Book Review: The Silver Sorceress by Alec Hutson

Format:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2018

Pages:  498

Reading Time:  about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Keilan searches for clues about his mother, while Demian tries to track down Alyanna, and Cho Lin sets off on an epic journey to slay demons and avenge her father.


Earlier this year I read Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen and I really liked it, and I had also interviewed the author, so I was looking forward to this sequel with great anticipation. So did The Silver Sorceress deliver? Did it disappoint? Both? Neither? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out. There will be a few spoilers, but I’ll try to identify them ahead of time. I couldn’t find any other non-Amazon or non-Goodreads reviews, except for one…

Adam Weller at Fantasy Book Review states: “The sequel expands the story’s reach even further, to the Eastern-influenced land of the southern Shan, to hidden islands in the far reaches of the Broken Sea, to the snow-covered mountains in the desolate Frostlands of the north. Thankfully – and I wish more authors did this – Hutson has provided a “catch up on the history of the world” foreword, as well as informing us where all the characters were left off in a “The Story So Far…” segment before the new book begins…I found Lin to be a compelling lead, as her heritage and values are drawn from Chinese history and mythology (with which Hutson has strong familiarity as a full-time resident of Shanghai.) I enjoyed seeing Lin experience culture shock and a curiosity of the “barbarian” principles in ways that felt authentic and respectful. Seeing how Lin, a noble of high station, interacts and adjusts to foreign customs was one of my favorite aspects to the story. She was forced to suppress some of her core values to progress further in her quest, and I greatly enjoyed rooting for her while she faced most of her challenges alone…The audience is transported to a new location with nearly every shift in POV, yet Hutson does a remarkable job of keeping all the plot threads captivating and easy to follow. We are given insight into the minds of some of the more heinous characters in the cast, which gives our villains welcome depth and dimension. Although we should be rooting against some of these horrific people, Hutson still manages to make me care when they are endangered. The one drawback I noticed, and this is subjective, is that the action scenes are bit fewer and further between than the first book. There are more threats of violence than actual fighting that occurs. But since the story moves so quickly, and we’re never in one location for too long, the book never feels sluggish or dull. The Silver Sorceress combines all the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy tale, including a well-developed cast, tantalizing mysteries, a broad range of conflicting cultures, and strong character arcs. Hutson’s engaging prose utilizes a wide vocabulary, clever analogies, and efficacious dialogue. This is a book of movement and discovery that reaches all four corners of the map. The increasing expansiveness of this world and its careful detailing of its culture and history has augmented this story in powerful and exciting ways.


The Silver Sorceress picks up immediately where the events of The Crimson Queen end. As Adam mentions above, the two forwards at the beginning of the book that contain “world history” and “the story so far” are invaluable to help recall the backstory and events of The Crimson Queen. There are three main viewpoint characters this time: Keilan, Demian, and the new character Cho Lin. A few other characters get 1-2 viewpoint chapters as well. Keilan searches for answers about his mother, Demian searches for Alyanna, and Cho Lin heads north to avenge her father and kill the Betrayers. Meanwhile, Senecus struggles, caught between dogma and his quest, and Nel struggles to avoid killing Senecus, who she blames for the death of someone close to her. Another character, Sella, had a brief appearance in The Crimson Queen but her role is expanded here. Although Sella does make a brief impact on events, her inclusion is extremely annoying and killed some of the enjoyment of the story for me. Fortunately, much of this book consists primarily of the viewpoint characters, Keilan, Cho Lin and Demian, on their separate travels through distant lands, which represent different settings than those of The Crimson Queen. This allows Hutson to reveal more of his world, its peoples, and much more of the world’s history. But it also presents a problem.

