Some say reviews are for readers, not for the authors. But they are wrong. Reviews are like fuel to me as a writer. They are what keep me going as I write book 2. The knowing that there’s a point to all this work. All that time and energy spent on creating something complex, like a witch working on an intricate and vibrant enchantment that in turn casts its own spell upon every reader, is in fact worth investing. Results may, of course, greatly vary, but when it all works as intended, there is magic.

I would encourage everyone who liked the book to leave feedback on Goodreads or Amazon, even if it’s just three words: “I enjoyed this.” They don’t only motivate other readers to give this book a chance, which is also important, but they also motivate me. Thank you!

And as hinted in the title, here’s an excerpt from a wonderful review which was posted on the Sci-Fi And Fantasy Reviews blog by Chris Meadows.

This is A Gamble of Gods, and it’s an absolute stormer of a debut, a charming, thrilling mix of science fiction and fantasy, where secret societies are running the universe behind the scenes, where a generations old conspiracy is unfolding, and where necromancy is as real, and as lethal, as a blaster bolt to the chest. But, to be up front about it, this isn’t a po-faced text, filled with dour warnings and po-faced protagonists. It’s a book filled with a rambunctious energy, a wry self-knowledge, and moments of on-the nose humour that made me laugh out loud more than once. It’s a book which isn’t afraid to dig into the emotional availability of its cast, to explore who they are, and why, and what they want; there’s romance woven between the self-revelations and swordfights, the kind that balances teasing and the gentleness of emotional understanding with a soupcon of raw desire and fierce passion. 

This is a book which isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, and I kind of love it for that.

You can find the rest of the review here: A Gamble of Gods – Mitriel Faywood

Two things dominated my life this year. Starting a new job and self-publishing my book. Both of which nearly killed me, but surprisingly, I’m still here, after all.

At the end of last December, I was struck down with Covid, hardly able to get out of bed, wondering how the hell I was going to start a new job the following week? I knew my new job was going to be demanding but I had no idea just how demanding back then. At my probation review meeting much later, I actually confessed to my boss that I had found the first three months somewhat traumatic. At which point he laughed and said he had, too. I joined the live music industry at its busiest time, our ticket sales around the globe breaking all-time records following the previous years’ pandemic confinement. What can I say, it’s been a learning curve and there’s still so, so much to learn. Just as with book writing and publishing.

A Gamble Of Gods is the first book I’ve ever written, following one completed and one half-written short story that I had previously produced. Mark Lawrence often warned me not to expect too much from my first novel. Many authors write quite a few before managing something publishable. But just like at work, I have apparently exceeded expectations. And you might think this was meant to happen with a mentor like him. But it was actually very difficult. Especially when writing in a second language with aspirations high as the sky. To make things even harder for myself, I decided to mix genres and write in multiple first person. It was a riskier path to take, but I always knew I had some talent for writing. This was the time to find out how much.

Self-publishing came with its own challenges. There was so much to think about that I had never considered before. What size the book should be, what font should I use, how large, how much space between the lines, what should the cover be like, where should I get the copy-editing done, should I change my website, how do you upload a book onto Amazon, how do you format it for Kindle and what about for printed books, do I need to buy ISBN numbers, do I get ARCs made, who’s IngramSpark and why do you need those guys as well? And despite all your research, at every step you discover a couple of things you wish you would have known. Or done differently. Of course, none of it was cheap, either.

And don’t even get me start on the actual selling of the thing – the most frustrating aspect of it all. With the amount of books coming out every day it’s like swimming against the tide. A new, self-pub author, with a unique, genre-defying book that’s hard to find comparisons for. Forget identifying your market, it’s more like carving out your very own, one reader at a time.

But enough with the moaning! Let’s see what I managed to achieve despite these challenges!

