On My Radar: Tavern

Dargath Chronicles Book One
By Deston J. Munden

Information, Power. Respect.

Xelnath of the Gnarled Root—a tavern owner, information broker, healer, and guildmaster of the Blackwind Company—has found a place, far better than the forest from which he came in the magical metropolis and city-state of Lladad in the Magiian Empire.

When a simple act of kindness draws the ire of a troubled assassin, his love-stricken Archmage father and an army of magically constructed golems, Xel must scheme with vipers of the high court, mingle with royalty at the castle, blackmail drug dealers in the slums, and fight assassins and mercenaries in the streets.

He needs to lean on the support of his motley crew of a dark elf assassin, a dragon pirate, a high elf royal, and a talking dog artificer to keep him from his own inner demons and doubts.

This debut by Deston J. Munden has been on my radar for a little while now.

I first came across this title, and Deston himself, on twitter when Deck Matthews shared a post of the map he was working on.

If you know me at all, you know I love maps (hi, Chris Rosser) and this one caught my attention. So naturally I had to find out more about it.

The map was of the great city Lladad, for a forthcoming novel by Deston J. Munden. Ugh. A forthcoming novel. So I had to wait. /sigh

I checked out Deston’s site – which you can find here – and followed him on twitter also (N.B. this is not considered stalking…). My interest increased when I discovered that he too plays (or rather played) World of Warcraft, and is a very cool guy with whom I share many similar reading interests.

Tavern was released yesterday, (we are a day ahead in Australia) and I just picked up my copy. I am looking forward to getting into this one – I have a few books ahead of it atm but it has been moved close to the top of the TBR pile – and will write more about it when I do.

Oh! And the tag line on Tavern’s blurb reads:

Perfect for fans of World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, Brandon Sanderson, Michael J. Sullivan, Nicholas Eames, and Scott Lynch.

Seriously, you had me at ‘hello’…

Looking Back

I was always enchanted by libraries as a kid, but it wasn’t until I was in Year 6 at school (way back in 1987) that I discovered the books that changed my life forever. You see I came across a copy of The Dragons of Autumn Twilight’ by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in the school library, the first book n the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy. These books opened a whole new world for me, introducing me to tales of dragons and wizards (mages), warriors and knights, gods and monsters and the epic battles of Good vs Evil.

The tales of King Arthur had never inspired me (although I have memories of watching Excalibur, and seeing The Black Cauldron by Disney – though I did not know it was based on a series of novels – I even remember The Secret of Nimh with the amazing wizard-like character of Nicodemus). And though I know it was around at the time, The Lord of the Rings (novels) wasn’t something I looked at until much later.

Nicodemus, from The Secret of Nimh.

My start in self-motivated reading, and my love of fantasy fiction, began with Weis & Hickman, and the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy and it’s sequel the Dragonlance Legends.

This series also gave me the first fictional character I ever connected with. The mage Raistlin Majere. His struggles to fit into society and his alienation from those around him – whether real or imagined – spoke to me on so many levels. He became my hero, and though his path was dark, his intelligence, his discipline and the sacrifices he made to achieve his goals inspired me and – on some level – gave me hope.

The greater world of DL or the stories that came after, didn’t hold quite the same enchantment for me, and to be honest I wasn’t a fan of how the Dragonlance universe changed. But horses for course, the original two trilogies will always hold a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

How about you? Have you read these books? What started your reading life?

Cadoc’s Contract – a review

Cadoc’s Contract
The Lords of Skeinhold, Book 0
By Chris Rosser

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

Cadoc wanted more than the life of a simple farmer. So, when Artur, Duke of Kas Mendoc raised his banner, Cadoc answered the call, marching south to enlist in a great crusade against the Oskoi. He travels to a distant land and carves his name in the bodies of the dead.

Yet Cadoc has a secret, a contract made with the gods to give him the strength he needs to survive this bloody war. One hundred souls — a debt of blood to a hungry god. But disaster strikes and Cadoc flees for his life. Can he face the men he left behind and account for those he killed? Has he paid his debt, or was his soul part of the price?

95 pages
Published by Chris Rosser Publishing
Published on March 1, 2019
Author’s webpage
Buy the book

I purchased this book.

If you read my review of Rosser’s debut novella, The Weaver’s Boy (which chronologically is the sequel to this book) you might recall that I felt it echoed some of Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I could easily say that this novella has the hallmark of a Greek tragedy and makes me wonder if Rosser has had a classical education. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not copying anyone, it’s just a timeless quality to his stories that evokes a half forgotten dream, or a memory of childhood. And to my mind that is a brilliant!

