A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Devri Walls

Ages ago (it seems), Devri Walls stopped by to talk about her stand-alone The Wizard’s Heir, and gave us a little taste of her upcoming series, Venators (including a cover that I don’t think I ever saw again). Since then, I’ve actually spoken to her at book store events and a comic convention (sat in on a couple of her panels, too). At the book launch for her most recent book, Venators: Promises Forged, (see my earlier post) she did a Q&A that got a couple of questions percolating in the back of my mind. Before I knew it, I had enough for one of these posts and Devri was able to find a time to answer them.

Before I get to the Q&A, a word about that book launch — Devri seems to have a good number of solid fans, it’s encouraging to see — from a wide age-range, too. She had more people in the front row of her reading than were in the audience of the last reading I’d been to at Rediscovered Books (and that author had one of the major publishing houses behind him) — and she had some Facebook live viewers, too. It’s good to see an indie author getting that kind of support.

As is usual when I get a second shot with someone, we got a little more into details of the particular book/series in question—but I don’t think you have to be a Venators-reader to appreciate these answers. Check them out and then go grab her books.

You’ve talked about how everyone’s favorite character is Beltran (I demur), given his appeal/popularity—how hard is it to keep him from taking over the series? How are you going about that?
This book is different in that there really are a lot of main players. This is going to allow Beltran to have a large role, and you’re going to see him really stepping into that in book three. But yes, he cannot take over. I think the key when working with strong supporting characters is that although they can have a heavy-handed part in the story, at the end of the day, they can’t be the hero. They can assist the hero, they can motivate the hero, they can set up a hero, but they can’t actually “pull the trigger”, so to speak. Given who Beltran is this will be tricky, but it has to be done in order for the climax to feel satisfactory to the readers.
Let’s talk about names for a minute: there’s a lot of creativity and strangeness in names (up to Rune from Earth), but then you give us Tate. An oddly Earthy name. Is that just to mess with people? I’ve always wondered, but never asked anyone—how do you come up with character names? Is the process different per series/world/book?
This made me laugh! No, I was not trying to just mess with you. Although I will admit to giving the giant race ridiculously human names because it amused me. However I promise to keep it consistent. With Tate on the other hand, he is part Venator, which means he’s part human. It made sense to me that given the backstory of this world and its connection to earth that there would be human names floating around both in the human villages as well as the Venators.

When it comes to choosing names there is there rare occasion that I will just completely make a name up, but for the most part I lean heavily on baby name websites. People are ever disappointed when I give this answer because they think that we authors pull all of these things out of our heads. The thing I looove about the baby name websites is that I can sort the results. For example, I can choose to look at old Scottish names specifically or only Norse names. This allows me to keep a consistent feel through an entire story, or in a book like Venators, a consistent feel within different species.

Normally before I even start a book I will visit baby name websites. Trying to choose names is both a time suck and a momentum killer for me. If I have a list of names both male and female that I have decided I like ready to go, then I have a very short list to reference when I add a new character.

Talk to me a little more about Arwin the wizard. First, how am I not supposed to think about Liv Tyler/the Lady of Rivendell? Secondly, the brilliant character who probably knows more about what’s going on than anyone, but plays the doddering, clumsy fool is a mainstay. How hard is it to pull that character off convincingly? And why have you gone that route with him—is it just because that’s more interesting than the super-powerful, all wise type?
I think anytime you’re working with a genre like fantasy there’s always going to be things that remind you of other stories. It’s, dare I say, almost unavoidable. But instead of fighting this, I did lean into the tropes on purpose. I wanted to play on the idea that all the stories and legends we tell today originated in Eon. In order to do that some of the threads needed to feel very familiar, while others I purposely twisted. Just like in the game telephone the end result will have some aspects of truth and some other things that have drifted far from the truth. That’s the basis that I was working from when deciding lore and chapter traits to keep or leave.