Reviews are what keep me going. They are also what most motivate new readers to buy the book in my experience. And they are glorious. I’m very pleased to say that most people who read my book, enjoyed it very much. I collected a list of blog reviews with excerpts and links over at this page, so I’m going to quote here from a selected few which didn’t appear on blogs:

“A thrilling mashup of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, comedy and romance, all whipped together into something unique and an absolute joy to read.” – Adam, Goodreads

“Extremely well written book. unique mix of interesting worlds and concepts. The set of main characters are all fully engaging, flaws and all!” – Jana, Goodreads

“The writing manages to be beautiful and poetic while remaining filled with action. […] A lot of fun and a lot of witty banter, and it will have you smiling or laughing out loud for much of the book.” Katie, Goodreads

“This might be the most impressive debut novel I’ve read.” – Julie, Goodreads

“Great prose, and a pacy story you always want to turn the next page on. A surprisingly good ‘first novel’.” – Steve, Amazon UK

“I am not usually a big fan of SFF and prefer more high fantasy, however, Mitriel Faywood has changed my mind on that. I could not put this book down and afterwards I found myself in a slump and unable to read anything else because of the book hangover A Gamble of Gods left me in.” – Amy, Amazon UK

At the end of 2022, A Gamble Of Gods has a 4.42 average rating on Goodreads (24 ratings, 20 reviews) and a 4.8 on Amazon (8 ratings, 7 reviews (UK+US). These are tiny numbers, but given all the above, it’s not terrible. It confirms that the book is good, it just needs people to give it a chance. Which brings me to sales.

In 2022 (the book came out on 11/11/22) I sold 43 hardbacks online, another 50 through The Broken Binding bookstore, 28 paperbacks and 169 eBooks. Which is 290 books altogether. It doesn’t sound bad, but of course I receive a small fraction from each sale, most of the revenue being deducted for printing, handling and distribution and given the high upfront cost with self-publishing, I would need to sell thousands, just to break even. The book is also on Kindle Unlimited, but for some reason it’s completely lost in there, with only 5,170 pages read so far. Compared to what other self-pub authors are posting about their figures, this is truly terrible, and I will have to look into how I can improve that (change keywords? book description? cover?)

In the end, to stay pragmatic, I have to ask myself the question. Do I struggle on, or do I just give in and write something more traditional and commission a more conventional fantasy cover? And why not just change my name, profile picture and pretend to be a man while I’m at it. This could be so much easier. But fuck it! I do like a challenge, and I much prefer to create something new and unique than try to copy what other people are doing. It’s just like Elden Ring, that I finally found some time for during the last few weeks of the year. I die in the game practically in every two minutes, then I get up and try again. Another day without a review? Another day without a sale? Another post few people cared about? A giveaway with weak results? Failed advertising? You get up the next morning and try your best again. This monster is too big for us just yet? Run! We’ll come back to it later.

So, let me finish this blog post with a big THANK YOU to all those wonderful people who read and enjoyed A Gamble Of Gods! (Have you left a review? Did you tell all your friends to buy it? What about your enemies?) Don’t worry, I won’t let you down. I already started writing the second book and have received very positive feedback for the first few chapters from my beta reader, Mark Lawrence, who said it was much stronger than the first book. I promise you, in 2023 I will continue to do my best with it.

This book has taken me by surprise, and in a good way. All I had known about it before picking it up was that it was a well-written historical fantasy, blending Irish history and mythology, so I had a sort of general idea what to expect. I thought I would find it interesting, but didn’t expect to love it this much.

Shauna Lawless has an obvious passion for Irish history that shines through every chapter, effortlessly transporting the reader into a vivid, realistic representation of 10th century Ireland. But it’s her writing skills and talent which won me over, the tone of her storytelling bringing to mind books I had previously enjoyed from other authors, such as Philippa Gregory and Madeline Miller. Smooth, mesmerising, but with a dangerous, sharp edge to it, that is always ready to strike.

Writing the story from the point of view of two very different women, one power-hungry, selfish, devious, the other kind-hearted, caring, naive was a brilliant decision and done very well. I felt that on one hand we had Gormflaith, whose continuous scheming manipulated history and drove the plot, on the other Fódla, whose conduct was more reactive, resigned to her fate, up to a point where eventually her internal transition under external strains slowly reached a turning point. Both journeys were intriguing to follow.