In this novella we are introduced to Cadoc, the second son of a minor noble house, who is not content with ploughing the fields of the fertile Valley Cae for his brother, the Lord of Skeinhold. So, he decides to enlist as a mercenary with a neighbouring Duke and march off on crusade in a far kingdom, seeking his own fortune, and to recreate the adventures of his grandfather. When reminded of a supernatural entity in the mountains around his home, Cadoc seeks a bargain with it ,as did his grandfather before him. But as the entity warns, the gods thirst, and dealing with such creature is never as straight forward as humankind like to believe. Cadoc’s Contract is the tale of that devils’ bargain and the price that Cadoc ultimately has to pay to appease the gods.

It’s hard to pin Rosser down stylistically for that exercise of comparing his work to any other author on the market today. In fact, I don’t think you can. There is that ‘classic’ feel to the core of his tales but the stories themselves are new and confidently crafted. He is definitely blazing his own trail. If I had to offer any comparisons, I might suggest one to Katharine Kerr in her Deverry novels, but I think that is likely the Celtic/Welsh stylistic influences in some of the localised world building coming through. Rosser’s work is fresh and compelling and with a timeless quality that will bolster his work against the test of time.

Cadoc’s Contract is an enticing read that further cements Rosser – for me – as one of the new breed of rising stars on the Aussie Spec-fic scene. There is a very visceral feel to Rosser’s writing, all the senses are brought into play and he doesn’t shy away from the grittier side of human physiology – it’s not overdone by any means, but it adds a touch more realism that heightens the experience.

With a sure and confident hand Rosser weaves his tale with the same skills as the mystical ‘weavers’ in his world, enthralling the reader with strong and heartfelt characters, engaging dialogue and heart pounding fight scenes.

Cadoc’s Contract, and The Lords of Skeinhold series, is something all lovers of good fantasy should have on their radar. Chris Rosser is an author to watch.

Interview with Deck Matthews

Welcome gentle readers! Today I have the pleasure of Deck Matthew’s company. As such, I have tied him down and forced him to, compelled, asked him to answer ten (terrifying) questions, in an effort to garner some insight to his world, his influences and his writing process.

As is becoming the case with many ‘new’ authors I come across these days, I discovered Deck on social media via his IG account @varkaschronicles (check it out, it’s really cool), after which I read his short stories and then his debut novella, The First of Shadows.

All I can say is wow.

Deck is a great writer and one you should really check out – especially if you are a fan of Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks or Peter V. Brett.

But for now, on with the interview!

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m a Canadian, self-published fantasy author with aspirations of striking a traditional deal one day. I was born in Kitchener, Ontario. I’m a child of the ‘80’s and adolescent of the ‘90’s, which had an obvious impact on me. Lots of 90’s rock!

I hold a master’s degree in English Literature from Wilfrid Laurier University, a small school located in Waterloo, Ontario.

What started you writing, and is it the same thing that still inspires you today?

I’ve been making up stories pretty much since I started to read, so it’s difficult for me to pinpoint an exact moment where I started writing. What I can tell you is the moment when I knew I wanted to write fantasy. At the end of my eighth grade year, my teacher gave me a set of David Eddings books. Over the course of the summer, I devoured them. That’s when I realized that fantasy was what I was truly passionate about.

Today, I just want to tell the stories—and there are a lot to tell. It seems as though I come up with one or two new stories every month! Most will probably fizzle, but I’m hopeful that over time I’ll be able to bring many of them to life, and entertain or delight readers in the process.

How many novels/stories did you write before you published?

To date, I’ve self-published two short stories, “In the Tower of the Witching Tree” and “The Melding Thief”) and one longer novella, entitled The First of Shadows. I have several more stories and novellas in various states of completion, so keep an eye out!

But if you’re talking about projects that died on the vine, I started one novel with a friend in high school. Later, I wrote a massive tome of a book.

What has your publishing journey been like?

I decided to start out with self-publishing my work. I had two main goals. First, I wanted to learn what I could about about the business. Obviously, self-publishing and traditional publishing are different in many ways, but there are parallels too, through editing, production and deadlines (even if those are self-imposed).

My second goal was (and continues to be) to build an audience and test the market. I wanted to prove to myself that there was a readership that would be interested in my work. So far, the response has been very positive. I can’t say I’m breaking any sales records, but those who are reading it are providing generally favourable comments, so I’m encouraged by that.

Please tell us about your novella, The First of Shadows.

