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Known Devil is the third instalment in Gustainis’ Occult Crime Unit urban fantasy series. Though I had not read the first two books, this one was completely stand-alone and didn’t make me feel I was missing anything. I have, however, read other books from Gustainis in the past (Evil WaysBlack Magic Woman and Sympathy for the Devil), and thoroughly enjoyed them. He is a fabulous writer.

In this exciting new series, Detective Sergeant Stanley Markowski of the Scranton PD’s Occult Crimes Unit,  and his partner, vampire detective Karl Renfer, try to keep law and order in a world where supernaturals — or supes — have come out of the closet and walk the streets with humans. Markowski’s daughter, a vampire witch, is eager to help and offer her expertise, especially because she’s attracted to Karl.

A new drug has hit the streets, Haemoglobin Plus — better known as Slide — the first drug that addicts supes, and as a result, a new wave of crimes has risen in Scranton. Stan and Karl are right on the case, interrogating both humans and supes alike, trying to find out who is behind the new drug: Pietro Calabrese, the Godfather of the local vampire family? Wizard Victor Castle, the unofficial head of the city’s whole supernatural community?  The Delatasso family? Or the new Patriot Party, who has  declared supes “abominations before the Lord?”

If you love urban fantasy a la crime noir, you’ll love this book. Gustainis is smart, gritty, snarky. I just love his sharp, witty descriptions. Take a look at a few:

“He had salt-and-pepper hair, wide-set brown eyes, and a thin moustache in the middle of a face that was no harder than your average concrete wall.”

“He stared at me with eyes that had probably looked dead even before he became a vampire.”

“The terrace outside the front door is open in warmer weather, for those who like sharing their food with the local bugs. I prefer to eat inside, where the only insects I’m likely to encounter have two legs.”

“I saw a puzzled look on his face — maybe because Karl’s grip, like every vampire’s, is colder than a banker’s heart.”

Gustainis is also a master at providing comic relief. I laughed out loud at times. Stan is a likable, sympathetic character, tough yet kind when needed. The world building, the setting, and all the supernatural details come through in a genuine, realistic way. I also enjoyed all the police procedural, showing once more, as in his other books, that Gustainis has done his research well.

The story moves at a fairly quick pace, propelled by entertaining dialogue and lots of action scenes. Particularly interesting is the dynamics between humans and supernaturals now that they have to co-exist side by side. But best of all, is the author’s gifted prose, a pleasure to read. Highly recommended for fans of detective urban fantasy!

Visit the author’s website.

Find out more on Amazon.

My review as originally published in Blogcritics.

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Two centuries ago, the Temple Initiates made up the Order of the Dragon, named after the Great Dragon Shyrdasa that once lived within Dragon Park. Legend told that a group of knights once helped the Dragon and her unborn young. As a reward for their valor, the Dragon awarded them secret knowledge, martial powers and magic. The Dragon also chose women throughout the Hugue to serve as Dragon Maidens, bestowing upon them secrets of draconic sorcery…

Now, for the people of the Hugue, the fall season would have normally been the time of the Harvest Festival…but fruits of their work are now in danger of being destroyed. For the first time in 50 years, the Harhn, savage beasts, are arriving in terrifying numbers from Vol Theldane to wage war upon the domains of Mankind. The Hugue, not ready for war, are caught by surprise.

A brave soldier named Baudouin and Lucia, a young Dragon Maiden, are the keys to saving mankind. And at the core of it all, lies a mysterious girl they must find…

What a great start for a series! Shadows of Kings is an excellently written, impressive first novel that will be savored by fans of fantasy. Author Jack Whitsel has created a vivid, intricately-woven medieval world filled with sword and sorcery, fair maidens with mystifying powers, evil fey with dark appetites, villains readers will love to hate and heroes to fall in love with. My only complain is that there’s no romance in the story. I would have loved to see Baudouin as a romantic hero as opposed to just a hero. What can I say? I’m a romantic. This being a first novel, I’m impressed at how the author created all the characters—and there are many. I especially enjoyed the character of Lucia. I thought the scenes of her capture were quite realistic and compelling. There’s a lot of action in the story and the fight scenes are detailed without being overly graphic. In short, this is an engrossing fantasy novel for fans of the genre. Recommended.

Read an excerpt: http://jwhitsel.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/shadows-of-kings-chapter-excerpt-2/ 

Visit the author’s website: http://www.jackwhitsel.com/ 

Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNL8jsdFkUM

Purchase from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Kings-Jack-Whitsel/dp/160619223X

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Please welcome my special guest, Jack Whitsel, whose debut fantasy novel, SHADOWS OF KINGS will be hitting bookshelves tomorrow!

