Categories
Fantasy

Obsidian (ARC Review) by Sarah J Daley

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the free early digital copy of Obsidian by Sarah J Daley! All opinions are my own!

This is an adult (18+) fantasy novel set on a vaguely Italian feeling island; it is rich in world building and magic.  I read it fairly quickly and even though it can read as a standalone I definitely hope a second book is on the way

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Obsidian
  • Series: N/A?
  • Author: Sarah J Daley
  • Publisher & Release:  Angry Robot, 01/25/22
  • Length: 400 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of adult sword & sorcery fantasy

Here is the synopsis:

Shade Nox is the only witch in a land of wizards – a fiend, a rogue, a wanted criminal.

Defying those who think her an abomination, Shade wears her tattoos openly and carries obsidian blades at her hips. For years, she has protected the outcast clans who wander the blighted Wastes, but the land is growing more unstable and her blades are no longer enough.

To save her people, Shade vows to raise a Veil of protection – a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the magical Veils are said to belong to the Brotherhood church; if she succeeds in raising one, it will expose their lies. They swear to see her obliterated first.

Treading a dangerous path where allies can be as deceitful as enemies, and where demons lurk in the shadows, Shade chases a vision which could lead to her people’s salvation… or her own destruction.

There is definitely a lot to unpack with this book and for my current purposes I am assuming it’s a standalone

Let’s talk about the world building first:  if this is a standalone I think it had a perfect amount of world building.  Daley went pretty deep into the history of  Malavita.  She told us what we need to know about the war between the native peoples, the history of magic use, and how certain rituals were learned and eventually corrupted.  I really appreciated this storyline.

On a micro level she also did a great job describing the mood of various areas, the culture in different small groups, food and drink, weather and architecture.

I liked that small things were included like a character’s ambivalence toward cats, because they were susceptible to the blighted magic.

What I wanted more of: the Brotherhood’s history and how the religion developed widely enough that the four faces, the hidden, and the wild are consistent across the island.

As part of the setting and atmosphere, I did feel like the tone for each area was set with lush descriptions, temperature, sights and smells, and these things were consistent.  My favorite area was the glass fields.

For all of that, the book maintains a fast pace with plenty of action too.

Character wise: The main character is Shade Nox, a blood magic user who wields obsidian blades. She reminded me a lot of Mia Corvere because she takes crap from no one and is terrified of horses.  She is able to touch a hidden element of magic.  Apparently it is not normal in this world for women to be magic users or have the tattoos so Shade was an anomaly, ostracized, and wanted for various crimes.  She was bad ass and super powerful but also vulnerable, and had a tendency to fall in love with and/or seduce like … everyone she is in intimate proximity with.

This created a weird dynamic at the end of the book and all felt very unnecessary, but it’s adult fantasy and properly advertised as such, so characters can do what they want.   

The other main character is Raiden, who was stuck somewhere between duty and having a good heart and I liked him a lot.  He definitely had some innate unnatural ability but it was never explored, just hinted at, so I definitely needed more of that and docked a star for it.  That said, that’s where I wonder if there will be a sequel.

The other characters are numerous but each contributes something meaningful.  Many have interesting stories, abilities, and snark for days.

The magic system: there’s an interesting back story for the magic.  Veils are used to protect cities from the wild and corrupted magic of the wastes, and obviously there are corrupt people too, almost like a magical mafia of priests and mages that tax and tithe the people into poverty

The blood wizards (and witch) use blades of different gemstones and materials to designate how powerful they are. Tattoo magic is also incorporated as they serve as healing wards after the mage has performed blood magic. I definitely think the magic was the book’s strongest element – it tended to be over the top at times but who doesn’t love a grandiose display of elemental magic?

I feel like I did a lot of summary so here are my thoughts: The magic, characters, history, and world building all tie together and make this an enjoyable read. These story elements combine for a consistent feel where I can understand the character’s motivations and root for them within the world. It moved along quickly.  I like the theme of women defying social boundaries (tattoos, clothing choices, etc), and love that ink is making it’s way into fantasy more now.

One totally random stylistic thing that I absolutely loved was that Daley used a pretty wide range of vocab words like ‘hummocky’ and ‘cerestory’, so I was able to learn something while reading!

Overall I definitely recommend this one for fans of adult fantasy with big magic and big personality!