The First of Shadows is the initial installment in what will become an ongoing series of similar sized novellas, entitled The Riven Realm. Each story will combine to tell one larger arc. I liken it to a television show, where each episode moves the overall plot forward, forming a larger story arc.

This first installment introduces us to a number of primary characters. There is Caleb, the young rigger with a crippled foot who works on the wind riders of the local lord. Then there is Palawen, a young drifter with a magical heritage, and Tanner, a mercenary with a hard past. There is Avendor, a corporal in the Ember Guard, and Tiberius, a blind old sage with secrets of his own. The novella starts bringing some of these characters together, in two distinct story arcs, loosely bound together for the moment.

My goal was to write a short, entertaining read, full of action and excitement. I like to think I’ve managed that.

(Mark: You have!)

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a short story/novella/novel, or about writing in general?

Time. Generally speaking, I’m not a fast writer. Combine that with the fact that I am an extensive revisionist (read: perfectionist), and each piece that I produce takes a lot of effort. With a full time job and a young family, it can be difficult to find the time to write, edit and proofread.

Beyond that, I think that one of the biggest challenges remains scope. I don’t think this is unique to fantasy, but I do think that sometimes fantasy can compound the issue. The world, the characters and the plotlines can take on a life of their own, and if I’m not careful, they can spin out of control. As much as possible, I try to keep things contained and moving forward, not expanding outward. It’s not always easy.

What is your work schedule like when you’re in writer’s mode?

Chaotic. I work full time as a web developer and have two young daughters and beautiful wife, all of which require a great deal of my time. As such, I don’t have much of a defined schedule, though I’m really trying to get better at that.

Generally, I try to sneak time wherever I can. I actually write on my phone quite frequently. I keep all my work in a Scrivener file, and the ability to sync it over Dropbox allows me to write on the bus during my commute, or between sets at the gym. Probably a full third of the first draft of The First of Shadows was written on my phone!

Do you use an outline when you write, or are you more of a discovery writer?

I really, really like the idea of an outline. I do. I just have trouble sticking to it. I actually have nine novellas in my Riven Realm sequence outlined, but the story is evolving and I can already see how that outline needs to change.

I still have a particular endpoint in mind though, so I know where I’m going. Now it’s just about drawing the blade and cutting my way through!

How do you balance what you’re reading against what you’re writing?

I mentioned that I write on the bus sometimes. That’s generally only when I’m neck deep in a project. For the most part, bus time is reading time. When I go into the office, it’s usually about an hour and a half of travel time each day. It seems like a lot, but that’s when I get the bulk of my reading in. I actually enjoy having that time baked into my day. It would be hard to find the time to read consistently without it.

That being said, I do read at other times too, usually on the weekends when things aren’t quite so rushed, or just before bed if I need to help shut down my brain after staring at a computer screen for hours upon hours.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?


Yes, I know it sounds cliche, and it’s what every other writer seems to say. But there’s a reason for that, and that reason is that it’s the “plain bloody truth,” as Tanner Hoff might say (don’t get that reference? Read the novella!)

Writing is hard. It can beat you up, knock you down and mess with your emotions. Some days I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels, but even on those days, there’s usually something valuable that comes out of the writing.

The other thing is: read. There’s so much to be learned about the craft of writing just by reading. I find that every novel or short story I read offers me something new to learn. Whether it’s a matter of pacing, or world building, or just an interesting turn of phrase that gets my mind thinking in a different direction, I honestly believe that extensive reading remains the foundation for solid writing.

Deck Matthews, thank you!

Yeah, I’m Excited.

Can you tell?

So, an 8th of October release date – no idea if a UK publisher has picked this up. Orbit UK publish the WoT books but it could be a worldwide deal for TOR on this one.

The cover is a little generic, but it’s not the start of a series so the only branding required really is the ROBERT JORDAN part. But I am digging the blurb.

I can’t wait!

Draw near and listen, or else time is at an end.

The watering holes of the Plain are drying up, the fearsome fanghorn grow more numerous, and bad omens abound. Wulfgar, a leader of the Altaii people, must contend with twin queens, warlords, prophets and magic in hopes of protecting his people and securing their future. Elspeth, a visitor from another world, holds the answers, but first Wulfgar must learn to ask the right questions.

But what if the knowledge that saves the Altaii will also destroy them?

Interview with Chris Rosser

Cadoc’s Contract
The Lords of Skeinhold
By Chris Rosser

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

A warrior returns home from a holy war, burdened by a blood debt to the gods. With the world he left behind in tatters, he must reconcile his role in his family’s undoing.

