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A blog about books and other things speculative

2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - May 2021 Debuts

Each month you will be able to vote for your favorite cover from that month's debut novels. At the beginning of 2022 the 12 monthly winners will be pitted against each other to choose the 2021 Debut Novel Cover of the Year. Please note that a debut novel cover is eligible in the month in which the novel is published in the US. Cover artist/illustrator/designer information is provided when we have it.

I'm using PollCode for this vote. After you the check the circle next to your favorite, click "Vote" to record your vote. If you'd like to see the real-time results click "View". This will take you to the PollCode site where you may see the results. If you want to come back to The Qwillery click "Back" and you will return to this page. Voting will end sometime on  June 10, 2021, unless the vote is extended. If the vote is extended the ending date will be updated.

Vote for your favorite May 2021 Debut Cover! free polls

Cover by Head Design

Cover illustrations: © Shutterstock
Cover design by Jo Mylar © Hodder & Stoughton

Cover art by Stephan Martiniere

Interview with J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch

Please welcome J. S. Dewes to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Last Watch was published on April 20, 2021 by Tor Books.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

I have a problematically terrible memory, and can’t even begin to recall what my first piece of fiction might have been! My first vague memory of writing fiction was probably from third grade or so, when my teacher told us to forget about spelling and grammar and just get our ideas on the page. I think that comment somewhat horrified my mother, haha, but in retrospect it was actually great advice! You can’t revise a blank page, after all. :)

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

J. S.:  I definitely started out a full-on pantser, and I discovery wrote all of The Last Watch. However, since then I’ve written two more books and learned a lot more about myself as a writer in the process. Though I wouldn’t say I’ve settled fully, I’m currently pretty much a hybrid. I’ve frankensteined a flexible plot structure from a few different sources that works well for the kind of stories I like to tell, and I’ve used it to help my panster brain craft those pesky outlines editors and agents sometimes want to see.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

J. S.:  Though every phase has its different challenges, I find organizing revisions probably the most difficult. Though I’ve devised a system that works pretty well for me, setting up a revision plan within that system is hugely time consuming, and I definitely wish my brain was able to just contain and process it all at once, and I wouldn’t have to structure it all within a ridiculously detailed organization scheme. Alas.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does script writing affect (or not) your novel writing?

J. S.:  I draw from a wide variety of influences—video games, films and television, concept art (Pinterest & Art Station), and more. Music is a big one—all my story ideas thus far have come from song lyrics, and music is a part of my process during every phase of writing. I love creating playlists for different books, scenes, moods, and characters, and it’s a big part of my creative immersion process. (Which is greatly helpful when you can only squeeze in an hour or two of writing a day!)

And yes, I definitely think script writing had an impact on my novel writing. Though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, looking back I think that experience informed my instincts while pantsing my first couple novels; I didn’t have to undertake any structural edits at any point for The Last Watch, and I think that was in large part due to my understanding of plot and pacing from having written screenplays. There are definitely other relevant skills that transfer, especially things like showing versus telling, characterization, and dialogue.

TQDescribe The Last Watch using only 5 words.

J. S.:  Criminal soldiers fight danger physics!

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

J. S.:  Despite the high concept conveyed in the blurb, the story is actually very tightly focused on the characters and their relationships. Also, there are 144 instances of the F word.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Last Watch? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

J. S.:  The original concept for The Last Watch was inspired by a song lyric! There’s a song I’ve loved for years called “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by The Highwaymen), with a line: “I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.” That got me thinking about what might lie outside the confines of the universe, or what might happen if the universe stopped expanding and you tried to find the edge.

Science fiction is great for so many reasons—outer space, aliens, and fun technology not least among them. But when it gets down to it, I love science fiction because it gives you a really unique way to reframe modern issues, allowing you to explore and attack those questions through a different but familiar lens. There’s also just a very specific mix of wonder and fear only science fiction can evoke, and that’s always intrigued me.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Last Watch?

J. S.:  Quite a lot of research went into The Last Watch! Some of the minor categories were things like military protocol, ordnance, political science, computer & electronic engineering, and I did a fair amount of digging into fusion reactors (specifically ITER.)
      The biggest research category by far was physics, in pretty much every flavor. Physical cosmology was a big one (shape of the universe, components, structure, etc.), as well as gravitational physics, relativity, quantum mechanics, and some specifics regarding zero-g and weightlessness. And math, so much math. I truly dread math, but it’s a necessary evil in the world of physic
     I definitely *over* researched, considering what made it into the actual text. I tried to make my science as “believable” and realistic as possible, while allowing for variation when it best served the story to expand outside of those margins. I didn’t want to alienate readers by going on long technical rants, and wanted the experience to stay focused on the characters and plot, with science and technology as a background. As a result, I think this falls somewhat firmly in the center of hard and soft sci-fi, but we’ll see what the readers think about that. :)

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Last Watch.

