My Review of Bloodchild by Anna Stephens

Image result for bloodchild anna stephens

Author Bio: https://anna-stephens.com/

Hello, I’m Anna, a UK-based writer of epic-y, gritty, grimdark-y fantasy. The first two books in my debut grimdark trilogy – Godblind and Darksoul – have now been published in English worldwide, with various translation deals secured, and the final book in the trilogy, Bloodchild, is being published on 5 September 2019.

I’m represented by Harry Illingworth of DHH Literary Agency in the UK, and sub-agented by Cameron McLure of Donald Maass Literary Agency in the US. I owe Harry, Cameron and everyone at HarperVoyager, but particularly my editor, publishing director Natasha Bardon, a huge debt of gratitude. I’ve learnt more about myself as a person and a writer since signing with them than I have in all the years before.

Anna Stephens is my maiden name and pen name, or as I like to think of it, my superhero disguise. Anna Stephens is to me what Black Widow is to Natasha Romanova.

Blurb:

In this epic grimdark conclusion to the Godblind Trilogy, heroes, armies, and gods both good and evil will battle one last time, with the fate of the world itself at stake. . . . The great city of Rilpor has fallen. Its walls have crumbled under the siege by the savage Mireces; its defenders have scattered, fleeing for their lives; its new rulers plot to revive the evil Red Gods using the city’s captured, soon-to-be-sacrificed citizens. Now, with the Fox God leading the shattered remnants of the Rilporian defence and the Mireces consolidating their claim on the rest of the country, it’s up to Crys, Tara, Mace, Dom and the rest to end the Red Gods’ scourge once and for all. While the Rilporians plan and prepare for one final, cataclysmic battle to defeat their enemies, the Blessed One and the king of the Mireces have plans of their own: dark plans that will see gods resurrected and the annihilation of the Dancer for all time. Key to their plan is Rillirin, King Corvus’s sister, and the baby–the Bloodchild–she carries. As both sides face their destinies and their gods, only one thing is clear: death waits for them all.

My review:

First of all, thank you to the magnificent Kareem for sending me an ARC of this. Thank you and congratulations to Anna for completing this trilogy. I am reviewing this as a standalone, having not read the previous books, but it took quite a while when you consider’s the book length in itself. It’s hefty, and quite nice to carry around with.

I was quite amazed because this novel of grim-dark fantasy was not what I expected. I expected betrayal, murder and morally grey characters. Heck I don’t like grim dark as a genre, but just observe human history, and tell me when has it not been grim-dark? WWII had the Italians and Germans as allies, after Mussolini was disposed, the Germans turned on the Italians in rapid succession. Napoleon by all accounts was not treated fairly by the monarchies of Europe, but then again his invasion of Spain was a disaster unto itself. Napoleon could well have won the wars but was consistently bad at foreign policy. A great general yes, but not an expert at naval battles for that matter. Corvus definitely had the attitude of a rude King and completely egotistic man.

Tara Vaunt is a true hero of this novel who I felt deserved a better fate. Even her husband was a better man. Valan was a true idiot that needed to be extinguished. Lanta was well…brainwashed? Mace was the unrepentant King, he was like the General Ulysses Grant, terrific in battle but maybe in his reign he wouldn’t be so great.

I won’t lie as it had the usual good vs evil. But it had Crys and his partner who were legends on the battlefield. Although I felt Crys didn’t use enough of his godly powers.

It felt as if I was reading a heavy dramatic play or script of GOT into a three movie epic sequel. The dialogue is great, the prose is great, and the characterisation is on point. At points I was confused with the world-building but this was because I had not read the other two books. I do feel that this novel has defied my expectations. It has heroism, but it is still too brutal for my taste, but then again, was warfare any different? Vikings believed in Valhalla, the Samurai made a whole life about the katana, and whatnot.

My rating, 5/5 solid, go buy it NOW!

My Author Interview with Judith Starktson! Check out her new sequel, Sorcery in Alpara which is free from Oct 2-6 on KU! GRAB IT NOW!

Dear Readers and Followers of Al-Alhambra,

Sometime ago, I had ventured into the ancient libary of Alexandria, and I had found a scroll that told of an author named Judith Starkston. The name was strange, rather odd. I checked and found this book, a story that had not been told for thousands of years. This was the story of the Priestress of Ishana.

That aside, I’m joking. As Judith contacted and happily sent me an ARC of the first Hittite fantasy/mythological/historical novel I had ever set my eyes upon. The Priestress of Ishana. A fantastic book with rich development and elaborate description of a culture that many do not know about. If you’re interested in Mesopatamian Mythology, then this book is for you.

Below is an author bio from her website:

Judith Starkston has spent too much time exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution is her brand: Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Judith is represented by Richard Curtis.

