Today marks the beginning of a new feature on this website: author spotlights, in which I shine the proverbial light on an indie author whose work I enjoy. These will be periodic updates, with no real schedule — pretty much whenever the mood strikes (or when an author I love is getting ready to release a new book).
Our first author? Fantasy scribe C.A. King, author of The Portal Prophecies series!
First let’s hear from the author:
What was your inspiration for writing The Portal Prophecies?
Depression. After experiencing great loss in my life, I found that I needed something therapeutic. I created worlds in my mind – places I wanted to visit. Soon, I learnt writing down those stories was the magic I needed to help me function better. Reading and writing have become important tools for me on my road to recovery.
If I have a bad day and close my eyes, I can travel to a world where things are just a little brighter and get lost there for a while. I want to share that with my readers. When they need to forget about the present, even for a few minutes, I want them to be able to grab one of my books and smile again.
The Portal Prophecies draws heavily from some time-honored traditions and well-known mystical legends. What went into including those in your stories?
Through the years, I have heard it said countless times that there are three sides to every story: what I believe; what someone else believes; and what really happened. If I break that down, then someone else part means, technically, there is a different interpretation for every single person who has read or heard the story in question. Some, of course, are bound to overlap – but others are unique and at the same time still very plausible.
As an author, it is my job to step outside my comfort zone and look at things as if I was seeing and hearing them for the first time. That is exactly what I do. The fantasy and sci-fi genres allow me to add a bit of the unexplained into the mix.
The Portal Prophecies appeared to draw from several other prominent fantasy series – Harry Potter chief among them. What other fantasy influences did you draw from in writing this series?
This is only the second time someone has made a reference to Harry Potter while discussing The Portal Prophecies with me. I personally don’t see the connection. There are many stories that involve wands and magic, and only one book (Sleeping Sands) takes place in a school.
There are, however, a few Easter Egg references to famous scenes in works of literature which readers may or may not catch. These are meant as a tribute of sorts to other authors as well as offering a bit of fun. I want people to say “I see what she did there.”
The following are a few Easter Egg examples from A Halloween’s Curse:
Willow was enticed by the smooth plain texture of the wood in her hands. She was drawn to it, but expected something more … maybe an aura to explode from it illuminating her face and making the choice obvious.
And my favourite;
Up ahead, there were tall gates leading into a city.
“I expected something shinier,” Lilabeth whispered.
“You watch too many movies.” The driver remained silent the whole way, but listened to everything that was said. “Probably thought it would be made of gold or diamonds? Maybe glass or emeralds? Tell me, what other than to make a good story, would be the point? I think you will find that the folks around here would rather use precious metals and gem stones for more practical uses, like magic. Tales made for the terunji have to be dressed up, to keep their attention and grab their imagination. Their subconscious yearns for them to accept what they can’t explain.”
It doesn’t actually end there. If readers follow my social media, they can find a few other surprises. For instance: I was on a diet on a Pancake Tuesday, so I created a scene in Deadly Perceptions where my characters are eating pancakes. They ended up with the fictional calories instead of me.
Finding Balance put a nice bow on Willow’s journey, while still leaving some threads open. What are your plans for that universe going forward?
This is an exciting time for my books. The main group of characters have grown up quite a bit in The Portal Prophecies. Their lives are changing and they have new challenges to face.
Jade has always been one of my personal favourite characters to write. It was only fitting that she carry on in her own series. The first book in the Surviving the Sins series sees an undeniable transition from Willow as main character to Jade. The main theme of these new books revolves around the seven deadly sins, putting a heavy emphasis on vampires. Surviving the Sins: Answering the Call is set for a winter 2017 release.
Shattering the Effect of Time follows the Shinning brothers as they set out to find a cure for their sister. This is really a different theme for me, as the main antagonist is time itself. I’ll be taking an intense look into the lore for some well-known items relating to time, including the Fountain of Youth; the Cinamani Stone; the Holy Grail; and Ambrosia. I’m really excited that Pandora is going along for the journey. She is such a fun character and sure to add some extra excitement along the way.
Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?
I am both. The main difference for me is that the heavy plotting is done while I daydream. I don’t write things down, or scribble on napkins. Some of the smaller twists add in as I go along.
You recently released Tomoiya’s Story. What are the plans for that universe going forward?
Escape to Darkness sets the lore for the series going forward. Woden’s legacy will live on in more ways than even he could have anticipated. Things have changed in the dark side of the universe and Tomoiya is about to find out that her tears aren’t the only thing about her that is considered valuable.
While Escape to Darkness concentrated on characters and backstory, it wasn’t meant to be a heavy detail book. Readers can expect a lot more world building in Stalked and the rest of the series.
What are some of your favorite books?