As far as Arwin’s character is concerned, I did choose to portray him as doddering very specifically. I needed to balance the story. When you look at the council you have a werewolf, vampire, incubus, succubus, elf, fae and wizard. From that list, three characters are very intense and serious. One of the characters is cruel and although she think she has a sense of humor, it’s dark and malevolent. Two of the characters have the ability to break tension in a scene but the sexual themes that run through that tension break is only sustainable for so long. And although all of these characters are much, much deeper than their facades, it’s the facades that they must present at the council house in order to keep themselves and their own people safe. Which means that by default every council scene will become unavoidably stifling. I needed someone to diffuse the situation and add a lightness to the writing. Thus, Arwin’s portrayal was born. Now, we are too early in the edits so I can’t guarantee that this scene will stay, but in book three we get a delightful taste of Arwin dropping that part of himself and showing the reader exactly what he is capable in a Council meeting by breaking up a argument between Dimitri and Silen. I think both you and the readers will be very happy with the result.

Now that you’ve told me about it, the scene has to stay. At the very least it needs to be included as a cut scene in an appendix. Or there will be rioting in the streets! (assuming I can figure out how to instigate one)

Can you tell me about the timeline for this series? A lot has happened in less than 2 weeks in Eon (assuming my memory/math is right), your poor characters have barely been able to catch their breath—are you planning on some kind of time jump? Is it going to keep going at this pace?

I’m a big believer in whatever timeline is natural and working for the story is the timeline that I’m going to use. Most of my work has always been a continual line without a lot of time jumping. For the first few books in the series I expect that will continue with small time jumps added to account for travel days. When we get past book five, I suspect we may need a time jump and some summarization of their day to day life when their world is not completely falling apart. But yes, overall I take it as it comes and I like a very logical and linear progression.
At the book launch, you talked a lot about what you’ve got worked out for the future in terms of plot and character—but I want to look at the world. How much of Eon have you mapped out (mentally or literally), do you know this world’s geography or is it more of a case of “I need an area like X, I’ll put it overrrrrr…here!”
Oh geography, I hate geography. Maps really do hurt my head. By happy accident I made a new writer friend who looooves making maps. So much so that she actually sat down with me and offered to map out the first general idea of Eon. It was very basic. However, as I’ve been writing book three and thinking through the plot points for the next couple of books, I realized that in order to set things up properly the geography absolutely had to be handled. Almost all of the council members areas have now been mapped out with the exception of Tashara and Shax for reasons I will explain in another book. But yes, there is actually a solid map on my wall now and despite the process causing me an aneurysm, I do really like the end result. Having something solid to refer to has been great. I definitely see the advantage to mapping things out at the start of the story and will probably move more toward doing that earlier in future projects.
I’m glad you were able to find some time in your hectic schedule for these answers and hope Promises Forged is a big success (and that you survive the editing process for #3!)
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Venators: Promises Forged by Devri Walls: Out of the Frying Pan and into the . . . Clutches of a Life Siphoning Fae?

Venators: Promises ForgedVenators: Promises Forged

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #2


Paperback, 428 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2019

Read: May 3 – 7, 2019

I’m about a month late with this one — every time I sat down to write it, I decided I wanted to chew on things a bit more (and then I arranged to do a Q&A with the author in conjunction with the post and so I bought myself some time to let things stew while she found time to get the answers done). Now that I have her answers in my inbox, I have no excuse to put this off. So, despite some of my thoughts still being half-baked, here we go…

And yes, that was one very convoluted series of food metaphors. That really doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this post, does it?

So the ending of the previous book (Venators: Magic Unleashed) focused on a dragon being unleashed by the series’ (apparent) Big Bad, the sorceress Zio. Not surprisingly, the series central characters survived the encounter. This book starts with a quick recap of that survival from the point of view of Zio — which is a great way to get the reader back into the moment and build on their understanding of what happened and Zio.

We quickly return to our Earthlings, Grey and Rune and the aftermath of their unauthorized excursion to rescue humans from a werewolf pack, which culminated in the aforementioned dragon attack. Rune’s proving to be a quick study of Council politics and was able to turn things to their advantage and buy them some leniency from the Council. The ways the two humans respond to and interact with Council members is pretty interesting and I suspect will be one of the more interesting developments from this point forward in the series. I suspect the Venator abilities that make these two the warriors they are in this world are in play with Rune’s politicking — no one mentions mental acuity when talking about Venator abilities, but maybe they should. Watching Rune play the games (both successfully and less-so) that the various Council members throw her way is probably my favorite part of the character.