Lastly: the author is doing a Sunday Brunch interview which should feature at the end of the month!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Nicolas Samuel Lietzau

Welcome back to GrimDarkTober month on the Sunday Brunch Series! Episode 11 is a super special feature featuring German author Nicolas Samuel Lietzau! 

Most people recognize him as the writer of Enderal: The Forgotten stories – a Skyrim mod that has a huge following.  I fell off the gaming planet years ago and therefore am so glad and grateful that he reached out about his debut novel: Dreams of the Dying.  Obviously I am equally, if not more grateful that he agreed to join for an SBS interview!

While DotD is a book set in the Enderal world, I can promise that you don’t need the game to love the book, and certainly not to enjoy reading this amazing interview!  Read on to learn a bit about the book and the author, as well as a great discussion on world building, mental health, comically short relationships,  and much much more!

Enough from me – here he is!


🖤Welcome to the SBaiS! Tell us a random interesting fact about yourself!
 
🎤I’m a bit of a health nut. Also, I recently started a band, Neochrome. If I hadn’t become a writer, I would have tried my luck as a musician.
 
🖤 Can you tell me something off the beaten path that has intrigued you recently? That’s my favorite line from the author bio
 
🎤 There were several rather tragic things, but I’ll stick to something positive: I recently moved to a mountain village near Barcelona and went for a run in the nearby national park, where I got lost and suddenly found a broken-down car in the middle of the woods. No idea how it got there, but it certainly intrigued me.
 
{{In the spirit of GrimDarkTober, I wonder if something tragic happened to the vehicle’s owner! How curious}}
 
🖤 So your Enderal books are a prequel to the video game – is it challenging to write within a world with predefined boundaries?  Would it be easier or harder to create your own brand new world (and is that a plan in the future)?
 
🎤It’s definitely challenging, but I already took an important step by separating the novel canon from the game canon (while remaining faithful to the game best as I can). There are a lot of undefined areas in the Vyn universe – such as the dystopian dark age between the end of the Pyrayans and the advent of the Lightborn – which I plan to flesh out in the next two books. Even so, I’m looking forward to creating a brand-new story world in the future – in fact, I already have some ideas floating around in my mind.
 
🖤The world building in DotD was pretty intense, and equally so was the character build. Did you try to lean more towards a world or character driven story, or was the mix always there?
 
🎤I’d say characters – or rather, tragedies – always come first. A recent review criticized that the “world is the protagonist in Dreams of the Dying,” which frankly surprised me. I do enjoy world building, but to me, a well-realized and coherent world is simply due diligence. Just like I do my research when writing about experiences that weren’t my own by reading autobiographies and collaborating with people, I do my research on mythology, geography, linguistics, et cetera.
 
🖤Because you travel quite a bit – do you see a relationship between people who like to travel and are passionate about culture, and their level of world-building interest?  I would love to poll people who travel vs people who don’t, about their reading interests
 
🎤That’s an interesting question. Honestly, I haven’t noticed a trend here, but most of my author friends are German, so I’m not sure how representative they are. I do, however, feel that there tends to be a type of writer who is thirsty for experience and would certainly count myself as one of them. There are many approaches to writing great fiction, but for me, exploring life in all its facets is essential. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious
 
{{I don’t think it does! As a travel nurse, it would sound even more pretentious if I disagreed 😂 and I love using work as an excuse to immerse myself somewhere new for a few weeks or months!}}
 
🖤Speaking of culture – you mentioned the gratuitous swearing, is that a German thing? Were there any other cultural easter eggs that you put into your story?
 
🎤I love this question. Yes, I’d say that Bavarians (Southern Germans), in particular, love to swear. It has even become an art form of sorts called Granteln. In essence, zu granteln means to humorously rant about something using imaginative insults. It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with popular rant videos on the internet, which are often mean-spirited. The hallmark of good a good grantler is that he or she is not really insulting a person offensive per se and rather lets off steam at “god and the world.” Besides grantling, Bavarian service providers have a reputation for being rude. That’s not the case, in my opinion – they’re simply allowed to talk back when a customer goes off at them. Which, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing.
 