J. S.:  I absolutely love how the cover turned out! As soon as my editor suggested the concept, I readily agreed, and couldn’t wait to see it come to fruition. Asking for a depiction of utter annihilation from space and time at the edge of the universe is a pretty big ask, but designer Peter Lutjen...well...annihilated it. Between the contrasting colors, gradient of stars, and surreal depiction of unraveling matter, it perfectly evokes the scope and existential chaos of the setting.

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

J. S.:  I’m lucky in that pretty much all my characters went very easy on me, and I love writing all of them! But if I had to pick one as the easiest, I’d go with Cavalon Mercer, the sarcastic disowned prince who’s one of the two point of view characters. It’s like there’s a switch in my brain I can just flip at will to turn on his voice, and he just flows right out of me and onto the page. Writing from his perspective is so easy, and a total blast!
      The most difficult was probably Griffith Bach. Though he’s not a POV character, he’s definitely in the category of “primary” and I’d (accidentally) wildly underdeveloped him in the early drafts. During revisions my editor encouraged me to flesh him out, and I quickly realized I’d created kind of a cardboard cut-out of a person.
      Most of the time when I’m writing characters, their histories and personalities and secrets come through to me pretty naturally, but that wasn’t so much the case with Griffith. I really had to dig into his backstory and mindset and come up with a lot of “off screen” content in order flesh him out for the final draft. The result was absolutely incredible however, and the way he ties into the plot and other characters now is light-years better than before, so I’m super glad I went to the effort!

TQDoes The Last Watch touch on any social issues?

J. S.:  Yes, definitely! Though the setting of The Last Watch is fairly contained, there are a lot of subplots and hints in the worldbuilding surrounding the social issues prevalent in their society—topics like segregation, discrimination, human rights, as well as moral questions in regards to things like cloning and eugenics. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the second book in the series delves more deeply into some broader social and political issues, some of which, coincidentally, more directly reflect our own society than I would like. :)

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

J. S.: “Do you want fan art for The Last Watch?”
         Why yes, yes I do!

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

J. S.:  “You do not seem appropriately shocked.”

          “Physics doesn’t really give a shit about your existential disposition, Rake!”

TQWhat's next?

J. S.:  Next up for me is the release of The Exiled Fleet on August 17—the second book in The Divide series and sequel The Last Watch! I’ll also be continuing my “virtual tour” for The Last Watch with some panels and chats with other authors, all of which I’m very much looking forward to!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Last Watch
The Divide 1
Tor Books, April 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

Most Anticipated Book for April 2021:
Nerd Daily
Geek Tyrant
SFF 180

Amazon Best of the Month April 2021

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo


The Exiled Fleet
The Divide 2
Tor Books, August 17, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
J. S. Dewes continues her fast paced, science fiction action adventure with The Exiled Fleet, where The Expanse meets The Black Company—the survivors of The Last Watch refuse to die.

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide.

They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve.

Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they'll need to get everyone out.

To do that they're going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About J. S. Dewes
Photo by Dave Dewes

After graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in film production, J. S. Dewes went on to serve as cinematographer for independent films, write, produce, and shoot a zombie musical, slay internet dragons, and act as lighting designer for presidents and presidential-hopefuls so many times it became mundane. Having grown weary of such pedestrian exploits, she decided to begin forging worlds in the form of novels, returning to her roots in science fiction and the written word.

She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, who’s proven to be a mixed blessing, but he makes her laugh, so she’s decided to stick it out. They have two dogs (full blessings) and a cat of unpredictable demeanor. The Last Watch is her debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @jsdewes

Excerpt from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Please welcome Sarah Penner to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge with an excerpt from her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lost Apothecary.


February 3, 1791

She would come at daybreak—the woman whose letter I held in my hands, the woman whose name I did not yet know.

           I knew neither her age nor where she lived. I did not know her rank in society nor the dark things of which she dreamed when night fell. She could be a victim or a transgressor. A new wife or a vengeful widow. A nursemaid or a courtesan.

           But despite all that I did not know, I understood this: the woman knew exactly who she wanted dead.

