I've posted overviews of the twelve novels in the Light in the Darkness boxed set (here, here, and here), but now I want to give a quick rundown of my own impressions of them. There's some good reading in here, from traditional swords and sorcery to contemporary magical realism, from books suitable for younger teens and up to books aimed at a more adult audience. The common thread is that all the books are about good if flawed characters trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. The price has gone up to $2.99, but for twelve full length novels and a handful of short stories - more than 1.14 million words of magical noblebright goodness - it's still an amazing deal. Content note: while many of these books are suitable for younger teen readers, this is *not* a YA/all ages collection. A number of books also have more adult content, and other books, while containing nothing unsuitable for younger audiences, are not specifically YA; they feature adult characters with adult concerns. I've put my own ideas of the age rating at the end of each review. And now, on with the micro reviews.
The King's Sword, by C.J. Brightley
Kemen, a retired soldier recovering from war, injury, and betrayal, just wants to leave it all behind, but when he comes across a young man on the run and learns of a conspiracy to unseat the rightful ruler and replace him with a megalomaniacal usurper, he can't just leave the kingdom to its fate. Kemen is a wonderfully gruff and tough character dealing with the scars of his past, but also admirably patient with the young man he takes on the job of teaching and appealingly awkward around women. One of those tough but lovable heroes I can't get enough of. Suitable for ages 13+ (clean, but with adult characters and some difficult themes).
The Emperor's Edge, by Lindsay Buroker
Irrepressible law enforcer Amaranthe finds herself on the wrong side of the law, and uncovers a conspiracy to unseat the rightful emperor and replace him with a greedy, amoral cartel. With a colorful collection of assistants, including the notorious, stony, yet surprisingly complicated assassin Sicarius, she launches her own not-quite-authorized plan to protect the young emperor. This is the book that made me a big fan of Ms. Buroker. Memorable characters, exciting and dangerous adventures, snappy humor, a hint of romance. And explosions. Ages 15+ (some sexual innuendo and a fur loincloth).
The Last Mage Guardian, by Sabrina Chase
A young woman learns that her late uncle didn't just leave her a house, but a magical legacy that is not going to be easy to live up to. I enjoyed this tale of a young woman learning to use magic in a world where women aren't supposed to have magic, and her growing, awkward romance with the young man who stumbles across her secret. Ages 15+ (a "curtains-drawn" sexual encounter, with awkward aftermath).
Pen Pal, by Francesca Forrest
A lovely book. Not traditional fantasy; I would call it contemporary magical realism. It interweaves the stories of Em, a 12-year-old girl living in an off-shore community off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and Kaya, a young scholar and activist in an island nation in southeast Asia. The two are connected by a message in a bottle Em tosses into the sea that, against all odds, finds its way to the imprisoned Kaya. Both of them are involved in fights to protect their families and cultures, and end up aiding each other in unexpected ways. Beautiful and thought-provoking, and a stirring yet charming story. Ages 13+ (clean, but with some difficult themes).
Beneath the Canyons, by Kyra Halland
My book :-) A gunslinging wizard, feuds between ranchers and miners, magical mayhem, and romance in a fantasy world modeled after the Old West. If you haven't read it yet, you should, but that's just my opinion. Ages 16+ (swearing, sexual innuendo, an on-screen but not very graphic sex scene).
Into the Storm, by Angela Holder
An emotional tale of a wizard who has finally arrived at a time of peace and happiness in her life, who must make some difficult decisions in order to protect her homeland from an oncoming devastating storm. The courage of Larine and her fellow wizards, and their animal familiars, is moving and inspiring. Ages 16+ (non-descriptive sex scenes; difficult themes)
On the Shores of Irradan, by Ronald Long
This is the start of a follow-up series to the author's previous series, but if you've never read the other series you can still start with this one. One member of a group of companions lost her magic in the last series, and now they're on a quest in a land torn with unrest and civil war to find the tree that can restore her gifts. Traditional companionship/quest fantasy with humans, groups of warring elves, and other magical creatures. Lots of danger and excitement. Ages 13+ (Clean, but with some difficult themes).
Six Celestial Swords, by T.A. Miles
Magical tale inspired by ancient China meets traditional quest fantasy. I found Xu Liang, the mystic and warrior who is the main character, fascinating, especially when the demands of the real world conflict with his mystical ideals. He is joined by a number of other memorable characters, humans, dwarves, and elves, as he searches for the magical weapons that will help defeat a coming chaos. Written in poetic, slightly archaic language expressing the point of view of Xu Liang, uprooted from his native land to the "barbaric" western lands in his search. Ages 15+ (mostly clean, but the themes and language might go over the heads of younger readers; a bit of intense male/male attraction and kissing).
