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+.
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