reviews
Dragon Mage by Tameri Etherton - SPFBO 2020 Book Review
03, Oct

A long time ago, Amaleigh’s family was murdered by a magic-hating king. As the only one who escaped, she grew up on the streets but forged an unlikely friendship with Prince Gwilym. That is, until his father found out she was still alive and forced her on the run. Ever since, she’s been jumping between worlds, unable to find a place she truly belongs and having difficulty accessing her magic. Until one day she receives a telepathic cry for help from Gwilym and, despite all of her better instincts, realizes she has to return to help him.

Heart and Soul Fist by Chris Ing - SPFBO 2020 Book Review
01, Oct

Jane Choi belongs to a secret clan of spirit warriors, and she’s eager to start taking on more responsibilities. So she’s thrilled when her father says he has a special assignment for her-- until she finds out that her clan has set her up on a date with Andrew, the young soon-to-be Guardian of the Two Worlds. If their relationship works out it will help bring balance between the Mortal and Spirit Worlds and bring honor to her clan. There’s only two problems-- she’s never dated before (and doesn’t know if she wants to) and there are plenty of humans and spirits alike who would love to get their hands on Andrew’s power.

Covenant of Blood (Book One of the Thayria Cycle) by H.R. van Adel
30, Sep

I’m a sucker of military fantasy. So when I saw the cover art for Covenant of Blood, I knew the kind of book I was in for. There is not an awful lot of pretence  about this book; it is what it is, a large-scale plot, several key character arcs, bloody battles, magic, camaraderie and most other ingredients of the genre. Oh, and lots of the red stuff.

 The prologue of this book set things up really well for me in that the relationship between the soldiers was sharp in dialogue and largely well written, with humour, tension and intrigue. What felt out of step a little was the language use. Now, I’m not one to blush at profanity in books, indeed, the use of profanity in the dialogue provided some amusing moments. However, the dialogue felt too contemporary for the setting of this book. 

 The world appears to be analogous to the Roman Empire, with the main characters each taking up space in a sprawling plot that ultimately treats us to a fair amount of battle, intrigue and supernatural goings on.

 Whilst I ultimately enjoyed this book, the language employed in dialogue and narrative felt a bit jarring. That said, there were times when it worked well, particularly through Goraric’s arc. I found the portrayal of female characters to be an issue, with them largely being sexualised objects. In particular, how they were described both in narrative and dialogue didn’t work for me. At one point  early on the narrator describes a character as ‘having tits enough for three women’. That left me scratching my head for a moment as I tried to work that one out. I settled on the character having six breasts.

 The plot is sprawling, and whilst there are moments of genuine breathlessness through excellent battle scenes, equally there are ponderous moments that bog the flow down somewhat. 

 This book is one for fans of military fantasy, who aren’t turned off by the more graphic books.

 

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica Book 1) by Anne C. Miles - Book Review
30, Sep

As a Marine Biologist I was totally up for a book about a sad fish. Whilst I was not treated to a journey through the POV of big mopey fish, I was treated to something altogether more enjoyable. FYI, the Sorrowfish referred to in the title is in fact the name given to Sara (the main character’s) signet.

 I think it is fair to say, that whilst this was not my pick of my allotted books to go forward, Miles has created a unique and rich tapestry. Sorrowfish would not be the typical style of fantasy I would seek out, however this book does deserve respect for the interesting and creative world that we as readers get to play in for a while.

 The start of the book was slow, as many are, and whilst this did mean it took a while for me to ‘get in to it’, the story offered rich reward in the end, picking up pace and finishing with a crescendo. Quite fitting, really, seeing as the book is ultimately about a life-giving song...

 On the whole, I feel that Canard is a really creatively developed dream world, with some really enjoyable mythological elements woven through the fabric of the story. We are treated to fae, gnomes, gargoyles, chimera, and a magical life-giving tree, which reminded me somewhat of the Tree of Souls from Avatar.

 As a whole, I enjoyed Sorrowfish, and feel that the book offers a lot to readers who are looking for a more creative fantasy that doesn’t employ an axe to the face. The somewhat boggy start to the book was a challenge, and ultimately the reason why Sorrowfish was not my pick, however it is still an excellent piece of work, and one that Miles should rightly be proud of. 

Dire (Feathers and Flames Book One) by John Bailey - Book Review
30, Sep

I’ll be honest, this one was not for me. It may very well be exactly what you are looking for, in which case,  I’m sure you’ll find it lots of fun. It’s not that I have anything against Gryphons, to be fair, I tend to find any books where the main point of view character is an animal a bit disengaging. I guess it’s the anthropomorphic behaviours that I just don’t buy in to. I guess that one is on me, not the author. 

 Setting aside my prejudice at viewing the world through the eyes of a Gryphon, I found the level of writing and general editing of this book to be a bit off the pace compared to some of my other allotted books.

 Plot-wise, it was all just a bit on the sparse side, with the main character Euraiya’s development taking the stage for the majority of what is a fairly short book. On the whole I felt that this book would’ve worked better as an interesting backstory to the main event, which I’m guessing Bailey has planned out and is in the works. Perhaps the story would work better if it was injected at the end of the series, as a brief prequel, or as bait to entice a potential reader to pick up the series.

 My overall feeling is that this book was simply a little too niche for me, and may appeal a bit more to those who enjoy stories through the eyes of great, fantastical creatures. I’m sorry to say, it just did not have enough quality in the characters, the depth of plot, or the overall execution for me to really enjoy the story. 