Rise of the Storm, by Christina Ochs
Sprawling, fascinating, complex fantasy based on the beginnings of the 30 Years War. Young Prince Kendryk, the popular ruler of a peaceful land, must choose whether to follow his conscience and embrace the teachings of a radical priest who warns of a coming apocalypse, even though it means defying a ruthless Empress. As the empire and surrounding nations spiral down to war, Kendryk and a number of other memorable characters must find a way to survive and to fight for what they believe is right. Ages 15+ (references to rape; heavy and complex historical themes).
Hope and the Patient Man, by Mike Reeves-McMillan
A gentle story set in a steampunk world, of a mage who tried to curse her cheating boyfriend but accidentally cursed herself instead, who has to find a way to remove the curse so she can have a relationship with the man who loves her. This is mainly a love story, with some other subplots centering on relationships, gnome's rights (because gnomes are people too!), and Hope (the heroine's), er, hopes to advance in her magical career. Ages 16+ (on-screen but non-consummated sexual encounters, and related themes).
Lhind the Thief, by Sherwood Smith
This is the only book in the set I haven't looked at yet, but it's very highly spoken of in other reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and I'm looking forward to reading it. My impression is that it's suitable for YA audiences.
The Keeper and the Rulership, by Emily Martha Sorenson
Magic is forbidden, but Ranah can't stop herself from growing it. As if that isn't trouble enough, she's at the age to be choosing a serious suitor, but can't seem to get that to work out right, either. Solidly YA fantasy about a young woman trying to find her place in a world ruled by status and laws that she just can't quite fit into. Ages 13+.
Finishing up my look at the books and authors in the Weird Western StoryBundle. The bundle is only available through September 8; don't miss out!
Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover
Hardboiled detective story meets westerns with suggestions of something deeper, timeless, and terrifying. A deceptively simple, haunting novel that left me wanting to know more about who U.S. Marshal John Marwood really is.
About the book:
Thermopylae. Masada. Agincourt. And now, Haxan, New Mexico Territory, circa 1874. Through a sea of time and dust, in places that might never be, or can't become until something is set right, there are people destined to travel. Forever. Marshal John T. Marwood is one of these men. Taken from a place he called home, he is sent to fight an eternal war. It never ends, because the storm itself, this unending conflict, makes the world we know a reality. Along with all the other worlds waiting to be born. Or were born, but died like a guttering candle in eternal night. . . . Haxan is the first in a series of novels. It's Lonesome Dove meets The Punisher . . . real, gritty, violent, and blatantly uncompromising.
About the author:
Kenneth Mark Hoover is a professional writer living in Dallas, TX. He has sold over 60 short stories and is a member of SFWA and HWA. His fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Strange Horizons, and many others.
A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger #1) by Gemma Files
For various reasons, I approached this book with some trepidadation, but at halfway through I'm glad to report that while raw, graphic, gritty, and told in large part through the point of view of the "villain" rather than the "good guy," A Book of Tongues is also great fun. The story is told in a unique, engaging voice with characters you love and love to hate at the same time. Note: while some books in the StoryBundle are suitable for teen/YA readers, this book is very much for adults only.
About the book:
Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West's most dangerous outlaw gangs - the troop led by Reverend Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned hexslinger, and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow's task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook's power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself.
Magicians, cursed by their gift to a solitary and painful existence, have never been more than a footnote in history. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a plan to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world - a plan sealed by an unholy marriage-oath with the goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men. To accomplish this, he must raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.
Caught between a passel of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook's witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow's only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess's fate comes clear - the doom written for him, and the entire world.
About the author:
Gemma Files was born in London, England and raised in Toronto. Her story "The Emperor's Old Bones" won the 1999 International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Fiction. She has published two collections of short work (Kissing Carrionand The Worm in Every Heart, both Prime Books) and two chapbooks of poetry (Bent Under Night, from Sinnersphere Productions, and Dust Radio, from Kelp Queen Press). A Book of Tongues, her first Hexslinger novel, won the 2010 DarkScribe Magazine Black Quill Award for Small Press Chill, in both the Editors' and Readers' Choice categories. The two final Hexslinger novels, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones were published by ChiZine in 2011 and 2012. Since then, she has published We Will All Go Down Together, and Experimental Film, the latter of which won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award, and has been nominated for the Sunburst Award.
