Dragonsoul Saga Author J.T. Hartke on A Balance Broken

Fantasy author J.T. Hartke’s book, A Balance Broken, is the first of five in his Dragonsoul Saga. By the end of his first chapter Hartke had me hooked with a clever plot device and from there I met character after character in his shifting POV narrative. Hartke’s greatest strength as a writer is his descriptive ability. Little things like the name “Sourbay” or his descriptions of meals bring the reader into his world of Tarmor. While there are some moments of high tension that had me breathlessly turning pages, such as the dragon attack on a Dwarven city, A Balance Broken is fairly light on unpredictable conflict until its climax, which should leave most readers teetering on their seats. So instead of reading to see what would become of a particular character, I was more intrigued by his descriptions of life in his setting and hoping to find out some of the deeper plot behind the unfolding story. As his first publication though, A Balance Broken is a good indication of great things to come from Hartke and I look forward to reading the rest of his saga.

Golden dragon and wizard on cover of J.T. Hartke's fantasy novel A Balance BrokenCG: I know that you got into D&D fairly late, as an adult. Had you grown up reading fantasy and science fiction though?
JTH: I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was in fourth grade. I picked up Tolkien in sixth. I then proceeded to consume everything I could get my hands on in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy realm. Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, Isaac Asimov, David Eddings, Stephen King, Robert Jordan, and most recently, George R.R. Martin. While I did not play D&D on paper, mostly because I grew up in a very small, rural town, I played it on PC, along with Quest for Glory, Space Quest, Elder Scrolls, etc.  Lately I’ve been playing the original Dragon Age and Skyrim.
CG: Who are your favorite fantasy and sci-fi authors?
JTH: Currently George R. R. Martin is the best in the biz.  I also really enjoyed King’s Dark Tower series. Tolkien is, of course, the foundation of most modern fantasy. Right now, I am waiting for Brandon Sanderson to finish Wheel of Time. I stopped when Robert Jordan passed, and I have yet to pick up Sanderson’s additions.

CG: How did you get into D&D and have you played any other RPGs since then?
JTH: Having grown up in a small, rural town, there was no one else interested in it, so I was starved of friends to play. And we all know good friends are the key to good D&D quests. So, as I said, I played it and similar games on PC for many years.

In college, I picked up Magic the Gathering, and played it in a good circle of Wizards. After about a dozen years, we finally got the right group, and a good DM, and began to play 3.5e AD&D. Of course I was a paladin, and I got up to over level 25 before our DM moved away.  Now, writing and marketing The Dragonsoul Saga takes up so much of my time that I barely have time for Skyrim.

The Dragonsoul Saga: A Balance Broken

CG: In A Balance Broken, you have a flight of dragons attacking a Dwarven city. Did the various dragons have any backstories themselves and in your setting, Tarmor, do their colors have any significance?
JTH: The size of a dragon in Tarmor is related to how closely descended they are from the Ancient Ones, the first dragons.  Color is usually inherited from the mother, while some variation or trim is inherited from the father. Every dragon has a story, but not all will be covered in the five novels of the Dragonsoul Saga. But who knows about the many companion short stories we will be putting out every year?

CG: In your world, wizards manipulate the four elements to create sorcerous effects, mixing water and fire together to create lightning for example. How much have you developed this magic system?
JTH: I have developed this system extensively in my own mind and rules. Every volume of the Dragonsoul Saga will show this further. The relationship between the four elemental Aspects, and the fifth, more elusive Aspect of Psoul will also become more developed as the story progresses.

CG: Do you think your world would make a good RPG setting? While there are orcs and dragons over the Dragonscale Mountains in the north, most of the danger so far seems to be some courtly intrigue.
JTH: I think my world would make a great RPG. Not only does my map lend itself towards visions of grand adventure, but there are a great number of highly developed nations, as well as extensive wilderness areas.  All of these contribute to great gaming.

Plus, I think great games, especially in the PC and Console world, but also on paper and dice, come from great story. Hack and slash is fun, but you don’t become emotionally and personally involved in the experience unless there is great story.

The public disappointment with the final installment of Mass Effect lends to this argument.  One of the greatest story driven RPGs in history was ruined in the last few minutes by terrible plot devices (the Star Child) and a twist that was not alluded to in any way before — just to create a surprise. Plus, I play games to save the planet and sail off into the sunset on my ship with the girl.  Life itself is often a Kobayoshi Maru — I don’t want one in my gaming world.

