Booknest.EU has been an amazing source of fantastic reads for me over the years, both in terms of recommendations by other reviewers and books that I've acquired to read for them. However, it can sometimes get overwhelming trying to keep pace with all the releases. As such, I'm going to provide ten recommended books that I've reviewed for this website. Even more so, I'm going to focus on the indie self-published and small(er) press volumes because there's a lot of hidden gems I wouldn't have found without my friends here.
I hope you enjoy. Every book here is a winner.
Exile is a solid piece of fantasy that I think everyone should check out if they just want a short, low stakes adventure. A nobleman has been kidnapped by one of his rivals and his family can't afford the ransom. They can, however, send a team of errant knights to get him back. I really enjoyed this work and it reminded me a bit of Clint Eastwood's Dollars trilogy, only with fantasy characters.
Urban fantasy is an oversaturated market but that's because there's so much awesome about the genre. Damoren, though, is a novel that stands out among the multitudes. Damoren is about the adventures of Matt Hollis, supernatural gunslinger and the mysterious Valudcan society that protects the world from demons. They're a fascinating bunch of antiheroes and this is a solid work of adventure fantasy.
A Wizard's Forge is a dark inversion of a typical fantasy heroine's journey. Its young bookish protagonist finds herself kidnapped, enslaved, brainwashed, and liberated in short order. The scars from her imprisonment last, though, and force her to cope with Stockholm Syndrome as well as PTSD. These subjects are rarely handled in fantasy and this book handles them well. It may have some triggering elements for readers but the subject matter is deep as well as fascinating.
Mercury's Son by Luke Hindmarsh is a work of dystopian science fiction that I strongly enjoyed. The Earth has been devastated in an environmental disaster and a radical Luddite cult has taken over. The cult is hypocritical, though, and employs a cyborg agent to enforce his will. Our protagonist lacks memories of his past but slowly starts to uncover the truth as his investigation of a murder reveals just how much he's been lied to over the years. Very Blade Runner-esque.
Seraphina's Lament is a fantasy novel set in a fictionalized version of Stalinist Russia. A revolution has overthrown the monarchy and a brutal leader has outlawed religion as well as instituted draconian policies that kill millions. Worse, a terrifying famine has stricken the land and resulted in a curse that causes the dead to rise as hungry zombies. The cast is a bit too interconnected but I'm all for the next book.
Ulff Lehmann is a writer that manages to weave an awesome collection of battles, characters, and lore that I've absolutely loved. Shattered Dreams is the story of a traumatized veteran, an invasion of a kingdom, the return of magic, and numerous other fantasy tropes that are given new life in his words. This is a series I recommend reading back-to-back as it flows continuously from one volume to the next.
The Immortal Treachery series begins with a bang and continues on for numerous other volumes. Vykers is a man who was once the most feared and dangerous killer alive but age has dulled his edge. Pulled out of retirement for one last job against a man with seemingly supernatural rage as well as power, he finds himself overwhelmed. Recruiting a group of peasants to help him undermine his opponent, he soon finds himself the leader of a resistance against a cause he never wanted. Solid writing by Batchelder.
M.L. Spencer is one of my all-time favorite indie authors. I'm a huge fan of her Rhenwars Saga books and her recent Chains of Blood. Darkmage is the start of the Rhenwars Saga with the explosive premise of a ragtag band of heroes failing to save the world in prequel Darkstorm. Now, the world is faced with a new threat that will either bring a new age of peace or finish off the survivors. Darien is an excellent protagonist and I think anyone who wants to read dark fantasy without the gratuitousness will find this an awesome series.
One of my all-time favorite indie novels, Rob Hayes created a fantastic world in his Ties That Bind series but tops himself with a perfect premise: grimdark pirates! A aging pirate and conman wishes to become king of his own realm so he starts roping his fellow buccaneers into a mad plan to establish one. However, is he actually planning to create a free state for free men or just planning to sell them high and dry? It has some truly dark elements and ultraviolent scenes but is an excellent work from beginning to end.
Choosing the top book for this list was a very difficult task as there were so many wonderful choices I could have gone with. Indeed, my runner up list for this series would have made it my "Top 100 Indie Fantasy Book Recommendations." However, since I had to pick, I'm going with this. Kings of Paradise is a magnificent novel from beginning to end. The story of a volcanic wasteland, an honor-bound people, a deformed mystic, a beautiful priestess, and a spoiled prince as well as the tropical promised land that unites them. This is a fantasy legend in the making.