For this week's Friday 5, here are five more books I've read and enjoyed (told you I had a lot of books to catch up on!) All fantasy this time. Links go to Goodreads.
The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M. Ross
Another stand-alone installment in the Brightmoon Annals. The Magic Mines of Asharim follows Allandra, on the run after a terrible, tragic magical accident, as she takes refuge as a worker at the mine at Asharim, where instead of ore, the product being mined is magic. Then her fate catches up with her again; on the run once more, she finds herself with the opportunity and power to restore an Empire.
As with all of Ms. Ross's books, Magic Mines is filled with fascinating world-building, well-rounded (if not always entirely likeable) characters, and an original magic system. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy intelligent, original fantasy for adults with a good dose of romance. Full review
Ishtar's Blade by Lisa Blackwood
A young woman raised to be guardian to a king returns home to the side of her childhood friend and love, now the gryphon king. Treachery and danger are afoot, and Iltani must fully embrace her destiny as the "Avenging blade of the Goddess Ishtar." Enjoyable fantasy romance; I generally don't care for romances with humans who shift into animals (even mythical animals), but in this case it worked pretty well for me. An entertaining read.
Fate Fallen (Gallows #3) by Sharon Stevenson
More curmudgeonly urban-fantasy fun with demon hunter Shaun Gallows, his twin sister (and fellow demon hunter) Sarah, Shaun's human psychic girlfriend, evil fairies, dead fairies, dead evil fairies, and possibly the end of the world. Sometimes I had trouble following what was happening, but the characters are so great and it's all so much fun I didn't mind.
A Demon in the Desert by Ashe Armstrong
Move over, Clint Eastwood, there's a new gunslinger in town, and he's an orc. Yes, a gunslinging orc; what more do I need to say? Well, I'll say this too - Grimluk is a great character. A true gentleman, good with children, but completely badass when facing down bandits, zombies, corrupted officials, and demons. Oh, and dragons. This book takes all the familiar fantasy characters - orcs, elves, halfings (a hobbit by any other name) and plops them down in a world inspired by the Old West. A fun, exciting story, and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment.
Into Exile by Derek Alan Siddoway
**I was provided with a free review copy of this book.
In the Teutevar Saga, the medieval Europe of myth and fantasy is picked up and set down in a landscape inspired by the American west, filled with towering mountains, boundless grasslands, and nomadic peoples, some friendly, some not quite so much. Into Exile is a prequel to the series, showing how 2-year-old Revan, his widowed mother the Valkyrie Guinevere, and her spearmaiden, friend, and fellow Valkyrie Regenlief went into exile after the destruction of their home. It's a fairly short book, a novella, but filled with adventure, danger, suspense, and awe-inspiring landscapes. A highlight for me was the two lead female characters. Guinevere and Regenlief are strong women, determined to deliver Revan to safety away from the clutches of the traitorous White Knight. The characters feel like real women instead of men in disguise as they face incredible danger and hardships and fighting off countless enemies and their own fear and discouragement, risking everything for Revan's safety. If you've read other books in the Teutevar Saga, Into Exile gives some exciting and important back story, and if you haven't, it's a great introduction to the series. Full review
Another Friday Five, another Reading Roundup of five more books I've read and recommend. (All links go to Goodreads.)
Hunter, by Robert Bidinotto
If you're fed up with a society where bad guys get excuses made for them while their victims are forgotten, blamed, or made out to be worse than the bad guys, this book is a wonderfully satisfying read. The message isn't real subtle (even if you agree with it), and the attraction between the main characters wasn't very convincing at first, though it did develop to the point where I was really rooting for Annie and Dylan to work things out. But the ending peril and confrontation is a can't-put-down nailbiter which kept me up way too late one night. Full review here
Pride's Children: Purgatory (Pride's Children, Book 1) by Alicia Butcher Earhardt
In the tradition of celebrity potboilers like Jackie Collins's novels, but much more gentle and cerebral. Pride's Children: Purgatory follows a novelist, Kary, living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, who is retiring and private almost to the point of being neurotic; Andrew, a charismatic Irish actor just hitting the big time; and Bianca, "America's Sweetheart", whose pretty face hides her ruthless ambition. I found this a lovely, engaging book. Full review here
Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, by various authors
I bought this for the Carol Berg story in it, "Seeds," which was awesome, and I enjoyed a lot of the other stories as well. A few didn't grab me so much, and a couple ended with cliffhangers or, at the least, inconclusive non-endings, so I wasn't wild about that. On the whole, though, a fun collection of fantasy stories about rogues, renegades, thieves, and assassins. Full review here
The Bonehunters, by Steven Erickson
Book 6 in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I mostly buy and read indie now, but the Malazan series is one of the few exceptions. Not an easy read, but definitely worthwhile if you like deep, thought-provoking fantasy with incredible characters and worldbuilding and an ethos where honor, nobility (not of birth but of character), selflessness, compassion, sacrifice, and love matter.