I don’t think I put any more easter eggs into the story, at least not consciously, but you can certainly tell my cultural signature, so to speak. The focus on philosophy and politics, which some readers and others loathed or perceived as contrived, is simply a part of German fiction. As are the deeply personal conversations characters have. It’s something many Germans just do
 
{{Darn – I’ve been trying to decide where to travel to this spring if the world is open, maybe I should go to Germany and see if anyone wants to tour the area and debate life for a while! A friend said there are some lovely castles and stuff too}
 
🖤There are some correlations in your Enderal storyline and in DotD with harder and rough sounding events that have happened in your life, can we talk about using storytelling as a coping mechanism?
 
🎤Yes, my creative work definitely helped and continues to help me cope with and process some of the things that happened to me. Even these days, my first response to when something bad happens is to somehow translate it into my books or music. I think this is something any artist can relate to. For me, there’s also a phoenix element to this mechanism: yes, I lived through some traumatic events, but that also gave me access to a pool of experiences that I can now weave into my stories. Before this gets taken out of context, I’m not saying that trauma is a good thing, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. But for me, using it this way is empowering. I hate to see myself as a victim.
 
🖤DotD had a significant running theme of mental health and digging oneself out of their own personal hell. For anyone that hasn’t read the last few chapters and afterword, are you willing to share any advice for people who might be struggling?
 
🎤Oh boy, that’s a big question. The first step should naturally always be to get help. It’s common to avoid therapy out of pride or dread of a diagnosis (god knows I’ve done it), but it won’t get you anywhere. Besides that, I found a lot of solace in Agaam’s words: You won’t find out if you give up. This is actually from what a close friend of mine told me during a difficult time. If you’re currently in a bad place, for all you know, tomorrow might be the day things finally turn around. It’s important to make yourself aware of this, as the mind often tends to catastrophize and imagine the dreariest outcome possible. Again, I’m speaking from experience.
 
{{I love big questions! Seriously though this is great advice. Mental healthcare in America is a disaster and getting help can be extremely intimidating. I tell people that there’s no shame in seeking help and no one is here to judge.  I wish the stigma wasn’t there.  There are many things to try before medication as well and I 100% wholeheartedly endorse getting help from a trained professional before things get to the catastrophe point. Recognizing and diverting that worst case scenario cycle of thinking alone can go a long way}}
 
🖤Alright, enough heavy questions! Is brunch a thing in Germany? If so, do you have a favorite brunch food?
 
🎤Oh, yes, we love brunch. I do intermittent fasting, so I actually get to brunch every day. Personally, I love German dark bread and obatzda, a Bavarian cheese made from three different sorts of soft cheese, herbs, and spices. That said, I was recently diagnosed with lactose intolerance, so no obatzda for me in the near future.
 
🖤Do you have any terribly unpopular opinions?
 
🎤In light of the upcoming new movie: I actually loved Matrix: Reloaded and MatrixRevolutions. It wasn’t as accessible as the amazing first part, but once you wrap your head around it, it’s fascinating.
 
🖤Jespar and Lysia literally had the shortest exclusive relationship ever, has that ever actually happened to you?
 
🎤Oh, for sure – my teenage relationships were very much of the straw fire variety. Especially in the LGBT community, relationships can be absurdly short-lived. At least that’s my experience.
 
{{I promise the hetero community is doing this too, dating in your 30s is a disaster by itself }}
 
🖤I don’t see a ton of German authors in fantasy; can you recommend any that have been translated?  
 
I’d say that the English-speaking publishing houses hardly translate anything, which strikes me as odd considering the industry’s current focus on spotlighting diverse voices. It’s a shame because I think people are missing out. There are countless fantastic international writers – not only German – who never find the success they deserve. As far as German fantasy authors go, I loved Ralf Isau’s books as a kid, but it’s been so long. There is a Quebecois horror author whom I adore, Patrick Senecal. No one ever translated his works (only a couple) for some strange reason, even though he is absurdly popular in Quebec.
 
🖤Who’s your favorite book character of all time?
 
🎤Tyrion Lannister. The run-of-the-mill answer, I  know, but his moral ambiguity is incredibly intriguing

I made this a separate section, which I am naming “Nicolas’ Amusing and Insightful Rant About Modern Language in Fantasy”.  I think he should expand and turn it into an essay of his own!

My only real criticism of DotD was how jarring the modern day slang came across in an otherwise immersive story … … so, what led you down that path vs creating slang in the language native to the characters?
 