We have Matthew Dawkins here, line developer for VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE at Onyx Path Publishing, and prolific game writer for multiple series. He is also author of new game series THEY CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, which is a humorous tabletop roleplaying game line about adapting cheesy 1950s sci-fi ocean monster stories and Red Scare-era fiction.
Today we're here to talk about CULTS OF THE BLOOD GODS, which is a product presently on Kickstarter for the aforementioned Vampire: The Masquerade. After the successful funding of a 5th Edition of Chicago By Night last year, this is a supplement that deals with the cults and weird religions of vampire society. Perfect for Christmas if you're a aging Goth like me. I've already backed for multiple copies to distribute to my friends.
1. What is Cults of the Blood Gods?
Cults of the Blood Gods is the first ever religious compendium for Vampire: The Masquerade. It breaks down the biographies, centers of powers, Disciplines, rituals, and all kinds of fun content for a multitude of Kindred faiths. It also acts as the introduction to Clan Hecata, the Clan of Death once known as the Giovanni and previous to that, known as the Cappadocians.
2. Why did you feel that Kindred religion was something to tackle so early in the V5 product line?
It’s one of the building blocks of any society, especially one that’s lasted for millennia and still containing millennia-old members. Theology has always been a source of fascination for me, and as a big fan of Deities & Demigods and Faiths & Avatars for D&D, I felt it high time Vampire: The Masquerade received a similar book.
3. The Giovanni clan and several death related bloodlines are being merged into something called the Hecata. Why is this?
Because times change, and as independence from the Camarill and the Anarchs becomes increasingly fraught with peril, the various clans and bloodlines of death flock together for safety and to achieve a higher purpose. One could even surmise that the Clan of Death were known as the Hecata before they were the Cappadocians.
4. What sort of religions and cults will we find in this book?
So many! Big profiles on the Church of Set, the Church of Caine, the Mithraists, the Bahari, Ashfinders, Nephilim, and Cult of Shalim, and smaller bios for cults such as the Meneleans, the Eyes of Malakai, Gorgo’s Nest, and more! There’s also big sections on mortal cults (and how mortals might follow and worship Kindred, and how those vampires can treat their worshipers), and lots of sample religious with less broad impact on the World of Darkness.
5. Will there be any crunch to be found for our rules-hungry friends?
Definitely. You’ll see new powers for the Mithraists, the Church of Set, the Church of Caine, Bahari, Cult of Shalim, the Hecata of course, and more besides. There’s also new coterie types, predator types, and a way to start using bloodlines in V5.
6. Do you have a favorite religion among the various Cainite faiths?
Probably the Hecata, because I love the ancestor worship, the incestuous nature of the cult, and the structure as a highly functioning yet incredibly dysfunctional family. It’s a cult within a cult. I love the many faces of death and how they interact with each other.
7. Will there be any information for fans of the Ministry (Followers of Set)?
This book presents the Church of Set, which is very much the orthodox arm of the Ministry. Ministers can follow any religion in service of their clan’s goals, but only the Church of Set establishes doctrine and holds any kind of formal rank within the clan. Notably, vampires of other clans can become members of the Church of Set.
8. How about the fans of the Sabbat?
They’ll probably enjoy the Church of Caine, who aren’t Noddists (followers of the Path of Caine from previous editions), but are Gnostics. They’re a different strain of Christianity and Caine worship, in many ways, like real world Gnostics to Catholics, or Protestants to Catholics at the time of the Reformation. You can gain some insight into how faith works in the Sabbat by examining them, though they hate the Sabbat and specifically the Lasombra for what the Keepers did to the Cainite Heresy many years ago.
9. Banu Haqim?
Cults of the Blood Gods doesn’t contain any Banu Haqim exclusive cults, but don’t worry if you’re a fan of the clan: something is bound to show up in one of the upcoming stretch goals that we’ve already hit.
10. Will this be useful for any fans who want to keep using or bring back Roads and Paths of Enlightenment in their games?
Very much so. Paths of Enlightenment are easily constructed using Convictions and Chronicle Tenets in V5, and each major cult in this book has a long list of Convictions provided.
11. Any news on fan favorite NPCs in this book like Isabel Giovanni or the sinister Doctor Mortius (Da Dum!)?
Isabel gets a mention, but she may be going by a different name these nights. Mortius is the silent partner behind the Ashfinder cult, happily letting thin-bloods dabble in undead narcotics while he analyzes the results.
12. One of the stretch goals (already reached) was a supplement called Trail of Bone and Ashes. Can you tell us what that will be for fans backing the Kickstarter?
Four full playable stories with a lot of depth, touching different themes central to Vampire and Cults of the Blood Gods. Just as Let the Streets Run Red covered humanity, the herd, hierarchy, and politics, the Trail of Bone and Ashes will contain stories encompassing faith, perversion, deception, and all sorts of fun stuff.