CG: You have multiple perspective shifts, following at least five or six characters, but Tallen Westar is your inexperienced anchor character. Is he the central figure of the Dragonsoul Saga? Who else do you find yourself enjoying writing?
JTH: Tallen and Maddi are my central figures. Too often women are forgotten in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, or used simply as props or love interests. I want to make it clear that these two drive each others growth as characters, just as relationships in real life do. Maddi is just as much a lead character to me as Tallen. However, I do love writing as Dorias, the Dreamer wizard. I enjoy his interactions with his pet raven Merl. I also like Jaerd, Tallen’s older brother. My favorite, however, is Slar. His character’s growth and change is the most important to me in the entire series.  I want people to totally understand and empathize with the orc Warchief with a war forced upon him.

CG: Where are you at in terms of writing the second book of your saga, A Darkness Unleashed? When can we expect that?
JTH: I am well over 25% finished with book two.  I have it’s story completely plotted out.  However, it is that very marketing and promotion that keep my behind on my progress.  Between conventions, school visits, book signings, and just general media contacts, much of my time is monopolized.  When I can find a few hours to just sit and write, I am very thankful for them. But I do love visiting with people and new/potential fans. Signing your own book to someone who genuinely loved it is one of the greatest experiences one can have.

J.T. Hartke the Author

CG: As you go about promoting your first published book, do you have any observations about self-promotion and conventions?
JTH: Self-promotion is far more difficult than the writing for me, especially being with a smaller house. However, conventions are by far the most enjoyable and the most intense things on my schedule. They are they best for meeting a great number of people who are interested in my specific genre. I also do better at gaming stores than at comic shops or antiquarian book stores. The hardest part of it all is finding the time in between to keep writing the series.

CG: What did you think of Gen Con and Comic-Con?
JTH: Comic-Con was a whirlwind of people and excitement. I met so many cool folks, and saw so many neat things, it would take pages to describe them. And that was mostly from behind the safety of my booth. Every time I would walk around the hall and see the awesome displays there, I really wanted nothing more than to be back at my booth, selling my book and meeting new fans.  That was the greatest thing there.

Fantasy Author J.T. Hartke holding his book A Balance Broken at his booth at Comic-Con in San Diego

J.T. Hartke, Author of A Balance Broken at His Booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2012

And to be honest, Gen Con is even better. Gaming fans are a lot less serious than comic fans.  They seem to let loose even more, especially with costumes and just general fun.  Comic-Con is awesome, but it has a lot of “industry” stuff going on.  Gen Con gamers are just there to have a blast.

CG: How did you make that leap into deciding to write A Balance Broken, much less a fantasy saga?
JTH: The leap from reading to writing was not that hard for me, once I learned a few key ideas about using Point of View, using stronger verbs and fewer adverbs, and, most importantly, how to Show a Story, Not Tell It.  Once you learn those things, you get on the road to good writing. It’s a long one, and I’ve just begun it myself, but its one anyone can learn to tread.

CG: How does your writing day go?
JTH: I try to get 1000-2000 words per day when I am in actual writing mode, ie. writing into a blank page.  When editing, I can often get several chapters done per day.  I far prefer editing. Also, I usually take a lot of breaks to work in the garden, do some laundry, make lunch, maybe slay a dragon in Skyrim or a few Darkspawn in Dragon Age. Sometimes its just about resting one part of the brain while distracting another. However, when it gets down to deadline time, I sometimes can push the 5000 words per day mark. I’ll be doing that soon to get A Darkness Unleashed out for everyone next summer.  I respect my fans so much, and they have been calling for book two so loudly, there is no way I’ll miss that. In the meantime, however, another companion short story will soon be available, so people waiting for Book 2 should check out “A Thief’s Discovery” in November.

Maxwell Alexander Drake on the Genesis of Oblivion Saga, Musicals, and Graphic Novels

In case you missed my brief review of the Genesis of Oblivion Saga, Maxwell Alexander Drake is the author of the six book fantasy series. A Las Vegas resident, he is now a full time writer with several other projects in the works. I have run into him at several conventions over the years and last year attended his Comic Con workshop on writing Heroes and Villains.