The long lives of the members of the two mythical tribes, combined with hidden powers, and the grief they felt upon losing mortal loved ones gave me strong Highlander vibes, that fitted in with the traits of the medieval world remarkably well.

All in all, I would call The Children Of Gods And Fighting Men a very strong debut and I look forward to reading more books from this author in the future.

Doing a bit of sale this week!

A Kindle countdown deal means that the price will gradually increase during the week, starting tomorrow, so best grab it while it’s cheapest.

The paperback price should be also lowered in all counties where Amazon operates, some sites are a little slower to update, but I was told the new price should be reflected everywhere by tonight.

Spreading the word in any way is much appreciated.

Here is the link to: the Amazon UK site and to the US one.

Hope you’ll check it out! 🙂

Following Petrik Leo’s fantastic cover reveal blog post almost two weeks ago, I will now also feature the wonderful work of cover artist Karrah E and cover designer Shawn T. King below.

the eBook cover

I’m incredibly grateful to Karrah and Shawn for creating such a wonder for my book. Karrah graciously took the time to read a large portion of the manuscript to gain a good understanding of the characters before starting to show me her ideas. The end result is both fitting and captivating.

Shawn also put a lot of effort into trying to understand what vibe I was after and come up with something that went well with the artwork, too. What he eventually created blew my mind. He’s one of the very best designers out there, a master of his craft, whose creativity and skill shines through his work.

I’m very lucky to have such a talented and dedicated team supporting me and hope readers will share my delight in this cover.


the paperback cover

Praise for A Gamble Of Gods

“Faywood’s debut is an intriguing mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements that is sure to satisfy genre lovers on both sides of the coin. A sure-fire debut of the year candidate that needs to be on your TBR.” – FanFiAddict

“A Gamble of the Gods combines a vividly drawn world with whip-smart characters and a story that, simply put, grabs hold from the first page to the last.” – Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews

“A great mix of adventure, fantasy, sci-fi and romance.” – Lynn’s Book Blog

“Faywood’s prose flows smoothly, at times enjoying a lush description of scenery or a moment of character introspection, at others sweeping the reader along in the exuberant chaos of action as any setting becomes a potential combat zone,” – The Fantasy Hive

The dust jacket

Pre-order links for the eBook version are already up on Amazon, paperback and hardback will follow in the next few weeks. Find links here for Amazon UK and Amazon US.


The first review is already up on Goodreads. Mark Lawrence rated the book 5 stars and wrote:

A Gamble of Gods is a difficult book to describe succinctly, since I don’t know of a similar novel. It moves very definitely through fantasy and science fiction, mixing the two before your eyes. It’s an exuberant story that invites film analogies rather than book ones. There are definitely shades of Mission Impossible and Star Wars, along with maybe Tomb Raider and The Mummy. It also has a strong romance thread. So: an unusual beast with something for everyone.

I watched this book grow from chapter 1. The author has been my beta reader for the great majority of my books, proving to have great insights and advice. I’ve done my best to encourage her own endeavours in the field. So, I’ve beta read this book from page 1, long before it had a title. I’ve witnessed Faywood grow as a writer, and go back to apply those newly acquired skills to improve the earlier chapters even as she wrote the latter ones. All this in a language she wasn’t born to. A very impressive feat!

Let’s move on to the meat of the book:

There are three main point of view characters, all in the first person, which is again an unusual approach but one I’ve seen work well before and that works well here. It forms a close bond between the reader and each character in turn.

The three leads are from three very different worlds, one far future on a colonised planet, one on Earth (London to be more precise) just a decade or two from now, and one on yet another world, but this one pre-industrial. We have a university scholar, a stressed office worker, and a renowned explorer/thief of magical artefacts.

Our three threads start separately and begin to entangle, being woven into the tapestry of a much larger story and an older conflict.

Faywood brings these disparate scenes to life very well, with excellent descriptions of high-tech paradises, parties in near future London, and the bustle of near-medieval city streets. The developing relations between scholar, clerk, and thief are complicated and well-drawn.

