appeals to you about writing Space Opera?

Marina:  I love alien artifact stories. And big dumb objects. I love looking at a strange, far off phenomena and coming up with answers to, what the hell is that? I also love solving mysteries, especially those where you realize the fictional universe, or parts of it, function completely differently than you first thought. All of those loves play into the beginning seeds of what became Noumenon (it was a short story long before it was a novel), and my affinity for Space Opera in general.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Noumenon?

Marina:  Most of my research centered around variable stars, genetics (histones especially), and electrical engineering.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Noumenon.

Marina:  The artwork was done by Steven Messing, the overall design is by Owen Corrigan, and it is absolutely beautiful! It doesn't depict a specific scene so much as important elements of the story. I won't give away too many details, but the large object you see in the center is called The Seed.

TQIn Noumenon who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Marina:  I.C.C. was the easiest to write personality-wise, but a tad difficult voice-wise. Empathy is its greatest virtue, and I let that be my guide. The most difficult overall to write was probably the various clones of Jamal Kaeden, largely because each of them goes through dramatically different circumstances. Staying true to who he is on a base level, while also taking into account how these vastly different experiences would change his decision making, was a challenge.

Truth be told, these are my two favorite characters, in no small part because I feel like I've spent the most time with them.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Noumenon?

Marina:  I come from the school of thought that believes the majority of storytelling is partisan in some way. Either it holds up the status quo, or it doesn't, and so fundamentally if you're writing a novel with any kind of depth, it's going to include social issues (either by pointing them out or blatantly glossing over them).

Noumenon outright touches on themes of prejudice, social stratification, and genetic predestination. Also, in an effort to realistically reflect the kind of world that could come together to create the convoys and their missions, I have a vast and international cast of people from different backgrounds, which some people might take as a statement on social issues in and of itself.

It's important to me to try and tell stories that are both fun and thoughtful, and I hope I've been able to do that with Noumenon.

TQWhich question about Noumenon do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Marina:  Ooh, this one is hard! Um, probably: Do you think you've written a dystopic novel?

I ask myself this, because I've seen people categorize Noumenon as a dystopia. But that's not what I set out to write. The book has an overall hopeful and positive outlook. And while there are definitely moments of dystopia, the novel spans two thousand years, and like any other society, the convoy has its ups and downs. There are wondrous highs and terrifying lows, and nothing is set in stone. Their civilization evolves. Sometimes it's ideal, sometimes it encapsulates everything that can go wrong with social constructs. I really set out to write a continuum, to explore humanity at its best and worst.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Noumenon.


"Earth wants to be comfortable. The more comfortable someone is, a society is, the less likely they are to seek change, even positive change."

"They may not appreciate our point of view. We might frighten them, or bore them, or make them uncomfortable. This does not mean we should go away."

TQWhat's next?

MarinaNoumenon Infinitum, Noumenon's sequel!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Marina:  Thanks again for having me!

Harper Voyager, August 1, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon
With nods to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series and the real science of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a touch of Hugh Howey’s Wool, and echoes of Octavia Butler’s voice, a powerful tale of space travel, adventure, discovery, and humanity that unfolds through a series of generational vignettes.

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy— is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated Convoy Seven) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.

About Marina

Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon
Photo © Author Services, Inc. 2013
Marina J. Lostetter’s original short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and InterGalactic Medicine Show, among other publications. Originally from Oregon, the former winner of the Writers of the Future Award now lives in Arkansas with her husband, Alex, and enjoys globe-trotting, board games, and all things art-related.

Website  ~  Twitter @MarinaLostetter


Interview with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Half-Drowned King

Please welcome Linnea Hartsuyker to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Half-Drowned King is published on August 1st by Harper. Read Linnea's Guest Blog - Some of my favorite Genre-Bending Historical Fantasy Novels - here.

Happy Publication Day to Linnea!

