HEIR TO THE DARKMAGE by Lisa Cassidy is a fantasy novel about the grandchild of a Dark Lord. Twenty years ago, the Darkmage was cast down and his followers were scattered. Growing up an orphan and later a thief, Lira Astor has since become a mage of considerable power. However, will that be enough to unite her grandfather's followers and should she? This is an interesting fantasy novel that goes back and forth between various points of Lira's life as well as slowly filling in the holes of her motivations.
THE DARK SEA BEYOND by Rye Sobo is a book that stars one of my favorite races of fantasy: gnomes. Gnomes are sort of the odd stepchildren of fantasy with the most famous examples of them being Dragonlance's Tinker Gnomes, David the Gnome, and the World of Warcraft ones that are just Tinker Gnomes. Much of their handling in fantasy is about how they're ridiculous and don't fit with the rest of the Tolkien homages. This book is no different and benefits strongly from it.
Ferrin is a gnome who pretends to be a pirate captain in order to pick up women. Pirate Captain Gustavo Blanco is a bit better of an identity to pretend to than pretending to be a Navy SEAL (stolen valor is not cool). However, it gets him into trouble as Captain Gustavo finds himself wanted for murder. A murder our gnomish hero could not have committed because he is incredibly bad at anything other than lying to easily-impressed women. This leads Ferrin to join an actual crew and find himself in even bigger hot water than if he'd stayed to meet the charges laid against his false identity.
What follows is an entertaining story about a fish out of water enjoying the life of storms, sea monsters, bounty hunters, and other problems that he was never prepared for. Worse, he's a midshipman and if you know anything about the Navy then he'd have been better throwing himself overboard. Noticing a pattern here? I enjoyed Ferrin's adjustment to life on the sea and the relative authenticity of the routine that is described within.
The world created by Rye Sobo is reminiscent but not identical to that of Dungeons and Dragons as well as Warcraft. There's orcs, magic, and a anachronistic mash-up of technologies that vaguely resembles the Renaissance without gunpowder. It's a familiar world but that doesn't mean it's a bad one and the tried and true formula works well here. There's a lot of entertaining stuff in this book and the humor is well-handled with it never going to the ridiculous. Our (anti)hero is completely unqualified to do any sort of heroics but that's what makes his attempts at derring do all the more amusing.
One element I really enjoyed about Ferrin is that he's actually a storyteller primarily and that allows the book to veer off from his adventures to discuss other characters. I also like Ferrin's capacity for magic, minuscule as it is, impresses his fellow sailors and allows him to get out of his situation at the bottom of the ship's totem pole. To an extent, at least.
In conclusion, this is a good book that has a fun lead in an interesting situation. The use of a gnome is an exploration of a litte-used fantasy race. I appreciated the authenticity to life on sea as well as the humor from the protagonist's ill-suitability to it.
CHAOS TRIMS MY BEARD is a noir urban fantasy following the misadventures of Edawyn Sattler. Edawyn is a half-dwarf who, at least, has a beard despite his mixed ancestry and this provides him some magical benefits. Teamed up with a suicidal wind spirit, a talking rat detective, and more oddball characters--he attempts to solve a murderous conspiracy before it ruins his life even worse than it already is.
JACK BLOODFIST: FIXER is a urban fantasy story in the vein of Netflix's recent Will Smith vehicle BRIGHT, which has a urban fantasy setting where orcs live alongside humans as well as elves. I'm a huge fan of orcs, especially orc protagonists, so this was something I was looking forward to. I found myself pleasantly surprised throughout the novel and overall enjoyed it greatly.
Rating: 3/5 stars (6 out of 10)
A sprawling, dark epic fantasy with Gothic horror elements, Devil’s Night Dawning is a good start to a saga.
Disclaimer: The review below was written by Rita, who selected Pilgrimage to Skara as her semi-finalist. While Petros didn't share her strong feelings about the book, he still found it to be better than all other semi-finalists, and chose to send it as BookNest's finalist to the 2nd round of the SPFBO, with a 7/10 score.