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.
For this Friday: Five fantasy books/series (well-known and not so well-known) that influenced me. (links go to Goodreads, to first books in series. Covers shown are the editions I own.)
1. The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander. The first epic fantasy series I ever read (that I can recall, anyway). A great starter series for kids, and also entertaining for adults. The struggle between good and evil, the colorful characters, the adventure, and the love story between Taran and Eilonwy (even as a child, eight or nine years old, I loved love stories) all caught my imagination and made me want more.
2. The Earthsea Trilogy, by Ursula K. LeGuin. My parents gave me a nice boxed set of this when I was 11 or 12, for my birthday or Christmas (they're close together). Magic and adventure on the oceans and islands of Earthsea with Ged, one of the greatest fantasy characters of all times. Ged was one of my book crushes when I was a tween (of course, I'm far too old for that sort of thing now *coughcough*). This introduced me to the idea of the wizard dedicated to that life (and to the concept of schools of magic), and contributed to my thinking that it wasn't fair that wizards didn't get to fall in love and if they did they could never do anything about it. Naturally, I was intrigued by what could have been the romance between Ged and Tenar. The relationship is finally continued in the 4th Earthsea book, Tehanu, but I had a lot of problems with that book, especially feeling like Ms. LeGuin changed her characters almost to where they were unrecognizable to suit the political/philosophical points she wanted to make in the book. So, for me, Earthsea stops with book 3 and I let my imagination take it from there. (I actually have three different sets of this series. The cover shown here is from that original boxed set. Down at the bottom you can see another cover that I have, and one I definitely do NOT have. Or want.)
3. The Riddle-Master Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip. Gorgeous prose and dripping with magic in a world where riddles hold the keys to ancient, lost knowledge, no one thinks there's anything strange about rulers who are hundreds of years old, ghosts and spirits walk the earth, and magic isn't a discipline, it's the fabric of which the world is made. Morgon, the farmer-prince, is another of the greatest fantasy characters ever (and another of my teenage book crushes), and the relationship between him and his betrothed Raederle is another great love story. (The cover on my original copy of book 1 is hideous. Get the very nice omnibus edition instead.)
4. Crispan Magicker, by Mark M. Lowenthal. I'll say it right now, yet another of my teenage book crushes. There are a lot of problems with this book, but the character of Crispan makes up for them. He's a wizard dedicated to the Order, naive and honorable, who has to go after his teacher Vladur who has become corrupted and put a stop to his evil plans. Along the way he is tested and tried and stretched, required to become a military commander and take lives, and ultimately has to risk losing everything that matters to him in order to protect the world. Really an awesome character. This book again brought up the themes of wizards dedicated to the practice, and to a formal order, and also risking losing everything you have and everything you are in order to do the right things. And again, why don't wizards get to fall in love and do something about it? There's a tantalizing hint about "a woman by an unknown sea", and Crispan clearly has a lot of adventures ahead of him, but no sequel was ever published. Which makes me sad. Long out of print, which also makes me sad, but used copies are available. I would love to see Mr. Lowenthal (also a prominent figure in intelligence and national security circles) get the rights back, republish independently, and write some sequels.
5. The Apprentice, by Deborah Bickmore. Yes! Fantasy with a real romance in it! Jaimah, the young apprentice/servant of the powerful sorceress Shayna, is drawn to and terrified by Corwyn, Shayna's mysterious and powerful new apprentice. When it comes to a showdown between Corwyn and Shayna over a powerful, dangerous spell, which wizard will destroy Jaimah and which one will save her? The kind of book I love to write (and love to read if I can find them), where the fantasy and the romance are in equal balance. This book was out of print for a long time, but now Ms. Bickmore has indie-published it in Kindle and paperback editions, hooray!
Addendum: As you'd expect with a book that's been around for more than 45 years, A Wizard of Earthsea has been through a lot of covers, good, bad, and indifferent. Here are two that stand out:
Guess which one I like better?
I'm happy to announce that my buddy Joshua Winning (profiled here) has a new book out: Ruins, book 2 of the Sentinel Trilogy (read my review of book 1 here). I beta-read Ruins and, basically, it was awesome. The first book, Sentinel, was really good, and Ruins is a more-than-worthy successor. From my comments to Joshua: "I was never bored! Every scene was interesting and well-paced, and necessary to the story. I didn't find myself reading something and wondering why it mattered. Also, after that ending, you'd better get Inferno out fast!"