Interview with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Half-Drowned King

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Linnea:  I’ve always written, off and on. When I was 9, I wrote and bound a little book called “Eleanor and the Great Nail polish Disaster”. In middle school I tried to write a gothic romance novel, having never read one. I believe the heroine’s name was Laetitia. But as I got into high school I thought I should concentrate on skills that were likely to get me a good job. I studied engineering in college, while taking creative writing and literature classes for fun. A few years after graduating, I wasn’t finding creative fulfillment from the opportunities that my engineering degree gave me, and I starting writing again in my spare time. I began writing more and more seriously and eventually took up the project what would become The Half-Drowned King.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Linnea:  I’m more of a plotter, but definitely a hybrid—plans can and do change, and often I outline as much to figure out where I am as where I’m going. The Half-Drowned King and its sequels are based in history and myth, so there are certain events I know need to be part of the plot. I start by making a very rough, high level outline that includes those events, and how I think I’m going to get the characters there. I write until I get stuck, and then go back to the outline, or re-outline from scratch to figure out new and dramatic ways to get the characters where they need to be. With all three books, I’ve found that after writing about 70% of the rough draft, I need to do a full re-outline to make sure all the plot threads connect. By that time point there is so much I want to change that I usually go back to the beginning and start rewriting, and writing new material until I get to the end.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Linnea:  I think it is being patient with myself, and being comfortable with uncertainty. Writing requires dedication, but also inspiration and serendipity. Sheer perseverance, the kind that works in other areas of life, does not always work for me when I’m writing. If I get stuck, or if a scene isn’t working, I need to step back and find a new way in. I’ve also had to learn that even if I’m capable of writing 10,000 words in a day, I probably shouldn’t, because I’ll feel burned out for a while. I have to stop while I still have lots of ideas for what to write the next day.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Linnea:  I grew up in the middle of the woods in upstate New York, and my family that is very into doing things by hand. We baked our own bread, and did fiber arts like weaving, sewing, and knitting. We heated the house with wood and coal fires, and had to split and chop wood all summer. I think that is why I’ve always been drawn to history, eras which required more physical labor than our own, and making things from scratch. My father also read to us, frequently myths and legends from various cultures, including Norse. When I was 12 or so, I discovered The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton, which retold Arthurian and Welsh legends in novel form—and that has been my favorite genre ever since. I’ve always read widely, in many genres, literary, speculative, popular, and everything in between; some of my favorite writers are Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Emma Donoghue, C. S. Friedman, Janet Fitch, and Sharon Kay Penman, but I think The Half-Drowned King owes the most to those very early influences.

TQDescribe The Half-Drowned King in 140 characters or less.

Linnea:  A saga about a brother and sister’s struggle to fulfill their ambitions in Viking-Age Norway, balancing revenge, love, freedom and safety.

TQTell us something about The Half-Drowned King that is not found in the book description.

Linnea:  I’m very interested in the ways that women could navigate the challenges of a pre-modern society. I wanted my women characters to be plausible for the time-period, while reflecting the fact that women are people, every bit as much as men, and would rebel, have ambitions, and struggle against their limitations. I’ve tried to represent different ways that women would deal with a violent society in which they had fewer rights than today: Hilda goes along to get along, Ascrida is nearly broken by what she’s endured but still tries to make choices to keep her family safe, Vigdis uses her sexuality to further her ambitions, and Svanhild, the heroine, makes rash and idealistic choices, and then has to face the consequences.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Half-Drowned King? What appealed to you about writing a saga about the Vikings?

Linnea:  When I was in my early teens, my family began tracing our ancestry. Because the Scandinavian countries have church records going back to the coming of Christianity (around 1000 CE) we could track at least some lines of descent to then, and before that, we followed the genealogies in the sagas, all the way to Harald Harfagr (Fairhair), the first king of Norway in the 9th century CE.