Expect an exciting ride, whether it’s vicious murderers being chased down by killer robots, sword fights atop carriages rattling along at full gallop, or unholy monsters being battled in the dungeon depths. It’s not all thrills and spills, and when the book is not charging along at 100 mph, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, even to become emotionally involved with the characters and to feel for their plight when the story takes darker turns.

The story draws you into a complex plot that is nicely resolved whilst leaving plenty of potential for more tales to come.

It’s an exciting, imaginative, and well-written debut that feels different to the kinds of story I’ve read before. If my description interests you, then I strongly encourage you to give it a go.”

I remember when I was writing my short story, Framing And Entering, five years ago, sitting in the park in my lunch breaks with my phone, I kept wondering if it was any good. Now, that I’m on my second book, I find myself re-reading that story because I managed to hit the right tone for my character so well in places, I’m now using it to connect with his voice again.

At the time, I tried to write something grimdark, hoping it might get included in an anthology, (where the publisher said they would feature the best five submissions alongside popular authors of the genre), but my character was even back then just too cheeky and too much fun to be grimdark. I kept trying to darken the story and he kept pushing back.

Creating characters and finding their voices is not how I thought it might be. Sometimes it feels like they already exist and I’m just trying to connect with them, rather than creating them from scratch. Definitely true with Conor. Even five years ago he was pushing through the veil, wanting to be let into my world and set loose on the pages. A reader of the short story said “Tell me that’s not the last we’ll hear of Conor Drew!” One of my beta readers for the first book stated “Conor is just the best”.

Now I’m sure Conor’s grinning, – while I’m equally excited and nervous about writing an even better book than the first one was, – fully confident that it’s going to happen and thinking me silly to even hesitate.

Gosh, I can’t believe that I haven’t blogged here in two years! All I seem to be able to find time for lately are quick Instagram or Facebook updates.

But I really wanted to say that I finished reading the Of Blood and Bone trilogy by John Gwynne and enjoyed it! Everything in this world fits together flawlessly, like it hasn’t just been all made up by one person, but is an existing place formed by centuries, and the author is just telling you what happened there, as I imagine after dinner, around the fireplace of some grand hall, sipping ale.

There are epic battles and lots of them, full of vivid characters you care about and outcomes you’ll find yourself heavily invested in, both of which might only hit you and hit you hard when not everything turns out as you expected.

Epic fantasy at its best. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a go!
Truth and Courage! ⚔️

Recently I created a new Facebook group that I was hoping to focus on the more literary fantasy works of SFF. Mark Lawrence humorously named it as Literary Snobs of Fantasy.

If I’m not mistaken literary fantasy isn’t clearly defined anywhere however, which provided some uncertainty within the group when it came to book recommendations. I’m usually against labels and trying to shoehorn books into boxes but will endeavour to provide some guidance on what my views on the subject were when I created the group, hoping to spur and invite thoughts from others, rather than lay down rules set in stone.

To illustrate my point, I created this little scale here. The underlying principle is that books which are not literary have a strong focus on the first element (plot) of the novel or the first two (plot and world building), while literary books concentrate on the last four.

Just to be clear right at the start: A book being literary doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better, than a non-literary one. An amazing story told well, where the main focus is on telling that story and on not much else can easily be a great book and often a bestseller.

A book is always a mixture of these elements though. You can’t push the focus high on everything. If you push some of the lower categories too high, it will push back the plot for example. Talking a lot about how the characters feel or filling the pages with picturesque description or poetical musings will slow the story. Concentrating on various themes won’t leave enough space to develop intriguing storylines. The secret of any good book is often finding the right balance.

Considering another section of genre fiction, I’ve never particularly been a crime fiction fan. Yet, two of my all-time-favourite authors were writers of that genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who hasn’t just laid down some of the fundamental building blocks of modern crime fiction but introduced us to Sherlock Holmes’s wonderfully complex and intriguing character. This characterisation was very much part of why I fell in love with the stories in the first place.

My other favourite is Raymond Chandler. When I think about his books I feel that some of the lower buttons in my scale chart are pushed to the extreme right. Character. Prose. Human Condition. Yet Raymond Chandler adds literary content without turning the books into anything else than crime. He doesn’t “kill off” the genre, by overdoing the literary elements. Instead he makes it richer, better. And that’s exactly what literary content should achieve in genre fiction in my opinion. Not turning them into something unreadable by adding over-the-top flowery language, boring with focusing on descriptions and such too much. It should enrich our reading experience while still giving us a story of fantasy, crime, science-fiction or horror.

A few years ago I wrote a few thoughts on why the Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence felt literary to me. Below I will repeat what I said there as an example of fantasy being literary in my opinion as it’s relevant here:

In literary fiction characters generally come before the plot. While in fantasy literature we mostly get to know characters based on what they say and what they do, the dialogues and actions essentially becoming the plot itself, literary fiction also puts a heavy emphasis on what they think and how they feel, which often slows the plot. In The Broken Empire not only does the character come before plot but the plot in fact serves to illustrate/exercise the character.

The poetic, profound and masterfully crafted prose we find in the trilogy is also more of a ‘requirement’ of literary fiction, genre fiction readers being generally more interested in the story itself.

Finally, works of literary fiction are known to deliver a deeper reading experience, with themes depicting what it means to be human running under the surface of the plot. The characters undergo experiences which make the readers think and question certain aspects of life and with answers not provided they are expected to come to their own conclusions about them. In The Broken Empire one of these themes is how atrocities experienced in childhood may form the personality and how the person handles, grows around these hurts with time.

Children severely traumatized early in life do not easily bond with other people. They often cannot love or accept love, they can become children without conscience, who can hurt or even kill without remorse.

In The Broken Empire some of the questions we need to find our own answers for are whether such characters after all the violence and damage they caused on others might be still forgiven, whether they deserve any sympathy or at least, an understanding.

It’s also worth noting that while in The Red Queen’s War trilogy the plot gains a stronger position, the above elements still echo through it. The main character might be more shallow, rendering the prose less profound and philosophical, giving way to humour in turn, it is still very much character driven with much emphasis on the protagonist’s personality, –  both as a consequence of childhood experiences and as something to be further refined on the anvil of the story.

 

Below I ramble a bit about beta-reading. If you found this article by googling Holy Sister and were hoping to read about what happens in the last book you’ll be disappointed. I promise I’ll post the blurb on ThatThornGuy.com as soon as it’s written and I’m allowed. But I imagine the below might be more interesting to writers and beta-readers, if anyone, at all.

Someone last year asked me how anyone becomes a beta-reader. Is there a course? In my somewhat limited experience this happens when an author asks you. You can occasionally see them posting an open request on the internet, on forums or in discussion groups, so keep an eye out for opportunities. Most often it’s a private thing though, because for many writers it’s important that they sufficiently know you and trust you. I don’t often see posts from other beta-readers though, so the confusion is understandable. In fact, for many readers I shall undoubtedly remain the woman who sends Mark wine and chocolate, gets to read his books early and has nothing but praise for him. In reality there is a little more to it though, which I’ll be talking about here to anyone interested.

I spent the beginning of April going through Holy Sister with a focus on a few things that had been slightly changed since the publisher’s edit. Re-reading a book two years after the first time, but one year before it gets published is pretty much like walking on no man’s land. There’s no one in sight but the author to discuss my findings with and we have very different perspectives.

I write, too, and can call myself lucky to have a few great beta readers who give feedback on my chapters. In theory I know how beta-reading goes from both sides of the process. You tell the author what works, what doesn’t work, what you like, what you don’t like, what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense, what intrigues you, what bores you. You point out any inconsistencies you spot. Maybe even any typos you spot. If you’re very dedicated you might even come up with some suggestions on how to make improvements. Then that’s it. Your work is finished, thank you very much. The author takes a look at your notes and decides what to action and what not. If they work closely with you they might even show you later how they implemented some of your suggestions.

As a writer this is pretty much what I’m hoping for from my betas and anything more would likely make the relationship awkward. Luckily beta-readers are usually not fanatics though and won’t pursue things further than reasonably expected. They have already spent a good amount of time and energy on your work, the rest is up to you. In turn, they learned from the process, which should benefit their own writing.