So, it's good. Check it out on Amazon!
Ruins (The Sentinel Trilogy, Book 2), by Joshua Winning
Second instalment of the critically-acclaimed Sentinel Trilogy. In his desperate search for answers about the Sentinels, an ancient society of guardians that his parents once belonged to, fifteen-year-old Nicholas Hallow is tipped into a fresh nightmare of terrifying monsters - and even more sinister humans. As Nicholas is challenged to become a Sentinel, he must track down a mysterious girl with the help of a grumpy cat. Meanwhile, an uprising of evil threatens to destroy the Sentinels and send the world spiralling into chaos.
Learn more about the Sentinel Trilogy here.
About the Author:
Joshua Winning was born in Cambridge, but don't hold that against him. He's attempted to escape reality for most of his life by writing. As a child, that involved poring diligently over anything by C.S. Lewis or Robin Jarvis.
When he's not writing about Sentinels, Joshua can usually be found watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Wire and Daria. He also works as a freelance journalist, writing about movies for Total Film, Little White Lies and movieScope.
Joshua currently lives in North London with his cat Mia. Unfortunately, she's not a great conversationalist, but he's working on it.
Time for another update on my self-imposed A-Z reading challenge. (Part 1 is here.) The rules: Going A-Z by title, it has to be a book I already own on my Kindle (if I don't have a book for a particular letter, if I have a sample for one I can buy that), indie authors preferred. DNFs don't count; if I can't finish a book, I find another one from the the same letter. (Links go to Goodreads.)
The Hawk and His Boy (The Tormay Trilogy #1), Christopher Bunn
Really lovely fantasy, set in a world filled with ancient magic both wondrous and terrible, written in beautiful prose. The story is in part about a young thief boy, Jute, who stumbles across a magnificent and terrifying destiny in the course of a thieving job, and is befriended by a mysterious hawk. Full review here.
I liked The Hawk and His Boy so much that I went off track and read the rest of the trilogy right away. The Shadow at the Gate and The Wicked Day are both also excellent.
Iron Flower (The Legend of the Iron Flower #2), Billy Wong
The further adventures of Rose Agen, powerhouse female warrior. There's more magic in this book than in the first, as Rose, her lover Finn, and their scholar friend Derrick find themselves involved in the return of magic to the world. It reads more like three installments of a serial rather than a continuous novel. But it's lots of fun and the fights and the newly-rediscovered magic are exciting.
The Jongurian Mission (The Jongurian Trilogy #1), Greg Strandburg
Young Bryn thinks he's going to spend the rest of his life moving rocks on his uncle's farm. Then his other uncle, an Adjurian trade official, shows up saying it's time Bryn saw the world. Bryn goes with his uncle to an important trade conference in the capital city, then on a trade mission to one-time enemy Jonguria, where things turn far more dangerous and deadly than you would expect from a simple trade mission. The worldbuilding, history, and political/economic aspects are very detailed and well-thought-out, and readers who appreciate fantasy with a heavy emphasis on those things will find this book interesting. Full review here.
Keepers of Arden: The Brothers, Volume 1, L.K. Evans
I really enjoyed this fantasy tale of two brothers - Wilhelm, big, handsome, good-natured, popular with the ladies, and Salvarias, dark and strange, gifted with magical powers beyond his years and terrified of the evil within him. We follow the two from the terrible conception and birth of Salvarias, Wilhelm's much-longed-for baby brother, through their childhood and teenage years and into early adulthood, as the two become part of a battle between forces of light and darkness to conquer Arden. Full review here.
Lady Falls (Black Rose Trilogy #1), Renee Bernard
Interesting concept, an orphan is adopted and groomed to be her guardian's means of revenge against someone who wronged him, but it kind of fell apart in the execution. The revenge ploy turned out to not nearly live up to the potential of how cool and devastating it could have been. I was also put off by the very explicit sex scenes involving the 17-year-old heroine. Otherwise, this could have been lots of fun. The subplot with the abused wife of one of the house party guests was much more interesting and well carried out.
A Mail-Order Bride for Jim Liley!, Raymond Cook
Jim Liley is a young man growing up in a Colorado quarrying town in the late 1800s. When he's blinded in one eye in a quarry accident, he's afraid no woman will ever want to marry him. Kristy Greenfield's hometown in Illinois is becoming depleted of marriageable men as they all head west seeking their fortunes; will she end up growing old alone? Then Jim places a wife-wanted ad in the newspaper, beginning a sweet long-distance courtship with Kristy which leads to her making the momentous decision to head out west to marry him. The story of Jim and Kristy's courtship is engaging (no pun intended!) and the tale of Kristy's trip west is full of excitement and danger, and a large amount of work and research clearly went into this heartfelt book. Full review here.