As I attempted to write various novels in my 20s, I had in the back of my mind that one day, when I was a good enough writer, I would tackle Harald’s story. I was never able to finish any of those other novels because, I think, I didn’t care enough about the stories I was trying to tell. Eventually, I decided that even if I wasn’t a good enough writer, I still needed to attempt this story. Later, a writing teacher gave me a piece of advice I’d been in the process of discovering for myself: if you’re going to write a novel about something, you should be obsessed with it, because you’re going to be spending so long with it—especially in the case of writing a trilogy! The Half-Drowned King and its sequels combine many of my passions: sea battles, retold myths, pagan legends, sword fights, and women’s stories, so I never tire of this world and characters.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Half-Drowned King?

Linnea:  I did a great deal of reading: sagas, histories, and archeology, but I also visited Norway a few times, including kayaking the fjord in the opening chapters. At the Viking Ship museum at Roskilde, I got to help crew a small viking boat. I also learned how to spin yarn from fleece using a drop spindle—which is something that Viking women would have spent an enormous amount of time doing.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Half-Drowned King.

Linnea:  It’s been so fun to work with the editors at my publishers in the US and Europe to come up with different cover ideas. All of them have wanted to show a balance of masculine and feminine imagery, since the book follows both Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild. The US cover, with the crown sinking under the waves was actually the very first idea that HarperCollins’s in-house designer Milan Bozic came up with. We talked over some other ideas, but settled on this one, and it was fully illustrated by Patrick Arrasmith. There is little evidence that Viking kings wore crowns, but I love how this cover it illustrates the title and evokes the mood of the novel, with the crown sinking into the waves and the ship in the background.

TQIn The Half-Drowned King who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Linnea:  It really varied depending on my mood! I would go weeks only writing Ragnvald sections, then want to switch to Svanhild for a while. Svanhild is really fun because she does whatever she wants—she tends to be people’s favorite character. Ragnvald can be a bit more trouble—he’s more careful, less friendly and winning, and because he’s an ambitious Viking warrior, he commits acts of violence that can be troubling for modern readers. Solvi, who is identified with the trickster god Loki, was also one of my favorite characters to write, though he had his challenges as well.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Half-Drowned King?

Linnea:  I don’t think it’s possible to write a book that doesn’t comment on social issues. Novels express the values of the writer whether we want them to or not. The characters in The Half-Drowned King deal with issues of their time, but even these are expressions of timeless questions: how do we balance freedom and security, what do we look for in our leaders, how far will we go for justice or vengeance? I’ve tried to show both the rewards and costs of different ways of answering those questions.

TQWhich question about The Half-Drowned King do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Linnea:  You originally wanted to write about Harald Harfagr, your ancestor. Why did you choose to make Ragnvald and Svanhild your main characters?

As I was doing my early research about Harald Harfagr, I started to find him a little dull. He has one interesting episode with Princess Gyda but other than that, he doesn’t face enough serious challenges. In many retellings of the Arthurian legends, Arthur is the least interesting character—he’s the fixed point around whom others orbit. So as I read the sagas, I grew more interested Ragnvald, who becomes Harald’s closest adviser, and suffers for that closeness. Ragnvald’s decisions and eventual fate in the sagas made me wonder about what kind of man he was, and how he would grow and change over his lifetime.

The dawn of the Scandinavian kingdoms was a time when some local kings and chieftains were giving away some of their power to a high king of a much larger area, while others fled to Iceland to retain their freedom. The question of freedom versus security became a guiding theme, and I decided to make Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild the other main character—a woman’s choices about freedom and security would be even more difficult and circumscribed than a man’s. And then, because Ragnvald often makes more cautious choices, and follows a king, I was able to give some of the bolder, more rebellious choices to Svanhild.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Half-Drowned King.