A second supplement called Forbidden Faiths has also been reached too as I understand it. Let's hope you hit at least as much as Chicago by Night's Kickstarter.
Earlier this year, I was granted a great privilege by my friend Brian D. Anderson. I was given an unfinished draft of his soon-to-be published novel, THE BARD'S BLADE. I fell in love with it from the very first page, and halfway through I knew that this was Brian's chance to break through and become a household name as he deserves. But don't just take my word for it. Here's what others had to say:
“Damn entertaining and engrossing . . . The alluring song that Anderson orchestrated with his words enchanted me, and I absolutely loved every second of reading The Bard's Blade.”―Novel Notions
“Magic, music, assassinations, and betrayal . . . a successful mix of some of the finest elements of James Islington's The Shadow of What Was Lost, Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, and Anderson's own Behind the Vale . . . everything fans of epic fantasy will be looking for on their next big adventure. Highly recommended.”―Grimdark Magazine
“Ambitious, enjoyable . . . surprising twists [and] plenty to be explored in further installments.”―Publishers Weekly
“Filled with twists and turns, likable characters, and rich worldbuilding. Natural pacing provides an equal mix of colorful descriptions, character development, and exciting action scenes.”―Library Journal
It seems like Petrik, James and myself are not the only ones who believe in Brian's potential though, because Brian's publisher surprised me with a rather peculiar request. They asked BookNest to host a cover reveal for Brian's... second book in the series! It's not everyday that a publisher orders an illustration for the sequel of a book that isn't even out yet, but that's nothing more than a testimony on how much they believe in Brian's work, and its imminent success. And so here we are today, with the cover reveal of A CHORUS OF FIRE, book #2 in The Sorcerer's Song series! But first, let's see what Brian himself had to say:
Writing The Sorcerer’s Song series has been an experience of a lifetime. After a nine-year career as an independent author, it is my first foray into the world of traditional publishing. You’d think it would be a jarring experience. And I suppose at times it was. But the people at Tor Books have made the transition far easier than I could have anticipated. Lindsey Hall, my editor, who you may know from her work with Nicholas Eames (King’s of the Wylde) has helped me grow exponentially in both my craft and my story telling.For this, I owe her a debt of gratitude. But as important as she is, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Tor team as a whole. They have been receptive to my input, sensitive to my indie origins, and encouraging when I was feeling unsure of myself. Being part of the Tor legacy is an honor and a privilege. Regardless what happens next, my name will be associated with a publisher responsible for producing some of the finest books, written by the greatest authors in the history of the genre. I can’t adequately express how that makes me feel. Saving the best for last, I want to thank Felix Ortiz. Looking at his covers for The Sorcerer’s Song, I can’t imagine another artist having done them. The Bard’s Blade (slated for a Jan 28th release) was incredible. But when I saw A Chorus of Fire, my jaw hit the floor. What’s more, like me, this is his first time working with a major publisher. In a way, I feel like we are kindred spirits, realizing our dreams together. I can only hope that readers feel that the story within lives up to the talent it took to create the cover.
The second book in a new epic fantasy trilogy from successful self-published author, perfect for fans of the Wheel of Time and Sword of Truth. A shadow has moved across Lamoria. Whispers of the coming conflict are growing louder; the enemy becoming bolder. Belkar’s reach has extended far into the heart of Ralmarstad and war now seems inevitable. Mariyah, clinging to the hope of one day being reunited with Lem, struggles to attain the power she will need to make the world safe again. But a power like this is not easily acquired and will test the limits of her mind and body. She will need to look deep inside herself to find the strength to achieve what even the Thaumas of old could not. Lem continues his descent into darkness, serving a man he does not trust in the name of a faith which is not his own. Only Shemi keeps his heart from succumbing to despair, along with the knowledge that he has finally found Mariyah. But Lem is convinced she is being held against her will, and compelled to do the bidding of her captors. He is determined to free her, regardless the cost. Their separate roads are leading them to the same destination. And once they arrive they will have to confront more than the power of Belkar. They will have to face themselves and what Lamoria has forced them to become.
Brian D. Anderson is the indie-bestselling fantasy author of The Godling Chronicles, Dragonvein, and Akiri (with co-author Steven Savile) series. His books have sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide and his audiobooks are perennially popular. After a fifteen year long career in music, he rediscovered his boyhood love of writing. It was soon apparent that this was what he should have been pursuing all along. Currently, he lives in the sleepy southern town of Fairhope, Alabama with his wife and son, who inspire him daily.