So anyhow. I have enough experience to know how it should work and how it shouldn’t. The way we run this ship with Mark is strongly in the second category. It really shouldn’t work. But somehow it does.

‘So, what poses the difficulties?’ you might ask. Well, first of all, as you can probably guess, someone who runs a fansite all alone (despite several people believing it a whole team), is pretty passionate about these books. Mark’s books always meant a lot to me and since I have the opportunity to help with making them even better if I can (which is for the last three-four years or so), I take these duties very seriously.

Then, if you follow Mark’s interviews and blogposts you might already know that he doesn’t really like making changes. His view is once it’s written it’s done and unless something is very clearly an error his preference is to leave it as it is. (He can also be a little lazy. Shhhh! You didn’t hear that from me!). Whereas unfortunately I’m a perfectionist. I’m sure you can already see where this all leaves us. ‘Again’, ‘I told you’, and ‘honestly’ are just some of the most common phrases popping up here and there.

Luckily, we had a little practice to adjust to these ‘extreme’ parameters before starting on Red Sister. I read The Liar’s Key before it was published and pointed out a few things to him that I felt could have been better, or thought were inconsistent. It was too late to make changes on the manuscript by then in any case, but still it was good practice. I read The Wheel of Osheim straight after and provided feedback on it in a similar manner. We also discussed most of his short stories within a few days they were written. By this time I believe he had more trust in my opinion, while I learned to let some things go and only put up a fight where I felt changing something was absolutely necessary. At times we both compromised.

Even so. During writing The Book of the Ancestor trilogy there were a few instances where arguments got a little out of hand and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had stopped asking for my opinion altogether. Instead, we managed to work through them and come up with something in each instance that eventually received a positive feedback later, most often from readers, but sometimes even from the publishers themselves.

More pleasant time was had when it came to brainstorming, albeit these happened less frequently. Mark is usually quite good at coming up with ideas on his own (as you’d expect from someone who earns a living from making things up). My biggest claim can most likely be to be “the one who sent Nona into the caves”. In fact, she became quite the explorer as the story went on, not unlike her dad. I also remember insisting that there absolutely had to be a library at the convent. And despite having worked at a wine company for years, as those who know me might remember, no, the winery wasn’t my idea. *Points.*

All in all though, now that my little part in the creation of this amazing trilogy has come to an end I feel proud and satisfied. The first book, Red Sister was for me the most work. And perhaps for that reason, feels the most important. The next two installments went much easier. I won’t spoil what is yet to come for you, but know this. The way the first two books tie together in the last one is truly special. Mark has always been a master of timelines, but I believe the way the prologues connect and flow into the conclusion in the third book is an art in its own right.

Next year war is coming. “There is in every delicate thing, no matter how precious, nor how beautiful, a challenge. Break me.” It’s time to face that challenge. Be strong. Be ready.

 


Photo by Raulla Merhej

 

So first of all, apart from a few notable exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of traditional epic fantasy. I much more prefer character-focused stories with epic prose, and for that reason it took me a while to get around to this book. Even at the beginning I struggled to make myself focus, to take in and remember who’s who and what exactly is going on in this world. But I really wanted to like the book, because of all those lovely people involved who I just adore: John Gwynne, of course, and helping him among others his absolutely amazing wife, Caroline, the very cool Edward and Will, whom I got to chat with on a number of occasions now, and even the mighty Kareem Mahfouz! So I marched on, because I really wanted to like this book and … damn! I LOVED it! I did not see that coming! In fact, I’m quite disappointed now that the book finished where it finished and I can’t just go on and find out what happens next!

John Gwynne is such a natural and talented storyteller. His world draws you in and makes you feel part of it. As if you listened to the tale while sitting around the fire, sharing dinner with folks from the Banished Lands. It’s flawless. Everything about it fits together perfectly and feels just right. I was also quite impressed by how gradually the book darkened and just how dark it got, the dread descending over me just as much as over the characters, their pain and loss affecting me deeply.

I look forward to reading the next volume.

 

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