“Above the plain stretched an ice field whose meltwater fed all the river systems of the Sogn district. Ragnvald and Oddi walked up to it, over a steep slope. A great mouth of ice, dark and blue in its recesses, opened where the ice field began. It looked as though a frost giant had been frozen there, about to take a bite big enough to consume a herd of cattle. Cold air issued from it, the giant’s breath. Ragnvald walked along the opening behind Oddi. He did not want to turn his back on the great maw, so he tossed a pebble into its depths. It skittered for a moment, then fell into a pool of water far below.

Inhuman spirits lived in places like this. It might be the mouth of not a giant but Niflheim, one of the lands of the dead. Oddi peered in and would have climbed in, but Ragnvald held him back.”

TQWhat's next?

Linnea:  I just turned in the final draft of The Sea Queen, which is the sequel to The Half-Drowned King, and am currently working on the first draft of The Golden Wolf, the final book in the trilogy. After that, I have a long list of interesting periods of history I’d like to tackle. During my MFA program, I wrote the rough draft of a novel I wrote about a priest dealing with church politics during the early 12th century when there were two popes and clerical celibacy was just starting to be enforced—I’d like to dust that off. And I have a huge and sprawling fantasy world in my head that I would someday like to put down on the page.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Linnea:  My pleasure! Thank you for these interesting questions.

The Half-Drowned King
Harper, August 1, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Interview with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Half-Drowned King
"Lovers of epic rejoice! Hartsuyker illuminates these old stories with authority and visceral detail, bringing to life the adventure, bleak beauty, and human struggle that lie at their heart. A vivid and gripping read." —Madeline Miller, bestselling author of The Song of Achilles

"Linnea Hartsuyker brings myth and legend roaring to life in this superbly good page-turning saga of Viking-era Norway. Hartsuyker is fearless as she navigates a harsh, exacting, and hair-raising world, with icy fjords and raiding seasons and ancient blood feuds. But the book’s fiercest magic shines in the characters of Ragnvald and Svanhild, as unforgettable a brother and sister duo as I can remember in recent literature. Linnea Hartsuyker is an exciting, original voice in historical fiction, and The Half-Drowned King is nothing short of mesmerizing."—Paula McLain, bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

An exhilarating saga of the Vikings that conjures a brutal, superstitious, and thrilling ninth-century world and the birth of a kingdom—the debut installment in a historical literary trilogy that combines the bold imagination and sweeping narrative power of Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Outlander.
Centuries ago, in a blood-soaked land ruled by legendary gods and warring men, a prophecy foretold of a high king who would come to reign over all of the north. . . .

Ragnvald Eysteinsson, the son and grandson of kings, grew up believing that he would one day take his dead father’s place as chief of his family’s lands. But, sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, the young warrior is betrayed and left for dead by men in the pay of his greedy stepfather, Olaf. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is determined to have revenge for his stepfather’s betrayal, claim his birthright and the woman he loves, and rescue his beloved sister Svanhild. Opportunity may lie with Harald of Vestfold, the strong young Norse warrior rumored to be the prophesied king. Ragnvald pledges his sword to King Harald, a choice that will hold enormous consequence in the years to come.

While Ragnvald’s duty is to fight—and even die—for his honor, Svanhild must make an advantageous marriage, though her adventurous spirit yearns to see the world. Her stepfather, Olaf, has arranged a husband for her—a hard old man she neither loves nor desires. When the chance to escape Olaf’s cruelty comes at the hands of her brother’s arch rival, the shrewd young woman is forced to make a heartbreaking choice: family or freedom.

Set in a mystical and violent world defined by honor, loyalty, deceit, passion, and courage, The Half-Drowned King is an electrifying adventure that breathtakingly illuminates the Viking world and the birth of Scandinavia.