           I lifted the blush-colored paper, illuminated by the dying f lame of a single rush wick candle. I ran my fingers over the ink of her words, imagining what despair brought the woman to seek out someone like me. Not just an apothecary, but a murderer. A master of disguise.

           Her request was simple and straightforward. For my mistress’s husband, with his breakfast. Daybreak, 4 Feb. At once, I drew to mind a middle-aged housemaid, called to do the bidding of her mistress. And with an instinct perfected over the last two decades, I knew immediately the remedy most suited to this request: a chicken egg laced with nux vomica.

           The preparation would take mere minutes; the poison was within reach. But for a reason yet unknown to me, something about the letter left me unsettled. It was not the subtle, woodsy odor of the parchment or the way the lower left corner curled forward slightly, as though once damp with tears. Instead, the disquiet brewed inside of me. An intuitive understanding that something must be avoided.

           But what unwritten warning could reside on a single sheet of parchment, shrouded beneath pen strokes? None at all, I assured myself; this letter was no omen. My troubling thoughts were merely the result of my fatigue—the hour was late—and the persistent discomfort in my joints.

           I drew my attention to my calfskin register on the table in front of me. My precious register was a record of life and death; an inventory of the many women who sought potions from here, the darkest of apothecary shops.

           In the front pages of my register, the ink was soft, written with a lighter hand, void of grief and resistance. These faded, worn entries belonged to my mother. This apothecary shop for women’s maladies, situated at 3 Back Alley, was hers long before it was mine.

           On occasion I read her entries—23 Mar 1767, Mrs. R. Ranford, Yarrow Milfoil 15 dr. 3x—and the words evoked memories of her: the way her hair fell against the back of her neck as she ground the yarrow stem with the pestle, or the taut, papery skin of her hand as she plucked seeds from the flower’s head. But my mother had not disguised her shop behind a false wall, and she had not slipped her remedies into vessels of dark red wine. She’d had no need to hide. The tinctures she dispensed were meant only for good: soothing the raw, tender parts of a new mother, or bringing menses upon a barren wife. Thus, she filled her register pages with the most benign of herbal remedies. They would raise no suspicion.

           On my register pages, I wrote things such as nettle and hyssop and amaranth, yes, but also remedies more sinister: nightshade and hellebore and arsenic. Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.

           Secrets about the vigorous young man who suffered an ailing heart on the eve of his wedding, or how it came to pass that a healthy new father fell victim to a sudden fever. My register laid it all bare: these were not weak hearts and fevers at all, but thorn apple juice and nightshade slipped into wines and pies by cunning women whose names now stained my register.

           Oh, but if only the register told my own secret, the truth about how this all began. For I had documented every victim in these pages, all but one: Frederick. The sharp, black lines of his name defaced only my sullen heart, my scarred womb.

           I gently closed the register, for I had no use of it tonight, and returned my attention to the letter. What worried me so? The edge of the parchment continued to catch my eye, as though something crawled beneath it. And the longer I remained at my table, the more my belly ached and my fingers trembled. In the distance, beyond the walls of the shop, the bells on a carriage sounded frighteningly similar to the chains on a constable’s belt. But I assured myself that the bailiffs would not come tonight, just as they had not come for the last two decades. My shop, like my poisons, was too cleverly disguised. No man would find this place; it was buried deep behind a cupboard wall at the base of a twisted alleyway in the darkest depths of London.

           I drew my eyes to the soot-stained wall that I had not the heart, nor the strength, to scrub clean. An empty bottle on a shelf caught my reflection. My eyes, once bright green like my mother’s, now held little life within them. My cheeks, too, once flushed with vitality, were sallow and sunken. I had the appearance of a ghost, much older than my forty-one years of age.

           Tenderly, I began to rub the round bone in my left wrist, swollen with heat like a stone left in the fire and forgotten. The discomfort in my joints had crawled through my body for years; it had grown so severe, I lived not a waking hour without pain. Every poison I dispensed brought a new wave of it upon me; some evenings, my fingers were so distended and stiff, I felt sure the skin would split open and expose what lay underneath.

           Killing and secret-keeping had done this to me. It had begun to rot me from the inside out, and something inside meant to tear me open.

           At once, the air grew stagnant, and smoke began to curl into the low stone ceiling of my hidden room. The candle was nearly spent, and soon the laudanum drops would wrap me in their heavy warmth. Night had long ago fallen, and she would arrive in just a few hours: the woman whose name I would add to my register and whose mystery I would begin to unravel, no matter the unease it brewed inside of me.