Dan's Lame Novel, by Dan Rinnert
If you've ever wondered what goes through a writer's head while they're working on a book, this is it. A lot of them might not admit it, but probably most writers (me included) deal with at least some of this stuff with each book - trying to come up with names, characters who won't do anything, trying to keep track of time in the story and how long it's been since we let our character eat or sleep, weird subplots that try to insert themselves (though I've never had anything quite as weird as carniverous alien fairies), how to end the darned thing. A short read, well-written, good for a couple of hours of funny entertainment.
To get caught up on Reading Roundup posts, I'll do five books at a time for the Friday 5 feature. Although today I'm actually featuring six books, to take care of a couple of series. (Links go to Goodreads.) I'm not posting every book I read on these features, just the ones I especially enjoyed and am happy to recommend.
Hunted (Flash Gold Chronicles #2)
Peacemaker (Flash Gold Chronicles #3)
Claimed (Flash Gold Chronicles #4)
Liberty (Flash Gold Chronicles #5)
by Lindsay Buroker
The rest of the volumes in the Flash Gold steampunk series, set in an alternate version of the Yukon Gold Rush. Great characters, sinister bad guys, cool magic/steampunk technology, fun Kali/Cedar interaction, adventure, and blossoming romance. Quick but fun and satisfying reads.
Dust and Light (The Sanctuary Duet #1)
Ash and Silver (The Sanctuary Duet #2)
by Carol Berg
I adore Carol Berg's books, and the Lighthouse duology (Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone) are two of my favorite books ever, so I was delighted when I found out about these new novels set in the same world. I was a little disappointed that Valen, the rebellious ne'er-do-well drug-addicted but good-hearted protagonist of the Lighthouse books, wouldn't be in the new books (except in passing references to the infamous Cartamandua recondeur, or renegade), but the new characters and story made up for it. Lucian is another one of Ms. Berg's patented tortured young men; he's just lost his whole family, except his much-loved younger sister, in a terrible fire in the midst of a devastating civil war, and now his career as a magical portraitist for the Registry, the ruling body over the pureblood sorcerers, is being seriously sabotaged for reasons he can't begin to understand and that turn out to be extremely perilous not just to his career but to his sanity and even his survival.
Already familiar with the world, I slipped back into it in all its richly detailed, terrible glory. We get more information on the civil war that forms the backdrop of Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone and a look at what life is like for a non-renegade sorcerer. Lucian is a well-fleshed-out character who grows from his sheltered upbringing and upstanding, law-abiding character (except for an incident when he was severely chastised and disciplined for a brief love affair with an "ordinary" (non-magical) woman) to realizing how unfair, brutal, and ultimately corrupt sorcerous society and the Registry are. I enjoyed the other characters as well, especially Bastien, Lucian's new boss, the city coroner and cemetary manager.
Ash and Silver picks up with Lucien, now known as Greenshank, as a knight-in-training in the top-secret Knights of the Ashes, discovering his badass side as he trains to protect Navronne from evil. He finds himself the focus of two plots, one involving the disputed throne of Navronne (the object of the terrible civil war being fought the last several years), the other having to do with damage to the parallel world of the Danae and the fate of a massacred city. There's a lot going on, but it's all lots of fun, and as always beautifully written, and Lucien/Greenshank grows into a really unforgettable character. (full reviews: Dust and Light | Ash and Silver
I've been doing a lot of reading lately and I promised a monster Reading Roundup post, so here it is, with lots of great books I recommend. There should be something here for just about everyone. If my reading keeps up at this rate, I should start doing these posts more often! Books are listed in the order I read them in. (Links go to Goodreads.)