You can learn more at:
1. Can you tell us what Chains of Blood is about?
Chains of Blood is about a war between the already battle-torn nations of the Rhen and an enemy that is basically a hive mind society that uses mages as weapons that are chained together to amplify their power.
2. What made you decide to write a sequel to the Rhenwars Saga?
Honestly, I wasn’t going to. But I had a whole bunch of fans writing me who wanted to know what would happen to the son of one of the main characters. So I decided that since it seemed a story people wanted to know, I should probably write it.
3. What differentiates the protagonists from the previous ones?
Well, in The Rhenwars Saga, Kyel Archer is the classic “reluctant hero:” a good man who always tries to do what is right and has some sound moral limits. Darien Lauchlin is a pretty dark and impulsive character who is willing to go to any length to accomplish what he deems necessary. Kyel’s son Gil isn’t like his dad. He’s arrogant and ambitious. He doesn’t have the same personal limits, even though he tries very hard to be a hero like his father. Rylan is Darien’s son and, again, he’s nothing like his father. He is reserved, cautious, and a rather every-day kind of guy.
4. Who are the antagonists in this book?
The bad guys are the Turan Khar, who have a very interesting society. They are all telepathically linked together in a kind of hivemind collective. Their society is actually very beautiful, arguably the highest form of civilization that has ever been achieved. Every individual within it only acts for the good of the whole, never selfishly. The only problem with the Turan Khar is that, if there is a threat to the collective, that threat must be extinguished without any consideration of the consequences.
6. How has the response been to the Rhenwars Saga so far?
The Rhenwars Saga did very well and the feedback on it has been intense. I can’t believe how many people consider it one of their favorite series in all of fantasy. That was actually a little shocking to me.
7. Who is your favorite character in Chains of Blood?
I like Rylan. He’s a very nice guy in a crappy situation, and there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. Besides, I have some serious plans for him *rubs hands together wickedly.
8. How many books can we expect in this series?
I’m going to try to keep this one to a trilogy.
9. What would you suggest the theme for this series is?
The chains weren’t enough to tip my hat? Lol. Bonds. Bonds of blood, bonds of love, bonds of duty…don’t get me started on the bonds that connect the Khar society.
10. What writing projects do you have coming up?
I have another trilogy in the works. After that, who knows?
It has been my great pleasure to once again to have been invited to serve as an SPFBO guest judge by Booknest. My job has been to review five of the thirty books in Booknest's batch, and forward one of them as a semifinalist. And so, without further ado...
The time has come.
This is the second SPFBO I've participated in, and my first as a judge. I'd like to say thanks to Mark Lawrence, Petros, and all the bloggers who make this possible; from this seat, I can better appreciate how much work it is to coordinate and execute the contest. I'd also like to congratulate everyone who entered this year. Putting a book out in the world takes courage, hard work, and grit. Most people will never enter a novel into a book competition; like running a marathon, just making it to the starting line is a personal achievement.
It has been a singular pleasure to participate in this year’s SPFBO and I’d like to thank Mark Lawrence and Petros for the opportunity. I didn’t realize how daunting the task of reading these five books would be, and I certainly don’t envy those reviewers tackling thirty. The reading was easy. It was choosing only one that was difficult.
The Gossamer Globe by Abbie Evans – A fantasy presidential election goes awry. Comedy ensues.
The Winter of Swords by Aaron Bunce – An orphan, a soldier, and a girl must become something more to survive the Winter of Swords.
Throne by Phil Tucker – Two women are chosen to represent two opposing factions of the Fae court.
The Dragonslayer of Edgewhen – Fantasy problems require fantasy solutions in this lighthearted tale of strangers searching for a mysterious Dragonslayer.
And finally, my choice for semi-finalist...
Weird Theology by Alex Raizman – An awkward loner becomes a god in this fun and zany tale of divinity, destruction, and dancing.
I would like to offer additional thanks to Aaron Bunce, Phil Tucker, Jason A. Holt, Aaron Raizman, and the writing duo known as Abbie Evans for the opportunity to read their work and for dragon ton of future success. I’d also like to congratulate Alex Raizman and wish him luck as I turn his story over to the boss.
The Perilisc Manifesto
Logan Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Spring, 2011. I’m in my minivan driving tomy sister-in-law’s house. I could tell you why, but I have forgotten that part. There is a man walking on the right sidewalk with a small dog. He is wearing a blue shirt. The car in front of me is a Honda with a faded Green Bay Packers bumper sticker on it. The license plate number, I remember clearly. This is the defining moment in my life. This is when it hits me.