This has come up a few times, so I’m glad you asked. I’ll do my best to explain my choice, but forgive me for going on a bit of a tangent first. I’ve often read fantasy readers describe colloquialism, slang, and vulgarity as unrealistic. While I get the sentiment, I believe that this is a misconception.
 
First, unless you’re writing historical fiction set in an English-speaking country, the narrator’s English is always only a translation of what people really speak in those fictional worlds; in the Enderal novels, for example, this lingua franca is Inâl, which is also what Jespar or The Man in the novel speak. However, since nobody in the real world speaks Inâl, the narration translates it into English. The bottom line: barring the usage of modern words that simply couldn’t exist given the technology level of a culture (such as “rocket science” or internet jargon), there is no such thing as “realistic” English in high fantasy. It’s always a stylistic decision of the author.
 
Second, most people know this, but the English we read in fantasy, and even historical fiction isn’t at all faithful to the English people actually spoke in the Middle Ages, Middle English. You could probably understand what’s being said, but it would be a chore. What’s more, all we know about language during these times is based on documents that were exclusively written by the small, educated minority that wasn’t dyslexic. Imagine aliens using formal business emails to deduce what 21st-century humans spoke like; even books or plays these days used a stylized English that didn’t necessarily reflect how people spoke on a day-to-day basis. In conclusion, it is very likely, if not certain, that the English spoken by the real people was full of colloquialisms and vulgarity. Why wouldn’t it? If anything, etymology suggests that they swore like sailors, including the dreaded c-word. “Fuck” arrived a little later, but it’s safe to assume something with a similar meaning was around to describe the same thing.
 
 
All this is a long way of me saying that the English we are used to in fantasy fiction is ultimately a convention established to create a certain feeling. It’s an entirely subjective and stylistic choice and doesn’t indicate bad worldbuilding or poor command of the English language.
 
Now, why did I decide to use modern language in dialogue? It’s not because I dislike the convention – I grew up reading German fantasy books, which use very formal and “olden-days” language much like what you see in English fantasy staples, and I still love them. For me, it’s mostly about relatability. I want my characters to feel as real and relatable as possible. I also have a background in video game writing, where I work with voice actors on a regular basis and came to realize that a lot of dialogue that reads well in a book translates poorly into a voiced script; consequently, I made a habit of rewriting any “bookish” dialogue I wrote for a script to make it as “organic” as possible.
 
All that said, looking back, I believe that I sometimes overshot and accidentally crossed the line between relatability and anachronism. It’s something I will improve in the next novel.


Once again, thank you endlessly to Nicolas Samuel Lietzau for taking the time out of his busy schedule to give such an amazing interview! Here are the links to find him online and social media: 

I’m not good at link lists but you can find Nicolas online at:

WEBSITE: WWW.NICOLASLIETZAU.COM

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/niseam_stories/

https://mobile.twitter.com/Niseamtao

And many others, go find the links through his site!

Categories
Fantasy

Song of Echoes (book review) by R.E. Palmer

I am reading a ton of self published fantasy this fall, thanks to some amazing indie authors that have reached out about their books. One such author was R.E. Palmer!

Song of Echoes reads like a classic fantasy. I’ve been in a huge slump recently toward all the character driven drivel and romance in new fantasy books. This book presented it’s world and told a story, one with inherent magic and two very different character points of view that don’t interact. It’s kind of what I love about self published work

Overall it was not perfect, but interesting and refreshing

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Song of Echoes
  • Series: Song of Echoes, #1
  • Author: R.E. Palmer
  • Publisher & Release: FrontRunner Publications, 07/05/21
  • Length: 434 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for classic, adult fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

All that has gone before is woven into the Song; joy, sorrow; kind acts and cruel acts; creation and destruction. Past, present, and what has yet to come, make themselves known — if you know how to listen.

For three hundred years, the people of the Five Realms have lived in relative peace, protected by their great leader, the Archon. Yet, far to the north, in the frozen lands beyond the Draegalen Trench, the Ruuk stir, driven by a rising evil, long believed banished from the world. But rumors questioning the Archon’s ability to defend the realms once more, persist.

Elodi, the Lady Harlyn, uneasy in her new role following the death of her father, and Toryn, a farmworker and outsider in his village, must discover a way to fight an enemy that all but defeated their ancestors.