Cadoc wanted more than the life of a simple farmer. So, when Artur, Duke of Kas Mendoc raised his banner, Cadoc answered the call, marching south to enlist in a great crusade against the Oskoi. He travels to a distant land and carves his name in the bodies of the dead.

Yet Cadoc has a secret, a contract made with the gods to give him the strength he needs to survive this bloody war. One hundred souls — a debt of blood to a hungry god. But disaster strikes and Cadoc flees for his life. Can he face the men he left behind and account for those he killed? Has he paid his debt, or was his soul part of the price?

Just released, Cadoc’s Contract is the second novella by Chris Rosser set in the Skeinhold series, and another masterful tale by a burgeoning new voice in the Aussie spec-fic scene.

I met Chris online via a mutual friend who told me he had another friend who also wrote fantasy. That friend was Chris. So I checked out the first novella Chris has released (The Weavers Boy) and followed him on twitter. Chris is quite sociable and likes to get to know the people who follow him, so he started chatting, and I chatted back, and the rest is history.

I thought I’d ask Chris if he’d like to do an interview, answering ten (terrifying!) questions, in support of the release of Cadoc’s Contract. He said yes!

So, sit back, relax, grab a coffee, a tea, a water – or even something stronger-, and say hello to Chris Rosser.

To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I’m originally from the Wales in the United Kingdom. I migrated to Australia in the mid-80s with my family. After a brief stop in Melbourne’s western suburbs I moved out to Bacchus Marsh, where I finished the rest of my primary and secondary schooling. Bacchus Marsh oddly enough produced another great Australian writer — Peter Carey. After finishing school, I stud-ied History and Archaeology at Melbourne University, then I went on to compete a Masters of Arts in Editing and Communication.

What started you writing, and is it the same thing that still inspires you today?

I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, but I first started taking it seriously (at least as a hobby) when I was 15 or 16. Back then I did it for the sheer fun of it. Then when I started sharing them, people said I wasn’t half bad and that I should consider publishing. Like most youngsters, I dreamed of fame and riches and got frustrated when realities set in. So, I became a professional technical writer instead, and the professions been very good to me. Now I’ve happily come full-circle, and I’m back to writing fiction for pleasure and I’m much happier for it.

How many novels/stories did you write before you published?

Far out, I’ve probably written about 15 books in various stages of completion before I published my first in 2018. A couple of them will be resurrected, but they belong to different genres, so I’ve not yet decided how and when I’ll tart those up for publication. Right now I’m focusing on finishing my current fantasy series.

What has your publishing journey been like?

It’s been a long and staggered process if I’m honest. I first tried going the traditional route in 2005-ish and actually managed to find an agent here in Australia that agreed to take me on. Unfortunately for reasons I still don’t understand, she dropped me with nothing more than an irrelevant rant via email. Being young and inexperienced, it was quite a blow to my confidence and I didn’t have the self-belief to try again. I would have dealt with an outright rejection, but to be accepted then dropped… that was rough.

Anyway, not long after, I landed my first professional writing job, then I moved to the UK with my wife to work and travel throughout Europe, and I didn’t write much fiction beyond the occasional tilt at Nanowrimo. Then, as we were coming back to Australia via North America in 2010 the Kindle revolution was gathering momentum, I bought a Barnes&Noble Nook in New York and I began to consider self-publishing. We started a family not long after we got back to Melbourne though, but the idea wouldn’t go away. I slowly started to get back into writing, picking up Nanowrimo and blogging again in 2014. I guess I just fell back in love with writing fiction.

When I published The Weaver’s Boy, it was almost by accident. I mostly wrote it as a means of getting back into my characters and my fantasy setting. But I was invited by someone on Twitter to submit a story to their online magazine. I took a punt with an extract of The Weaver’s Boy, and was accepted. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, and I thought bugger it, I’ll publish the complete story and see what comes!

Please tell us about your novel, Cadoc’s Contract.

You can blame the muse for this one. After I published The Weaver’s Boy last year, I had the sudden inspiration to write the story of how Cadoc became the Lord of Skeinhold. When we meet him, he’s journeying by sea back from a disastrous crusade in which he fought as a mercenary. Like many veterans, he’s tormented by what he did and what he saw. He’s also hiding a dark secret, one that’s going to land him and his family in a lot of hurt.

So, it’s become a prelude to my series, set about 6 years before The Weaver’s Boy. It wasn’t an easy draft to write, but I managed to wrangle it back into shape and I think it turned out to be a terrific story, one that helps to set the tone of the series, along with serving as a decent introduction to my word.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Geez where to start! Time is probably my biggest issue these days, thanks to juggling a family and a full-time job. Good writing takes a lot of revision, and an obsession with craft — doubly so when you’re an indie author and can’t just boot it off to your editor for umpteen revisions.