Maxwell Alexander Drake’s Fantasy Literature and Gaming Roots

Goddess with Drakon on the cover of Dreams and NightmaresCG: What fantasy did you read growing up and what have you been reading now?
MAD: I read a lot of fantasy. I always have. I grew up with all the classics, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were all read by me before I was 10. My third series, the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock probably had the most impact on my young mind. It was the first fantasy that I read that really let me see that the sky is the limit when it came to this genre. Then I was off to Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame saga, Conan novels, which is where I fell in love with Robert Jordan and moved on to the Wheel of Time, Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance, George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice, and the list goes on and on.

Recently I have been going back and discovering authors that have been out for a while, but I missed. Brandon Sanderson tops my list of favorite new finds. He is wonderful. Last year I read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series and thoroughly enjoying myself. Unfortunately, my writing profession has begun to get in the way of my reading for pleasure. I have Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, Paolini’s Inheritance, and Sanderson’s The Way of Kings all sitting on my shelf with no real date of when I will crack any of them open.

CG: As a fellow Guardians of the Flame fan, I do see a bit of Pandathaway in Mocley and you have the same sort of long treks that Rosenberg’s characters occasionally make. When I read Alimia, she really reminded me of Tennetty. What are some of your favorite parts of Rosenberg’s stories and your favorite characters of his?
MAD: You know, that series holds a special place in my heart. I absolutely loved that series, and reread it every five years or so. There is so much to like about it. Carl was probably my favorite. I just loved his, “It’s my way or the highway” attitude.

My favorite scene from that is after Carl become Emperor, and he leads a stealth raid on the castle of one of his own Barons who is getting all uppity. That whole scene was wonderfully done.

I never thought about a Pandathaway/Mocley connection―though I see your point. It is hard to describe a massive, Romanesque city and not have it favor Pandathaway though. I will admit to the Tennetty/Alimia connection. One of the things I do in my writing is pay homage to things that really meant something to me throughout my life. Call them Easter Eggs, if you will. There are many sprinkled throughout all my writings. And with Alimia, I doubt I could convince anyone that there was not some of Tennetty in her. But, only a bit. I mean, Tennetty was insane. Her sole motivation was revenge. Alimia just wants to do a good job. It just happens that she is doing a job that is traditionally meant for a man, so it is one she has to work harder at than her male counterpart.

CG: Maxwell Alexander Drake has to be a pen name, right?
MAD: It is a name that seems to be meant for someone born to be a fantasy author, does it not?

Picture of the glasses wearing author Maxwell Alexander Drake

Author Maxwell Alexander Drake

CG: What games did you play with Charlie, Shane, and Jonathan, whom you thank in your acknowledgements/dedication?
MAD: Ha! Those were my elementary/junior high friends that introduced me into the realm of RPGs. Like many geeks of my time, I can’t tell you how many weekend-long gaming events we held throughout the years. For the most part, we played Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. But, we dabbled in most games out during the late 70’s and early 80’s. (Yeah, I am old.) I actually purchased the Monster Manual the day it hit the shelves. I was so excited!
CG: Were you the DM?
MAD: When I started RPGing, no, I did not DM. We actually had a really nice independent gaming shop that had adults who ran the games for us. Most of us were young, like 11 or 12 at the time. Once we got a bit older, and started playing out of one of our houses for the weekend, yes. We would rotate DMing duties.

I moved away for my high school years. I became the main DM for the group I fell into at that point and have pretty much been the DM ever since. It is probably why I love telling stories so much.

CG: What’s your favorite PC class?
MAD: You know, the thing is, I love fantasy. So, I rotated through them all. I have played good and evil, big and small. Each has its special thing that makes it fun. Again, this is probably the reason I love writing stories, because I get to play everybody in the story.

CG: Do any modules or systems stand out in your memory?
MAD: I still own almost every single item TSR made before it was purchased by WotC. I even have every issue of Dragon Magazine sitting in a protective cabinet in my office. So, yea, many stand out. I really loved the classics, the A series “The Slave Pits” was always fun. The G series when you go against the giants was great. I think if I had to pick one from memory, it would be S1 The Tomb of Horrors. It was just a wonderful mind teaser throughout the entire module.

CG: Have there ever been any games set in Mocley or Ro’Arith?
MAD: Yes and no. No, because this story is a story, not a campaign or a quest from a game. But, I DMed for a long time. And during that time, I came up with many ideas. I will admit that a few of the ideas I had in past years did make at least a small appearance in this series.
CG: An example being?
MAD: Well, I hate to admit it, because I did not flesh them out in either books 1 or 2, but the O’Arkins are actually a throw back to something I created elsewhere. Now, that being said, I have already started fleshing them out for book 4, and they have taken a totally different direction than what they were in the RPG I was using them in.

Still, I try and create unique races and stuff for my books, and there has been a few fans accuse me of having Orcs, and just calling them O’Arkins. And, unfortunately, that is just a dig I have to take. Because, it is not that far off.

CG: How much do you think of things in your books in terms of game mechanics?
MAD: None at all. I think if I did that, I would limit where things could go, and how I would describe them.

Take the Essence, as an example. I have a game designer who is a fan of mine. He loves the Essence. But, we got to talking about how this series would become a game and he commented that the hardest part would be the magic. He said that while the way I describe magic in the series is awesome, he has no idea how to put game mechanics to it. I am sure it can be done, but whoever does it would need to take some liberties away from how I describe it.

CG: What is the “Way of the Lion” about?
MAD: While creating the characters for my stories, I write a ton of back-story. This information, while important to me, as it tells me where the characters are going and how they will react once they get there, is not something that needs to be in the novels. It has nothing to do with the main story, so it really has no place. But, some of my fans want to delve deeper into these characters. Learn more about them. So, as I have time, I polish this stuff up and release it as short stories. The Way of the Lion is the back-story to Clytus Rillion. It takes place about 20 years before the first book. Clytus is just 18, and still in Silaway. It is the story about how he met his best friend and leftenant Ragnor De’haln. It also gives just a hint of who Shaith Ku’rin is, and of the connection she has to Ragnor that you learn about in book 3, Dreams & Nightmares.

I have also released another short called “The Path of Rebirth” which is the back-story to the gray skinned assassin Elith from book 2. At Gen Con this year, a third short, “The Path of Death” will be released in the Dragonroots Magazine anthology for that event.

Musicals and Graphic Novels: Kaboom!, Do Zombies Dream of Electric Sheep? and Downfall

CG: What about your other projects like the zombie Western or the cyberpunk one? Is there any artwork, titles or release dates?
MAD:I have a lot of side projects now. Some are moving forward, some are on hold, some may never see the light of day.

On the comic front, the Zombie Western Dead Ned was put on hold for various reasons, but has recently been revived. Hopefully this will be out late this year if things hold true. I do not have a release schedule on this as of yet.

Traveler surveys post-apocalyptic wasteland on first page of Downfall comic

Page 1 of Downfall by Maxwell Alexander Drake and Jason Engle

But, the project I am doing with the artist Jason Engle (Magic the Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings, Game of Thrones, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) called Downfall, is in full gear. This is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The 10-page promo for this is being released at this year’s Comic Con San Diego and the website www.downfallthecomic.com should be up and running in May. Downfall already has a production schedule. We are doing a 30-page comic every quarter, with a 120 graphic novel being released each year at Comic Con. After its release, this will be available at all the usual outlets from comic book shops to Barnes & Noble.

I have three musicals I am currently working on. One, Kaboom! The end of life on Earth… a comedy, I am just an additional writer for. I was brought in to beef up the comedy elements. It is in the funding stages now, but it should be playing in Las Vegas by year’s end.

The second, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, I am currently writing. The composer of this project is David Warrack, most famous for Rob Roy. Zombies will not be out until mid to late 2013, and will most likely open in Toronto, Canada.

The third musical I can’t say much about as we are in the contract phase now. I will say it is the biggest project I have ever been involved in. How is that for cryptic?

I have a few side novel projects, but their release dates are still a ways out, so I will not bore you with the details.