The story starts with a legend, and then throws a lot of places and names and lore at the reader.  It didn’t take long to figure out what areas were important to remember though, and once the story got started with Toryn and Elodi it was hard to put down.  Who would know that maybe those old legends are true?

The world has inherent magic, but it isn’t really elaborated on or discussed at all until towards the end.  There is also workable magic, presented as a handful of feared sorcerers with inherent abilities.  The source is hinted at but will be further explored in later books.

The world seems like a geographically diverse continent, with forests and mountains and everything in between.  I did like how the setting of each area shaped the characters and their personalities, as they should. 

Elodi is the newish leader of her realm, gathered at the Archon’s keep with the other Lords to inspect the realms defenses.  Toryn is a farmer, dying to see beyond the gates of his home region but unable to due to restrictions placed by the Archon on travel.

As we learn more about the politics, dangers, and impending war of the realm, everything starts to make sense and fall into place.  There are multiple dangers to each border but the Archon is obsessed with only one enemy, totally ready to leave the rest of the realm to fend for itself on extremely limited men and resources.

I really ended up liking Elodi, she was brave as hell at the end and a credit to her title, leading her knights.  Toryn had less of an impressive story arc but set himself up to be a bigger player in the next book.  I actually liked that the storylines didn’t intersect, it’s a nice change from every author just shoving romance down my throat for the sake of it.

There are a lot of really good side characters too and Palmer doesn’t hold back from inserting some tragedy into the pages. There are some tough siege and battle scenes.

I think the physical descriptions and setting were my favorite aspect.  The mountains and bridges form some amazing natural defenses, and everything sounds so majestic.  Without being repetitive, Palmer brings each area and vista to life.

Theme wise … Honor, veteran pride, loyalty, found family, and the value in stories, are some of my favorites.

I think the down side was that the book got off to a slow start.  It does take a bit to figure out who is who, who is important, and what regions we need to remember, but I think it’s worth it.  I would have liked more from the inherent magic.  I will definitely be keeping an eye out for book 2!


Shout out to the cover artist as well –  Kentaro Kanamoto does some amazing fantasy artwork! http://www.kentarokanamoto.com/

Find the book online!

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58145883-song-of-echoes

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095XQ9VQ
Website: www.frontrunnerbooks.com

 

Categories
Fantasy

The Dragon Reborn (book thoughts) by Robert Jordan

 

The Wheel of Time – see review: 🗡🗡🗡🗡

The Great Hunt – see review – 🗡🗡🗡🗡🗡

 

I can’t believe it took nearly three months to struggle through this book, although there were multiple reasons for it.

First off, after the first two chapters or so I was bored to tears.  It took RJ 300+ pages just to get the characters down their respective rivers, and I was so bored by the Egwene & Nynaeve & Aes Sedai storyline.

Mat turning into a superhero was the only reason I didn’t just give up

Secondly, the buddy read itself.  I was doing well with it until my ex ghosted and of course obviously dropped the chat. I really liked our buddy reads so it soured the book for me a bit. I got so far behind the rest of the group and ended up letting it sit for a few weeks.

Towards the end, once the action picked back up – say the last 100 pages – I couldn’t put it down.  Overall I would say TDR was unevenly paced, mostly slow, and so repetitive

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Dragon Reborn
  • Series: The Wheel of Time, #3
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Books, Sept 1991
  • Length: 624pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🗡🗡🗡 three swords for being what it is

Here is the synopsis:

The Dragon Reborn—the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him—is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how—for no man has done it in three thousand years—Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

Winter has stopped the war—almost—yet men are dying, calling out for the Dragon. But where is he?

Perrin Aybara is in pursuit with Moiraine Sedai, her Warder Lan, and Loial the Ogier. Bedeviled by dreams, Perrin is grappling with another deadly problem—how is he to escape the loss of his own humanity?

Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are approaching Tar Valon, where Mat will be healed—if he lives until they arrive. But who will tell the Amyrlin their news—that the Black Ajah, long thought only a hideous rumor, is all too real? They cannot know that in Tar Valon far worse awaits…

Ahead, for all of them, in the Heart of the Stone, lies the next great test of the Dragon reborn….

The worldbuilding and characters continue to be good in themselves but I really didn’t care for the three women at all in this installment. Their chapters were mostly the hard to read, boring ones, although Person got awfully repetitive too in the dream world.