To Whatever End (Echoes of Imara #1) by Clare Frank
I really enjoyed this. I'm always interested in fantasy with a married couple as the main characters, and To Whatever End fit the bill nicely. Cecily and Daro are trying to live a quiet life after fighting in a revolution that put a new king on the throne, then Daro is kidnapped by a corrupt magician/scholar for nefarious purposes, and Cecily has to draw on the help of their former comrades-in-arms to find and rescue him. Overall, I highly recommend To Whatever End to readers looking for an exciting, magical fantasy adventure where the roles are switched and the woman comes to the rescue of the man. (full review)
Witchfinder by Sarah A. Hoyt
A wild ride through a universe with parallel Earths, some of which have magic and some of which don't, some of which know about the others and some of which don't, some of which permit the use of magic and some of which forbid it on pain of death. Avalon is one of those where magic is permitted and that knows about other worlds, and Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater (in this Regency-inspired setting), has undertaken the illegal task of rescuing magic users who are in danger on other worlds. His quest blows up when he stumbles into a plot involving the throne of Avalon and sinister doings in Fairyland, a much more dangerous and terrifying place than the name suggests. The plot is intricate and non-stop, and I enjoyed the characters, trying to do the right things despite seemingly impossible odds. There's also a nice dose of romance, not obtrusive but enough to keep romance-loving readers happy. There's both a m/f and a m/m pair; normally, m/m isn't really my thing, but Mrs. Hoyt had me rooting for this couple to find their happy ending. Highly recommended if you're looking for intelligent and refreshingly original fantasy.
The Profiteer by Evan Asher
Light-hearted and enjoyable contemporary romance, with appealing characters and a balanced, intelligent look at the issue of the big outsider businessman moving into the small town.
Dragon Blood #1-3: by Lindsay Buroker
Balanced on the Blade's Edge
By Lindsay Buroker, so you know it's awesome and lots of fun. This series is set in a new world (though it could fit in very well with the world of the Emperor's Edge series). A sorceress is awakened from a 300-year hibernation to find that magic is now forbidden in her land, which is under imminent attack by their centuries-old enemy. She teams up with a dashing military commander and, in later books, one of his pilots, a seemingly mad scientist who defected from the enemy, and other interesting, well-done characters to fight the enemy and discover magical secrets that threaten their country. I especially appreciate the more mature characters, established adults rather than green young 'uns just coming of age. Mechanical flight exists in this world and much of the books are airborne. I have my own issues with flying (white-knuckled terror, holding the airplane up by the sheer force of my will), so those parts were, um, especially exciting. A great new (maybe not so new any more) series for fans of Ms. Buroker's Emperor's Edge series.
The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye (Amra Thetys #2) by Michael McClung
Follow-up to one of my favorite books I've read recently, The Thief Who Tugged On Trouble's Braids. Amra and her sorcerer pal Holgren are back, undertaking a quest to find a magical city and claim the rich reward being offered, only to find themselves trapped in a web of magic and ancient plots being spun by the gods. Exciting and terrifying, and with a dose of romance that I always appreciate. Lots of fun.
Taboo (The Unfinshed Song #2) by Tara Maya
Continuation of the story started in The Initiate (reviewed here), magical fantasy in a setting based on Native American and other prehistoric cultures. As relations between rival tribes grow more tense, Dindi breaks taboos by seizing the chance to learn magic even after she's failed the required tests, and Kavio, while illegally teaching her, also has to find a way to save his people from trecherous enemies.
The Black Parade by Kyoko M.
I interviewed Kyoko M. quite some time ago and I'm not sure why it took so long for her first book, The Black Parade, to rise to the top of my TBR list, but it finally did, and am I glad. Fun story about angels, demons, and a woman whose calling in life is to help ghosts pass to the other side. Great characters, high stakes, exciting fight scenes, and an appealing romance. I also appreciated the respectful treatment of religious themes. Urban fantasy/paranormal isn't my usual reading, but I enjoyed this one a lot.
The Ravine by William Meikle
Dark, creepy, and intense western horror. Well-written in simple but evocative prose, featuring heroes both likely and unlikely who rise to the occasion, and really chilling (and gross) evil beings. I will probably never eat fish again after reading this. There are a few characters I wish could have had a better fate, but overall I found the story very satisfying. Highly recommended if you like some western in your horror, or some horror in your westerns.
Sweeter for the Pain by Evan Asher
By the author of The Profiteer (above), lightweight, enjoyable contemporary romance. Sweet-natured and a fun, quick read, though the mystery isn't very mysterious and the villain, to me, was pretty obvious. Nicole doesn't strike me as the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I admired her willingness to go beyond the scars and gossip to see who Finn really is, and it was heartwarming to read about Finn learning to reach out and love again. Some spicy scenes but not explicitly detailed.
Operation Rubber Ducky by Cora Buhlert
Three weird and hilarious short tales of toy animals and evil aliens. Perfect when you want a fun, quick read.