And she has to do a lot of politicking and game playing here, because her co-Venator and friend Grey has found himself in quite the pickle. After their ordeal with the werewolves, the two Earthlings’ need for training was even more apparent. They get just a little of it (a good, promising start) before getting momentarily side-tracked. Before they get a chance to build on that, Grey is lured into the one place the two have been told they absolutely cannot go. Because forbidding people from going somewhere always works out (how many Hogwarts students stayed out of the forest? How long did Belle stay out of the West Wing? Even the Federation had to know that forbidding landing on Talos IV wouldn’t work for long).

Grey has found himself in the clutches of a powerful Fae, Feena. Feena will spend days/weeks/years sucking the life out of her prisoners to feed her own magics. Given that Grey is more powerful than your typical Eonian, you know she’ll drag it out as long as possible. It’s a torturous experience for Grey, but he does what he can to resist and fight back. On the one hand, watching him stupidly and blindly put himself in this situation was maddening. But after that, watching Grey endure what he has to and struggle in response is pretty cool. As much as I appreciate Rune’s playing politics, I enjoy watching Grey in action.

So the book boils down to this — can Rune get permission to run a rescue mission — or at the very least, find a window in which she can pull off another unauthorized mission? Can Grey survive long enough for the cavalry to arrive? Assuming they do, how can Grey be rescued and the Venators get back to their training without causing a diplomatic incident that will shake up everything?

The actions of the Venators’ guides, teachers, allies confuse me. They’ve got these two kids in a world they clearly don’t understand, with abilities they don’t understand and then expect them to react appropriately in new situations. Even worse, all of them are keeping things from Grey and Rune — telling them half-truths, deflecting legitimate questions and delaying explanations. It’s maddening. It’s bad enough that the Council, who are clearly only using these two for their own ends do that, but the people who supposedly are looking to them to change the world? A little honesty, being a little forthcoming, helping them to avoid the minefields they keep running into rather than saying “oh, you shouldn’t have done that” — it would make it a lot easier for this reader to stomach them.

The Council? I need to see more of them. I have little patience for them as individuals or as an entity at the moment, but as individuals and as an entity there’s great potential for something interesting to happen. Feena’s a good villain — she’s not worth several books, but for one novel? She’s a good opponent. The Fae? It’s simple — any universe, any world, any author — when it comes to Fae politics, Fae dealings with other Fae, Fae dealings with non-Fae? It’s complicated, tricky and messy. It’s good to know you can count on something.

So much is happening in a very short period of time, it’s hard to know what kind of impact the events are having on anyone — it’s been less than two weeks since these two jumped into this world, leaving St. Louis behind. It’s hard for them — or a reader — to really take it all in. We do know that already both Venators are changing because of their abilities (as well as the experiences in this new world) — both are self-aware enough to see how it’s happening (at least in part) and are both resisting and embracing the changes. Both are, naturally, deluded about how easy it will be to resist this kind of thing — denial’s not just a river on Earth.

I’m enjoying these books — I do hope that under the new publisher, they’re able to come out pretty regularly, it’ll help sustain my interest (and, I’m guessing, the reading public’s). I know that Walls has several more books planned, so it makes it okay that I’m still on the fence about the series as a whole — there’s a lot of potential to the series and these characters and she has time to help them reach their potential. There are aspects of the books (the prospective — and lingering — romantic entanglements, for example) that I’m withholding an opinion on until more happens. And I’m not sure if I should appreciate how little we’re getting with Zio and Rune’s brother, or if it should annoy me. Is Walls building suspense, or is she simply being obfuscatory? I’m hoping that after Book 3, I’ll be more settled with my expectations about these books — I know I’m enjoying them, I’m just not sure if I should wait on them getting better.

An interesting world, great characters (even if they frustrate me), good action — and a fast moving plot. This YA fantasy is a crowd pleaser, I’m sure of that — you should join the crowd.

—–

3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls: Welcome to Eon in this Promising YA Fantasy Introduction

Venators: Magic UnleashedVenators: Magic Unleashed

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #1

Paperback, 354 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2018
Read: April 17 – 18, 2019

Back in 2016, I read and blogged about Venators: Through the Arch, which was later picked up by a new publisher, given a re-write, a spiffy new cover, and was re-born as Venators: Magic Unleashed. I haven’t read that old post in a long time, and won’t until I finish with this one, I’m only linking out of habit. I hate to say it, but I remember very little about the original version of this book beyond a vague grasp of the plot outline, some vague notions of characters and an overall positive regard. Oh, and a strong interest in volume two. This revamped version is stronger, with some of the rough edges smoothed out, and strengths sharpened. Brown Books and Walls made good use of the relaunch. But let’s set aside the comparisons and focus on Magic Unleashed.

