Monday, August 27, 2018

Spice Bringer Blog Tour: Interview, Review, and More!

Hey'a, everyone! This is a big week, since it features not one but two blog tours! Later this week, I'll be spotlighting one of my most anticipated books of this summer, but today, we've got Spice Bringer, a lovely India-inspired fantasy by H.L. Burke. In this post, I'll be sharing an interview with the author, a review of the book, and more — but first, a little about book and author.

About Spice Bringer

A deadly disease. A vanishing remedy. A breathless journey.

All her life, Niya's known she will die young from the fatal rasp. She survives only with the aid of vitrisar spice and a magical, curmudgeonly fire salamander named Alk. Then an ambitious princess burns down the vitrisar grove in an effort to steal Alk so she can claim her rightful throne. Joined by Jayesh, a disgraced monk, Niya and Alk must flee to the faraway Hidden Temple with the last vitrisar plant, or all who suffer from the rasp will perish.

But even as Niya’s frustration and banter with Jayesh deepen to affection, the rasp is stealing away her breath and life.

For a girl with limited time and a crippling quest, love may be more painful than death.

Autographed paperback preorders from Uncommon Universes Press are currently 14.99 (regularly 17.99) with free shipping to US locations! 

About H.L. Burke

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

Interview with H.L. Burke

Hello, Heidi! Welcome to Dreams and Dragons! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself? Who you are, hobbies, favorite books (other than your own), anything else you'd like to share?

I'm a military spouse, mother of two super hero princesses, servant to a majestic tiger beast (aka my cat, Bruce), and sometimes dragon wrangler who writes books because real life needs expanded upon. My favorite books are Coraline, The Little Prince, The Brothers Kamazov, and the Lord of the Rings (which counts as one)... probably others, but that's a good sampling of my moods. My hobby include light gaming, sometimes crochet, and messing with my kids.

Nice! So, Spicebringer sounds like a fairly unusual book. How did you come up with the idea, and what books, movies, or other sources influenced you while you were writing it?

It was actually a Youtube trivia channel that inspired the story. I was watching a video on the origins of salt and pepper as the primary seasonings in western cuisine, and there was this briefly made comment that spice merchants used to talk up pepper by claiming it was harvested from groves guarded by fiery serpents or something like that. That got me wondering, what sort of spice would be so valuable that people would brave fiery serpents to have it and what would happen if someone threatened said spices. Also, I don't know if it counts as inspired, but I sneaked in a Princess Bride reference.

That's fabulous. I think I missed the Princess Bride reference, though. What was the hardest part about writing Spicebringer? The best part?

The hardest part is kind of a spoiler, but let's just say about the midway point something happens that is sad, very sad, so sad. I don't write things that are that sad so often, and I was incredibly sad about it. Easiest part was Jayesh. As a character, he was fun. When he stepped onto the page, Niya, the MC, came alive just for the fun of snarking at him. Their banter kept me going through the whole story.

I'm sure it did. You’ve written and published an astonishing number of novels, short stories, and novellas in a fairly short amount of time. How do you get most of your ideas, and what’s your secret to putting them out so quickly?

Ideas aren't a problem. I think most authors once they get started have so so many ideas. I know way more who are struggling with, "Ugh, I need to finish this project but I just got an idea for this other project" than who are sitting still not knowing what to write. It's finding time to cultivate any idea into a cohesive whole that's a problem.

I compare it to a garden. Your mind is a patch of earth. Ideas are seeds. Some of them need a lot of hard work and cultivation. Others grow up so fast and quick that if you don't prune them and keep them under control, they'll take over everything. It's mostly a matter of choosing which plant to cultivate ... and sometimes I'll pick the wrong one and after a few attempts just let it either whither or go to seed ... and sometimes after it dies it'll drop seeds of inspiration that form another idea that actually is the idea that I'm supposed to write, so a lot of my stories are connected by a kind of heritage as the minor character who I never got a chance to fit into one story decides he wants to do something on his own and sprouts an unrelated story or the magic system/world building idea that I decided was too complex/distracting for one story ends up being forgotten in a corner of my mind-garden until one day I push back some overgrown grass and find it blossoming all on its own, and I clear the space around it, and it's my next book.

I think I just don't tell myself no. I don't worry much about whether an idea is marketable or whether I'm supposed to write it. I just pick the plant that is the most interesting to me and take care of it.

Sometimes I might get it into my head that I want to write a particular sort of book and I'll intentionally seek out, "Okay, do I have any plants/seeds here that can support a romantic fantasy trilogy?"

I also drink a lot of coffee.

I love that metaphor and the idea of not telling yourself no! If you could spend an afternoon with one of the Spicebringer characters, who would you pick and what would you do?

While Alk and Jayesh would both be a ton of fun, I'm going with Halla, the younger sister of the primary antagonist, who is an extremely minor character, but is so delightfully chill. She's the polar opposite of her ambitious and driven sister, Princess Advika. Halla wants to read poetry, eat sugar dates, and enjoy the arts. We would have the most epic girls' night in. I would introduce her to Youtube. She would love ASMR and oddly satisfying videos. We would eat all sorts of sweet things. It would be awesome.