Excerpted from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Penner. Published by Park Row Books.

The Lost Apothecary
Park Row Books, March 2, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

Named Most Anticipated of 2021 by Newsweek, Good Housekeeping, Hello! magazine,, Bustle, Popsugar, Betches, Sweet July, and GoodReads!

March 2021 Indie Next Pick and #1 LibraryReads Pick

“A bold, edgy, accomplished debut!” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network

A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Sarah

Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women's Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit

Website  ~  Twitter @sl_penner

2021 Debut Author Challenge - May 2021 Debuts

There are 8 debuts for May 2021.

Please note that we use the publisher's publication date in the United States, not copyright dates or non-US publication dates.

The May debut authors and their novels are listed in alphabetical order by author (not book title or publication date). Take a good look at the covers. Voting for your favorite May cover for the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars will take place starting on or about May 15, 2021.

P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn
Dead Djinn Universe 1, May 11, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world forty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city—or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…

A Master of Djinn is poised to launch P. Djèlí Clark’s SFF career to new heights as the highly-anticipated debut readers are clamoring for.

Novellas by P. Djèlí Clark
The Black God's Drums
The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Ring Shout
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Bethany Clift

The Last One at the Party
Mobius, May 11, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

It's December 2023, and the world as we know it has ended.

The human race has been wiped out by a virus called 6DM ('Six Days Maximum' - the longest you've got before your body destroys itself).

But somehow, in London, one woman is still alive. A woman who has spent her whole life compromising what she wants, hiding how she feels and desperately trying to fit in. A woman who is entirely unprepared to face a future on her own.

Now, with only an abandoned golden retriever for company, she must travel through burning cities, avoiding rotting corpses and ravenous rats on a final journey to discover if she really is the last surviving person on earth.

And with no one else to live for, who will she become now that she's completely alone?
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Sarina Dahlan 

Blackstone Publishing, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 340 pages
Can you love someone you don't remember?

After the Last War destroyed most of the world, survivors form a new society in four self-sustaining cities in the Mojave Desert. In the utopia of the Four Cities, inspired by the lyrics of "Imagine" and Buddhist philosophy, everything is carefully planned and controlled: the seasons, the weather-and the residents. To prevent mankind from destroying each other again, its citizens undergo a memory wipe every four years in a process called tabula rasa, a blank slate, to remove learned prejudices. With each new cycle, they begin again with new names, jobs, homes, and lives. No memories. No attachments. No wars.

Aris, a scientist who shuns love, embraces tabula rasa and the excitement of unknown futures. Walling herself off from emotional attachments, she only sees relationships as pointless and avoids deep connections. But she is haunted by a recurring dream that becomes more frequent and vivid as time passes. After meeting Benja, a handsome free-spirited writer who believes his dreams of a past lover are memories, her world is turned upside down. Obsessed with finding the Dreamers, a secret organization thought to have a way to recover memories, Benja draws her down a dangerous path toward the past. When Metis, the leader of the Dreamers, appears in Aris's life, everything she believes falls to pieces. With little time left before the next tabula rasa, they begin a bittersweet romance, navigating love in a world where names, lives, and moments are systematically destroyed.

Thought-provoking and emotionally resonant, Reset will make you consider the haunting reality of love and loss, and the indelible marks they leave behind.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : Kobo

Nicole Jarvis

The Lights of Prague
Titan Books, May 25, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of mysterious creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek finds solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová - a widow with secrets of her own.

When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady - a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp captured in a mysterious container. Now, as its bearer, Domek wields its power, but the wisp, known for leading travellers to their deaths, will not be so easily controlled.

After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Nicole Kornher-Stace

Gallery / Saga Press, May 4, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
(Adult debut)
One young woman faces down an all-powerful corporation in this all-too-near future science fiction debut that reads like a refreshing take on Ready Player One, with a heavy dose of Black Mirror.

Ready Player One meets Cyberpunk 2077 in this eerily familiar future.

“Twenty minutes to power curfew, and my kill counter’s stalled at eight hundred eighty-seven while I’ve been standing here like an idiot. My health bar is flashing ominously, but I’m down to four heal patches, and I have to be smart.”

New Liberty City, 2134.

Two corporations have replaced the US, splitting the country’s remaining forty-five states (five have been submerged under the ocean) between them: Stellaxis Innovations and Greenleaf. There are nine supercities within the continental US, and New Liberty City is the only amalgamated city split between the two megacorps, and thus at a perpetual state of civil war as the feeds broadcast the atrocities committed by each side.