Link: https://www.judithstarkston.com/

You can order the book here:

This is free on KU!

The sequel, Socrery in Alpara is free from Oct 2-6th on KU! Grab it NOW!

Interview:

Q. How did you contact historians to help you with research? I am pretty brave about writing key historians of the Hittites with questions. I’m good at making sure I don’t ask for too much time or effort from anyone. Academics are way over busy. When Hittitologists read my books, they like them and say my history is accurate, so that pleases me a lot.

My “rules” for the magic in my books comes straight from the Hittite rites written out on clay tablets, but I do allow the magic and fantasy to go well beyond strict adherence to history. The story is much more fun that way. I like Guy Gavriel Kay’s phrase “a quarter turn to the fantastic” to describe my style.


Q. Who was the inspiration for Marak?

Marak is a pure product of my imagination. We don’t know anything about any of Hattu’s actual commanders. There are so many gaps in what we do know about this ancient people. That’s part of why I write fantasy–it’s honesty with my readers that I’m making a lot of stuff up. That’s also why I shift the names from the actual known ones–Hittite to Hitolia or Egypt to Egarya, for example. It cues my readers that I’m filling in the vast gaps in historical knowledge with my imagination and fantasy. That is also the best storytelling–which is really what I’m going for.

Q. How deep was the research you looked into, and what little nuggets of stories did you discover that was unknown about the Hittites?

I have gone deep into the research, both the book/reading part (years of that) and the travel. I’ve gone to the archaeological sites, landscapes, and museum collections in Turkey that are the source material for my world-building. I contact the dig directors and museum curators so that I can talk with them and learn first hand from the people who really know.

I spent a whole day at the site that we think was Tesha’s hometown that I call Lawaza, but was called Lawazantiya by the Hittites. It’s the archaeological site of Tatarli near the city of Adana in Turkey. The key reason they think it’s her hometown is that the dig mound with Bronze Age ruins of the right kind is surrounded by seven springs.

The Hittite records from the capital of the empire describe this town as having seven springs. The dig director took me to each of the springs–one of them appears in a key scene in Priestess of Ishana and I could never have gotten the atmospherics of that scene right if I hadn’t been there. My favorite nugget of Hittite magical rite that I use in Priestess involves chickpeas. The Hittites were obsessed with curses that they believed sorcerers used to cause all kinds of evil.

If you had to remove a curse from someone, you baked a loaf of bread with chickpea paste in the middle (basically humus) so that when you touched the bread to the cursed body while saying the right spell, the paste would absorb the pollution. I couldn’t make up this stuff in a million years, but the Hittite culture hands it to me. I just have to write it into compelling page-turners.


Q. Hattu seems to be an ambitious King, but his good nature can lead him into turmoil with the nobles. Will we see more of Egyara in the future?

Hattu tries to be a fair and just ruler, but his much more powerful brother, the Great King, accidentally set him up for having long term hidden enemies when he appointed Hattu king of the Upper Lands and in the process removed the previous ruler who was one of the nobles. That slight has a long memory life among the powerful families of Hattu’s kingdom and any time he shows signs of weakness, it bubbles back to the surface and spawns rebellions.

Then there is Egarya (Egypt). He totally pissed off the Pharaoh when he shamed Pharaoh by bettering him in battle. So, yes, you’ll see plenty from Egarya in future books. Historically, we know that the primary foe of the Hittites much of the time was Egypt, and I reflect that history in my plots. An arrogant Pharaoh with a ton of wealth, assassins and magic at his command makes for a great enemy in a fantasy series. 


Q. Will we see Greece, i.e the fantasy version appear in the series?

Greece and the Hittites did bump heads in history. And yes, I’ll get to that in my Tesha series, but I haven’t quite yet. In my first book, Hand of Fire, I definitely have the Greeks because that book is set within the Trojan War. I’m planning to get back to writing that series and write a follow up to Hand of Fire, but I’ll first finish a couple more books in the Tesha series. 
Q. Will we see more interactions with Gods in the future? Do you intend to add the fantasy Phonecians?
The gods–in particular Ishana–will continue to be a regular character in my series. That’s founded in what we know about Tesha and Hattu from history. Tesha, especially, had visionary dreams from the goddess that guided her actions throughout her life. Hattu attributed his power and military success to the goddess also. I don’t plan on incorporating Phoenicians. 
Q. I fully agree with you that when you are researching the Bronze Age, it is difficult to separate fantasy from historical fiction. The people of the Bronze Age were really the creators of the Sci-fi we know and love, and influences of the Annunaki, the Kings, Genetic Cloning, Airports, Kings ruling for thousands of years have seeped into Star Trek and many shows. Do you intend to add a sci-fi element to this in your future novels?I am committed to immersing my readers into an accurate Hittite world, for all that I allow the magic built into Hittite beliefs free rein and have a blast with the fantasy. Going into sci-fi would be a really different direction for me. I might go there someday, but not in this series.
Q. After the fantasy Hittite Saga, where will you go? Egayra? Babylon? Assyria? Indus Valley? Would we see more incorporation of Gods and Beasts and fantasy adventure plots in other such projects?The fantastical beasts are already storming this series. You’ll find griffins in Sorcery in Alpara, book 2 of the Tesha series (launches Oct 14). Babylon, Assyrian and Egypt (my Egarya) are already in this series or coming soon in the third book, which I’m drafting now. This series has a lot more books to come, so I haven’t thought at all about some other series.