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson is one of the few traditionally-published novelists I still read, and this novella is a treat for fans. Highly original magic system, as to be expected from Mr. Sanderson, and an appealing, well-rounded main character, Shai, who uses magic to forge everything from paintings to souls. Really enjoyable read.
I've been reading some awesome books lately, so it's time for another Reading Roundup! (Links go to Goodreads.)
A Guardian Reborn (The Guardians #3), W.H. Cann
Like the previous two books in the Guardians series, in A Guardian Reborn, shiny spaceships, futuristic technology, and exciting space battles blend with magic (unsullied by pseudo-scientific explanations) and wizards good and evil in an engaging mix of high fantasy and space opera with a touch of romance. The formal, slightly old-fashioned narrative style and omniscient viewpoint might make this book a little difficult for some readers to get into at first, but the engaging characters, tensions between the evil Empire and the Republic battling to preserve freedom in the galaxy, and the exciting battles both magical and involving space ships and laser cannons kept me reading.
Fans of Star Wars will especially enjoy these books, as will fantasy fans looking for a setting very different from the usual low-tech fantasy and science fiction fans in the mood for a little magic. (Full review)
Savage Storm (Rys Rising #2)
New Religion (Rys Rising #3)
Love Lost (Rys Rising #4)
by Tracy Falbe
I'd read the first book in the Rys Rising series and liked it, though I struggled a little bit with it, not being familiar with the world which was previously introduced in the Rys Chronicles series (Rys Rising is the prequel series). In Savage Storm, though, the saga really takes shape and takes off. Exciting and adventurous, with memorable characters, high stakes, and a broad, epic sweep. The action continues to rise in New Religion, then Ms. Falbe brings it all back home in epic style in Love Lost, the intense, exciting, heart-wrenching conclusion to the series, filled with vivid characters, a colorfully-drawn landscape, awe-inspiring magic, intense battles, romance, heartbreak, ambition, and heroism.
The Fire Mages (Brightmoon Annals), Pauline M. Ross
The Fire Mages is another standalone novel set in Pauline Ross's Brightmoon World, the world of her first novel, The Plains of Kallanash. I enjoyed Plains very much, and Fire Mages even more. Though set in a different country and culture, with different characters, The Fire Mages has another original social structure and interesting magic system. If you enjoy high fantasy in a unique setting with cool magic and well-conceived, multi-dimensional characters, I highly recommend The Fire Mages. (Full review)
Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunter International #1), Larry Correia
Wow, this was awesome. A diverse cast of memorable characters, great monsters and fantasy creatures (these aren't Tolkein's Elves and Orcs!), a battle to save the world from evil creatures from beyond, lots of shooting stuff and blowing stuff up, courage and heroism and a touch of romance, all told in a fun narrative style that kept me up reading way too late four nights in a row. And one of the best opening paragraphs in fiction, EVAR! Lots of fun.
Our Husband, Stephanie Bond
Something light and fluffy as a change of pace from the more heavy-duty reading I've been doing lately. Three women discover they're married to the same man when they come to visit him in the hospital after he's in an accident. He dies, then it turns out he was murdered! Though they're naturally jealous and suspicious of each other, a shared sense of confusion, grief, and betrayal brings the women together and grows into friendship as they try to figure out who really killed their husband. No big surprises, but still fun.
The Unfinished Song, Book 1: Initiate, by Tara Maya
The real title of this is "Initiate", but my Kindle had it filed under U for "Unfinished". So U it is.
I hesitated a bit on deciding to read this because the cover on the edition I have calls it Young Adult, which generally isn't my reading of choice, and I'm generally not into fae/fairies either. But wow, am I glad I went ahead and read it. The story has a depth and sophistication that makes it much more adult than a lot of YA I've read (also, some of the subject matter might be considered more mature than would be usual for a YA audience). It's set in a refreshingly original world based on ancient Native American cultures and settings, and while fae creatures play an important role, the emphasis is solidly on the human characters. Enchanting, intriguing, and beautifully written. (full review)
Veil of the Dragon, byTom Barczak
Beautifully-written fantasy about a man facing his destiny to save the world from evil, who has to overcome the evil within himself and those who are supposed to help him on his way. The main attraction of this book is the prose, highly visual (not surprising, since the author is an illustrator and architect; the book is illustrated with the author's own drawings) and impressionistic, weaving visions and reality together. (full review)
Whiskey and Wheelguns - various authors
"Where the Devil Drinks" - Alexander Nader
"Watch the Line" - Joriah Wood
"Hair of the Dog" - J. Edward Paul
"Big Roamer" - Michael D. Woods
"Dark as Night" - John Weeast
"Zarahemla and the Skinwalkers" - R.A. Williamson
Six teasers/prologues/backstories to stories in the Whiskey & Wheelguns shared weird west universe. Creepy, magical, and filled with weird western goodness. Apparently, the collective kind of changed direction after this collection was released, so further installments aren't always easy to find, but based on the taste here, it's worth the effort.