Here, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps on BestLife, spending more time jacked in than in the world just to eke out a hardscrabble living from tips. When a chance encounter with one of the game’s rare super-soldiers leads to a side job for Mal—looking to link an actual missing girl to one of the SecOps characters. Mal’s sudden burst in online fame rivals her deepening fear of what she is uncovering about BestLife’s developer, and puts her in the kind of danger she’s only experienced through her avatar.

Author Kornher-Stace’s adult science fiction debut—Firebreak— is loaded with ambitious challenges and a city to save.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Jennifer Saint

Flatiron Books, May 4, 2021
Hardover and eBook, 320 pages
A mesmerizing debut novel for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint's Ariadne forges a new epic, one that puts the forgotten women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story, as they strive for a better world.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Sammy H.K. Smith

Solaris, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 300 pages
A chilling feminist novel set in a near-future dystopia, Anna explores the conflicts between selfhood and expectations, safety and control, and the sacrifices we make for the sake of protection.

Beaten. Branded. Defiant.

Anna is a possession. She is owned by the man named Will, shielded from the world of struggles by his care. He loves her, protects her, and then breaks her. Anna is obedient, dutiful, and compliant. Anna does not know her place in the world.

When she falls pregnant, Anna leaves her name behind, and finds the strength to run. But the past – and Will – catch up with her in an idyllic town with a dark secret, and this time, it’s not just Anna who is at risk.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : Kobo

Phoebe Wynne

St Martin's Press, May 18, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
"Rebecca meets The Secret History: gloriously dark, gloriously Gothic." ––Sara Collins, bestselling author of The Confessions of Fannie Langton

Discover the secrets of Caldonbrae Hall in this riveting, modern gothic debut set at a secretive all girls’ boarding school perched on a craggy Scottish peninsula.

They want our silence… They want our obedience… Let them see our fire burn

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs--not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor--a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere--than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

A darkly feminist tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines, Madam will keep readers engrossed until the breathtaking conclusion.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Interview with C. L. Clark, author of The Unbroken

Please welcome C. L. Clark to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Unbroken is published on March 23, 2021 by Orbit.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing C. L. a very Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

C.L.:  Hi! Thanks for having me! First thing I really remember writing is a horror story in third or fourth grade in the vein of R.L. Stein. I think. I used to tell ‘ghost’ stories to my cousins on the hour long drives to church every Sunday. Ironically, I’m a scaredy cat now.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

C.L.:  At this point in the game, a plotter. My first draft of The Unbroken was largely pantsed with some ideas for where I wanted to go, but that ended up with so many full revision drafts, trying desperately to figure out how to make the story work. In the middle of that process, though, I read a lot of craft books trying to find a way to make that process easier. One of them was Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and overall, I jived pretty well with that process and though I’ve adapted it to my own style, it’s a pretty intuitive way to plot at least the first outline. What happens after I start drafting, though...heh.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

C.L.:  Mm. Writing politics. Which, as you can imagine, makes writing military/political-fantasy a very particular challenge...let’s just say I question my life choices on a regular basis.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

C.L.:  Everything. Maybe that’s a copout, but it’s true. Music, especially folk songs. History. History or historical societies inspire me a lot--The Unbroken came from several different historical ideas, like the European powers and their colonization of Africa, the conscription of soldiers from the colonies to use in world wars and their treatment (as well as treatment of Black soldiers in the US), and the forced separation and re-education of indigenous and colonized children across the world. I suppose historical isn’t necessarily accurate; all of this is ongoing in some way or another.

TQDescribe The Unbroken using only 5 words.

C.L.:  Mmm, I think it’s summed up pretty well with the tagline on the cover (thanks, Angeline!): “Every empire deserves a revolution.”

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

C.L.:  The mother-daughter relationship is key. I love it.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Unbroken? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

C.L.:  History, as I mentioned above but specifically, this project came from three classes I was taking at the same time in university: post-colonial literary theory course, and Francophone African literature, as well as this independent research project I did on violent women in fantasy. The thing that appeals most to me is getting to do cool shit--but I’m also an academic, so I like being able to do cool shit like write about riding dragons while also grappling with the real world.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Unbroken?

C.L.:  Oh, man. A lot, though some of it was what I gathered incidentally from classes. In grad school, I added war literature to my post-colonial focus. More actively, I also took some intensive courses in Arabic in the US and Morocco and spent some time researching at l’Institut du Monde Arabe (the Institute of the Arab World) in Paris so that I better understood the colonial relationships past and present. Lots of primary and secondary sources in both places, as well as the friends I made in Morocco who talked about their experiences. This was already my area of academic focus, but traveling made things much more personal. There are a lot of commonalities in Black lives in the US and present/past colonized people all over the world.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Unbroken.