In an interview at Fantasy Book Critic, Hutson says this about The Silver Sorceress: “It was also important to me that I have some payoffs in this story – there were plenty of mysteries introduced in Queen, and I wanted the readers to feel like some of them were explored in this book. I don’t like it when writers cram all the reveals into the final third of the last book – or drop some of the mysteries that they’ve introduced all together. That said, it is a middle book in a trilogy. I’m quite happy with it, but I am worried that readers will reach the end and feel like it doesn’t have the arc resolution that The Crimson Queen had, which was a bit more self contained. By the last chapter the pieces are all set up for the final book – and I’m excited about what I have planned – but perhaps it’s not quite as satisfying a resolution as the first. We’ll see.

Hutson is right to worry, but not necessarily about the arc resolution…I actually thought that was fine, and the book ends with a couple of cliffhangers that have me anticipating what will happen next, and wondering if he can wrap this arc up in one more volume…right now it seems bigger than a trilogy. The true problem that I hinted at above (and Adam points out as well) is this: throughout the book, the characters travel around, and we learn about cultures, geography and history, but there isn’t really much action. There are a few sequences where conflict occurs, and those are handled quite well. I’m not saying that I was bored, or that all this traveling was terrible – I enjoyed the foray into Hutson’s worldbuilding, as well as the unraveling of the mystery that centers around Keiran’s mother. The pacing is great, and the pages do seem to fly by quickly. But if you are looking for action, there isn’t really a lot, which I found translated to very little tension in the book, with a couple of exceptions, until the end.

This paragraph has a few spoilers, so you may want to skip to the next one before reading further. Hutson leaves a few questions unanswered that I suspect may not be answered in the next book. If this is true, it leaves a few holes in the plot. For instance, Cho Lin travels on a boat to the Crimson Queen’s city. Meanwhile, a demon appears in Lyr, arriving off of a similar boat. Why did the demon leave the boat and enter Lyr? Were Cho Lin and the demon on the same boat, or were there two different boats? Why doesn’t Cho Lin’s magical sword detect this demon, instead leading her to Jan (who is not a demon)? If the black vizier is aligned with the Genthyaki, why did he allow Alyanna get purified in Ama’s light? Why was she being kept alive? So many questions I have!

In final 60+ pages, Hutson does manage to increase the tension. In fact, Cho Lin’s POV in the mountain kingdom is pretty creepy and riveting. As Adam mentions above, Cho Lin’s character is fascinating, and I wish she had more page time. Jan’s quest provides an “A-ha!” first I was confused about why he went to the mountains, and then it all begins to make sense as the pieces slide into place. And Alyanna’s character…how Hutson can make you feel sorry for a character that is so unlikable is a testament to his writing skill. There are some excellent plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and the cliffhanger ending is a doozy.

In conclusion, The Silver Sorceress is an enjoyable read. It’s not quite at the same level of The Crimson Queen, and suffers a little from “middle book syndrome”, but it is still a page-turner. Despite some plot holes and a lack of action sequences that effectively rob the story of some tension, it’s a compelling tale with great characters and settings, and it will definitely win some Hippogriff Awards this year. I will be purchasing book three of The Raveling upon release, because I can’t wait to see what more Hutson has in store.

New Cover Art For Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen

crimson queen new cover

CORRECTION: Alec has visited the site and his comment left on this post states that the sequel to The Crimson Queen will be titled The Silver Sorceress, while the name The Shadow King will be the title of third book. And it sounds like The Silver Sorceress will be released soon, so that is excellent news!


Original post

I searched for news today on Alec Hutson’s sequel to The Crimson Queen, titled The Shadow King. Although I didn’t find any news on that front, I did find this cool new cover art for The Crimson Queen. If you recall, during the interview Hutson gave me, he mentioned that artist John Anthony di Giovanni was doing the cover art for The Shadow King and was re-doing the art for The Crimson Queen. This is the art for the latter, which looks amazing. I don’t know if it’s actually available in print; although Amazon shows this new cover on the main page, when clicking on “Look Inside”, it shows a photo of the old artwork for the paperback version (the Kindle version shows only this new art). One thing I like about this new layout is that there is now a band at the bottom with the name of the series (The Raveling) and a “1” to signify that this is the first book in the series.


