COVER REVEAL: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

How is this a cover reveal? Readers who pay far too close attention will recall that this book made my Top 10 of 2016. Well, Drake has repackaged it and re-released it last week as Part One of a trilogy. I love this cover, if I had an office, I’d have a print of it hanging next to some of Chris McGrath’s work. Anyway, here it is (new blurb for the book below, too).

Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been.

She commands the might of the constellations… though her magic is as unpredictable as the die rolls that decide its fate. But star-reckoners are humanity’s first defense against divs, so if Ashtadukht is to fulfill her duty, she must use every trick at her disposal—risks be damned.

An excuse. A lie she tells herself. All that remains of a life she should have had. She travels the empire to hunt down the div that brought her world to ruin. The longer her pursuit, the more her memories threaten to consume her. The darker her obsession becomes.

Every spell is a catastrophe waiting to happen, every div a tale of its own, every tale a thread in her tapestry of vengeance. This is the story of her path… a warning to those who would follow in her footsteps.

Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Hers is no hero’s journey.

• • •

A tale of loss and misadventure in a fantasy setting inspired by the history and culture of 6th-century Sasanian Iran.

Want more information? Here’s my original post about the book; the Q & A I did with the author, Darrel Drake; Marian L. Thorpe’s review; and one on Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews, too (both of those mentioned things I wish I did). Also, it should be noted that the book is mentioned on Reddit r/Fantasy 2017 Underread/Underrated Novel list.

Or just go buy the book, already.

Advertisements

The Blackwood Saga Books on Sale September 15-22

So yesterday I blogged about the 2nd book in The Blackwood Saga, The Spirit Mage. To commemorate the release, Layton Green is selling the first two volumes in the series for $2.99 each. If you’ve been thinking of trying the series (and you should), it’s a good time to try.

If you want to see what I said about the two, you can look here: The Brothers Three and The Spirit Mage.

The Spirit Mage by Layton Green

The Spirit MageThe Spirit Mage

by Layton Green
Series: The Blackwood Saga, #2

eARC, 386 pg.
Cloaked Traveler Press, 2017

Read: September 9 – 12, 2017


Picking up so soon after the end of The Brothers Three that it might as well just be the next chapter, The Spirit Mage continues the story of The Blackwood brothers and their companions (most of them, anyway).

There are essentially four storylines at work in these pages. There’s one focusing on the villains here — the wizards running the campaign against the rebels, the Romani, the “common born” who aren’t content to stay that way — and a spirit creature invoked to find the sword that Will’s been carrying.

Speaking of Will, he and Caleb find themselves — and Caleb’s ex, Yasmina — in the necromancer’s castle. Will and Caleb are set on returning to New Victoria to try to find a way home. Meanwhile, they have to convince Yasmina that this very strange dream is real. Soon after they set out, they are captured by slavers and are headed towards mines that no one has ever escaped from.

Meanwhile, their brother Val was escorted back to Urfe where things got immediately interesting — just in case the reader might be tempted to think that his story was going to be a repeat of The Brothers Three, Green establishes right off that such will not be the case. Anyway, the only way that Val can determine to find his brothers is to actually figure out how to use the magic he’s been trying to master. So he enrolls in the Abbey — a wizarding training college. He befriends a few wizards, gets involved in some pretty serious extra-curricular activities.

Mala disappeared during their party’s assault on the castle with a majitsu — her story is easily the least predictable, and hardest to summarize without spoiling. It’s not as interesting on the whole (primarily because we’re used to focusing on the brothers), but man, when it gets weird, it gets weird.

The Brothers Three was your basic Portal Fantasy — a little different, because most of those feature much younger characters (or at least most that I’ve read). This book was more of your typical fantasy novel — wizard in training, heroes on a quest that goes awry. It’s that the central characters don’t belong in the world. I didn’t like Val as much has his brothers last time out, but I really enjoyed his story (as stupid as he frequently was). Will and Caleb I enjoyed as much as before — maybe more. I thought Yasmina was a great addition to the series, and the way she fits into the world was a big plus.

Mala’s story didn’t end the way I thought it would, but really it had to end the way it did. The same could be said for Val’s, actually. Will and Caleb’s ended like I expected (phew! I’m one for three). Thankfully, they were all brought to satisfying points — in one case, as satisfying as a cliffhanger can be. At this point I’m pretty sure I know how things will end up, but I have no clue how Green will pull it off. I can’t wait to see, though.

It’s hard to think of this as a separate book than The Brothers Three, really. By the time book 3 comes out, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell you the difference between the two (okay, that’s not totally true — but it seems like it). Which makes it a little difficult to evaluate differently than its predecessor. Basically, if you liked the first book in the series, you’ll like this one. If not, well, this won’t change your mind. If you haven’t read The Brothers Three, you really should.

It’s honestly a little frustrating to me that I can’t think of much to say about this — but it’s so consistent with the last book that I’m going to sum things up in this post the same way I did with the other book: The Spirit Mageis well-written, skillfully structured, and well-paced — there are some nice turns of phrase throughout the novel, too. Green is the real thing, giving the readers a good story, great characters, an interesting world (or pair of them), in a well-written package. After these two books, I think I can say that this is going to turn out to be one of my favorite fantasy series in a while.

Disclaimer: I was provided with this copy for an honest review by the author.

—–

4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1
eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017
Read: August 11 – 14, 2017

I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Blue Curtain by L. G. Metcalf

The Blue CurtainThe Blue Curtain

by L. G. Metcalf
Series: The Well of Many Worlds, #1

Kindle Edition, 314 pg.
Moleyco Press, 2017

Read: September 1 – 4, 2017


I really want to say something nice about this book — I don’t like to just knock books. I don’t mind saying what I think didn’t work, but I try to find something to commend in a book. I’m just not sure what positive things I can say about The Blue Curtain.