This is a portal fantasy about a world called Eon, populated by humans, elves, vampires, werewolves, elves, dragons, etc. There are connections between Earth and Eon, allowing travel between the two — although they’re not as strong as they once were. It turns out some humans from Earth have a certain invulnerability to the kinds of magic employed by the various races (like a werewolf or vampire bite, but not, say, an invulnerability to a werewolf tearing off their head). Thee humans also have other enhanced physical attributes allowing them to go toe-to-toe in combat with members of these races. Which has made these humans a powerful force for good, and a potentially tyrannical force as well. Eon’s known more of the latter lately, which has led to a lack of recruitment.

But now, society’s on the verge of collapse into chaos, warring tribes trying to wipe out other races in a fight for dominance, and the end of law. So some people have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce these humans, Venators, to Eon. Enter Tate, a warrior who is convinced that Venators are the key to Eon’s survival — he’s been to Earth before, and now returns to bring back some people he observed then. Six years ago, he encountered a young teen named Grey Malteer — who was forever changed by their brief encounter. Now in college, Grey is about as well-read in the lore of the supernatural and weird as is possible for someone to be while stuck on Earth and not being known as a crackpot (although he’s regarded as pretty eccentric, probably well on his way to crack-pot status).

An acquaintance of his from childhood, now attending the same college, Rune Jenkins is repulsed by the same things that Grey is focused on (while also drawn to them). Rune is totally unprepared to accept that the supernatural is anything but wild fiction until she’s attacked by goblins and rescued by a large blue man (the aforementioned Tate). Which really can only make her a believer — or drive her to some sort of psychotic break. Thankfully, she goes with the former. Tate brings Rune and Grey into Eon and sets before them the calling of Venator.

To oversimplify things: from here out, the two are introduced to this world, the beings that populate it, the political realities that govern it (and see them only as pawns), and they begin to embrace their new identities, while engaging in a brief battle or two. While Rune and Grey are introduced to all this, so is the reader — and it’s clearly the point of this book — to bring the reader and these two into Eon, give us all a taste of what’s to come and help us get to know the players. There is a clear plotline and definite story here — don’t get me wrong — but the major function is to provide a foundation for things to come.

The book would have to be a lot longer to serve as anything other than an introduction — the ruling council alone is made up of enough characters we’d need a few more chapters to really get to know them and their goals — although they can be summed up in lust for power and influence for themselves and their race to the possible detriment of every other council member/race. Then you throw in Tate; his allies (however temporary) the vampire Veridia and the shapeshifter Beltran; the two humans; and the council’s enemy, Zio — and really, you’ve got enough players that you really can only skim the surface with in 354 pages.

We get to know Grey and Rune enough to see they’re well-developed and three-dimensional, and many of the rest show signs of being that developed, but we don’t get to see that fully displayed — but we see enough to know that given the opportunity, the characters will be easily fleshed out. One thing I noted in particular while reading this is just how many seeds Walls planted in the characters and situations to come back to in future installments. This foundation is built in such a way that several books can be built on it — it’s really impressive to note.

Yes, this is written for the YA market, so there’s a bit more action than others might use. There’s a focus on certain kinds of emotional beats, and that sort of thing. But it’s more of an accent to the storytelling than other writers would’ve made it. For some reason, Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter series and Brandon Mull’s Beyonders Trilogy come to mind as I think about similar series — but the YA-ness of both of those comes through more strongly than it does with this book.

Book Two, Venators: Promises Forged releases today, and I’m hoping to start it in a day or two — I’m looking forward to seeing how Walls takes all these ideas, characters, and potential and develops them. This is a good starting point, and what comes next can’t help but be better when she can focus more on exploring the world she’s created and shown us rather than just establishing it here. This is a good book and I do encourage people to read it, but its foundational nature should be borne in mind.