An Interview with Alec Hutson


Alec Hutson is the author of The Crimson Queen, and the forthcoming sequel, The Shadow King. He was the Spirit Award winner for Carleton College at the 2002 Ultimate Frisbee College National Championships. He has watched the sun set over the dead city of Bagan and rise over the living ruins of Angkor Wat. He grew up in a geodesic dome and a bookstore, and currently lives in Shanghai, China. His other books are The Manticore’s Soiree and Twilight’s End. His official website is

Alec was able to field my questions and answer them immediately, so I’m pleased to be able to publish the interview sooner than expected, despite a forgotten question I had to follow up with later. And don’t worry, my questions regarding The Shadow King are mostly spoiler free, but I did get a detail or two out of Alec.

My questions are in bold and referenced as “HA”, while Alec’s answers are represented by “AH”. Together we are AH HA!



HA: Let’s get started with some personal stuff. I’ve read some of your other interviews…how you grew up in a Massachusetts town (like someplace right out of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories), how your aunt owned a bookstore, and that you thought you might become a lawyer before you started to think about writing…until a girlfriend convinced you to go to China. How hard was it to make the decision to immerse yourself in a different culture, where English isn’t widespread? What was that experience like? What kind of struggles did you go through early on? Is Keilan’s journey akin in any way to your own at that time in your life?

AH: At the time I really embraced the opportunity to live abroad. I had just graduated college in Minnesota and before that, as you said, had grown up in New England. Two wonderful places, but not the most exotic. Perhaps that was part of the reason I read so much speculative fiction growing up – on some subconscious level I was yearning to experience something different, perhaps to have an adventure in an antique land. I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I took the other path in the woods and went to law school or got my MFA (I had been accepted into a program just before I decided to go to China), but I can’t say I’m unhappy with how things have unfolded.

My biggest regret might be that I didn’t write for my first ten years in China. Asia – particularly the mega cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai – can be sensory overloads. There’s always so much swirling around that it can be really hard to find the head space necessary to write, or do anything creative. I wonder if I was in some more sedate US city or suburb if I would have thrown myself into writing earlier . . . but perhaps my experiences in Shanghai have enriched my writing and made it better than it otherwise would have been.

I never had a difficult adjustment period. From my first day in Shanghai I felt really comfortable in the city – far more comfortable than I do in, say, New York.

That’s a really interesting point about Keilan and whether his journey mirrors my own. I think, though, that having a character like Keilan is important for most fantasy books, as it is helpful to have a point of view that is discovering the world along with the reader. The young, coming of age perspective emerging into the larger story is an effective way to present the history and cultures of the setting fairly naturally. Fantasy is all about summoning up that sense of wonder, and experiencing the world through characters like Keilan – no matter if it is tropey – is a very effective way to instill this feeling in the readers.



HA: I see you have visited Angkor Wat – a magnificent place that gives one a feeling of connection to an ancient past. What other awe-inspiring places have you been to since you moved to China – perhaps the Great Wall or the Forbidden City – what were your favorites, and do you think they make their way into your writings?

AH: I’ve always loved ruins. To walk among towering monoliths or peer down crumbling passages and imagine how splendid it must have been a thousand years in the past. I love the mystery and romanticism of these places. To keep with Shelley, we may not despair when we look upon their shattered visages, but we do feel something deep inside. Or at least I do.

The weight of history presses down on China and shapes the character of its people, but a lot of the physical manifestations of its rich past were purged after the communists came to power. I’ve been to the Potala Palace in Lhasa and the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and these are all impressive places, but for me, Angkor in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar are more magical.

And they definitely make their way into my writings. Keilan’s adventures in Uthmala in The Crimson Queen was a homage to my love of ruins. I was imagining Angkor when I wrote my descriptions of that city. It was also a paean to D&D style adventuring – exploring ancient ruins, fighting monsters, returning with treasure and ancient knowledge.


