Indie Feature Friday: Heroes Road by Chuck Rogers

Have you ever read a book that completely re-kindled your love for a genre you thought you’d moved on from?

When I was younger, I read a lot of epic fantasy. It was my preferred genre. I couldn’t get enough of it. But somewhere along the line, it started to feel a bit stale and tired. The tropes felt too tropey. The things I used to love became obvious and cliched…

I think this happens when you become too familiar with any one genre or sub-genre. Sometimes you just need a break, even from the things you once thought you couldn’t do without.

Well it’s been years, and my love for epic fantasy has never really come back to me.

I have been trying!

Part of me feels like I just don’t have the mental capacity for long, slow world building and massive series now that I’m an adult. Home ownership, having small children, being self-employed… it all takes up a lot of head space.

But I think the sad truth is I just haven’t been able to find a lot of writers who push the boundaries of expectations enough to keep me interested while still retaining that classic, epic fantasy “feel” I originally fell in love with.

Fortunately, Fate intervened on my behalf and put me in the path of this book…

I just finished reading Heroes Road by Chuck Rogers and I am absolutely blown away by how much I loved it.

I was hooked in the first chapter. It’s familiar in all the right ways, and yet completely unexpected and fresh feeling. I loved that Rogers blended historical fiction with fantasy in a completely different way than I’ve ever seen before.

Rogers’ action scenes are relentlessly paced and yet perfectly grounded. His characters are well-rounded and hilarious and build a fantastic group dynamic. Each character has believable strengths and flaws and grows throughout the book. You will root for them and pull out your hair and sometimes want to throw things at them, and in the end you will be satisfied. What more can you ask for in a book?

So, while I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same reading epiphany I had while reading Heroes Road, I do highly recommend it to all fantasy readers, especially to those who fear they might have outgrown the genre. This is epic fantasy done right. I can’t wait to read the next one, Heroes Road: II.

For you audiobook listeners, there is a dramatized series done by Graphic Audio based on these books, too!

If you’ve read HEROES ROAD I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If not, what are your recommendations for epic fantasy books that shake up the genre?

Indie Feature Friday Cyberpunk Book Review: Welcome to Autumnport by Norfy A.R.

Happy Friday the 13th! I have a story for you…

Once upon a time I was geeking out in a cyberpunk fan club on Facebook and I got into a conversation with the lovely Norfy who was halfway finished writing her very first cyberpunk story. As you know, I love connecting with other authors and especially cyberpunk authors, so I was thrilled when she asked me to beta read Welcome to Autumnport for her.

Spoiler Alert: I loved it!

Here are some reasons you might love it too:

  • Welcome to Autumnport just launched this week and has been solidly in the Top 100 of Amazon’s LGBTQ+ Science Fiction list ever since.
  • It’s equal parts sexy and nerdy, a difficult combination to pull off.
  • Norfy is a debut Canadian SF writer, and everyone loves Canadian SF writers.
  • Queer writers writing queer characters and supporting queer artists? Yes please!
  • Adorable artwork by illustrator Ieka 95 (<– check out her portfolio on Deviant Art!)

Curious? If you want to give something new and different a try, read on to see if this book is for you!

Welcome to Autumnport by Norfy A.R.

The Blurb:

“You will exist as my toy in perpetuity – and you will like it!”

Heartbroken and outcast as a mad scientist, Doctor Lance finds his only mercy in the form of Duchess, an infernal dominatrix offering a new lease on life. Then whisked away to the metropolis of Autumnport – a realm of corruption, perversion, and rampant technological growth – Lance is caught in an uncanny tango with cyborgs, dark elves, and captivating succubi while serving as Duchess’s favored champion. Meanwhile, rebellion simmers in the heart of the land.

Will Lance prosper in this brave new world of science and magic? Or will he rise against Duchess’s tyrannical rule and burn it all down? Find out in Act I of this cyber-augmented urban fantasy!

Features end-of-chapter artwork by the marvellously talented Ieka95.

**Content Warning** : While intended as a work of sci-fi ecchi, this is still an adult story dealing with suitably adult themes and subjects, some of which may be considered offensive or triggering. Use your discretion.

My Review

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t read romance/erotica. Really! I don’t.

And yet…

Here I am again.

It’s not my fault. I was seduced by a cyberfemme demoness with adorably geeky Facebook posts.

Okay, technically Welcome to Autumnport is not romance or erotica. It is, however, a delicious blend of cyberpunk and dark fantasy that happens to have some highly sexual themes and plenty of smutty scenes to match.

How does that work?

By definition a romance is a novel about a relationship between two or more people, in which the story arc is driven by the relationship. Character arcs and plot arcs are focused on the many ups and downs of the relationship, and end with an emotionally satisfying Happily Every After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN) finale. It’s all about the feels.

Erotica, on the other hand, is a novel where the story is driven by the sex. Often erotica is more literary in nature, in which case sex is catalyst for self-discovery and personal growth or change. If there is no character development or plot arc… then it’s porn. You’re just reading pure smut, you dirty little cyborg.

Don’t worry, though. I’ve got your back. Because you can read Welcome to Autumnport for all your smutty needs and tell people that you’re reading high-brow SF literature.

And you won’t even be lying.

(I’m done joking about smut now, I promise.)

Welcome to Autumnport is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s set in a cyberpunk-esque afterlife ruled by a hermaphroditic demon dominatrix named Duchess who uses the sexual energies of the souls she has trapped to power the scientific advancements of her kingdom. The narrative follows the only person in Autumnport to openly defy Duchess’s rule, the mad scientist Lance, who resents Duchess’s control over him and the people he cares about. Lance has to battle his own depression and ambivalence before he can act, though, and the Duchess knows just how to play him.

Norfy’s narrative voice is delightfully nerdy and full of wry cynicism that acts as a perfect balance to the ridiculously over-the-top sexuality of the setting. The effect is both fun and angsty with an undercurrent of dark and silly humour that I absolutely loved.

Then Norfy goes on to develop these seemingly silly characters into real, complex individuals and I even found myself rooting for the nefarious Duchess by the end of Act 1. Hidden beneath the surface of this strangely compelling setting are themes of love and friendship, gender and sexuality, and most importantly identity as Lance and Duchess work with one another and struggle against one another as if they are two parts of the same soul.

Is Welcome to Autumport a piece of steamy but silly sci-fi fun? Yes.

But it is also so much more, and I cannot wait to read the next installment of this series!

Bonus: Each chapter ends with an adorable illustration of one of the characters. I wish they were collectables so I could have them all…

About the Author

About Norfy A. R.

Norfy is an LGBT computer engineering student headquartered in the urban nightmare of British Columbia, Canada. She is doomed to a state of eternal grumpiness as she torments her characters with increasingly unlikely tribulations and scenarios. Her storytelling emphasizes the following axioms:

1. That queer fiction need not be politically in-your-face or alienating to a non-queer audience.

2. That clichés are to be cleverly embraced and subverted, rather than fervently avoided.

3. That ambitious queer villains are not only interesting, but empowering.

4. That scenes of intimacy are juiciest when backed up by plot and in-universe causality.

5. That waifus ought to have interesting lives outside of what they share with the harem-collecting MC

Discussion

Does this sound like something you might enjoy? If you check it out be sure to swing back here to tell me what you thought!

What’s the last book you read that completely defied your expectations?

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!: Indie Edition

Some of the best SF&F books out there right now are written by indie authors.

Don’t believe me?

Try some!

Traditional publishing has a long and glorious history of taking the safest route possible into customers (that’s readers!) pockets. They don’t like to take chances, try new things, explore risque themes and ideas. They don’t like to support writers they deem as “too niche.”

Which means the traditional publishing industry pumps out a lot of same old, same old books. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

You get the idea.

I am fortunate to know many fantastic indie authors, writing in every genre from non-fiction and memoir, to romance and history, to–my favourite–science fiction and fantasy.

So to wrap up my How Long ’til Black Future Month? series, I give you Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NO!: The Indie Edition!

Science Fiction

Jelani Wilson

SpaceWizards! The Ballad of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson

If you’re looking to spice up your reading list with something totally different and out of this worlds, be sure to check out The Ballade of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson.

This novella is an offshoot of Wilson’s upcoming SpaceWizards! novel, and this teaser does not disappoint! I love the irreverent blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes, the vibrant characters, and magically intergalactic setting. The dialogue is smart and funny (I’ll be adding fuckmelon to my list of curse words), and all the little details make this snapshot of Wilson’s world building come to life.

Xenobia the Blue is a magic blade swinging Space Wizard trying to lay low by posing as a backup singer for the famous cyborg songstress, Tronix. But when her cover is blown, all hell breaks loose on the luxury spaceship she’s been hiding out on…

Because this is a novella and not a full length novel I can’t give away too much more than that without ruining the plot. However, if you love spaceships, magic, creative alien species, and high stakes espionage, you’re going to love this book!

Ballad of the Bladesinger has a kind of Fifth Element / Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that is fun, feisty, and action packed. I highly recommend checking it out.

Find Jelani Wilson Here:

Website: http://www.pageswithoutpaper.com
Instagram: @jelaninfinite

W.A. Ford

The Fadian Experiment sucked me in from the first page. It starts out tough and gritty, you jump into some high-stakes action right off the bat, and it really doesn’t let up the whole way through.

The main character, Kaleigha, is living a brutal life. After failing a childhood assessment that would have placed her in a job, she now wanders the streets looking for temp work or hustling as a fortune teller while dodging the unwanted advances and abuses of police and other citizens. As if that’s not bad enough, Kaleigha hears voices in her head. That’s why she failed her assessment, and it’s getting worse instead of better.

I loved the set up for this novel. The way Ford describes the world and city, I was reminded of N.K. Jemisin’s settings where the city is almost a character in its own right. There is nothing kind about this world, and Ford’s depictions of future class division are frighteningly realistic.

As we get deeper into the story, the plot spirals and everything we think we understand from the beginning of the book is turned upside down. The characters are intense, the pace is relentless, and the world is complex. You just have to keep reading to see what’s coming.

The Fadian Experiment blends science and magic, reality and fantasy, dreams and memory with so many twists and turns you never know what is going to happen next. At its core, though, this is the story about a poor young women who will do anything to help her city and improve the lives of her people.

Book Two in the trilogy, The Fadian Escape is coming soon, so be sure to follow W.A. Ford for updates!

Find W.A. Ford Here

Facebook Page: The Far BackRoom
Instagram @thefarbackroom

Natasha Oliver

If you love fast paced, urban fantasy with a Sci-Fi twist have I got a book for you!

In Awakening, Book One in the Evolved Ones trilogy we meet Rox.

Rox is on the run, desperate to escape the people chasing her and to find out who she really is. From the very first page, we are sucked into Rox’s quest to rescue herself from a personal hell. She is stuck in limbo, being used by everyone who promised to help her find her identity, and she doesn’t even know if there is anything to discover. The unknown threatens to destroy her.

I am a sucker for great characterization. Oliver takes this skill to the extreme. She handles a large cast of characters with in-depth, emotionally driven character arcs. Each of the characters is fully developed, with a unique personality, compelling backstory, and complex motivations. You’ll even love the unlikable ones!

This book grabs you, shakes you, and drags you along with it. Break-neck pacing, fever-pitched emotions, and non-stop action, Awakening has “Blockbuster Movie” written all over it.

This is an absolute must read for anyone who likes action-packed Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of raw emotion and character depth to go with it.

You can easily pick this book up and read it straight through. It is hard to put down, even if you know you have to wake up early. I might have had a rough morning or two because I was up reading after the kids went to bed!

Book Two: Sacrifice is available now!

Find Natasha Oliver Here:

Website: www.natashaoliver.com
Instagram: @natasha_oliver_author

Fantasy

M.J. McGriff

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff

Are you looking for a rip-roaring adventure with magic, pirates on the high seas, snarky dialogue, and a little sexual tension?

That’s a stupid question. Of course you are.

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff is the perfect beach read book or–if, like me, you are locked in an eternal winter–the perfect “wishing you were on a beach” read. Either way, this fast-paced YA pirate fantasy is going to spirit you away to a tropical paradise filled with white sand beaches, handsome rogues, badass heroines…

… and an evil magical serpent bent on destroying the world!

Trust me. You’re going to have fun.

McGriff’s characters are smart and sassy, make all kinds of hilarious bad decisions, and are simply a joy to go adventuring with.

And I was on the beta reading team for Book 2: The Secret Library and let me tell you… it only gets better!

If you’re looking to dip your toes into this world, check out M.J. McGriff’s website and sign up for her reading group via the popup to get a free copy of The Griffin, a fantasy novella set in the same world as these swashbuckling adventure stories.

Find M.J. McGriff Here:

Website: www.mmcgriff.com
Instagram: @mj_mcgriff

Sharon D. Ballentine

A Look Behind Lightning by Sharon D. Ballentine

Wow! This is quite a read. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one at almost 500 pages.

A Look Behind Lightning is a spooky urban fantasy with a ton of wonderful characters. It slowly builds suspense as we follow Jocasta and her students through their daily lives, with things getting stranger and stranger as the book progresses. Tensions rise, monsters emerge, and everything comes crashing together in an epic climax!

Ballentine does a superb job of immersing us in her characters’ lives so that we really care about them and the supernatural events that threaten to take over their lives.

This is a long book simmering with slow-burn tension, and Ballentine really uses the length well. You will be fully immersed in these characters lives so that when the book finishes… you’ll be itching to start Book 2!

Find Sharon D. Ballentine Here:

Website: www.sdballentine.com
Instagram: @sdballentine

Further Reading

Do you have any favourite indie authors you’d like to share? I try to read at least one indie book a month, and I review all of my favourites. So drop a recommendations below and I’ll check it out!

More Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Celebrate Black History month by exploring Black Futures with some of my favourite SF&F writers of all time!

Part One: N.K. Jemisin

Part Two: Ocatvia E. Butler

Part Three: Nalo Hopkinson

Part Four: Nnedi Okorafor

Part Five: Indie Edition, 5 Black Indie SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 4: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a writer that I stumbled upon completely by accident after a review I read called her YA trilogy, Akata Witch, the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”

I read and reviewed Akata Witch myself, here, and discussed the problem of minimizing the work of Black writers by comparing them to the (mostly white) literary canon as if all Black writing is derivative rather than existing in its own right. This experience really changed the way I think about literature in general, from comparing women’s writing to men’s, western writers to eastern, straight and queer, etc.

All of this is tangential to the fact that Nnedi Okorafor is a phenomenal writer. I loved the magic and friendship of Akata Witch. I loved the bravery and brilliance of Binti. I loved the raw power and energy of Who Fears Death. Okorafor’s writing just really clicks for me in a way I haven’t found with a lot of contemporary writers and I still struggle to define exactly what it is.

What I do know, is that she’s a writer that all SF&F fans need to read now! And there’s something for everyone, from YA to Adult, from novellas, to novels, to comics and graphic novels. Okorafor is a joy to read, even when she’s tearing your heart out (thanks, Who Fears Death…)

Here’s a little bit about the Author, and scroll down to see a selection of her most popular works.

About Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism for children and adults. Her works include WHO FEARS DEATH (in development at HBO into a TV series), the BINTI novella trilogyTHE BOOK OF PHOENIX, the AKATA books and LAGOON. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, IKENGA, [was released] in stores August 2020.

Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.

From https://nnedi.com/

The Books

Young Adult Novels

Akata Witch (2011) & Akata Warrior (2017)

Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. [Note: The publisher is still using this description!]

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Ursula K. Le Guin and John Green are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too! 

Ikenga (2020)

Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed first novel for middle grade readers introduces a boy who can access super powers with the help of the magical Ikenga.

Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?

Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.

Binti Novellas (2015, 2017, 2018)

Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

The Binti Series
Book 1: Binti
Book 2: Binti: Home
Book 3: Binti: The Night Masquerade

Adult Novels

Who Fears Death (2010)

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.

It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.


The Book of Phoenix (2015)

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.



Lagoon (2016)

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

Remote Control (2021)

An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter in Remote Control, a thrilling sci-fi tale of community and female empowerment from Nebula and Hugo Award-winner Nnedi Okorafor

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Discussion

Have you read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s work? Which has been your favourite? I just bought Ikenga when it came out and plan to read it with my kids before we jump into Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. It’s great that Okorafor is putting out middle grade and YA fiction as well as SF&F for adults. This is so important for ensuring that diverse science fiction and fantasy books are available to kids from a young age, and hopefully will nurture a life long love of the genre of the future!

I’m really excited for Lagoon and Remote Control, too…

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Part 5: Indie Edition: 5 Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read Now!