—–

3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Pub Day Repost: No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019
Read: March 9 – 12, 2019

As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith: A Funny, Fresh Take on a Police-filled Portal Fantasy

Breaking the LoreBreaking the Lore

by Andy Redsmith
Series: Inspector Paris Mystery, #1

eARC, 321 pg.
Canelo, 2019
Read: April 3 – 5, 2019

Inspector Nick Paris is your all too typical cynical, bitter, hard-drinking, chain-smoking police detective, and his world is being rocked. The latest corpse he’s been brought out to see and investigate the circumstances around the death is that of a fairy. The tiny, impossibly good looking, humanoid with wings kind of fairy. While still trying to wrap his mind around how that was possible, a crow (named Malbus) flies into his house demanding, demanding a smoke and talking to him about the murdered fairy. Not long after this, he’s visited by an elf and a rock troll (Tergil and Rocky).

And that’s just Day One of his new reality.

Essentially, there’s a connection between our world and the world of all these magical beings — a portal of sorts that those who desire to can travel between the two (or people and animals can stumble through unintentionally). For all sorts of great reasons, the magical creatures/folk kept their existence from humanity — and let what humans know fade into myth and legend. But something’s happened in their world, and those who are over here have to come seeking help (in terms of political asylum) and possibly even letting humanity in on what’s going on around them.

This is a little beyond Paris’ typical caseload, but he and his Superintendent, a no-nonsense woman named Thorpe, respond very well to these new challenges — dragging other officers and even the army along with them. They are obviously relying on the advice and guidance of the magical creatures — Tergil in particular (although Malbus makes sure his input is heard, too). They also recruit a local supernatural expert — Cassandra, a self-styled witch that no one in the police would’ve given any credence to if not for this new reality.

As fun as Paris, Tergil and Malbus are, Cassandra is a delight. She’s wise, insightful, and has a fantastic sense of humor — she might be harder for Paris to cope with than fairies, dwarves, and trolls. I shouldn’t forget Paris’ Sergeant Bonetti — he’s loyal, strong, brave and probably not as mentally quick as he should be. He’s also the target of near-constant mockery from his superior. I’m not sure why he puts up with the abuse, but I found myself laughing at it. When the fate of multiple worlds is on the line, it’s these few who will stand strong in Manchester, England to keep everyone safe.

I can think of as many reasons that this is a lousy comparison to make as I can to make it — but throughout Breaking the Lore I kept thinking about Chrys Cymri’s Penny White books. There’ll be a big overlap in the Venn diagram of Fans of Penny White and Fans of Inspector Paris. I’m sure there are other comparisons that are as apt, or more so — but this is the one that I kept coming back to for some reason.

I had so much fun reading this book, Redsmith has a way with words that makes me think it really doesn’t matter what story he decided to tell — I’d want to read it. He was able to express the seriousness of the situation, while never stopping (either narratively or through the characters) the quips, jokes and sense of fun. There’s an infectious charm to the prose and characters that easily overcomes whatever drawbacks the novel has. I’m not saying this is a novel filled with problems, it’s just that I woudn’t care about most of them thanks to the voice.

Now, Redsmith’s wit does have an Achilles’ heel — puns. Redsmith is an inveterate punster, and will hit you with them when you least expect it. Now me? I love a good pun — and I hate them at the same time. Maybe you know what I mean. I cackled at pretty much all of them (frequently audibly), but I hated both myself and Redsmith for it. You know those, Pearls Before Swine strips where Rat beats up Stephan Pastis because of the very carefully constructed pun? Yeah, this book is a series of those moments (but he rarely gives the setup Pastis does, usually it’s a quick sucker punch).

There are many other points I’d intended to make, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. This novel is silly, goofy, intelligent, charming — with a fresh take on a great idea. You’ll find yourself enjoying Paris, Cassandra, Malbus, Tergil and the rest. I can see a few different ways that Redsmith takes Book Two, and I’m looking forward to seeing which one he picks (probably none of my ideas). But before that happens, I’m just going to relish the fun that Breaking the Lore was and encourage you all to go buy and read it for yourself.

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

—–

4 Stars

Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith: A Funny, Fresh Take on a Police-filled Portal Fantasy

Breaking the LoreBreaking the Lore

by Andy Redsmith
Series: Inspector Paris Mystery, #1

eARC, 321 pg.
Canelo, 2019

Read: April 3 – 5, 2019


Inspector Nick Paris is your all too typical cynical, bitter, hard-drinking, chain-smoking police detective, and his world is being rocked. The latest corpse he’s been brought out to see and investigate the circumstances around the death is that of a fairy. The tiny, impossibly good looking, humanoid with wings kind of fairy. While still trying to wrap his mind around how that was possible, a crow (named Malbus) flies into his house demanding, demanding a smoke and talking to him about the murdered fairy. Not long after this, he’s visited by an elf and a rock troll (Tergil and Rocky).