Thank you to the wonderful Judith Starkston for this excellent interview. I hope it inspires more authors to pick up Hittite Mythology and do more historical fantasy because it is such an under-rated genre!

For more links, also check out Gordon Doherty who’s written a historical fiction novel on the Hittites. It is now £2.99 on Amazon. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07SN67R24

Judith can be found here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judy.starkston

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6473981.Judith_Starkston

Twitter: @JudithStarkston

My Review of the Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil

This review is written for the Historical Fiction Book Tour. Thank you to Amy for sending me an ARC copy of this. This is an excellent book, highly erotic, and very engaging characters along with a complex story and plot. I love the way of ancient spirits and Gods being used in this novel. Buy this now!

Image result for queen of warriors zenobia neil

Author Bio:

Zenobia Neil was born with a shock of red hair and named after an ancient warrior woman who fought against the Romans. She spends her time imagining interesting people and putting them in terrible situations. The Queen of Warriors is her third novel.

Site: https://www.zenobianeil.com/

Order now:

US Amazon Users:

UK Amazon Users: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-Warriors-Alexandra-Sparta-Book-ebook/dp/B07T8SXB7J/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=zenobia+neil+the+queen+of+warriors&qid=1570015962&s=gateway&sr=8-3

Blurb:

Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and all she holds dear, including the man who holds her heart.

Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends, but is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late.

My Review:

Queen of Warriors by Zenobia Neil is an excellent historical fantasy book. I loved the characters, the descriptions and the setting. I also loved the fact we were exploring the aftermath of Alexander’s invasion and how that led to Greeks and Persians interacting with each other on a scale that they had never done before. I can say that Zenobia has done an impressive effort in transforming a short story into a novel. I really do prefer historical fiction stories to have Gods and Monsters and mythological settings.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. It has erotica, lots of it, and it has a lot of stories of betrayel, love and loss. It features redemption, action and lots of it.

The character I liked was Artaxerxes. I really feel his character was developed the best. Mithra was also a fantastic character, and the Queen of Warriors named Alexandra? She’s…somewhat of a special character. So hold no judgement, because you’ll see things happening in the Ancient World that to the 21st century lens just is outdated and horrible. But that was their perspective of their time. The best I can refer to is the Alexander Inheritance written by Eric Flint, which features a 21st century cruise ship being stranded through a time rift into Ptolemaic Egypt. One of the Silver Guards inflitrates the ship and doesn’t respect the woman on board. That sort of thinking was prevalent during this time. So Zenobia has depicted the struggles the Queen of Warriors, Alexandria goes through.

I love the absolute respect that Zenobia did when she depicted Zorostranism and Ahura Mazda. It is one of the most under-rated religions and is thriving in India, but it is something that is rarely understood. Especially in the Greek-Persian Wars context. We get to see things from the Persian’s point of view who viewed Alexander the Great as a barbarian, and from their side, who wouldn’t? The Greeks saw these Persians coming through, they’re barbarians. The Persians see their empire completely turned over by Greeks, they’re barbarians. No one’s the true winner in this conflict. Everyone has a bias against each other and this is clearly reflected. It has a lot of blood, things that in the book that you’ll read.

With some parts of the book, there were areas of flashbacks that were used a little too much. I did feel some of the big secrets were dragged on, and some of the overall arching plots came to its climax and then stopped. It’s a very big book with a very complex plot. Sometimes I felt Alexandra was too petutalent, sometimes a bit too childish when it came to dealing with consequential decisions that impacts her in the novel. I did feel she was too rash in her decisions and she needed a bit more development on that area.

But by this. It’s very RARE we get historical fiction with mythology. Very rare. This is Princess Xena put with a Spartan influence in an broken empire rapidly adjusting to Greek rule. For more authors that do this, please check out Judith Starkston’s interview which I’ll be posting. Very similar books in terms of influence of historical fantasy, but historical fantasy is such an under-rated genre I cannot stress this enough.

This is a great book and I give this a 4/5.