HA: You’re a big China Mieville fan. What other writers would you say are your favorite or most inspirational and why is that?

AH: George RR Martin absolutely changed my conception of what fantasy was capable of being. I was 16 or 17 and I randomly found Game of Thrones on the shelf at my bookstore. I’d read Jordan and Goodkind and Salvatore, and I loved those authors, but when I entered Westeros it was like something clicked inside me. I was evangelical about those books before almost anyone else, I think. I remember attending the Odyssey fantasy writer’s retreat soon after and telling everyone that Martin was the harbinger of a new age in fantasy fiction, and they all just shrugged and rolled their eyes.

For prose, I love the rich language of Lucius Shepard, R. Scott Bakker, Josiah Bancroft and David Mitchell. Some writers give me this sense of tingling, dreamlike unreality when I’m reading them, which is another feeling I’m chasing when I crack a fantasy book – the short stories of Kelly Link and the novel The Etched City by KJ Bishop are good examples of this.

Other favorite writers include Guy Gavriel Kay, Iain Banks, Dan Simmons, Elizabeth Bear, Roger Zelazny, Jeff Vandermeer, and Alistair Reynolds. The best fantasy book I read last year (or at least the one I most enjoyed) was Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.


HA: Can you give us an idea about what it is like to self-publish…how did you do it, what obstacles did you face, marketing efforts – were you able to steer people towards The Crimson Queen, and how much of a boost came from the SPFBO?

AH: It was really quite simple. I wrote the book, paid for a cover and editing, and put it up on Amazon. No marketing, no plan. It did well right out of the gate, and I think I was around 1500 in the Kindle store when it somehow got in the hands of the excellent indie writer Will Wight. He read it, loved it, and recommended it to his fans. That pushed my book up into the top 800 or so for about 4 months.

One reason I decided to self publish and not pursue trad was that it seemed to me that the big publishers were not publishing traditional epic fantasy anymore, at least not unless it had a very dark edge. But it looked to me that that style of fantasy was still immensely popular, as evinced by the indie books selling incredibly well online (think Dawn of Wonder, Benjamin Ashwood, Path of Flames, etc). That’s one of the big benefits of this new era in publishing – massively popular subgenres like military sci-fi or epic fantasy that have essentially been abandoned by the big houses can now be serviced by indie writers.

SPFBO has been interesting. I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure how big its reach actually is. I think there are a few hundred people very invested in the contest, but it’s largely an insular and self-contained community. The blogs and major personalities involved also lean heavily towards one particular style of fantasy (gritty, violent, and dark) and that’s reflected in the scores given out and the finalists chosen. But I don’t think that’s the most popular representation of the genre.


HA: The Crimson Queen and Alyanna were in earlier iterations of your story. Where did Keilan’s character spring from as a late addition, and why did you decide to make him a prominent POV character?

AH: The initial conflict was always between Cein and Alyanna. They’ve always been very distinct characters in my mind, and I find them both intriguing. Keilan was eventually added to the story because – as I mentioned earlier – having a coming of age hero makes the discovery of the world and its history seem more natural. Also, it’s helpful to have a character that readers can identify with. Young and confused is something everyone has experienced – sorcerous queens and courtesans not so much.


HA: Did your world-building come first, or did the plot come first and the world-building evolved from that?

AH: The characters of Alyanna and Cein came first. And then Jan. Demian was a relatively late addition, and Senacus became a larger character as I wrote the book because I liked him so much. I had the broad strokes of the world outlined, but a lot of the details were filled in as I explored the story.


HA: The Crimson Queen is the first book of The Raveling. Do you have a series arc lined up already, or is the story evolving organically as you write and your ending is not yet set in stone?


AH: The arc is set, and I know how it all ends. I tend to have a few major plot points and the end very clearly realized when I start writing, and the journey from plot point to plot point sort of unfolds naturally as I go along. That’s not to say that there aren’t major revisions that occur – one of the reasons The Shadow King was so delayed was that I wrote about 60k words with a new character joining Nel and Keilan on their POV thread, and I suddenly realized it would make much more sense for the story to bring back a character I liked from Queen. So I basically started over and re-wrote everything after this epiphany.