And that’s just Day One of his new reality.

Essentially, there’s a connection between our world and the world of all these magical beings — a portal of sorts that those who desire to can travel between the two (or people and animals can stumble through unintentionally). For all sorts of great reasons, the magical creatures/folk kept their existence from humanity — and let what humans know fade into myth and legend. But something’s happened in their world, and those who are over here have to come seeking help (in terms of political asylum) and possibly even letting humanity in on what’s going on around them.

This is a little beyond Paris’ typical caseload, but he and his Superintendent, a no-nonsense woman named Thorpe, respond very well to these new challenges — dragging other officers and even the army along with them. They are obviously relying on the advice and guidance of the magical creatures — Tergil in particular (although Malbus makes sure his input is heard, too). They also recruit a local supernatural expert — Cassandra, a self-styled witch that no one in the police would’ve given any credence to if not for this new reality.

As fun as Paris, Tergil and Malbus are, Cassandra is a delight. She’s wise, insightful, and has a fantastic sense of humor — she might be harder for Paris to cope with than fairies, dwarves, and trolls. I shouldn’t forget Paris’ Sergeant Bonetti — he’s loyal, strong, brave and probably not as mentally quick as he should be. He’s also the target of near-constant mockery from his superior. I’m not sure why he puts up with the abuse, but I found myself laughing at it. When the fate of multiple worlds is on the line, it’s these few who will stand strong in Manchester, England to keep everyone safe.

I can think of as many reasons that this is a lousy comparison to make as I can to make it — but throughout Breaking the Lore I kept thinking about Chrys Cymri’s Penny White books. There’ll be a big overlap in the Venn diagram of Fans of Penny White and Fans of Inspector Paris. I’m sure there are other comparisons that are as apt, or more so — but this is the one that I kept coming back to for some reason.

I had so much fun reading this book, Redsmith has a way with words that makes me think it really doesn’t matter what story he decided to tell — I’d want to read it. He was able to express the seriousness of the situation, while never stopping (either narratively or through the characters) the quips, jokes and sense of fun. There’s an infectious charm to the prose and characters that easily overcomes whatever drawbacks the novel has. I’m not saying this is a novel filled with problems, it’s just that I woudn’t care about most of them thanks to the voice.

Now, Redsmith’s wit does have an Achilles’ heel — puns. Redsmith is an inveterate punster, and will hit you with them when you least expect it. Now me? I love a good pun — and I hate them at the same time. Maybe you know what I mean. I cackled at pretty much all of them (frequently audibly), but I hated both myself and Redsmith for it. You know those, Pearls Before Swine strips where Rat beats up Stephan Pastis because of the very carefully constructed pun? Yeah, this book is a series of those moments (but he rarely gives the setup Pastis does, usually it’s a quick sucker punch).

There are many other points I’d intended to make, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. This novel is silly, goofy, intelligent, charming — with a fresh take on a great idea. You’ll find yourself enjoying Paris, Cassandra, Malbus, Tergil and the rest. I can see a few different ways that Redsmith takes Book Two, and I’m looking forward to seeing which one he picks (probably none of my ideas). But before that happens, I’m just going to relish the fun that Breaking the Lore was and encourage you all to go buy and read it for yourself.

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

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4 Stars

No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne is a very foine booke that surpässes the original while showing full respect to the umlaut

I’ve tweaked and retweaked this to the point that I can’t read it any more. Hope it’s mostly coherent.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Series: The Tales of Pell, Book #2

eARC, 352 pg.
Del Rey, 2019

Read: March 9 – 12, 2019


As much as I loved 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy — and talked about it everywhere and repeatedly — I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to pick up the sequel. There’s no way it would be as good, the humor would be a little stale, and the whole approach wouldn’t seem as novel. Still, I knew curiosity would get the better of me — and it’d still have its moments. Also, I’m not at the point where I can live in a world with a Kevin Hearne book in print that I haven’t read.

I was so, so wrong. Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?”