Panel layout of the Downfall comic showing traveler by fire in post apocalyptic setting

More Downfall: CLICK for Larger Version

GMing the Hero’s Journey and Dramatic Tension

CG: Do you think the hero’s journey is suitable for a tabletop game? How could it be achieved? Should a GM tell his player(s) that there’ll be a call to action and so on?
MAD: I am a firm believer in the hero’s journey. Not because you have to follow all the steps, but because I think most stories follow them naturally. No, a GM should not say, “O.K., here is your call to action.” But, when the players hear that blood curdling scream, and run to investigate and end up fighting a dragon to save some hapless princess (no, I am not trying to be original here) which then leads them off on some epic quest (most probably for either a gem or a sword), that is a classic “call to action.” The reason why the Hero’s Journey works is because it is a natural progression of storytelling.

CG: One of the earlier tense moments in Farmers & Mercenaries involves a wagon getting knocked into a river. It seemed that that wagon may have a stowaway and that we as readers should be on the edges of our seats about his fate. To what extent do you think a GM could have such narrative tension?
MAD: I think this is doable for a GM, and I pulled it off many times when I ran my little adventures. This may not be the most popular thing for the players, but I like to split up my parties from time to time―not often, as this will just irritate the players. Make one group go off into another room, and just deal with a small group, or single player. This allows you to tell them what they “see” without telling them what the other character(s) see. With this, you can really play one group off the other. You just need to make sure the other room has something entertaining. I find a PS3 hooked up to a 70” screen works well.
CG: Is that just an example or have you been running some RPGs recently?
MAD: I was running a game a few years ago, but several of the players moved away about the same time my career took off. So, I am not playing anything currently. But, boy do I miss it. I know this has been said by many an adult RPGer, but when things in my life settle down a bit, I will be back to playing something.

CG: Both of the first two books feature an expedition. Has that been your playing experience? I’ve set out on plenty of adventures and made journeys, but never had a base camp per se.
MAD: Again, when I am writing, I am not thinking on the lines of RPGs, so I think differently. As a gamer, I can’t think of any time when we had a base camp to leave and return to. But it does make sense and it is why they are used in real expeditions. So, it fits well in the novel. But, I am not sure a player would appreciate the extra work of maintaining a base camp. I mean, what player ever really likes to have extra work?

More on Developing the Genesis of Oblivion

CG: While there are Drakons, the Niyoka, O’Arkins, lizardmen, and Sareeza, there is little mention in the first two books of any organized dangers or menaces. Are the homestead guarders and Mocley’s guards only defending against the odd thief or krougar attack? How much thought did you give to the absence of dangerous political entities like rival kingdoms and so on?
MAD: This is a question that I am going to avoid until after the release of book three, Dreams & Nightmares, in a few months. A better question for those who have read the first two books would be to ask, “Hmm, in this world the writer has created, you find all sorts of walled cities, but there really is no major threat from monsters or other armies. You have individual “city states” but not an established “kingdom” that is trying to expand its power over its neighbors. How would a fantasy world evolve into this state of being? Why do things seem relatively peaceful, yet there are defenses like this was one big war-torn world not too awful long ago?” It is a subtle thing, but it is something you may want to ponder as you wait on the release of book 3.

CG: If you had to be Alant or Arderi, which would you be and why?
MAD: I love the juxtaposition of the brothers Cor. One is serious, the other jovial. One is pissed, the other is just trying to get by without working too hard. One feels the weight of the world pressing ever harder down upon his young shoulders, the other is reveling in his abilities.

I know where this story is going, and I have to say, it is not going to be pleasant for either. So, I am not sure I want to be either.

If you did not gather from my answer to your last question, nothing in this story is exactly as it appears. And I hope to keep it that way right up to the bitter end. I will admit now that the first two books are pretty much just a pack of lies. But, most readers start to get that by the end of book 2, Mortals & Deities. In book 3, Dreams & Nightmares, I open the book up by revealing a ton of stuff that I have held close to the vest for a while now. I actually write in the villain’s perspective for the first time. One of my beta readers even accused me of revealing too much. Then she started delving into book 4 and realized that even though a lot was revealed in book 3, it was just the tip of the iceberg for what is coming.

As I said, I plan on keeping this pace through all 6 books. I want my readers to feel comfortable in the fact that they know what is about to happen, then have to reread it because it did not go the way they expected. So far, it has been either little things, or more subtle clues like the fact that you have walled cities everywhere, but nothing they are protecting against. But starting with book 3, I start getting less and less subtle with the fact that Kansas is going bye-bye.

All images included in this interview are copyright Maxwell Alexander Drake and used with permission.