It comes like a bolt, not of lightning, but just as blinding. More like a bolt of knowledge from the sky. I hear a voice say, “I am a terrible writer, but a fantastic storyteller.” The voice is my own. I have said it out loud, as if possessed by the thought and the idea.
I have written four books at this point, had my first book edited and it got crushed. She ripped it to shreds and said, “Yeah, start over.” I am now at a crossroads. This is where it is all decided.
There are many other paths open to me, things I am good at, things I am interested in. When you get the truth set upon you that you are bad at something, you walk away. That is what you do. But this is the moment my career is born, because instead of shrugging and walking away, my first real thought beyond the bubbling of confusion and pain is, “I have to teach myself to do this. I need to stop trying to get published, and learn what I am doing. I need to admit to myself that no one should have to read what I write yet.”
I need to get to work.
I continue to write every day, 3,000 words a day. My one focus: getting better at this job, teaching myself to be a writer, because I know what most writers don’t: No one can teach you how to write a book. They can show you what works for them. They can talk for days, and they do, about outlines and character bios, but in the end, every writer who has made it will tell you that you have to figure it out for yourself.
I wrote for twelve years before I published anything. Six years of every day, 3,000 words. I learned and I fought and I cried, and I screamed in frustration when I couldn't get it right. With every word I typed and every idea I brought forward, I meticulously crafted one world.
When I pulled off Logan Avenue, I started to put together Perilisc. I wrote five series. All five are standalone series, but when you take them apart and shuffle them together in chronological order, they tell one story. One long story. The story of a boy. The story of Peter Redfist.
My story started at a book called Onslaught of Madness. It is an 870-page epic that begins a war that ravages two nations. It is the beginning, however it is nearly 900 pages long. No one would read that big a book from a first-time author. I decided I had to prove myself before I could ask any reader to read such a thing. In preparation of Onslaught’s release, I set out a plan to do just that.
I published Liefdom in 2016. I wanted to show to the world I could write a compelling story that was complete, imaginative, and new.
I published Legends of Perilisc in 2016. This is a collection of short stories that tells about the creation of my world and introduces the reader to my style and my subject matter.
In 2016, I published Chaste, then Mestlven in 2017. These books take place in the same world and each crosses over into the other. I wanted to show the reader I could weave stories through standalone books while sticking to the story of the book as well. Crossovers and unifying threads.
I began to publish The Manhunters books in 2017. My goal was to prove I could write a series. Prove to the reader I can publish a series in a timely fashion. Make them a promise they would not have to wait for me to come back to my work.
In 2018, in Blackest Knights, an anthology with a collection of talented writers, I gave the reader the first glimpse of Peter Redfist in a short story called “The Land of Rott and Cur.”
In 2019, amid constant attacks that male writers could not write female characters of power and accuracy, I published Legends of the Exiles to show that my female characters are strong in a variety of different ways, and I can write them with grace and power.
It’s been two books a year, because I can publish every six months. I can do that because for 15 years, I have been writing books. I have a stockpile waiting to see the light of day, books I have been working on for over a decade, books that are already written.
After proving all this to the attentive reader, I stand now on the precipice of my story, ready to begin. Every book I have published so far leads into this. The Manhunters trilogy, the shorts, Liefdom, Mestlven, and Chaste, they all tie in. I am done proving myself now. I have shown you I can do this job.
With today’s release, I bring you Peter Redfist. I bring you Perilisc. Today, I take you to The Escape. The one event I have been talking about for three years. The event that defines the age. The critical moment, the B.C./A.D. point of my world. Today my timeline starts to make sense. Today all the pieces begin to fit into place.
Today, October 5th, 2019 is the beginning of it all.
Peter has come. As Peter says, “I lead you now into peril.”
About the Author:
Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues.
He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.
Participating in this years' SPFBO has been a blast. I've really enjoyed some of these stories, and would like to thank Mark Lawrence, and Petros, for the opportunity. I've read my five allotted books, and you can find a brief description of each and a link to my review.
1) Children of the Dead City by Noor Al-Shanti - A young boy is taken from his home to be the adopted brother of a princess.
2) Zaaz: Witch in Winter by Eli Selig - A young girl must fight for her freedom and friends against some dangerous enemies.
3) In the Land of the Penny Gnomes by Wesley T Allen - A boy finds himself in a land where imagination comes to life.
4) Igniting Vengeance by Tom Hanson - A young woman comes home to find her village destroyed and her sisters missing.
And last but not least... my choice for semifinalist:
King Arthur is alive... and his enemy will stop at nothing to destroy him. Read the full review here. Congrats to Jacob Sannox, and good luck to the rest of the authors this year.