This is a hard question to answer, there are so many. If I have to name a few: Treasure Island; The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I am going to toot the indie pride horn. These past two years, I have met and read the works of so many fantastic authors – authors who deserve to be discovered. I wish I could name them all, but I’d be here a long time. Instead, I am picking one book, Barely Awake by D.R. Perry, as one of my newfound favourites — and adding I hope readers take a chance on an undiscovered indie author – they may find their new favourite book.
Now, my reviews of King’s already-published works.
The Portal Prophecies: A Keeper’s Destiny
A Keeper’s Destiny is a YA coming-of-age tale that buries itself firmly in several different lores and fantasies — some well-known and others not so much. The result is a solid introduction to an ongoing series that promises to be more intense with each passing volume.
Early on, we meet Willow — a seemingly ordinary girl who grows fruits and vegetables in her home world. But as a rival character makes a selfish choice in an effort to “put Willow in her place,” it sets off a chain of events that see Willow discover realities she never once considered and find herself staring at an unfamiliar, uncomfortable world.
But along the way, one of her newfound friends is in trouble, kicking off a chain of events that will unfurl as the series continues. At the center of it all is Willow — an unassuming, selfless person who is suddenly faced with more than she can probably handle.
To me, characters are what make books. We can wax poetic about style and plot structure and narrative all we want (and those things are certainly important), but if I’m not emotionally invested in the characters, the rest doesn’t matter. Get me to care about the characters, and I’m along for the ride — warts be damned.
There are warts — specifically, writing that occasionally feels stilted and ordinary — but King’s ability to get you to sympathize with and relate to Willow makes up for that. For the occasional slow passage or dry paragraph, you’re watching a girl grow into a capable young woman, and that journey — more than anything — is what makes A Keeper’s Destiny worth your time.
This is the start of a journey — both for Willow and for those of us fortunate to tag along.
The Portal Prophecies: A Halloween’s Curse
A follow-up to A Keeper’s Destiny, A Halloween’s Curse is a strong follow-up that raises the stakes beyond a simple coming-of-age tale.
Make no mistake; Willow sees tremendous growth throughout A Halloween’s Curse, but the focus is less on her and more about the mission she and her friends have to undertake. Along the way, we’re shown that things run far deeper than previously thought, and the nuggets of behind-the-scenes machinations give this book a depth that I feel A Keeper’s Destiny lacked.
The addition of Halloween as a backdrop enriches the story even further, and it shows the world in a much deeper light. I like the inclusion of Halloween to the overall narrative, and it’s not just a backdrop; it actually affects the characters as they work to rescue their friend. This is not the last time C.A. King will imbue one of her books with a holiday tradition, either.
Some of the issues that plagued A Keeper’s Destiny are present in this book as well, but they aren’t as numerous and this is a cleaner, tighter story than its predecessor. King is building a rich, vibrant universe, and while some of the minor characters are a bit one-dimensional at this point, Willow herself shines as a protagonist should.
All in all, this is a fantastic follow-up, and a wonderful addition to what is shaping up to be a great series.
The Portal Prophecies: Frost Bitten
Frost Bitten is the strongest of the Portal Prophecies series to this point, because it is the most intense and action-packed entry in the series so far. The stakes are higher, the emotional beats resonate more, and for the first time, a deep sense of foreboding hangs over everything.
Whereas the second book in the series focused on Halloween,Frost Bitten has a Christmas-y feel to it — quite literally so. It’s a much-needed does of levity and lightheartedness, because much of this book is darker than the previous two entries. The depth of King Cornelius’ depravity is on full display, and for the first time, things truly seem… not hopeless, necessarily, but this is the first time I’ve truly feared for Willow’s safety.
To say nothing of her emotional state. The events of Frost Bitten threaten to break her unlike anything else to this point, and that emotional depth serves both her character and the overall narrative well.
Few of the issues evident in the first two books are in this one; C.A. King’s growth as a storyteller is on full display inFrost Bitten, and the result is a fantastic, intense, easy-to-read addition to what has already been a fascinating series.
Business is definitely picking up here.
The Portal Prophecies: Sleeping Sands
Sleeping Sands had a Harry Potter feel to it… not the latter, darker editions of the series, but the earlier installments, where the characters were younger and the tone wasn’t quite so doom-and-gloom.
Make no mistake: the stakes are high in Sleeping Sands, the fourth installment of C.A. King’s Portal Prophecies series. Willow is separated from her friends — who might not be her friends — and she finds herself with a new group of friends — who, again, might not be her friends.
Or maybe they are. Who knows? Willow certainly doesn’t.