C.L.:  IT IS THE BEST!!! It’s a Tommy Arnold (you might know him from his Gideon and Harrow the Ninth covers), and was designed by Lauren Panepinto. We wanted play with the trope of the male protagonist on the front cover in power poses and thrones, but with a woman. So this is Touraine, standing amidst the pillars in the Grand Temple. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled with how it turned out.

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

C.L.:  Touraine was the character whose voice was hardest to nail down, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet. The Jackal, I think, was the easiest, though she didn’t show up until the last draft before querying. Once I did, though, everything about her was crystal clear--it unlocked a lot of the story.

TQDoes The Unbroken touch on any social issues?

C.L.:  Absolutely.

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

C.L.:  What are some books you think The Unbroken is in conversation with?

What I was directly thinking about while I was writing...The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and The Thousand Names by Django Wexler and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. Baru, because I also wanted to think about what happens to the colonized kids raised within the system, and the Shadow Campaigns series by reversing the usual hero/villain role in conquest fantasies, and finally The Winged Histories because I wanted to show the different perspectives of women in war, those who choose violence, those who choose peace, those who choose poetry, those who heal (originally, Djasha was also a point of view character and I wanted the teacher, the politician, and the soldier).

Other (first in series) books to pair it with that came out recently: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

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

C.L.:  Ohh...I think my favorite ones are all spoilery. Hm…oh, here’s a favorite:

“Balladaire was a land of gifts and punishment, honey and whips, devastating mercies.”

TQWhat's next?

C.L.:  Working on the second and third books of The Magic of the Lost trilogy mostly, but I’m also a guest editor for the upcoming We’re Here: Best of Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, which I’m editing with Charles Payseur. It’s coming from Neon Hemlock later this year. I’ll also have some short stories, essays, and a few virtual interviews over the next few months.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Unbroken
The Magic of the Lost 1
Orbit Books, March 23, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 544 pages
"A perfect military fantasy: brutal, complex, human and impossible to put down." – Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand

In an epic fantasy unlike any other, two women clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About C. L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University's creative writing MFA. She's been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she's not writing or working, she's learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny. You can follow her on Twitter C_L_Clark.

Website  ~  Twitter C_L_Clark.

Interview with Joshua Phillip Johnson, author of The Forever Sea

Please welcome Joshua Phillip Johnson to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Forever Sea was published on January 19, 2021 by DAW.

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Joshua Phillip Johnson:  Thanks so much for having me here! I have very vivid memories of writing Pokemon fan fiction on the computer in my parents' room. I saved it on a floppy drive that I labelled "Stories of Fun Adventures," and I must have added to it every day for about 6 months. I eventually moved on to other things, but that was the start for me: imagining myself in a world with tiny monstrous friends going on fun adventures. I lost that floppy drive at some point, which is probably for the best.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

JJ:  I'm a pantser who is trying to be a plotter! I'm bad at outlining, but writing is so much easier for me when I take the time and slog through the plotting process before I draft.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

JJ:  All of it! Writing is really hard for me, but it's a challenge I really love. Most difficult, though, is probably pushing past my internal editor on a first draft.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

JJ:  Other books primarily, but also the environment, politics, conversations with friends and other writers, relationships with family, colleagues, and friends. I tend to think everything in a writer's world makes its way into their work in some form or another, but books and the environment are probably top of my list for conscious and intentional influences.

TQDescribe The Forever Sea using only 5 words.

JJ:  The uncut hair of graves.

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

JJ:  There's a frame narrative surrounding Kindred's story, one told by a mysterious character known only as the Storyteller. His parts are some of my favorite, so I won't spoil them!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Forever Sea? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

JJ:  I live in a place that was once covered in tallgrass prairie, and there are still remnants of it around here. I was inspired by that (mostly) lost landscape. Fantasy is my favorite genre to read, and I love writing it, too! Maybe it seems naive or childish, but I'm so interested in stories about magic, in part because it's awesome, but also because it feels really relevant to our world today. My favorite band, Cloud Cult, has this great line in one of their songs: "Everything is magic 'til you think it's not." So much of the world feels that way to me, and so stories that find joy in magic--both literal and metaphorical--are still my favorite!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Forever Sea?