About Linnea

Interview with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Half-Drowned King
Linnea Hartsuyker grew up in the middle of the woods outside Ithaca, New York, and studied Engineering at Cornell University. After a decade of working at internet startups, and writing in her spare time, she attended NYU and received an MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Website  ~  Twitter @linneaharts

Facebook  ~  Instagram  ~  Tumblr

Interview with Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas

Please welcome Christopher Brown to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Tropic of Kansas was published on July 11th by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas

The Qwillery:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Christopher Brown:  Thank you for having me! I’ve been writing professionally since I was in college, but my early work was mostly journalism. It wasn’t until I moved to Austin and got involved in the Turkey City Writers Workshop run by Bruce Sterling that I started to seriously write sf. I write because I love language. And I love speculative fiction as a laboratory for exploring the world we have and the worlds we could make—a lab where none of the subjects get hurt because they are all imaginary.

TQ:  Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

CB:  I write the same way I explore—go way off the trail, see what discoveries you can make, and then find your way back. I usually have an ending in mind when I start—it was the first thing I wrote for Tropic of Kansas, and about the only thing that survived serial revision. But I get the best results when I send the characters out with that destination in mind but no maps for how to get there. The surprises that occur when you take that approach are the real engine of a character-driven novel, for me. I have friends that map out elaborate narratives in volumes of notebooks, but that doesn’t work for me. Too bad, since my approach takes a lot longer!

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

CB:  Language comes easily to me, but story is harder. I’m interested in writing a realist science fiction, one grounded in description of the observed world, and propelled by character more than plot, which tends to produce episodic, picaresque narratives more like real life. But I also love the satisfaction of building a compelling page-turner. So those things are at odds, and the process of letting character-driven lyricism find its way into plot takes a lot of time—two or three deep rewrites of the whole thing before what I want really emerges.

TQ:  What has influenced / influences your writing?

CB:  The work I dig all starts with a love of language, writing that paints with words. I like fiction that uses the power of brevity, economy as a design principle, versus the self-indulgent meanders of much contemporary literary fiction—with exceptions, of course. The writers I have learned the most from are probably Joan Didion, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Doris Lessing, Walker Percy, Renata Adler and Hunter S. Thompson. That’s an eclectic set, one that includes some writers better known for their journalism, which probably reveals much about how my science fiction wants to engage with the problems of the “allegedly real world.” I also have a background in law and politics, and I imagine the influences of those experiences shows. I’ve learned to be deeply suspicious of power—having worked as both its butler and adversary—and deeply sympathetic with people who have none.

TQ:  Describe Tropic of Kansas in 140 characters or less.

CB:  A dark road trip through an Americana-infused dystopia, as brother and sister seek sanctuary and redemption in a nation torn apart by revolutionary unrest.

TQ:  Tell us something about Tropic of Kansas that is not found in the book description.

CB:  It’s not really meant as a vision of the future, even though that’s how many people read it. While the book has no timestamp, I imagined it as a dark mirror of the present. It’s an effort at a realist dystopia, taking things I have witnessed in the real world and bringing out the emphasis, remixing the proportions. Turning the world upside down in fiction is not only a fun way to tell an engaging story—it’s also a great way to see real-world problems with fresh eyes.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Tropic of Kansas? What appealed to you about writing a post-apocalyptic novel?

CB:  I never really thought that was what I was doing—Tropic of Kansas just tries to report on the world I see around me, through the speculative prism of a repurposed adventure novel. If there’s an apocalypse in Tropic of Kansas, it’s the combined ecological, economic and social failures happening around us that we tend not to notice—maybe because we aren’t the ones most affected.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Tropic of Kansas?

CB:  I did a lot of travel on the back roads of middle America, from the Southwest borderzone to the upper Midwest. I explored a lot of edgelands on foot, including the place where I live in Austin, on a former brownfield lot between a row of factories and the urban woods they hide. I met people living in those woods, and learned about their lives. I saw how wild nature exists in the “empty lots” of the city, and how quickly it reasserts itself if we let it. I worked as a volunteer in my community, lawyering for people who often do not have access to legal services, serving on a grand jury, and learning how unevenly distributed justice often is. I read a ton of source material—American folklore, obscure cartographies of pioneer trails, scholarly studies of bandits and revolutions, and the invisible literature of the war on terror. I tried to pull together all this material from the fabric of the world we live in and remix it to show the worlds it could be—both the worse one, and the better one lurking on the horizon.