One thing I do battle with is the conventions of the genre. Fantasy and fantasy readers have particular expectations, but for me character and story comes first and I challenge every trope I find. That can lead to moments self-doubt and I wonder if I’m scuttling my chances of being read!

Beyond the writing itself, and the biggest drag is publishing and marketing. It’s doubly hard when you’re outside the United States and certain companies either cripple their services for non-US residents or block us outright from accessing them. For an example, I’m about to start narrating my own audiobooks but the biggest distributor ACX (Audible), won’t allow me to do so from Australia.

What is your work schedule like when you’re in writer’s mode?

See above! A lot of my writing time is fuelled by midnight oil, after my kids have gone to sleep. Sometimes I can schedule in a Sunday afternoon, or snatch some time during my commute to and from work. When Nanowrimo comes round, I usually take some annual leave where I can, though I think I’ve outgrown Nano, and won’t be doing it this year.

Do you use an outline when you write, or are you more of a discovery writer?

Ah, the eternal question: to plot or pants! I’ve tried both. Purely pantsing just doesn’t work for me — I tried with Cadoc’s Contract and the original Weaver of Dreams and it took about much longer than it should have. By the same token, I don’t like outlining so much that it spoils the discovery and takes all the fun out of writing. So, these days I get my characters right in my head, and I have a vague outline to plot the story’s direction. That gives my analytical mind the road map it needs, but there’s enough undiscovered territory to intrigue the muse.

How do you balance what you’re reading against what you’re writing?

The honest answer is I don’t. I have so little time as it is, reading is just one of those things that gets pushed to the backburner, particularly when I’m drafting. When I read these days it’s less for pleasure and mostly to review books for my website and newsletter, or to beta-read the works of other authors.

Today, when I consume a book for pleasure, I’m much more likely to listen to an audiobook, and then it’s typically a genre that I don’t write. After 6 years of academic study and 15 years as a professional writer and editor, I find it very hard to switch off my inner critic. When I listen to an audiobook however, I don’t have that problem.

What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Practice, practice, practice…and be realistic. Writing is a difficult craft, and I’d challenge the belief that it comes naturally to anyone. If you look at your first draft and say to yourself, ‘hey this is awesome,’ you are delusional and you lack the self-criticism you need to improve your craft. Leave it for a month and when you revisit your manuscript, you’ll understand.

I’d also encourage new writers not to compare themselves to their favourite author. When you marvel at the skill of your favourite book, you’re seeing a finished product that’s undergone a huge (often collaborative) effort to produce and refine. When I was a masters student, a lecturer noted that one of Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novels had more than 12 thousand editorial corrections. Step out of the shadows, find your voice and believe in your self.

Chris Rosser, thank you!

Of Sand and Malice Made

US Cover

Of Sand and Malice Made
A Shattered Sands Novel
By Bradley P. Beaulieu

Çeda is the youngest pit fighter in the history of Sharakhai. She’s made her name in the arena as the fearsome White Wolf. None but her closest friends and allies know her true identity. But this all changes when she crosses the path of Rümayesh, an ehrekh, a sadistic creature forged aeons ago by the god of chaos.

The ehrekh are desert dwellers, but for centuries Rümayesh has lurked in the dark corners of Sharakhai, combing the populace for jewels that might interest her. Some she chooses to stand by her side, until she tires of them and discards them. Others she abducts to examine more closely, a thing that leaves them ruined, worn-out husks.

Çeda flees the ehrekh’s attentions, but that only makes Rümayesh covet her even more. Rümayesh grows violent. She threatens to unmask Çeda as the White Wolf, but the danger grows infinitely worse when she turns her attention to Çeda’s friends. Çeda is horrified. She’s seen firsthand the suffering left in Rümayesh’s wake.

As Çeda fights to protect the people dearest to her, Rümayesh comes closer to attaining her prize and the struggle becomes a battle for Çeda’s very soul.

This is a great story set in a fascinating fantasy world. Expanding some of the mythology of the main novels, this novella is a rip-roaring yarn full of action, adventure, mystery and magic.

Give me more!

UK Cover

Luckily there are (currently) 4 novels available in The Song of the Shattered Sands series, and 4 novellas.

Fans of Michelle West, Peter V. Brett and Brandon Sanderson will love this story and this series.

I’m moving into this series with a vengeance!