HA: What would you say are the biggest differences between The Crimson Queen and The Shadow King, from not only a story perspective (sharing whatever generalities you can while avoiding spoilers), but also your perspective in the writing process when crafting the two books?

AH: Hmm. I would say that a big difference is what’s driving the plot. The Crimson Queen was a little like the court intrigues of Game of Thrones, as you had several selfish players competing with others or are perhaps more principled for power and control. The main villain was Alyanna, who could be likened to Cersei. Evil, but still perhaps a bit sympathetic at times. In The Shadow King the threat shifts to become more global. My version of the Others start to work their will in the world.

In terms of the process, it was a bit harder to write simply because I knew I had to do it. With Queen it was a labor of love, bits and pieces written without pressure on holidays and weekends. With King I knew I had to produce something (and it still took me too long).


HA: Did you feel any pressure when writing The Shadow King…I mean, is there a conscious part of you that knows people are anticipating the release, and after the hundredth time of “when will it be ready?” (the equivalent of “are we there yet?”) do you feel pressure to finish? If so, how do you keep from buckling under that pressure or avoid rushing things just to meet some kind of self-imposed deadline?

AH: Certainly. The success of Queen took me really by surprise, and the thought that there are many readers out there anticipating the second is a bit daunting. I really wanted to meet their expectations, though, so I never gave any thought of rushing through the sequel to capitalize on Queen’s popularity. I’d rather release a book I’m proud of and have it sell a tenth of the copies than throw something half-baked out there nine months too early. And I’m happy with it. Some threads turned out better than my expectation, and some threads didn’t quite come together like I had hoped, but I think that’s part of being a writer.


crimson queen

HA: Do you have artwork chosen for the cover of The Shadow King? What does it represent? How did you go about getting the artwork for your books?

AH: With the art for my first book I found a thread on kboards (ground zero for self-publishing) from an artist I liked and commissioned him to draw Uthmala. It didn’t quite come together like I hoped, but it’s pretty cool so I stuck with it. Now 18 months later I have a much better lay of the land and I’ve commissioned an artist I really like to redo Queen and do King. He’s working on the artwork – I haven’t seen it yet but the scene is going to include the Chosen, the demon-children from the first book (they are the bigger ‘global’ threat in the second) and they are facing off against a sorceress from the second book. The artist doing the covers is John Anthony di Giovanni. He does great stuff.


HA: Would you stop at a trilogy, or do you think the series will go beyond three books? Do you have other stories not related to The Raveling that you are considering publishing in the future?

AH: I will probably return to the world with other books, though I might take a break and write something different. Still probably fantasy, though. I’ve got a few ideas gestating.



HA: Bonus question: You’ve played Ultimate Frisbee for years and are passionate about it. What do you find appealing about it and how did that translate into a “Spirit” award? What is a Spirit award? Did you ever consider a way to work a similar game into your books using some kind of magical item or arena contest? 😉

AH: Haha. Okay, so Ultimate Frisbee is a self-refereed sport. At the recreational level, it’s pretty easy to stay honest and not use the rules to your advantage. But the more competitive you get, the harder it becomes to stay objective. It’s pretty amazing, actually, how well players comport themselves when they are responsible for playing fair. Can you imagine if fouls in soccer and basketball were called by the players? It’s a really remarkable concept. Anyway, the Spirit award isn’t just given for an adherence to fair play, but also for being a good teammate. Ultimate Frisbee – along with speculative fiction – are the two great non-organic loves of my life, so receiving this award from an incredible team of amazing people is still one of the proudest moments of my life.