TQ:  In Tropic of Kansas who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

CB:  The character of Sig, whose journey really defines the book, was both the easiest and the hardest. He was easy in that he draws on a deeply familiar archetype—the backwoodsman who can be found at the edge of the American woods from Cooper’s Hawkeye to Conan, Rambo and even Katniss Everdeen. But an archetype is not a real character, and writing the true personality and point of view of someone who has spent their adolescence surviving off the land, who doesn’t even have the preoccupation with self that is the basic characteristic of almost all characters in the modern novel, was much harder than I anticipated. You have to learn to show feeling without interiority, vulnerability through toughness—a hard undertaking with a great payoff, I think.

TQ:  Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Tropic of Kansas?

CB:  I can’t seem to get on the subway without grabbing the third rail. When I set out to write Tropic of Kansas I really just wanted to write an entertaining adventure story with a contemporary setting—and ended up starting a revolution in dystopia. Oops! I think writing is inherently political, and you can’t report on the world without showing it as it is. I also think you can deal with tough issues and still tell an entertaining, fun and big-hearted story—and sf is a great way to achieve that.

TQ:  Which question about Tropic of Kansas do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

CB:     Q—Where is the Tropic of Kansas?

            A—It’s not a real place, but you can see it from here.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Tropic of Kansas.

CB:  The emerging consensus is that the best line in the book is the last one, and it’s not really a spoiler, but worth waiting for.

This passage is a pretty good encapsulation of the world of the book, from Tania’s pov:
“Back east they called it the ‘Tropic of Kansas.’ It wasn’t a specific place you could draw on a map, and Kansas wasn’t really even a part of it, but you knew when you were in it and you knew just what they meant. Which wasn’t a compliment. The parts of the Midwest that had somehow turned third world. They tried to return the Louisiana Purchase to the French, the joke went, but it was too damaged.”

TQ:  What's next?

CB:  I have three longer works in progress: a book of speculative nature writing, a story about a criminal defense lawyer in a dystopian society—think Better Call Saul meets 1984—and a novel about capitalists in space. As divergent as they sound, they are all concerned with similar issues—and both easier and harder to write than Tropic of Kansas (but just as fun). Thanks for asking!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tropic of Kansas
Harper Voyager, July 11, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages

Interview with Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas
“Futurist as provocateur! The world is sheer batshit genius . . . a truly hallucinatorily envisioned environment.”—William Gibson, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author

“Timely, dark, and ultimately hopeful: it might not ‘make America great again,’ but then again, it just might.”—Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling and award winning author of Homeland

Acclaimed short story writer and editor of the World Fantasy Award-nominee Three Messages and a Warning eerily envisions an American society unraveling and our borders closed off—from the other side—in this haunting and provocative novel that combines Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, Philip K. Dick’s classic Man in the High Castle, and China Mieville’s The City & the City

The United States of America is no more. Broken into warring territories, its center has become a wasteland DMZ known as “the Tropic of Kansas.” Though this gaping geographic hole has no clear boundaries, everyone knows it's out there—that once-bountiful part of the heartland, broken by greed and exploitation, where neglect now breeds unrest. Two travelers appear in this arid American wilderness: Sig, the fugitive orphan of political dissidents, and his foster sister Tania, a government investigator whose search for Sig leads her into her own past—and towards an unexpected future.

Sig promised those he loves that he would make it to the revolutionary redoubt of occupied New Orleans. But first he must survive the wild edgelands of a barren mid-America policed by citizen militias and autonomous drones, where one wrong move can mean capture . . . or death. One step behind, undercover in the underground, is Tania. Her infiltration of clandestine networks made of old technology and new politics soon transforms her into the hunted one, and gives her a shot at being the agent of real change—if she is willing to give up the explosive government secrets she has sworn to protect.