Oxygen, by John S. Olson & Randy Ingermanson
I didn't have anything for X, so I went with the next best thing - a title with X in it.
Hard science fiction isn't my usual reading, but one of the authors of Oxygen, Randy Ingermanson, developed a popular outlining method for writers (the Snowflake method) and I found out about Oxygen on his site. I'll admit that what grabbed me was the romance aspect of "science fiction romance", but I ended up thoroughly enjoying everything about this book. Fun, exciting, suspenseful, with a sweet romance and some thought-provoking ideas. (full review)
Beyond Sanctuary, by Janet Morris
I only had a couple of different possibilities for Y but couldn't stick with any of them, so I chose Beyond Sanctuary because it has two Ys in the title. Lame, but hey, whatever. Plus I've owed the author a read-and-review on it for a while now. [Please note, with very rare exceptions, I no longer do read-and-review requests.]
Interesting, exciting sword-and-sorcery set in the Thieves' World shared world, well-written in beautiful, poetic prose. I'm not familiar with Thieves' World, so it took me a while to figure out what was going on in Beyond Sanctuary, but eventually I got the hang of most of it. On the down side, I found the two heroes, Tempus and Niko, deeply unlikeable - one is a rapist, the other has a penchant for deflowering barely pubescent virgins. To me, these are deal-breakers when it comes to heroes. It's a testament to the author's storytelling skills that when I came across things that would normally make me stop reading and delete the book, I had to keep going to find out how the story turned out. (full review)
Zanna's Outlaw - Julie Lence
Sweet-natured (though slightly spicy) western historical romance. What I liked best about Zanna's Outlaw was Buck. Even though he's an outlaw, he's also a gentleman through and through. He cares about protecting Zanna and treats her well. And even though no one else in town thinks it's a problem when the town prostitute, Fancy, gets beat up by a client, he makes it clear that no one's going to treat women that way in his town. Quick, fun read with a likeable hero and charming romance. (full review)
And that brings the Reading A-Z Challenge to an end! (See the other installments: A-G, H-N, and O-T.) Next I'll just be reading a bunch of books I've been wanting to get to for a while, as well as more from some new favorites I've discovered. Watch for periodic reading roundups for my recommendations!
More books on my Reading A-Z challenge. (Part 1, A-G; Part 2, H-N). The rules: choose a book with a title for each letter; it has to be something I already own (if I don't have a books for a particular letter but have a sample, I can buy that book); DNFs don't count (except in the case of collections and boxed sets; have to read at least one of the stories all the way through); indie authors strongly preferred. So, here's O through T (links, except for Quest, go to Goodreads):
Out of Exile (Teutevar Saga, book 1), by Derek Alan Siddoway
What if the medieval Europe of traditional fantasy took place in the American West? Out of Exile explores the combination of the two in an exciting story in a refreshingly different setting. Read my full review here, and also Derek's guest post on medieval westerns.
Path of the Heretic (The Beholder, book 2), by Ivan Amberlake
Path of the Heretic is the exciting follow-up to The Beholder, and I liked it even more than the first book (which I enjoyed very much). The book is darkly moody and atmospheric, but I also appreciate the touch of romance from the man's point of view. Great reading for fans of urban/contemporary fantasy. See the full review here.
Quest, by various authors
I didn't have any books for Q, but I do have a multi-book boxed set called Quest, so I decided to dip into that. I didn't read every book in it, but here are a few notes on what I did read. On the whole, there's something in it for nearly all fantasy fans, and it's well worth picking up to sample some new authors.
The Book of Deacon - Joseph R. Lallo: I had already read this. Not without its problems, but if you enjoy coming-of-age and learning-about-magic fantasy, check this one out.
The Emperor's Edge - Lindsay Buroker: I had also already read this, as well. Book 1 of the wonderful Emperor's Edge series, fun and exciting epic fantasy with a steampunk twist. I highly recommend the whole series.