So this book happens in different corner of the kingdom than Farm Boy did. The Skylar is a choice piece of the land that is home to two diminutive races — halflings and gnomes. Gnomes want to live in their nice little homes, tinker with their little projects and inventions, and wear brightly colored cardigans (well, there was one gnome who wanted to wear a black cardigan, but let’s leave that aside for now). The halflings have found their government hijacked by criminals and those particular halflings are waging a war of sorts on the gnomes, driving them from their homes for unknown reasons. Driven by desperation, two of these displaced gnomes are part of our questing party here. A halfling — committed to (some may say obsessed with) the law that is being ignored by his people is another member of the party.

These three join themselves to an ovitaur named Agape — an ovitaur is like a faun, but is humanoid with sheep characteristics (feet, legs, ears, etc). She’s the last of a long family line serving as teh guardians of a rare treasure, and needs guidance. A gryphon, named Gerd, outcast from his people has been accompanying the halfling for some time, but is devoted to protecting Agape now. The last member of the party is a dwarf named Båggi Biins. Båggi is on his Meadschpringå — a time when young dwarves leave their homes to purge the violence from themselves so they can return to their homes to pursue an ascetic life of creativity. He joins the others certain that journeying with them, protecting them along their way will provide all the outlet required to use his violence in a noble cause.

Their quest? To go to the Great Library, where the founding documents of the gnomeric and halfling civilizations are located — which should prove invaluable to re-establish the peace and help the two societies get along. Agape should find resources to direct her in her guardianship, and hopefully provide Gerd with the proof that he broke no laws of the gryphons.

The fact that most people on Pell consider the Great Library to be a myth shouldn’t be taken as an argument against this quest. What better place than a possibly mythical library to provide the answers they seek?

While these characters are on their quest, working for peace — the king and his advisor are trying to solve the problems between the halflings and gnomes in a more direct approach. We also see (briefly in most cases) other characters from Farm Boy. We see just enough to know how things are going for them some months later — and on the whole, it’s just as you’d hoped/expected it to be for them. It is not essential to have read the previous volume to get 95% of this book. It’s safe to hand this one off to family, friends and coworkers who are wondering what you’re cackling about without making them do homework first.

Along the way, these characters meet a cult of cabbage worshipers, who have the ability to read prophecies in the vegetables; some very frightening mermaids (that look nothing like anything anyone expects); a very Tom Bombadil-esque character (and a few other Tolkien-inspired jokes). As in Farm Boy, the authors manage to use these ideas as sources of comedy and to propel the plot along in meaningful ways. Similarly, they use racial and personal characteristics of the characters to play with, play against and mock genre standards. But almost none of the characters are mere jokes, they’re well-developed characters that happen to be able to comedic. This is not an easy balance to achieve — and Hearne and Dawson are almost flawless on this front.

For example, gryphons are convinced that they perceive greater nuance and details in colors, sounds, tastes and the like and adjust their pronunciation of words via capital letters, umlauts and extra syllables. Gerd’s dialogue is littered with these. It starts off as a joke that just won’t stop, and instead of it getting tired or annoying (which I assumed it would), it becomes just part of the way that Gerd talks. His own particular dialect, that occasionally will strike you as amusing — maybe even just funny occasionally. I wouldn’t say it’s because the authors show restraint with it, employing it just when needed to keep it funny. Quite the reverse, they seemingly take the approach of drowning you in the joke, figuring that it’ll be funny often enough to justify it.

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to skip chapter titles. Doing so with The Tales of Pell would be a mistake. The titles are long, fitting, and insanely goofy. The only thing better are the chapter epigraphs I imagine the drafts going back and forth between the authors, each trying to top the other with the next chapter title/epigraph. And generally succeeding.

These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy — as is right, because they are funny. But as anyone who’s read other works by Dawson and Hearne know, they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss — and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

In case I haven’t made it clear here, Dawson and Hearne knocked it out of the park here. I thought Kill the Farm Boy was outstanding, and No Country for Old Gnomes surpassed it on every front. I don’t expect that the third volume of The Tales of Pell will continue this trend — but I’m more than open to being proven wrong next year. But for 2019? I’m just going to revel in the goodness — the laughs, the pathos, the excitement — brought by this adventure and the wonderful cast of characters. Get your hands on this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I really appreciate it.

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4 1/2 Stars