As brother and sister traverse these vast and dangerous badlands, their paths will eventually intersect on the front lines of a revolution whose fuse they are about to light.

About Christopher

Interview with Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas
Christopher was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review’s “Twelve Tomorrows,” The Baffler, and Stories for Chip. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Aside from his writing, though, Brown has lived a varied life in which he has, among many other things, taken two companies public, restored a small prairie, worked on two Supreme Court confirmations, rehabilitated a brownfield, reported from Central American war zones, washed airplanes, co-hosted a punk rock radio show, built an eco-bunker, worked day labor, negotiated hundreds of technology deals, protected government whistleblowers, investigated fraud, raised venture capital, explored a lot of secret woodlands, raised an amazing kid, and trained a few dogs.

Website  ~  Twitter @NB_Chris  ~  Instagram  ~  Facebook

Interview with Nicky Drayden, Author of The Prey of Gods

Please welcome Nicky Draydon to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Prey of Gods was published on June 13th by Harper Voyager.

Interview with Nicky Drayden, Author of The Prey of Gods

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Nicky:  I started writing in 2005. In November of the previous year, the local news did a segment on National Novel Writing Month, and it sounded fun. The event was nearly over by the time I heard about it though, so I just planned on doing it the next November. Turns out I couldn’t wait that long, and ended up doing my own novel writing month in April. I completed my first book in 25 days. It’s buried deep in a trunk somewhere, but I’m still proud of it. I’ve been writing ever since.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Nicky:  I started off as a total pantser, but I’ve become more of a hybrid these days. My outlines are short maybe a page long, and I like to keep the ending vague. If I know how the story ends, I have no motivation to find out what happens.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Nicky:  The Middles. Beginnings of stories flow out of me, and I love the challenge of weaving together the plot strings at the end, but the middles are murky, deep, and tough to navigate without a map.

TQThe Prey of Gods is your first novel. What are, for you, the major differences in writing short stories versus a novel?

Nicky:  I’m great with flash fiction, since the plotting is so tight and targeted, though I probably rely too much on puns and twists. I love working with novels, since they’re so forgiving. You can meander until you strike the plot or the plot strikes you. But man, those stories between flash and novel length are rough. There’s no room to wander, and you can’t prop them up solely with humor and expect them to stand.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Nicky:  I have a lot of weird dreams that become story ideas. If I’m not actively working on a project, my dreams tend to get REALLY weird. I’ve also been able to lucid dream and have plotted an entire short story while asleep. Then all I did was wake up and type it out in the morning.

TQDescribe The Prey of Gods in 140 characters or less.

Nicky:  The Prey of Gods takes you on a raucous romp through a futuristic South Africa brimming with demigods, robots, and hallucinogenic hijinks.

TQTell us something about The Prey of Gods that is not found in the book description.

Nicky:  It also has walking, talking trees. No one ever mentions the trees.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Prey of Gods? What appeals to you about writing a novel that your publisher states "... braids elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and dark humor"?

Nicky:  The initial concept came to me after reading Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, which is set in a futuristic India. I’d been to Port Elizabeth, South Africa back when I was in college, and I thought it’d be interesting to imagine how the experiences I had there could translate into a work of speculative fiction. One of my recurring themes is God vs. Science and Technology, and how they can coexist (or sometimes not) and having a darkly humorous outlook on tough content sometimes makes it easier for readers to digest.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Prey of Gods? Why did you pick South Africa as the setting for the novel?

Nicky:  For research, I read articles and novels by South African authors, and – this one’s a bit odd – I dug into the comment sections of a few South African online magazines. People tend not to filter themselves in the comments section, so you can get an interesting glimpse of the issues people are dealing with. I also enlisted a few South African beta readers, and they helped to hone the story, filling in the gaps in my experience with rich texture and delectable details for readers to savor.