The God Decrees - Mark E. Cooper: The kingdom of Deva, under attack by a kingdom of powerful sorcerers, is desperate for help, so one of Deva's few sorcerers risks everything to bring a powerful magician from another world to help out... a 19-year-old aspiring Olympic gymnast from our world named Julia. Who knows nothing about magic, and anyway, women aren't supposed to be able to use magic! See the full review here.
Defender - Robert J. Crane: Epic fantasy that reads a lot like a video game. Readers who also like playing games like World of Warcraft will probably enjoy it a lot.
Draykon - Charlotte E. English: skipped because I was getting impatient to move on to the next letter.
Fire & Ice - Patty Jansen: Interesting premise, set in a world where people born with physical deformities are left to die, but those who survive are capable of powerful magic.
Lost City - Jeffrey M. Poole: Treasure-hunting dwarves in an adventure story for tweens/YA readers.
Reversion: The Inevitable Horror - J. Thorn: skipped for now because I was ready to move on.
Redfall (Legacy of Ash, book 2), by James Downe
A group of travelers are crossing a vast, desolate grassland, hoping to avoid the barbarian natives. The leader of the caravan ignores some dire omens, resulting in trouble when they meet up with the barbarians - and when one of the travelers turns out to not be what they appear to be.
A long short story (close to novella length), suspenseful and magical, written in evocative language (though it could use one more quick edit to clean up a few mistakes). The characters are memorable, the world is well-developed in a few well-chosen words, and the climactic confrontation is explosive. Intriguing possibilities are left open at the end, and I really hope there'll be a follow-up story. Recommended if you want a quick immersion into an exciting fantasy world. (Redfall is labeled Book 2 of Legacy of Ash, but it stands alone.)
Soldier, Kraken, Bard (Legacy of Ash, book 1), by James Downe
A city perched on rocks over the sea is attacked by a gigantic storm, presenting a challenge to the survival of three characters - a female soldier, a talented bard, and a young girl. Who will triumph, the people fighting the storm or the storm itself?
Tense and evocative and horrifying, set in a well-developed fantasy world skillfully conveyed in a few careful brushstrokes. Beautifully written (though it could use a final clean-up edit to fix a few mistakes). The ending is somewhat darker than I prefer, which is why I couldn't quite rate it 5 stars, but I would really love to know what happens next and hope there'll be a follow-up story.
The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids (Amra Thetys #1), by Michael McClung
Wow, this was really amazing, one of the rare books that I start reading and it almost hurts to have to put it down. Reads like a mashup of thief/assassin fantasy and hardboiled detective novels (I could almost hear Amra saying in a female Humphrey Bogart voice "I knew he was trouble the moment he walked in"). Read the full review here.
And I realized I never posted my review of book 1, The Beholder, so here it is!
The Beholder (The Beholder #1) by Ivan Amberlake
Urban fantasy about a regular guy, Jason, who discovers that the terrible nightmares he's been having are real. He discovers that he's linked to a group, existing undetected in our society, of people with supernatural powers, and that he is a key weapon in the fight against evil.
The magic is complex, and the story is suspenseful. At times it reads a little like a video game, with explanations from one knowledgable source or another of things Jason needs to know alternated with challenges that he has to get through. But the action is thrilling and the battles kept me glued to the book.
I especially appreciated the romantic subplot written from the guy's point of view, seeing Jason's feelings for Emily, his guide through the magical world he's been pulled into, as they develop. I found it geniunely moving and well-done.
Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy, or readers of epic/high fantasy who are open to trying something set in the real, modern world.
Path of the Heretic (The Beholder #2) by Ivan Amberlake
Path of the Heretic is the exciting follow-up to The Beholder, and I liked it even more than the first book (which I enjoyed very much). Months after the events at the end of The Beholder, Jason is still trying to come to terms with what happened, but the battle between Lightsighted and Darksighted is ongoing. The book starts off with a bang and continues at a fast pace as Jason tries to learn the truth about Emily, protect the human world from the Dark Ones, and keep himself from being killed or turned by Pariah. In between the exciting magical battles, Pariah and his gang plot to get to Jason and his friends, Jason attempts to solve the mystery of Emily, and characters live, die, change sides, and discover new things about themselves. The book is darkly moody and atmospheric, but I also appreciate the touch of romance from the man's point of view.
It had been a while since I read The Beholder, and Path of the Heretic dumps the reader right into the middle of the action, so while I remembered the characters from the first book (they're certainly memorable), it took me a while to get the hang of what was going on and remember some key points from the first book. But I stuck with it until I got it figured out, and the rest of the book was definitely worth it.
A more-than-worthy sequel to The Beholder, great reading for fans of urban/contemporary fantasy.
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