Jack is a native Californian, but has made Oregon his home since 1982. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Finance from Portland State University, but studies medieval history in his spare time.  His favorite genres are fantasy and historical fiction with a medieval emphasis. Shadows of Kings, the first novel of the Dragon Rising Series is the love child born of these two passions. Visit his website at http://www.jackwhitsel.com.

Connect with Jack at:

Blog: http://jwhitsel.wordpress.com

Facebook fanpage: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shadows-of-Kings-Book-one-of-the-Dragon-Rising-Series/119975978113722 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JackWhitsel

ABOUT SHADOWS OF KINGS:

Steel and sorcery clash as the Harhn incursion sweeps through the Hugue. Mankind faces its greatest peril without the Order Knights of legend to defend them. Crusading deep in the frontier, the Order is unaware of the savage beasts threatening their homeland as the Hugue realms muster their armies for war.

Between a cunning Harhn sorcerer, and an alliance forged with the decadent Darkfey, the horde threatens to extinguish the domains of men. Only Lord Baudouin and Lady Lucia, a Dragon Maiden from the Order, stand in the enemy’s path. One must find the strength to unify the realms. The other must discover the strength within her, while coming to terms with the agendas of her Order. But only together will there be any hope to repel the onslaught, and preserve the future for a mysterious girl they do not know.

Chapter excerpt: http://twilighttimesbooks.com/ShadowsofKings_ch1.html

INTERVIEW:

Thanks for this interview, Jack! Tell us, do you consider yourself a born writer?

No. I have always labelled myself a storyteller. Though I was putting my thoughts on paper at a young age – it was all about storytelling.

When did your love for fantasy fiction begin?

Tolkien changed everything. I was eight years old when my dad began reading the Hobbit to me. After being exposed to Goblins, Elves, and wizards…I was hooked!

What was your inspiration for Shadows of Kings?

Of all the questions that are thrown at me, that one is always the most difficult. There has never been a solitary idea or moment that brought Shadows of Kings to life. However, I have three passions in my life – medieval history, all things fantasy, and my sons. Between the three, Shadows of Kings morphed into existence.

What was the greatest challenge when writing your novel?

The discipline to  keep focused on this novel, while knowing it was just a small piece to the saga. I have a tendency to jump from book to book, so I often had to pull the reins to keep me on Shadows of Kings.

What makes a great fantasy novel?

Mechanically…stories that are character driven and have an excellent pace. But what really makes a fantasy novel great are the elements that readers can identify with on a personal level  – whether they be characters, settings, or circumstances.

Are there any authors who have influenced you as a writer?

J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Herman Hesse, Leon Uris, and Anne Rice  – all of which cover a wide variety of genres.

Are you a disciplined writer? What is a typical writing day for you?

There is no true formula. Sometimes I write, sometimes I edit. But I’m up at the crack of dawn, committing my morning hours to the craft. My trusty sidekick – a full pot of coffee.

Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I just write. I don’t even know what panster means. I never took a writing class in college – except the mandatory prerequisite courses. I have never read a “How to write” book. And I never spent a dime at a writing workshop. And I never concern myself with grammar…that’s what we pay editors for. It may be different for non-fiction, but to write fantasy, it comes from the heart – its creation forged by imagination and passion.

How long did it take you to finish the novel?

That is hard to measure. Like I mentioned earlier, I have always worked on more than one book at a time. As a matter of fact…I’m a three-booker. One is my main focus and the other two are my side projects.

There is a lot of world building in your work. How did you create it? Do you have a system?

Avalla is a mosaic of various historical snapshots that were then twisted by my imagination. But the foundation and all future creations begin with real places from various eras.

How was the publishing process like for you?

Twilight Times Books felt right for my debut novel. After signing with them, I found that I was able to maintain a lot of control over the process. They work with fantastic editors and artists and have a full stable of award winning authors, who I’ve had the pleasure to converse and learn from over the past few months.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Thanks so much for allowing me to visit your site, and a big hug to Mayra for taking the time to put this interview together. Writing is an incredible journey, and the fact this is my debut novel, I feel like a babe in the woods – consumed by both fear and excitement.

To all the aspiring authors out there – Just write! Don’t worry about potential publishers, critics or agents. When you are ready and they are ready…the deal will come. Until then, just write and enjoy it.

To those about to read Shadows of Kings – Prepare for an exciting ride. I’m going to give you knights, magic and mayhem until you can’t take it anymore. I’m not here to impress you…but to entertain you. Shadows of Kings is the perfect blend of medieval grit and High Fantasy – and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

Oceans of Love,

Jack

*****

Be sure to watch the book trailer and don’t miss my review of Shadows of Kings tomorrow!

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