Mat randomly turned into a superhero, and he was my favorite. The amount of Perrin has to be leading up to something, while it was just weird to see so little of Rand, minus his little coup de grâce at the end.  Like seriously I expected a lot more of Rand.

 

** this paragraph may contain a spoiler but it’s fairly obvious from book one:** My theory about Ba’alzamon vs Ishamael was finally confirmed, which was something.  It was so naïve of Rand to think he was dead!

The ending was exciting though, I just think Jordan could have shortened it up a lot by not repeating himself so much and maybe speeding up some of the travelling segments. Like did Rand just run the whole way on foot and still beat the others?  Why 300 pages to have them sailing down the rivers?

The new dark creatures, and the banter of the new character (falcon) were some of my favorite parts.  I liked the addition of the Aiel in the storyline too.   Also, where was Min in this one?

I’m going to give this series one more book but I’m really not sure if I will end up continuing past the next book, all 1001 pages of it!

I mean I’m not delusional enough to think that all 14 books are going to be exciting but this one was by far the hardest to get through so far. 

Have you read them? What do you think?


Categories
Fantasy

Loves of Shadow and Power (book review) by Edith Pawlicki

Hi all! Sorry for my relative silence across media recently, I’m having a hard time getting anything done that’s not work and sleep related. Also I am on a Northeast road trip for the next two weeks but I’ll be back towards the end of the month

I finished Loves of Shadow and Power and really want to thank the author for the early copy! I love anything orange so I’m super happy to have these in print!

One fun note is that Edith will be joining me on the blog next week for the Sunday Brunch Series!

Here is my review for book one in the series!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Loves of Shadow and Power
  • Series: The Immortal Beings #2 (duology)
  • Author: Edith Pawlicki 
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 09/14/21
  • Length: 393
  • Rate & Recommend: 🍁🍁🍁🍁 for Asian based mythology and character driven adult fantasy

Here is the book blurb:

Are the worst demons within or without?

Finally in the Underworld, Jin must find the black peony – and survive the immortal creatures that hunger for her.

Xiao would prefer ravenous immortal creatures to his parents. Imprisoned and continuously drained of power, Xiao is spiralling into addiction and despair…

Nanami doesn’t know Xiao is drinking again. She just knows she needs to save the man she loves, even if it means getting help from an old foe. And if no one believes she can handle the powers she is challenging, well, Nanami has always defied expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Bai is shocked by the power that mortal worship grants the gods. Humbled by a confrontation with them, he must reinvent himself if he wants to claim the place next to Jin.

Separated by circumstance, the four friends must fight gods, monsters, and even themselves to come together again. But if they find each other, will they have changed too much to reunite?

I think the biggest difference in the second novel was the pacing and style.  She went for longer chapters and more breaks, with a mini cliffhanger style that I learned is called Xianxia.  It helped the pacing a lot and made the book hard to put down.

I went pretty deep into the world building in my review for book one.  The main addition to LoSaP was the Underworld, which I think was also my favorite part.  Meeting many of the Immortal Creatures was another high point since the author is skilled at creating lush visual images of places and animals.  I liked that Jin had to reason with them and trust her judgement as well as her power.

The characters learned (mostly) to love and trust in themselves in book one, and now they have to get over initial misconceptions and changing world views to see if they can truly love each other and embrace their roles as responsible deities.

Does deification change them? How do prayers even work? Where does this immense amount of power fit into the grand scheme of things?  Bai and Cheng had me laughing trying to figure these things out.

Theme wise there was self reflection, cause & effect, consequences, and lots of coming of age in this one.  Friendship and sacrifice, justice and judgement, plus natural vs found family and breaking ties

You all know I’m a sucker for a found family.  There was a bit of a morality nosedive towards the end that I would have really appreciated if I wasn’t half brain dead.

I just docked a star for some repetitive language and other small things, nothing serious at all.

Overall: a satisfying conclusion to the duology. Definitely recommend this series for fans of Asian based mythology & fantasy, lush descriptions, character driven coming of age stories and lore.

Stay tuned on the 19th for the author interview!

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Dreams of the Dying (book review) by Nicolas Lietzau

Happy September! I am feeling the fall vibes, pumpkin spice, wearing of long sleeves, and books that contain corpses and nightmares …. Hey!