But even with the change in surroundings, Willow still manages to learn about herself and the world surrounding her, even as she has to watch out for a rival student, a suspect journalist, and the ever-evolving machinations of King Cornelius. The chess pieces are more numerous than ever now, and King is showing an ability to juggle multiple storylines at once, even finding a way to tie them all together without leaving the reader confused or overwhelmed.
A lot of writers can struggle in that regard, but King is showing it’s a strength of hers.
Much like Frost Bitten, Sleeping Sands shows this series finding its footing and its identity. It really feels like the first two installments were all about King discovering her voice and that of her characters, and now that those have been sussed out, the stories and the characters are truly allowed to shine.
This series keeps getting better, and Sleeping Sands is right up there with Frost Bitten as my favorite of the series thus far.
The Portal Prophecies: Deadly Perceptions
If the previous four installments of The Portal Prophecies were about setting the proverbial table, then Deadly Perceptions is the magic trick in which the tablecloth is ripped out from underneath.
This installment picks up right where Sleeping Sands left off, and it appears the surprise the good mayor had been hiding is the least of everyone’s concerns. Willow again finds herself separated from those closest to her, but instead of being hesitant and emotional about that, she’s more certain of herself this time, more sure of what needs to be done.
Character development: C.A. King does it right.
Along the way, Willow comes across unicorns and dragons and tiny fairy creatures… not all of whom are friendly, and it might not be who you think. The elves wind up being far more important than we were led to believe in Sleeping Sands, though it does explain some of their behavior in the previous volume.
Again, King shows a deft touch when juggling multiple storylines. As it turns out, King Cornelius is the least of everyone’s problems… and Willow discovers something about herself that could prove far more overwhelming than anything she’s faced to this point. King again borrows from well-known supernatural lore, and the result is an entertaining read that sets up the climactic Finding Balance.
While this one didn’t quite draw me in the way Frost Bittenand Sleeping Sands did, Deadly Perceptions is a fantastic entry in the series. It pulls back the curtain ever so slightly, with the promise that the curtain will be ripped from the rod by the time the final book in the series comes around.
King has created a lovely, vibrant universe with her mixture of familiar faces and interesting twists, and the result is a fictional world in which one can easily lose track of everything in the real world. This is another worthy edition in the series.
The Portal Prophecies: Finding Balance
Over the course of six books, Willow has grown from unassuming teenager to probably one of the most powerful individuals in the universe. Which explains why just about everything that has happened leading up to Finding Balance, the conclusion of The Portal Prophecies series, revolves around her.
The intensity of Deadly Perceptions is ratcheted up even more in this book — as well it should, since this is the climactic conclusion. King Cornelius’ treachery, Cornost’s plans,what exactly happens when Willow is finally reunited with her allies from the earlier books… everything is tied up in a neat little bow in Finding Balance.
That’s not to say there aren’t threads left over for potential future books, but Finding Balance wraps up Willow’s journey with a finality that is often hard to achieve without resorting to drastic permanent measures. While I can appreciate, as a storyteller, the value of an unhappy ending, it’s still nice to see happy endings on occasion.
Anything less wouldn’t have been true to the series.
After all — for all of the treachery and danger and doom The Portal Prophecies subjected Willow and us readers to, this was never the doom-and-gloom, nothing’s-going-to-be-alright kind of series. There was always an underlying optimism in each book, the feeling that — as bad as things might be in the moment — they will be alright.
I’m glad the ending reflected that.
The only thing keeping Finding Balance from a five-star rating? The climactic battle comes a little too soon, leaving an ending that sort of meanders through wrapping up ancillary plot points. But that’s a minor quibble for what is a fantastic ending to a terrific fantasy series.
Finding Balance was the ending The Portal Prophecies, and it was a fitting end to the amazing journey C.A. King took us on.
Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness
Take everything you think you know about vampires and throw it out.
It’s not that you’re wrong when picking up Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness, the first installment in a new series from C.A. King. But this short tale will show you how vampires came to be what we know them to be today (you know, unless you subscribe to the sparkle-in-sunlight-and-stalk-taciturn-high-school-girls theory).
Though the book is names for a young girl named Tomoiya, she is secondary to this tale, a prequel of sorts. She is told a fairy tale of sorts, one that ultimately reveals how vampires came to be. It is a tale of betrayal, heartbreak, depravity, and insanity, and it is the sort of tale that will have you flying through the pages.
This is a fair bit darker than The Portal Prophecies, andTomoiya’s Story showcases all of the same skills King has displayed and refined in writing that series. I can’t wait to see where this tale goes next, and I highly recommend this for anyone who likes vampire stories or space travel.
Yes, those two go together. King just proved it with Tomoyia’s Story.
All of C.A. King’s books are available on Amazon. Visit her author page.
You can find C.A. King on Goodreads, and visit her website here. She is also on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to being an author, King also writes a column for Books & Quill magazine.