 

The Phoenix Embryo (Seasons of the Phoenix Book One) by Jeanne Marcella - Book Review
30, Sep

As a kid I read Lord of the Flies by William Golding as part of my English Literature curriculum. After concluding my studies, I thought a lot about the depth of the story, and about the impact of the ordeal on the boys. Especially Piggy, the poor bastard. I was probably just about getting over the trauma of Lord of the Flies by the time I picked up The Phoenix Embryo.

Now, things are pretty clear at the start of Lord of the Flies: there’s been a plane crash, the little posh lads are stuck on an island, and shit’s gonna get real wacky, and fast. As things kicked off in The Phoenix Embryo, I must confess to looking about me and wondering what exactly was happening, such was the lack of real clues. That level of ignorance experienced but the reader, I feel, is by design, and meant to evoke suspense. It did, to a degree, but the level of confusion, for me, was a little counter-productive. As readers, we are on the outside as much as the characters, having layers peeled away and revealed at the same pace as them. Ultimately, this slow reveal was hard to overcome.

 This aside, I carried on with it, and the story took me deeper into the isolated world of adolescents boys who have been imprisoned and largely left to their own devices. Their world is cruel and detached, with the children being left to create structure and some form of social order from what little they have. Again, echoes of William Golding’s great work. Except he didn’t have demons, unicorns, and other such fantastical guest stars.

 There is a lot going on in this book. An awful lot. As mentioned above, there is a dizzying smorgasbord of fantastical creatures and races. Frankly not all of it made sense to me. Disclaimer: I have an infant in the house and am aggressively sleep deprived, so it may just be me! We are seeing the world through the eyes of a young boy, Acanthus. I will confess to having little patience for the lad. I get it, life has been confusing, and beyond grim, but sympathy aside, he was a hard character to follow.

 There has clearly been a considerable level of design and build put into this world, and this story. I very much feel the author could wax lyrical for hours about the world, however, the length of the book required the story to flow both quickly and clearly. For me it was just a bit too slow to ever find myself being fully swept up by the story. 

 

 

The Lost War (Eidyn: Book One) by Justin Lee Anderson - Book Review
30, Sep

How an author executes the opener to their book can leave the wretched soul all twisted up in knots. Seeking that elusive hook is oftentimes as much of a quest as the hero’s journey contained within. Refreshingly, The Lost War kicks things off by dropping an F-bomb as the first word. For me, a fellow abuser of expletives, this elicited a grumble of laughter (yes, I’m immature and cursing makes me laugh), and marvel at the courage of the author. 

 The Lost War gets things underway in a strong manner, introducing us to our main character, Aranok, as a war weary, and jaded envoy to the King, with magical abilities, marking him as a ‘Draoidh’. We are introduced to a world where individuals are born with magical powers, and such people are distrusted and abused by society. 

 The story takes on a tour of the kingdom, with a quickly assembled crew made up of veterans, a blacksmith, a priest, and a knight. The crew encounter demons, and the pseudo-zombies borne of a desperate plague sweeping the country. It is this plague, the Blackening, which serves as the main thrust of the story. The crew ultimately seek to uncover a means of halting, and curing the blackening, which propels them on a path of confrontation with the villain of the piece, the awesomely named Mynygogg. 

 The writing is clean, and tight, and the characters distinct and their dialogue alive, and believable. Yes, the general thrust of the plot is familiar, but the same can be said for many solid offerings in Fantasy - indeed, there is comfort in that, and Anderson executes it brilliantly. What really stood out for me was the way the author wove in hat tips to the Gaelic language and familiar parts of Scotland and indeed Edinburgh. Whilst to many readers, these little ‘easter eggs’ would be overlooked, for me they really made the book distinct, and stand out.

 There is a twist at the end of The Lost War that I simply did not see coming, which sets things up nicely for the second book in the series.

 On the whole, a comfortable, and enjoyable read, that explored familiar paths, but did so with considerable competence, and quality. Well worth your time to read. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the next instalment.

Chasing Sunrise (The Sunrise Prophecy #1)
30, Sep

Last but not least - Round Five! As a guest judge in this year's SPFBO 2020, I have been tasked with reading 5 of the 30 books in Booknest's batch this year, and choosing 1 of them to go on as a semi-finalist. My 5 books are The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey, Wayfarer by K.M. Weiland, A Storm of Silver and Ash by Marion Blackwood, Architect by RT Mulder, and Chasing Sunrise by Emily Mah. I will also be writing a brief review for each of them. Once that is done, I'll announce my choice of semi-finalist - and that's all happening today! My final review is of Chasing Sunrise by Emily Mah...

Architect (Book One of Calamity's Window)
30, Sep

Round Four! As a guest judge in this year's SPFBO 2020, I have been tasked with reading 5 of the 30 books in Booknest's batch this year, and choosing 1 of them to go on as a semi-finalist. My 5 books are The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey, Wayfarer by K.M. Weiland, A Storm of Silver and Ash by Marion Blackwood, Architect by RT Mulder, and Chasing Sunrise by Emily Mah. I will also be writing a brief review for each of them. Once that is done, I'll announce my choice of semi-finalist - and that's all happening today! Next up for review - Architect by RT Mulder...

A Storm of Silver and Ash (The Oncoming Storm #1)
30, Sep

Round Three! As a guest judge in this year's SPFBO 2020, I have been tasked with reading 5 of the 30 books in Booknest's batch this year, and choosing 1 of them to go on as a semi-finalist. My 5 books are The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey, Wayfarer by K.M. Weiland, A Storm of Silver and Ash by Marion Blackwood, Architect by RT Mulder, and Chasing Sunrise by Emily Mah. I will also be writing a brief review for each of them. Once that is done, I'll announce my choice of semi-finalist - and that's all happening today! Next up for review - A Storm of Silver and Ash by Marion Blackwood...

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