Today I am endlessly grateful to self published author Nicolas Lietzau (pronounced Lee-tsow) for the stunning hardcover of his novel Dreams of the Dying.  The naked cover mirrors the dust jacket and makes the book an excellent Halloween/shelf decoration as well as a memorable read, so definitely put this on your radar to read while he’s working on book two!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dreams of the Dying
  • Series: Enderal #1
  • Author: Nicolas Lietzau
  • Publisher & Release: Self, December 2020
  • Length: 826 pages (hardcover)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to those with any interest in fantasy, horror elements, mental health rep

Here is the book blurb from GoodReads:

If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”

Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.

Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.

Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?

Described as “Inception in a Polynesian fantasy setting,” Dreams of the Dying is a slow-burning, haunting blend of fantasy, mystery, and psychological horror, that explores mental illness, morality, and the dark corners of our minds.

This is a pretty difficult book to unpack! I know a lot of my followers have played Skyrim – if you played the Enderal mod you may be familiar with the author of this book, or at least his writing! (I admit that I entirely stopped gaming around 2016, it wasn’t compatible with travel nursing, but knowledge of the Enderal story is not required to enjoy the book!)

 The Worldbuilding: I thought the best part about the hardcover was all of the extras in the appendix.  This is a clearly lovingly crafted world that had an insane amount of planning involved, both on a macro and micro level.  There is plenty of world building in the book including local foods, customs and culture, architecture, a religious synopsis, weather, and the feel of the populace…

Then the book is over and the appendix is there! The micro world-building is just ..  it’s just something that only an indie author can do and it’s perfect.  Pages on and drawings of animals, even their named skeletons, local fashions, drawings, more about the Gods and Goddesses, and just an incredible breakdown of the language that was created for the Makehu people.

Take this example of how the language and lingual barriers feed overall immersion – it integrates into the story and creates comic relief at times!

‘kaia ‘ō kā teteie e māu kū.’ Do you know it?”

“‘Look out for … the emotional fish?’”

Kawu snorted. “Not quite.

I just love how much local culture and lore was included without being burdensome to the story.  I was going to share another quote about the tension/feel of the city but it contains a typo … The sentiment is there though. (Mostly the editing is extremely well done).

  • The only issue I had with the world is – the heck is up with the seasons? The 6th moon of dry season only has 5 days … but the rainy season month has 33 days? 
  • Also as far as immersion ..  Lietzau probably wrote one of the most creative languages I’ve ever seen in a low fantasy, including such slang gems as “by the excretions of the sacred donkey.” Yet with nothing else modern about the world, he throws in modern slang.  I got used to it … (yes yes even though it’s a Bavarian cultural thing) … but it threw off an otherwise near perfect immersion.  I’m sure the Makehu swear too 😂

The Characters: ah gosh this book was so perfectly tailored to people who are struggling through their 30s.  Jespar has PTSD, anxiety, and guilt, and the representation is just so real that reading his journey through it was a bit jarring at times.   Lysia is a physician that runs a slum clinic even though her debts are piling up, and Kawu is an innocent, selfless little thing that had way too much trauma thrown at him at once.  Neither of them were particularly good people but they seemed real and I think anyone with struggling mental health will be able to relate to someone in the novel.

The point of view is mostly Jespar’s, but there is another that is referred to as “The Man”.  This POV brings out a whole spectrum of one’s own personal hell, confronting past demons, and learning a thing or two about what exactly it means to be a monster.

Between the monster, the swamp, and the court of corpses, the analogies are spot on.

Screenshot_20210810-051015

The Content: this seems like a good time to mention that September is suicide awareness month: I don’t need to give you guys the lecture but PLEASE reach out to a professional if you ever feel like you’ re losing the will to keep going. https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/suicide-prevention-awareness-month

Alright the book is heavy content wise: briefly there is anxiety, crippling guilt, parental death, fairly graphic suicide description involving a knife, a drowning attempt, a not too scary corpse, other corpses, kind of descriptive (maybe R rated) m/f and m/m intercourse, smoking and alcohol use, and some really cute fluffy animals.

Tae ite nū’iwilo, tae hūnā ‘o. ‘You won’t find out if you give up.’ Because that is what it comes down to with melancholia and despair: just as other people lie when they tell you things always get better, your mind lies when it tells you that it doesn’t. The only way to know is to stay and find out … as hard as it might be.”