JJ: I'm lucky to teach at a university, so I spent time talking with and interviewing a colleague who studies the prairie. I also read books about prairie landscapes and had my copy of Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie at hand whenever I was writing. For the boat bits, I went sailing with friends of mine who have a small sailboat and spent a wonderful long afternoon at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. I'm sure I still got plenty of things wrong, and those mistakes are all mine.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Forever Sea.

JJ:  I was so fortunate to get two wonderful covers for the book.

1) The US cover is by the brilliant Marc Simonetti, and the jacket design is by Katie Anderson. The cover shows The Errant, a harvesting vessel that features prominently in the book, cutting across the Forever Sea, a fibrous spray of prairie plants filling the air around it. It's amazing and I love it.

2) The UK cover is by the amazing Julia Lloyd, and it depicts Kindred, the main character, standing in the Forever Sea, staring ahead at the ghostly image of a ship in the near distance. Much of the book pivots around Kindred's desire to know what's beyond the known parameters of the sea--what's beyond the horizon and what's below the surface, and it's so meaningful and cool to have a cover with her being in the Sea.

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

JJ:  Little Wing was maybe the easiest to write. She's the quartermaster/second in command aboard The Errant, and she's a character I love deeply. I'm not sure why, but her parts always came very naturally to me. Maybe because she's straightforward and focused in ways I only wish I could be. Anyway, I love her.

Hardest was Kindred, which is a problem since she's the main character! She can be quite internal and reactive (much like me), and I often found her at odds with a plot that was pushing forward. Writing her character may have been a bit of self help for me. :-)

TQDoes The Forever Sea touch on any social issues?

JJ:  Definitely! Environmentalism is always a social issue; people are disproportionately affected by scarcity and environmental problems based on race and class, and any climate solutions we come up with will need to seriously engage racial justice and social justice issues. I don't think that The Forever Sea is any sort of key text for these things, but they were all in my mind while writing.

The other is sexuality. Writing this book helped me come out as bisexual. This novel isn't about that process; Kindred is much more comfortable with her sexuality than I was while writing, and I'm still not in a place where I'm ready to talk much about it, but those ideas are certainly present.

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

JJ:  Hmm! What a great prompt! I'd love someone to ask "Which plant mentioned in the novel is your favorite?" And my answer would be prairie smoke! It's such a gentle, unassuming plant, and when it blooms, it lets loose these long, fuzzy hairs that catch and move in the wind like tendrils of smoke.

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

JJ:  The first is from Kindred's first time really experiencing the Forever Sea: "What had been before only an unremarkable throw of green, monotonous and monolithic, became more for Kindred. She saw the rise and wave of more big bluestem around her, and other plants too--each one articulating radical existences in the spaces between light and dark green, between yellow and gold, between stalk and stem.

"Every blade a doorway and every shadow an entrance to a life Kindred had never known but which called to her all the same."

The second is a riddle Kindred buys: "Little-light, fallen from above. Sun sight without eye. Young, I follow dawn. Old, I drop young."

TQWhat's next?

JJ:  I need to revise the sequel to The Forever Sea, but I've also started work on a new project. It's still too fresh to really talk about, but I can say it's a fantasy novel with a math-based magic system, weird death rituals, and dangerously different ideas about green energy.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

JJ:  Thanks so much for having me!

The Forever Sea
DAW, January 19, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
The first book in a new environmental epic fantasy series set in a world where ships kept afloat by magical hearthfires sail an endless grass sea.

On the never-ending, miles-high expanse of prairie grasses known as the Forever Sea, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard harvesting vessel The Errant, is just beginning to fit in with the crew of her new ship when she receives devastating news. Her grandmother—The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper—has stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the sea.

But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide. Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.

To follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Kindred must embroil herself in conflicts bigger than she could imagine: a water war simmering below the surface of two cultures; the politics of a mythic pirate city floating beyond the edges of safe seas; battles against beasts of the deep, driven to the brink of madness; and the elusive promise of a world below the waves.

Kindred finds that she will sacrifice almost everything—ship, crew, and a life sailing in the sun—to discover the truth of the darkness that waits below the Forever Sea.

About Joshua Phillip Johnson

Joshua Phillip Johnson lives in a little green house on what used to be the prairie with his partner and their child. His work has appeared in Syntax & Salt, The Future Fire, and Metaphorosis Magazine, among others. He teaches at a small liberal arts university. The Forever Sea is his first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @JohnsonJoshuaP

Interview with H.M. Long, author of Hall of Smoke

Please welcome H.M. Long to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Hall of Smoke is published on January 19, 2021 by Titan Books.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing H.M. Long a very Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

H.M.:  Hello, thank you for having me!