Necromancer Awakening (The Mukhtaar Chronicles #1), Nat Russo
Necromancer Awakening is an interesting and original fantasy novel with a very different kind of magic that also makes some profound reflections on topics such as faith, redemption, priesthood, and the relationship between life and death. Nicolas, an archaeology student in Texas, is plagued by horrifying visions whenever he's in the presence of death - and especially in the wake of his adoptive father's funeral. The visions lead to him being swept from Texas to another world, where he discovers the reasons for his visions - he's a necromancer, a wizard-priest who uses the power of death to purify the dead. Full review here.
Yes, I know February is almost halfway over! Just a quick update post. Job one this month and last month has been getting Bad Hunting ready for release. I'm at least a month behind schedule - the stretch between Thanksgiving and when we took our son back to school after New Year's took a lot out of me, it was fun but exhausting - and working hard to make up time. I've got myself on a more or less regular work schedule (hard to do when you work at home and you're your own boss!) and progress is finally happening. Bad Hunting is in the final proofreading stages, and I'm looking at a release date of Feb. 20. Stay tuned for release news and some special promotional pricing; to make sure you don't miss out, sign up for my email alerts. Don't worry, I'm too lazy/busy to spam, and you can cancel any time.
All other projects have been put on hold until I get back on track with the Daughter of the Wildings schedule. This includes getting Tales of Azara ready to release and working on my other Estelend novels and the Urdaisunia sequel. They haven't been abandoned; they're just waiting their turn.
On my A-Z reading challenge, for H I read The Hawk and His Boy, book 1 of the Tormay Trilogy by Chirstopher Bunn, then had to take a detour to read the rest of the series. I'm halfway through book 3, The Wicked Day, and it's wonderful.
Time to post this and eat lunch, then back to work!
To try to clear out the backlog of books on my Kindle a little, I decided to read one book for each letter from A to Z. So far I've made it through G (I'm currently reading H). Here's what I've read so far, with a few thoughts and links to the books/reviews on Goodreads.
First: please note, again, I am not a book reviewer and this is not a book review blog. I don't accept review requests (with very rare exceptions). I'm just an author who also likes to read, sharing things I've enjoyed reading.
The rules for my own personal challenge: The books have to already be on my Kindle (unless I get to a letter where I only have samples, then I can buy one of those books). If I don't finish reading the book, it doesn't count. Indie authors preferred.
Across A Moonlit Sea, Marsh Canham
Across a Moonlit Sea is old-school, over-the-top, swashbuckling, bodice-ripping (Isabeau goes through at least two or three shirts and Dante loses one or two as well) romance set in the age of gold-laden Spanish ships sailing from the New World and English privateers seeking their fortunes. Attacked by a Spanish fleet and betrayed by his partner, privateer Simon Dante and his crew are stranded at sea when they're rescued by a small merchant ship, captained by the colorful Captain Spence and his daughter Isabeau (Beau), who would rather steer a ship and draw maps than wear a dress. Exciting battles at sea and loads of steamy (but not overly graphic) romance ensue. (My review)
Bailin', Linton Robinson
Bailin' was really funny. How funny, you ask? I was sitting in the dentist chair, reading this on my Kindle while waiting for Lady Pain, er, the hygienist to come in and get to work, and laughing out loud instead of crying like I usually do. (I have very sensitive teeth. Really.)