The Genesis of Oblivion Saga: Famers and Mercenaries and Deities and Mortals

Craven Games will probably not review too much fantasy fiction in the future (unless it relates to gaming), but at the same time, I do want to bring attention to a great Las Vegas Valley writer, Maxwell Alexander Drake. If you’re saying “Who?”, then read on, this review and overview is for you. My interview with him will be posted shortly.

Cover depicting a savage Kith cat person for Farmers and Mercenaries

Image courtesy Imagined Interprises

Nix is no, morns are mornings, eves are evenings, drakons are dragons, aurns are hours, Southron is Southern and on it goes. Add in a couple dozen apostrophized words like Chand’lean, Hild’alan, and Hath’oolan and the opening chapters of Famers & Mercenaries can be hard going. Author Maxwell Alexander Drake front-loads the first book in his Genesis of Oblivion Saga with strange terms. Once I made it through the first several chapters though, I found myself quite immersed in his riveting story.

What makes Farmers and Mercenaries so immersive is that instead of a single stranger in a strange land with whom the reader might identify, Drake provides three. There is the farm boy Arderi Cor who finds himself plunged into adventure, his older brother Alant Cor visiting the mysterious island of Elmoreth for the first time, and the Kith slave Klain, who is thrust into a life as a gladiator and is the cat person depicted on the cover. All three of these characters also bristle with unrecognized power and potential, which is very appealing to both adolescent males and ones in their thirties. There is only one voice of experience, Clytus Rillion, the Obi Wan Kenobi of the Farmers and Mercenaries heroic journey. Joseph Campbell’s theory weighs heavily on Drake’s writing, to good effect.

As a writer Drake is strongest in the page-turning elements of plot. His storytelling goes beyond foreshadowing, encouraging the reader to make predictions and then usually fulfilling them. The reader can appreciate small dramatic ironies throughout Drake’s series of books, which switch back and forth from character’s perspectives. Drake’s characterization and sense of voice for the characters is another strength. There are regional accents and certain characters leap off the page. Like many young adult authors he uses a good deal of repetition to firmly establish his characters and setting. Forgetting who a particular character is or what one of the protagonists is trying to achieve is almost impossible as a consequence. On the other hand, I never found myself marveling over any turn of phrases or enjoying any succinct passages in his books; Drake stays away from poetic prose and writes very directly. There are no undertones of Tolkien in his work.

Cover depicts cat person Kith, assassin around glowing goddess on Mortals and Deities cover

Image courtesy Imagined Interprises

Also absent are any elves, dwarves, and many other fantasy stereotypes. His continents are populated mostly by humans, either of the Ro’Arith variety or the dark-skinned natives of Sulaway. In the first two books, there are also O’Arkians, brutal mountainous orcs of some variety, the afore-mentioned Kithian cat people, and the skinny large headed Elmorethians, masters of the Essence. The Essence is magic, to be sure, but there are no wizards or warlocks wandering about in Drake’s world. Shapers of the Essence can enhance objects with strength magically and also mend broken objects, including flesh and bone. The mysterious and deadly Elith, a female character introduced in the second book Mortals and Deities, is a member of a fourth Essence-based race. As for deities, they are worshipped in Temples of the Twelve. Drake is intriguingly vague about the gods, but they are an important aspect of his saga.

Interestingly enough, politics are also left out of the first two books though in his interview with Craven Games, there are hints that this will not always be the case. This is not Songs of Fire and Ice, nor almost any other fantasy series for that matter. There are princes and princesses, but the nations they represent are ill-defined and unimportant thus far in the saga. Instead the battles are oftentimes of a more academically magical and interpersonal nature, though the books definitely have fights. Without spoiling anything, despite the presence of the healing Shapers, Drake’s combats get fatal fast. Several events in both books had me marveling over the rapid plot developments and exclaiming to my wife about what had just happened.

The quality of Drake’s writing and plots is consistently good through both books. Fans of Farmers and Mercenaries will not be let down by Mortals and Deities. In fact, the second book alleviates some of the narrative tension that Drake creates in Farmers and Mercenaries, while creating many new conflicts. Both books end with strong hooks, leaving the reader longing for more, and leaving no doubt that each book is only a small fragment of the larger saga. The thrilling saga picks up again in several months with Dreams and Nightmares.