Many thanks to Alec for graciously accepting my interview request and taking the time to answer my questions in an entertaining manner. Look for The Shadow King to be released very soon…

Book Review: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

crimson queenFormat:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2016

Pages:  419

Reading Time:  about 9 hours


Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen was added to my queue after reading a review of the book over at Fantasy Book Critic, where it was a Booknest Fantasy Award semi-finalist for 2017. A followup post, which contained an interview with the author, piqued my interest even more as Hutson talked about his path through self-publishing. I ordered a copy of The Crimson Queen from Amazon, and moved it to the front of the queue when I decided to mix in some new releases to queue. I was a little disappointed that it was not available in hard cover, but that is to be expected for a self-published novel. With the final whispers of the story still echoing through my mind, my review follows, complete with minor spoilers.

First things first – head over to Fantasy Book Critic and check out the plot and review summary from Mihir Wanchoo. The story is described by Mihir as “the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skills, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades.”

I completely agree with Mihir’s first assessment: there are some very strong Wheel of Time influences found here, but with Middle Eastern and Asian influences, two rival factions of sorcerers (both past and present), paladins of light, and thousands of years of history, Hutson has created an incredibly diverse and layered world. Some of that history is delivered to the reader through tales of lore, and some is delivered through characters’ discovery of books and exploration of ruins, but the biggest reveal comes through flashbacks of the immortals who were actually there, in the past, and are still walking the world in present day.

Hutson’s characters are well-developed and their motives and actions are believable. The story is told through the eyes of Keilan Ferrisorn, a fisherman’s son; Janus Balensor, a wakened immortal; Alyanna, a courtesan; Holy emperor Gerixes; Xin, a warrior-slave; Senacus, a paladin; Wen Xenxing, the Black Vizier; and Cein d’Kara, the Crimson Queen (thanks to Mihir for this list of names). Each chapter lists the name of the character whose story will be told in that section. There are many other characters that make appearances, but do not have a part in the narrative. I never felt like characters had the same voice, and some have quirky traits that make them unique. Speaking of unique, the author also creates some imaginative creatures – Genthyaki, Wraiths (different from Tolkien’s Ringwraiths), and Deep Ones – while having creatures we are familiar with such as spiders, herons and horses.

The pace is perfect, never bogging down in the details, or under pages and pages of angst. Hutson’s prose is flowing and easy to read. There were a few minor issues I had with the story. First, it’s not entirely clear how much power each sorcerer has (it varies), or even how magic works. It comes from something called the void, but that isn’t explained very well. Also, I did notice a number of grammatical mistakes – then vs. than, a dropped pronoun, and a few other mistakes that a spellcheck wouldn’t catch. In addition, there are occasionally moments where I would be reading about two male characters, then Hutson refers to “he” when some action occurred. It’s not always clear which “he” is being referred to. These grammatical issues are a byproduct of self-publishing and not having an editor, however, they are few and far between, and did not affect my enjoyment of the story. I did appreciate the breaks within the chapters, which made it very easy to find a stopping point when necessary.

I was very enthralled in the magic of Hutson’s story. The world-building, the characters, the mystery, gods, demon hunters, immortals, sorcery, ruins, shadowy assassins – there is a lot of material crammed in this book and Hutson pulls it off. Not everything is original…a coming of age story lies at the heart, the antagonist finds hidden reserves of power to force the plot where it needs to go, and some elements were predictable (I knew who one mysterious character was immediately). But I hated to put the book down. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the world’s history and the Crimson Queen, to see which characters (and creatures) would intersect, and to follow young Keilan’s adventure. The ending comes fast and furious, and features copious amounts of action in the form of sorcery and sword fights. As the pieces of the past slide into place and much of the mystery is revealed, I was even more impressed at not only Hutson’s world building, but also in the way that events of the past connect to the present.

In summary, The Crimson Queen is the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s inconceivable to me how this was not a finalist, much less a winner, of the Booknest Fantasy Awards. I’m looking forward to the sequel with great anticipation. Highly recommended to those who love epic fantasy, magic and adventure, and imaginative world-building.