Finally, what do you think is the one best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

I'm incredibly stubborn about taking advice. I have to hear it from multiple sources, then run it through my own filters, decide how it fits into how I want to do things, and play around with it before I even consider taking it. By the time that happens, I've usually forgotten the source, and may have even re-shaped the advice into my own version of it because I learn by doing, not hearing or reading. I need to find MY way to do it. Other people's way of doing things are largely irrelevant.

An exception to this is one of the earlier novel length works I wrote. I was in high school, and I hand-wrote (in metallic gel pens, no less) an entire epic fantasy trilogy that was kind of a rip off Lord of the Rings but with a lot more sappy teen romance. I somehow convinced a slightly older boy to read it because I had a crush on him and wanted to impress him and maybe have him notice that the hero in my story looked a LOT like him, so obviously we were meant to be together. To his credit, while he admitted he didn't finish it, he read some of it. He told me that I needed to explain less because "Readers are smart. Trust them." ... and for some reason (possibly that he was tall and lean and dark haired and looked a lot like my version of Aragorn), I took that to heart.

So I guess I'm incredibly stubborn about taking advice unless I have a major crush on the person giving it to me ...

Spoiler alert, I totally married him.

That is adorable. New goal, right there. Anyway. Thanks for answering my questions! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed hearing what you had to say!

Bucket List Beads

So, one significant element in Spice Bringer is Niya's bead necklace that basically represents her bucket list of all the things she wants to do before she dies of the rasp. Along her journey, she does get to accomplish several of those things (not to mention quite a few things that she never dared dream of). In that spirit, H.L. Burke gave bloggers the option to share a three of the things on their own bucket lists, and I decided to join in. So, here are my three things:
  1. Publish a book. Obviously.
  2. Go to a convention and cosplay as one of my own characters. Ideally, of course, I'd do it once I've actually published something so there'd be at least a small chance that someone would recognize the character. I think this would be super fun, though I might have a little trouble finding a character who actually looks enough like me that I could cosplay her convincingly.
  3. Make friends with someone offline because he or she has read my books . . . without that person realizing who I am until after we're at least semi-friends. Basically, I want to pull an Eliza and Her Monsters, but with less anxiety and lying and more "Let's see how long it takes this person to figure out who I am." If I can pull this and #1 off at the same time? Even better.
So . . . yeah. All of those were writing related. I don't think that's a surprise, though.

 Spice Bringer Review

I really wanted to love this book. The snippet I read ages ago in one of the author's newsletters or Facebook posts was delightful, and the concept sounded fascinating. Unfortunately, too many parts of the story made me go "Ummmm . . ." for me to really fall in love with the novel.

Chief among those parts was the romance. H.L. Burke is big on romance in her fantasy, and Spice Bringer is no exception. In some respects, I enjoyed the couple. They're both interesting characters in their own rights, and they balance each other well. But something about their relationship seemed off somehow. I felt as if I'd missed something or like they'd transitioned too quickly from "just friends" to "couple." And later in the relationship, Niya seemed a little more focused on the physical side of the relationship than I felt she should've been. They don't go that far, of course, but one character does suggest it (and is promptly told no by the other, thank goodness).

Another thing that bugged me: Alk. I'm all for characters who express their friendship through teasing and banter, but Alk's teasing seemed more harsh than friendly, especially towards the beginning. And yes, he did get better — by the end it's clear he cares for Niya (his choice in the climax was beautiful, just saying) — but his and Niya's exchanges still felt more like snapping than banter for the most part. I'm sure he was supposed to be funny, but mostly he just made me groan. (Mostly. There were a few exceptions.)

My final issue is sort of a mixed bag because it's connected to something I really like: the worldbuilding. Specifically, the religion. For the most part, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this book. H.L. Burke has created a vibrant, beautiful, India-inspired world with fascinating political and religious elements of it. However, because of the way the religion is set up, Spice Bringer doesn't feel like a specifically Christian book. The themes and ideas are Christian, yes, but in the context of the religion, they're kind of . . . Ummmmm? I don't know how I feel about them, basically, and that keeps me from recommending the book wholeheartedly.

All that said, there are good things about this book. As I said, the worldbuilding is beautiful, and I enjoyed the characters. Niya is a pleasantly practical protagonist, and I could definitely relate to her pragmatic view of life. Jayesh is quite interesting as well; I liked how Burke set up his struggles. The plot isn't mind-blowing, but it flows well and keeps you interested. Basically, this could be a great book, but its flaws mean it's just a good one: still worth a read, but not one I'm going to keep coming back to again and again.

I received an ARC from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Well, that's all! Thanks, everyone, for reading, and thanks to H.L. Burke and Uncommon Universes Press for the chance to participate in this blog tour! Don't forget to check out the rest of the Spice Bringer blog tour, and come back here in a couple days for another exciting blog tour!
Have a lovely day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)


  1. I really like H.L. Burke's analogy of letting ideas grow, and if they're not the right ones, letting them drop seeds that can then grow into ideas and stories you do want. I've grown new ideas out of bits of embarrassing old stories, and I think they're better for having been in my mind for years.

    Number three of your bucket list would be so cool, Sarah! (Did you mean "pull off this and #2 at the same time"? because those would be awesome together!)
    - Jem Jones

    1. Isn't that a lovely analogy? I like it too! And yeah, I meant #2 . . . sort of all three together, really? But yeah. You know what I mean.
      Thanks for stopping by!


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