So, we have Cole Haskins, a smooth-talking modern-day gunslinger who would rather live an easy life of holding up banks and armored cars than get a, you know, JOB, and his lover/getaway driver, former truck stop princess Bunny Beaumont, the brains in the outfit. Then we have the world's most inept drug smugglers, two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart (there are no brains in this outfit, except that Bogart has kind of an idiot savant genius for cobbling together dangerously fast vehicles that are unsafe at any speed, and Flathead at least has the self-preservation instinct to want to stay off of them). Then there's Alvin Hunstetter, the nervously larcenous city treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund and skips bail. Add in a good, honest bounty hunter (when the most upstanding citizen in the story is a bounty hunter, that kind of gives you an idea of what you're dealing with here), an insanely homicidal ninja bounty hunter, and some crooked city officials, throw them all together in an action-packed chase along the Texas-Mexico border, top off with a slyly humorous narrative voice, and you've got a wildly entertaining read that's impossible to put down. (My review)
Crimson, Warren Fahy
Big, sprawling, whimsical epic fantasy about a young prince, Trevin, who ascends to the throne after being told by his dying father that the color crimson and what he loves most will be his doom. The way Trevin chooses to deal with this prophecy seems to bring on the doom anyway and only the courage of an intrepid group of sailors and the love and devotion of his queen can save him and their world. (My review)
Darkmage, M.L. Spencer
Update 3/17: Some time after I reviewed this book, the author contacted me to very graciously thank me for the review and ask if I would like to beta-read the prequel, Darkstorm. Of course I was delighted to say yes! Darkstorm blew me away and satisfied all the questions and problems I had with the premise of Darkmage. Darkstorm is now available and Darkmage has been re-released, and I was also lucky enough to get to beta-read the third book in the series, Darkland.
Original review: I'm not really sure what to say about Darkmage. Epic fantasy, though very dark, in an interesting magical world, pretty well written. But I had a problem accepting the basic premise, that in a world where all life and civilization is threatened by an all-powerful Enemy, those best able to fight this enemy, the mages, would place themselves under a physically binding vow of non-violence - and what's more, the people threatened by the enemy would expect the mages to abide by this vow and, furthermore, would refuse to lift a finger in their own defense other than sending ragtag bands of convicts up to the front to serve as cannon fodder in holding the enemy off a little longer. The books explores one mage's decision to break that vow and fight.
Even though I had trouble with the premise, I can still say that if you're interested in a philosophical exploration of the question of whether vows of non-violence are worth it, and are up for reading a very long and dark but exciting fantasy, give Darkmage a try.
An Exercise in Futility, Steve Thomas
I enjoyed Steve Thomas's very funny Klondaeg books (reviewed here) and decided to give some of his other works a try. An Exercise in Futility is very different, serious, almost tragic (though not without a note of hope at the end). When the nomadic Gurdur tribes are threatened with conquest by the ruthless Empire to the south, young Ezekiel longs to join in the battle. Instead, his magical gifts dictate he go away for training to fight in a different way. His gift turns out to be for necromancy, which has obvious uses in war. But while any garden-variety necromancer can raise an army of the undead, it takes an extraordinary one to think of using his powers on himself - and on an entire culture. I liked An Exercise in Futility as much as the Klondaeg books, and have added more of Steve Thomas's work to my (ever-growing, despite my best efforts) reading list. (My review)
Flash Gold, Lindsay Buroker
Lindsay Buroker's Emperor's Edge series (and the Encrypted series that goes along with it) are favorites of mine. Flash Gold is the first book in a different series, set in an alternate steampunk/fantasy version of the Yukon Gold Rush. Kali is determined to win a dogsled race with her dogless sled and use the money to get away to someplace warmer and safer. The mysterious Cedar hires himself on as her bodyguard and "musher", which turns out to be a good thing when it seems like every villainous character in the west is after Kali and her secrets. Loved this, and I'm looking forward to reading more books in the series. It would also make a good addition to my Western With A Twist book collection.
Ghost Aria and Ghost Dagger, Jonathan Moeller
"G" is two stories set in the wonderful Ghost series, featuring Caina, the young assassin with a dark and terrible past and the ability to sense the sorcery that is causing so much trouble in her world. In Ghost Aria, Caina investigates a mysterious murder that takes place at the opera house where she works undercover as an assistant to the reigning diva. In Ghost Dagger, a tragic curse in a nobleman's house takes Caina on a nightmarish journey through her dreams. Mystery, danger, and magic abound in both stories. I highly recommend the Ghost series, and I'm also planning to check out Jonathan Moeller's many other series.
Now I'm on "H"; once I've read another handful of books I'll do another round-up.
To set the mood for the release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of Daughter of the Wildings, a high fantasy series set in a world inspired by the wild west, I'm going to take a three-part look at books, movies/TV shows, and music that puts a twist on the traditional western. The mythos of the Old West - the wide-open, lawless frontier, the desolate and mystical landscapes, the confrontation between good and evil, self-reliance, individual freedom and responsibility, the struggle to survive, and characters who are trying to make a new start in life, or find justice, revenge, redemption, or just a ton of riches, have made for a rich body of exciting stories, and easily lend themselves to other genres. For the "Western With A Twist" series I'll mainly be looking at western mixed with fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, which also share a lot of the same traits - new frontiers, confrontations between good and evil, the struggle to survive, characters torn away from their origins who are on a quest. But I'll also throw in a few other things as well, to offer up a wide variety of western-themed entertainment to satisfy all tastes! (Note: Amazon links go to all international sites, and use my affiliate link. Image and title links go to Goodreads.)
First up, books.
I've had a hard time finding Western-themed works that fit my definition of "high fantasy" (and the definition I'm using for Daughter of the Wildings): fantasy set in an entirely different world from our Earth, with no reference to the real world, involving magic as an important plot element and a struggle between good and evil. But there are a few that come close, and there's plenty of other stories that fit into the Western With A Twist theme out there; "Weird Western" is a big trend, as is western paranormal romance (my own definition of paranormal is set in our world and dealing with things like ghosts, demons, vampires, etc), western steampunk, western alternate history, and western science fiction. Here's a rundown of some books and a web comic I've found that fit the bill of Western With A Twist.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: When talking about western-fantasy, this is the first thing most people think of. I agree, with qualifications. The first book, The Gunslinger, is very much fantasy in feel, and focuses on the western-like world of Roland Deschain. Book 4, Wizard and Glass, which I'm stuck halfway through, is also pretty straightforward western-fantasy. I'm having a hard time finishing it, partly because I know it can only end in tears (I'm all about happy endings) and because the 14-year-old kid having lots of sex kinda puts me off. I'm told Book 5, Wolves of Calla, is more fantasy-western, as well. Books 2 and 3 (which I've read) take on more paranormal and science fiction elements, and spend a significant amount of time in the modern world. Book 2 was good, though not at all western, and more paranormal than straight-up fantasy. The last two books, according to the information I've seen, mainly take place in the real world, and from the descriptions and reviews I've read, the series seems to go weirdly off the rails and this point (Stephen King is a character in at least one of them) and the ending sounds like something that would incite me to heave the book (or my Kindle, as the case may be) against the wall. King's books that I've read tend to have that effect on me, which may be why I haven't read very many. But if you want fantasy-western, The Gunslinger is worth reading. [Amazon]
The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour: By one of the grand masters of classic western novels, this book explores what might have become of the lost Anasazi people of the southwest. I consider it paranormal rather than high fantasy, since it's set in our world and deals with things like ghosts and alternate dimensions, but I read it many years ago seem to remember enjoying it a lot, so it belongs on this list as another personal recommendation. [Amazon]
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Set in the same world as Sanderson's Mistborn series but in a later time period reminiscent of the late 19th century. High fantasy, and definitely with a western-type feel and setting, and has definite steampunk elements. I've enjoyed all of Sanderson's work I've read so far, including this. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Buck Johnson: Dragon Wrangler series by Wyatt McLaren: Cowboys, wrangling dragons. On a distant planet. What's not to love? Short, funny, entertaining fiction that's a perfect blend of western and science fiction (the dragons are actually large flying lizards native to the distant planet). Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Hunter (The Legend Chronicles, #1) by Theresa Meyers: This was suggested in a thread on Goodreads looked for fantasy-western recommendations. Mainly paranormal romance set in a steampunk version of the real world 1880's old west. Colt hunts for demons and other evil creatures; Lilly is a succubus he summons to help him on a search. She's ordered to take his soul; she has her own plans. I'm currently reading this one, and so far it's lots of fun. [Amazon]
The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson: Also recommended on that Goodreads thread. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my too-read list. Also paranormal rather than high fantasy. [Amazon]
Not fantasy or science fiction, but also western with an enjoyable twist:
The Mick and Casey stories (Have Gun, Will Play; A Fist Full of Divas; The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, and two stories in the Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! collection), by Camille LaGuire. Young married gunslingers Mick and Casey McKee solve mysteries in the old west. Mick and Casey are great characters, the old west settings are beautifully conveyed. If you enjoy putting together the pieces of a mystery in a different setting, try these. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
Bailin', by Linton Robinson. Crime caper set along the modern-day Texas-Mexico border, but with a very old-west feel to it. So funny it had me laughing in the dentist chair while I was waiting for the hygienist to come in and get to work. It has gunslingers, bounty hunters, a desperado in the person of a town treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund, and modern-day banditos (the two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart, the world's most inept drug smugglers). Also personally recommended. [Amazon]
Not a novel but a web comic/graphic novel:
Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos. Follow the mysterious Vane Black as she pursues rogue sorcerer John Henry Hunter across a fictional world based on the Old West. Western high fantasy with a good dose of steampunk, an intriguing story, and really cool art. Personally recommended. Read for free or buy collected volumes for your tablet or in paper at http://www.nexttownover.net/. (I read them on my Kindle Fire.)
