VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE 5TH EDITION is a book I never expected to see. I was a huge fan of Vampire: The Masquerade in the nineties. I was about as big a Gothic Punk as a tabletop roleplaying gamer could be in the South with no Goths around him, no black clothing in his wardrobe, and a restrictive Catholic high school. I loved pretending to be 8th generation Elder Lord Sirrius of the Ventrue and Erasmus Von Prague the Tremere Knight. It was a game inspired by INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, LOST BOYS, and BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. I traveled from the seedy streets of Chicago to Prague during the Dark Ages to the end of the world before the line ended in 2004.
KINGS OF PARADISE by Richard Nell is one of the favorites to win the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO). It is a story which has been recommended to me over and over again. I was surprised by this because the fantasy fans I hang around with are a very cynical bunch. If one liked THE POPPY WARS, then the next disliked it. I was a huge fan of 1000 SCARS but others were iffy about it. Here? Just about everyone who read this novel had nothing but praise for it. They said it was the best grimdark they'd read since THE GREY BASTARDS or WHERE LOYALTIES LIE. So, i decided to check it out.
I've mentioned how much of a huge fan I am of Richard A. Knaak. He's the guy who made minotaurs a viable alternative to orcs in Dungeons and Dragons, made some of the most entertaining World of Warcraft fiction, and has written some really great independent fiction as well. It was the latter I was most interested in as while I was always a fan of him playing in other worlds, I wanted to see what he could do in his own universe. He decided to do that by combining two genres that often intersect but rarely so directly in a noir urban fantasy novel.
Vampire novels are incredibly overdone but that's a bit like saying superheroes, Westerns, and police procedurals are incredibly overdone. Yes, there's a deluge of them but there's always some new diamonds to be found in the rough. The simple fact is they are a never-ending source of fascination and that's not just because I wrote STRAIGHT OUTTA FANGTON. No, sir. That's not an influence at all. Ahem.
I'm kind of done with HALO to be honest as I was bitterly disappointed with HALO: GUARDIANS but also because the universe has become unrecognizable. Part of what was great about Halo was the fact humanity was a little fish surrounded by incredibly powerful neighbors. Now, the new books act like humanity is the United States and able to throw its weight around despite all but being annihilated. This isn't a problem with HALO: LAST LIGHT which I say without irony is probably my favorite Troy Denning book since THE TRIAL OF CYRIC THE MAD. Hell, even more so.
PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS is the sequel to the extraordinarily good PATERNUS: RISE OF GODS released last year. The premise of Dyrk Ashton's excellent book is that humanity has secretly been host to a race of superhumans called the Firstborn who are the descendants of a billion year old alien called the Paternus. He is the father of all the gods and they are the inspiration for every one of them from Isis to Zeus to more commonly worshiped ones today. Facing them are the Asura, who are led by Lucifer and Shaitan and Baphomut. Which, as you can guess, makes them the bad guys.
Richard Knaak is a name in fantasy which is very dear to my heart since one of the first novels I read in my teenage years was THE LEGEND OF HUMA. Later, I would read many of his other works like THE SUNWELL TRILOGY and WAR OF THE ANCIENTS. Other than his DRAGONLANCE and WORLD OF WARCRAFT novels, I read his excellent BLACK CITY SAINT urban fantasy series.
HEAVEN'S DEVILS is better than it has any right to be and that's despite the fact it makes use of a lot of military cliches before going in unexpected directions. It's a piece of tie-fiction, which means that it must be judged on two criteria: 1. Is it entertaining to fans? 2. Is it entertaining to people who would never normally pick up a Starcraft novel. Surprisingly, it fits the criteria of being enjoyable to both and even if you have no idea who Jim Raynor is then I suggest you pick up a copy of this book. It's also persuaded me to check out William C. Dietz's other works. Well, the ones which aren't HALO or DARK FORCES which I already read (and enjoyed).
Anyone who knows me will tell you how I like my fantasy: black, gritty, and without apology. There's nothing wrong with bright and optimistic fantasy but I like it when the protagonists are bastards, the villains are monsters, and the world is not going to become a better place once the final blow is struck. It's a subgenre ("grimdark") which, despite Game of Thrones' success, which is best exemplified by indie fantasy artists like Rob J. Hayes, M.L. Spencer, Richard Nell, Michael Baker, and Michael R. Fletcher. Now Allan Batchelder.
HEMLOCK is the sequel to Jesse Teller's SONG, which is the first volume of the Manhunters series. The premise of the series is Rayph Ivoryfist is a Gandalf-style wizard who used to be the protector of his kingdom as well as the imprisoner of innumerable supernatural baddies in a magical prison. However, things go South when the king turns upon him and a mass breakout is staged which unleashes them all onto the world once more. It's a combination of fantasy and comic book supervillain plot.