The first proper story I recall writing was when I was about 11 or 12. No copies survive, but it was fantasy and around 60k, with lots of swords and pretty dresses.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

H.M.:  I’ve always considered myself a pantser, but I’ve become more of a hybrid out of necessity. I’ll usually start out with a vague concept of character, world and goal, and then pants my way up to about 80% of the first draft, at which point I’ll plot the climax and restructure as needed.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

H.M.:  Focus. I’m one of those writers who needs to be completely alone, without distractions or other responsibilities to tug at my concentration. Fortunately, my family is very respectful of this and I live in the middle of nowhere, so I’ve quiet aplenty.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

H.M.:  Other than many incredible authors, travel has hugely influenced my writing. During the time I wrote Hall of Smoke, I honeymooned in Wales and I lived near the Alps in Germany. I visited Austria on Switzerland for weekend hikes and cozy nights in mountain cabins, and those ever-present mountains saturated Hall of Smoke.

TQDescribe Hall of Smoke using only 5 words.

H.M.:  Woman with axe questions gods.

TQTell us something about Hall of Smoke that is not found in the book description.

H.M.:  In reading Hall of Smoke, you’re going to meet the gods in the flesh, on the page. They’re living, breathing, active participants in the story.

TQWhat inspired you to write Hall of Smoke? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

H.M.:  I enjoyed series like Vikings and The Last Kingdom, but I wanted a primary female protagonist, complex, unyielding and fierce, and yet vulnerable. So I wrote one.

Fantasy itself appeals to me because of its freedoms. Though I strove to give the world and cultures of Hall of Smoke a real-world feel, my impulse is always to break out of the confines of the world we know – opening up the possibilities of an entirely new realm, with new beliefs and practices and, of course, magic.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Hall of Smoke?

H.M.:  I didn’t do a lot of intentional research for Hall of Smoke, but the book was the product of a life-long love of history and many hours spend wandering through museums, visiting historical sites and devouring documentary series.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Hall of Smoke.

H.M.:  The cover artist is the very talented Julia Lloyd, and it depicts Hessa, Hall of Smoke’s protagonist, holding an axe. Owls play a key role in the book – they’re the eyes and messengers of Eang, Goddess of War – so two owls are featured as well. One swoops down in the background, talons outstretched to grasp Hessa, while the other alights on her hand – bearing a message, and recognizing her as a priestess of Eang. The colours too, are symbolic, but I’ll leave that up to the reader to figure out!

TQIn Hall of Smoke who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

H.M.:  The easiest character was Ogam, son of Eang. He emerged fully formed onto the page, full of life and bravado and one of my favourite backstories of the whole HOS world. The hardest was the protagonist Hessa, balancing her grief and questions of faith with the necessity of constantly moving forward and facing the next battle.

TQWhich question about Hall of Smoke do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

H.M.Who made Hall of Smoke’s map?

The map in the front of Hall of Smoke was designed and drawn by Cheryl Bowman, my dear friend and alpha reader, a talented artist and constructor of languages. You can find her on Instagram @conorthography.

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

H.M.:  Pg 191, “There was no use hiding now. I screamed, but the voice was not my own. It never was, not when the Fire possessed me like this. The Algatt crumpled and two more took her place, diving to intercept me with howls of desperate challenge – and dread.”

Pg. 369, “’Look, Eangi,’ he whispered, voice barely penetrating the silent storm in my skull. ‘Watch the gods battle. This is our privilege, you and I; priest and priestess.”

TQWhat's next?

H.M.:  I’m currently working on two projects. One is a stand-alone sequel to Hall of Smoke, coming early 2022, and I can’t wait to share more about that soon! The other is my current work-in-progress, a swashbuckling adult fantasy with a dark folktale twist.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

H.M.:  Thank you so much for having me!

Hall of Smoke
Titan Books, January 19, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

About H.M. Long

H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE and TEMPLE OF NO GOD, who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband.

Website  ~  Twitter @hannah_m_long  ~  Instagram  ~  Facebook

2021 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - May 2021 DebutsInterview with J. S. Dewes, author of The Last WatchExcerpt from The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner2021 Debut Author Challenge - May 2021 DebutsInterview with C. L. Clark, author of The UnbrokenInterview with Joshua Phillip Johnson, author of The Forever SeaInterview with H.M. Long, author of Hall of Smoke

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