We’ve got Mitchell, the heir of a British nobleman in 16th Century England, who begins a revolt against am improbable despot who is being manipulated by a mysterious man. One thing leads to another, and this manipulator turns Mitchell into a vampire. Almost instantly, another vampire, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez — I mean, Fionn, shows up to instruct him in the ways of vampires. He really reminded me of Ramirez from Highlander — not only does he teach him to use and understand his new abilities, but he tells him about the history of vampires and the differing and strange factions within the race. Why his maker, who is the leader of the evil cult didn’t stick around to initiate Mitchell himself, we’re only told at the end. Mitchell doesn’t join the crusade against the cult with Fionn, but does share the same goal and works with Fionn throughout his training. Time goes by, things happen, and eventually Mitchell finds himself in present day Portland, ME.

While we’ve been learning about this, we’ve also been learning about Emily — a high schooler in Portland, whose father was recently murdered. She’s not having a good time adjusting to this new reality, and like all teens in novels, she decides that she’ll find the murderer herself. Through dumb luck and recklessness, she finds the killer — but has no way to prove it to the police. She also discovers that she’s descended from necromancers and has a magical imp to train her. Sure, he’s evil and bent on destruction and death, but hey, you take whatever help you can get, right? There’s also a lot of High School Drama — where a certified Mean Girl is causing all sorts of trouble for Emily because out-of-the-blue the hunky, rich, sensitive guy is paying attention to her.

Naturally, Emily’s and Mitchell’s paths cross and it becomes clear that their goals intersect, so they team up to solve the murder, stop the evil vampires and more.

It’d be great if there was any emotional depth to these characters — the crazed, hedonist vampire who is a model of emotional shallowness is just as deep as the Emily, who can’t seem to hold on to one overriding emotion for more than a few seconds. Emily — yes, she’s under great stress, but if I’m supposed to be rooting for a character, I’d like the character to hold on to an emotional state for more than two pages.

The book could’ve used a continuity edit — there are so many hiccups throughout Mitchell’s story and vampire history in general that could’ve been cleaned up with little trouble. There wasn’t a strong authorial voice, the dialogue was frequently painful, the characters were poorly drawn and shallow.

I want to say something positive, to find the silver lining, but I can’t think of anything. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t recommend this to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Sorry about that, Mr. Metcalf.

—–

2 Stars

Camp Arcanum by Josef Matulich

Camp ArcanumCamp Arcanum

by Josef Matulich
Series: Arcanum Faire, #1

Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
Post Mortem Press, 2014

Read: August 21 – 23, 2017


So, Marc, Michael and Eleazar come to the small, university town of Arcanum, OH to set up grounds for a new Renaissance Faire on behalf of their employer. They can tell straight-off, that this isn’t your typical university town, but it takes awhile for them to understand why. Pretty much everyone in town practices magick in one form or another — and those who don’t seem pretty aware of it. This awareness seems to end around the city limits, however.

Early on, Brenwyn — the head of the local coven — stops by to ask if they can still use some of the grounds for a ritual. Seeing a way to accommodate the locals and maybe dress up the grounds, they agree. Sparks and pheromones fly between Marc and Brenwyen — Marc’s inherently leery of romantic entanglements, but his resistance starts faltering immediately and I can’t imagine any reader being stunned when he abandons it entirely.

Marc is the super-responsible crew leader, a workaholic with issues. Michael is the artistic one, ready enough to do the brawny work required on the site, but who cares more about the design. Eleazar is their loyal friend and juggler — who spends almost as much time with the prep work as he does ogling and fantasizing about the local co-eds and/or harassing Michael and Marc about their love lives/lack thereof/anything else he can think of. He’s a lot of fun, really. Michael was fine, but I could’ve used some more time with him to really get a handle on his character. Marc is the readers point-of-entry into this world, it’s his eyes that we see the world through.

Brenwyn is sassy, saucy and an outrageous flirt. The members of her coven are loyal, and just about as sassy as their Head. There’s a warlock running around who is some sort of ex- to her, and that’s the nicest thing that could be said about him, so we’ll stop there. The thing is that in this world, magick exists, it’s real, and many people live with knowing that (more without knowing that).

While work progresses on the Faire-grounds, a rivalry of sorts gets underway — with Brenwyn, Marc and the others on one side, and Drenmwyn’s ex- and his acolytes on the other. And it all seems to be focused on Marc, which he can’t seem to figure out. Oh, and there are demons, and other assorted supernatural beings flitting around. Our working men, and the coven leader, have to unite to try to stop the ex- (as well as other nefarious beings in the area).

Early on, I felt like Matulich was trying just a little too hard with the quasi-sibling rivalry between Michael and Eleazar, and even with the flirtation between Marc and — well, everyone. It was like he was insecure about things and was trying to make sure his readers understood things were amusing, rather than trusting his writing. If he’d dialed back about 10-20% early on, it would’ve helped me appreciate things. I either acclimated to his writing style, or he dialed back, I’m not sure which — not sure it matters. It didn’t take too long to settle in to Matulich’s style and start chuckling at his characters and writing.

This was a fun read — off-beat, humorous, with some characters you want to spend time with, with an interesting magic — sorry, magick — system. There’s a sequel to out there, and after reading this, you’ll probably be hoping that there’s more in progress, too. A thoroughly enjoyable, light read, with just a hint of darkness.

—–

3 Stars

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1

eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017

Read: August 11 – 14, 2017


I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars