I don't normally write reviews of novellas. There's so much to write about with longer form works that it seems like a waste to do a review over something under a hundred pages. However, sometimes I find myself reading books which I think deserve reviews despite this and lead into larger more interesting categories. One of these books is The Elder Ice by David Hambling, which clocks in at just under a hundred pages. It is the beginning of the Harry Stubbs adventures and that is a series which I think of as some of the best Lovecraft inspired novels currently available.
SONG by Jesse Teller is a book I had to read twice because it is a work which is full of interesting elements that are not only noticeable on the second read through. It's a novel which is very economical with its world-building and yet manages to weave a fascinating tapestry of a kingdom, its culture, and its enemies. It reminds me a great deal of the old Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novels which had vast numbers of bad guys as well as plots as well as counter-plots but we only got to see a tiny fraction of them in the existing books.
A WIZARD'S FORGE by A.M. Justice is a story which I was recommended and by a poster I liked on the grimdark as well as fantasy forums. It existed somewhere in the middle of my TBR pile for some time, not really making too much progress since I didn't know what to make of it. What is the story about? What is the protagonist? It's about a wizard, right? Eventually, I got around to finally reading it and I was blown away. It's so far the best self-published novel I've read in 2018 and would be definitely something I'd support for the next SPFBO.
Superhero fiction is a niche genre in a niche genre. Superheroes thrive in comic books, video games, and movies but aren't so very popular in prose fiction. Perhaps because it's such a visual medium but I think it's more there's just never been an iconic example of the genre. Despite this, there's some truly great examples of superhero fiction which I've been proud to review. Things like Wearing the Cape, Origins of a D-List Supervillain, Soon I Will Be Invincible, and Villains Rule.
I was a huge fan of Dragonlance growing up. I would often go down to my local bookstore, once a week at least, and I would purchase a five dollar paperback to read for the next few days then pick up another one. There were hundreds of stories written by many different writers that expanded the world of Krynn as well as its characters. Some were good, some were bad, and all were eagerly devoured by my younger teenage self. One of the best Dragonlance writers was Richard A. Knaak. He created The Legend of Huma, Kaz the Minotaur, and several other works which rank among the best of the setting's work.
Well, it's over. What? Fantasy. There's no more need to do it because someone has done what I've wanted done in the genre since the very beginning. M.L. Spencer has created a fantasy world where we saw the forces of "good" battle the forces of "evil" with increasing ruthlessness, all the while justified by the narrative until the (seemingly) final victory. Then we switch perspectives and have the exact same plot play out from the perspective of the quote-unquote baddies.
CAPED by Darius Brasher is the first volume of THE OMEGA SUPERHERO series. As anyone who knows me could say, I'm a huge fan of superhero fiction. I'm not only a big fan of CONFESSIONS OF A D-LIST SUPERVILLAIN by Jim Bernheimer, BROKEN NIGHTS by Matthew Davenportm and PLEASE DON'T TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN by Richard Roberts but I'm also the author of THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA. So I have a pretty exacting set of standards towards my superhero fiction. So, how is Caped? It's pretty damned good.
THE DRAGON'S LEGACY by Deborah A. Wolf is a fantasy epic of a kind I haven't had a chance to read in awhile. It's a massive world-building story that deals with the perspective of myriad individuals on a magical land that is far removed from our own. While the cultures have similarities to Bedouin and the old Chinese Empires, they are different enough to give you a sense of being transported into a wholly different world.
The primary character, though such is a misleading title, Sulema is a young woman who was raised among the Zeeranim as one of their own. Having ascended to adulthood, she finds herself given news which will change her world forever: that she is the daughter of Dragon King. Simultaneously, the world is dying all around them. Mothers give birth to less young, the people can bond with fewer great cats, and the Earth Dragon stirs fitfully like the Fenris Wolf preparing to awaken then devour the world.
For an apocalypse-based story, this is actually a fairly languidly paced book and that's not a criticism. We're slowly eased into understanding the ways of the Zeeranim as well as the civilizations alongside it. They're a bit more Fremen or Aiel than "realistic" nomadic people but that isn't a criticism since it's the prerogative of all fantasy authors to draw from the works before them. We also get ample perspectives of people who aren't "normally" the stars of this kind of story like the common people on the ground.
Magic is interwoven into the reality in a casual but effective way with bonding with animals, monsters, dreamwalking, shamanism, and more just another part of daily life in the world. I also like the petty feuds between families are given every bit as much gravity as the more epic struggles within. Class and race also play a subtle role in the story versus the more overt depiction in other books. Everyone wants to improve the lives of their children but the methods and restrictions on such are always influencing every interaction whether people who want to become shamans or who get conscripted into the military as magical cannon fodder.
My favorite storyline in the book is Sulema and her parents. As the titular Dragon's Legacy, she is a woman who is effectively taken from her culture to be made queen of the Dragon Empire while her father is still alive (and can consolidate her power). She believes this is a worthy "sacrifice" but is it? Especially as the system is designed to mold her into someone who bears little resemblance to her previous self. Yet, ironically, her very background makes her aware of this as well as her power in the system. The Dragon King's possessiveness and "love" for her mother is also creepy yet fascinating to read about.
Gender politics play an important but understated role in things. The warriors of the Zeeranim are women and their men are the ones who stay home to handle the homefront. This is a contrast to the expected roles of women in the Dragon Empire. I like these sorts of twists and turns as well as differences in expected behavior as they work well for the story's themes.
If I have any problems with the book, it's the fact it is a bit subdued in places. When dealing with a cast as large as this, it helps to have characters with big personalities. A lot of these characters are just trying to get by and thus tend to fade into the narrative. It's part of why Sulema is so enjoyable as she is anything but subdued. This is a book which requires a significant time investment and for you to pay close attention to, which just means that it's worth an investment from the reader to me.
I am anxious to read the sequel and think people who really want to get invested in their escapist fiction's background will love this book. It is really a book that transports you to a new universe and that's a rare thing even in fantasy.
THE PRICE OF FAITH is the third volume of THE TIES THAT BIND and the end of that trilogy set in Rob Hayes' fantastic sword and sorcery world. It has events which are bound to tick some readers off and bound to excite others. Is it worth the purchase? In the end, I leave it up to my review to let readers decide.
PLEASE DON'T TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN is a work which I think is probably the best superhero fiction out there barring possibly SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE and my own work (but I have to say the last). It's funny, cute, and just plain full of joy whereas so much else in the genre is dark or dry. This is not a work deconstructing the grimdark world of saving people or with great power coming great responsibility, it's about fun and how awesome it is to be a supervillain (or hero but mostly supervillain).