Many of the highlights from my visit there are featured in the book, for example, we toured some of the rural townships where people live in tin shanties, met teenagers who had recently gone through the circumcision rite, and visited a couple wildlife preserves. And it seemed like everywhere we went, there were these little cute antelopes called dik-diks rummaging around the city, kind of in a similar way some places have deer overpopulation problems, so those things all got worked into the book.

TQPlease tell us about the cover of The Prey of Gods.

NickyBrenoch Adams is the artist, and he does some amazing work. The little girl on the cover is Nomvula, and her name means “Mother of Rain” in Zulu. I first came upon the original image while putting together a Pinterest page of cover ideas for my editor. Brenoch was open to making some modifications so the image better fit the book. (If you’re interested, the original is #28 in this slide show.) I probably gave Brenoch way too many source materials and character sketches (I have some obsessive tendencies when it comes to these things), but he hit every detail, and surpassed my expectations.

TQIn The Prey of Gods who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Nicky:  Muzi was the easiest, because even though we have very little in common, I think we share a heart. I poured a lot of me into him. His mind is all over the place, like mine, and sometimes he doesn't make the best decisions, but he'll be there when you need him.

Stoker was the hardest. I’ve had a soft spot for their story from the beginning, but the way I told it left the arc feeling truncated and underdeveloped. I knew something was wrong, so I hired a sensitivity reader (who has also written an awesome humorous dark fantasy about fallen gods, if that’s your thing.) She worked her phenomenal plot magic, pointing out weak and problematic points, and posed questions that required me to do a lot of soul searching.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Prey of Gods?

Nicky:  I use social issues to examine my own biases. When staring at them on the page for months at a time, they’re impossible to ignore. I start questioning my assumptions, and then dig deeper to why I hold them in the first place.

TQWhich question about The Prey of Gods do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Nicky:  There are song lyrics in the novel. Did you write them?

Yes! Writing lyrics opened up a new kind of creativity for me. I love music, but really, I have no ear for composition. Basically, all notes sound the same to me.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Prey of Gods.

Sydney closes her eyes and sighs to herself. She’ll have to be more careful. If Zinhle thinks she’s a witch, it’s only a matter of time before the other ladies find out. Even if they don’t believe it, rumors are enough to cast suspicious looks in Sydney’s direction, making it harder to do those things she does.

A witch.

She laughs at the idea, wishing it were that simple.

TQWhat's next?

Nicky:  My next book is sort of an African-inspired humorous dark fantasy with a heavy helping of steampunk. More gods and robots to look forward to!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Nicky:  Thanks for having me! This was so much fun.

The Prey of Gods
Harper Voyager, June 13, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

Interview with Nicky Drayden, Author of The Prey of Gods
From a new voice in the tradition of Lauren Beukes, Ian McDonald, and Nnedi Okorafor comes The Prey of Gods, a fantastic, boundary-challenging tale, set in a South African locale both familiar and yet utterly new, which braids elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and dark humor.

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .

An emerging AI uprising . . .

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

Fun and fantastic, Nicky Drayden takes her brilliance as a short story writer and weaves together an elaborate tale that will capture your heart . . . even as one particular demigoddess threatens to rip it out.

About Nicky

Interview with Nicky Drayden, Author of The Prey of Gods
Nicky Drayden’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as Shimmer and Space and Time Magazine. She is a Systems Analyst and resides in Austin, Texas, where being weird is highly encouraged, if not required.

Website  ~  Facebook

Twitter @nickydrayden

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Review and Giveaway - Sinless by Sarah Tarkoff2017 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - September WinnerInterview with Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of The BloodprintInterview with Maggie Shen King, author of An Excess MaleMelanie's Week in Review  - August 27, 2017Interview with Marina J. Lostetter, author of NoumenonInterview with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of The Half-Drowned KingInterview with Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of KansasInterview with Nicky Drayden, Author of The Prey of GodsAre You a Harper Voyager?

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