That quote hit me HARD, and it felt like something extremely personal that the author left in the text. When he recapped it in the afterword and talked about his own mental health struggles; I am just glad to see people speaking openly of this.  My mental health is total trash as a critical care nurse right now and I’ll openly admit that I had to clam up on this review for a bit.

The Magic: alright let’s perk this back up.  The magic system ranges from dream-walking to necromancy, healing, mind control, and seems to work as a mental and physical drain.  There are quite a few abilities and it’s pretty interesting overall.  Y’all know me, throw in necromancy and I’m there. There’s a lot of cause and effect related to the magic, and a professorial lecture in the appendix if you are still curious!

Closing thoughts : it’s a long book but nothing is extra, and the plot keeps moving forward without much drag at all.  This is a more intellectual breed of fantasy that I would push towards fans of Gene Wolfe or NK Jemisin rather than those expecting pure escapism.

To break the book down into a one sentence synopsis:

A comatose magnate, insurgent terrorists, furious commoners.

With a side theme of mental health, and….

If you fight injustice with injustice, no matter how deserved it may feel, you’ll always end up as just another turn of the wheel.”

I do strongly encourage everyone with an even casual interest in fantasy to check this one out.  It won’t be for everyone with some of the strong themes but I definitely think it’s worth consideration!

Again thank you so much to the author for my review copy, all opinions are my own 🖤


Find Nicolas and Dreams of the Dying online:

instagram.com/niseam_stories goodreads.com/nicolaslietzau facebook.com/nicolaslietzau patreon.com/niseam discord.com/invite/zdJyuHV (“The Enderal Novels” Section) niseamstories.tumblr.com reddit.com/r/enderal

 


Now that no one is still reading, a quick bookish note and SBAIS update:  I am endlessly grateful to ALL of the Indie authors that have been reaching out to me with their novels this year!  There are thousands of reviewers out there and it’s an honor! Everyone stay tuned this Sunday because I’ve got Heartmender series author V Romas Burton on and I can’t wait to share that with you all!

Categories
Fantasy Fiction Paranormal

ARC Review: All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

Thank you so much to Titan Books via NetGalley for the early digital copy of All the Murmuring Bones! This is a hugely atmospheric, dark fairy tale from A.G Slatter that I think most fans of lore and legends will love

Quick Facts:

  • Title: All the Murmuring Bones
  • Series: N/A, but some of the authors short stories “live” in this world
  • Author: A.G. Slatter
  • Publisher & Release: Titan Books, 3/9/21
  • Length: 368 or
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for genre fans!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

For fans of Naomi Novik and Katharine Arden, a dark gothic fairy tale from award-winning author Angela Slatter.

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.

Oh man, so far I think Slatter deserves every single of those literary awards, and I am extremely interested in her short fiction tales.

All the Murmuring Bones is all of the things in the description and more. Miren is the last of the O’Malleys and is absolutely not going to be controlled by any man, nor give children up to the sea. Reeling from the decisions made by her grandmother before her death, including an arranged marriage, Miren takes off to find her (presumably deceased, but not) parents.

Her journey is met with ghosts, wights, kelpies, Merfolk, and all other sorts of legend. All obstacles aside, Miren is Aoife’s granddaughter and has a basic knowledge of witchcraft, and she is of an absolutely fierce line of women. I liked the theme of the men having a semblance of control throughout the family history, while the women truly and obviously ran things.

The story is addicting, with little short stories intertwined as Miren recalls or learns more family lore. There is murder and mystery and bargains to be made.

The book starts at Hob’s Head, the family ancestral home, a sea side estate falling into disrepair. With wights on the main road and a family crypt, the setting and atmosphere are set. Her parents home of Blackwater is equally mysterious, but it’s hard to go there without spoilers on the mystery so I won’t. Lets say that just about nothing at Blackwater is as it appears, and I was just shocked at .. All of it.

Let’s just say that the setting and atmosphere is absolutely first rate.

I love Slatter’s writing style too, I tell you this woman is putting her PHD in creative writing to good use.

Bonus content: how to pronounce these Irish names:

  • Aoife: EE-fuh
  • Oisin: OH-sheen (Rhymes with clean)
  • These according to my Irish friend

If you like fierce women, witchcraft, lore, myths, murder and mystery and more, all drowning in dark fairy tale atmosphere, please check this one out!