Finally, check out Raymond Cook. Straightforward westerns (not with a twist) based on the historic Old West. I've met the author online and he's a genuinely nice guy and has an inspiring story of following his dreams of writing despite serious injury and disability. I haven't read any of his books yet, but he's definitely on my to-read list.
If you have any recommendations for books that are western with a twist that aren't listed here, please put them in the comments!
Part 2: Movies and TV
Part 3: Music
Snowbound, by Mark P. Kolba
Exciting fantasy short story. Lleyyanir, an elven messenger, has a vital message to deliver; at stake are the lives of thousands of innocent people. But a shortcut through the mountains turns into disaster as he's trapped in a cave with no way out. Honor struggles with necessity as he must decide whether to open the message he was given - an unforgivable crime - and learn the truth of the errand he was sent on.
Tense and exciting, with a real sense of claustrophobia as Lleyyanir comes to terms with his plight. Lleyyanir and the other characters are distinct and interesting, and just enough of the world and the back story is given to fill in the blanks without having to wade through lots of infodumping. Like all of Mr. Kolba's short fiction, the world is interesting and the characters engaging. I've enjoyed all of his short stories I've read so far, and I'm lookng forward to reading his longer works.
Lady of the Woods, by Mark P. Kolba
Cute story about magical beings living in the woods, and how sometimes a threat is only a threat if you think it is. Kind of short on plot, but as with all of Mr. Kolba's short fiction, I enjoyed spending time in his fantasy world with the engaging, interesting characters he writes.
And while I'm at it, here's a plug for Mark P. Kolba's other work. I've read "Dragon's Draught" and "The Power to Heal", and enjoyed them both muchly, and I just now bought "The Star of Amalore". You can also get all five of his stories in the collection Fantastical Tales. I'm also looking forward to reading Awakening from the Shadows, the first novel in his Mirynthir Chronicles series, and he also has an interesting-looking thriller out, Shattered.
See my main Clean Out Your eReader post for reading list and review links.
This summer I'm joining Fantasy is More Fun and Because Reading is Better Than Real Life for their Clean Out Your eReader Summer Vacation, June 21 - Sept. 5. I've heard of COYER events before, and finally decided to jump in!
It's easy - you sign up, read, and review what you read. My goal this summer is to dig down into the books that are languishing at the bottom of my Kindle, that have been there the longest. There'll be a little bit of everything, fantasy, romance, suspense - I don't even know what books I'll be reading! I'll keep a list here of the books I've read with links to my reviews. I'm hoping to read at least ten books, plus I also want to finish Tides of Midnight, Book 5 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson, which I'm reading in paperback and is really huge. And finish the revision of Daughter of the Wildings by, I want to say end of July but I'd better make it mid-August instead.
Want to join in the fun? Sign up at Fantasy is More Fun or Because Reading is Better Than Real Life through August 15 to read, see what other people are reading, and be entered to win one of two $10 Amazon or B&N gift cards!
1. Jaunten, by Honor Raconteur - review here
2. The Tease, by Nikki M. Pill - review here
3. The President's Henchman, by Joseph Flynn - review here
4. Unknown, by Chris Martin - review here
5. Princess of Persia, by Shantnu Tiwari - review here
6. Desolace, by Lucian Barnes - review here (DNF)
7. Degrees of Delusion, by Lindsay Buroker - review here
8. The Last Waltz, by G.G. Vandagriff - review here
9. A Sad, Sad Symphony, by Cristian Mihai - review here
10. The Stone in the Sword, by N.A. Roy - review here
11. Summer Storm, by Elizabeth Baxter - review here
12. Huntress Moon, by Alexandra Sokoloff - review here
13. Guardian of the Abyss, by Shannon Phoenix - review here
14. Brood of Bones, by A.E. Marling - review here
15. The Case of the Misplaced Hero, by Camille Laguire - review here
16. Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes - review here
17. All Fall Down, by Christine Pope - review here
18. Embers, by Abigail Hilton - review here
19. Snowbound, by Mark P. Kolba - review here
20. Secrets, by Liz Schulte - review here
21. Lady of the Woods, by Mark P. Kolba - review here
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