Categories
Fantasy

Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar (Book Thoughts)

Welcome to my first grimdark review of GrimDarkTober month, featuring Gunmetal Gods! I have seen this book absolutely everywhere since it was published and never felt like I had time to read, which was a sore error on my part. 

This is a wonderfully dark fantasy with some of the most brutal (and frankly disturbing) scenes I’ve ever read.  It’s got a few of my favorite themes including military tactics, religious introspection, gods and djinn causing mayhem, and some really truly grimdark twists of fate.

Let’s take a look at the book!


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Gunmetal Gods
  • Series: Gunmetal Gods #1
  • Author: Zamil Akhtar
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, 2020
  • Length: 498 pages
  • Rate & Recommend; ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy fans

Here’s the synopsis:

Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights in this blood-soaked fantasy epic inspired by the Crusades, featuring Lovecraftian gods, mischievous djinns, and astral magic!

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.


I’m having the worst time reviewing this one because it’s so complex and will do my best to hit all the big points!

The story itself has an absolutely epic scope, covering everything from an old hero’s comeback to ancient gods stirring in other dimensions.  It’s got large scale battles, political machinations, tons of world building, brutality, hope, shifting alliances … I can’t even start to cover it all but I promise I was never bored reading.

The first unique thing is that the two points of view start off as “the good guy” and “the bad guy”.  As the book progresses, both Kevah and Micah navigate this wide range of roles from father to doombringer, not necessarily in that order, and it was crazy to follow them both into that murky morally gray zone.

“He was never cruel and always let the Archangel guide his hands. It all changed after we found the witch. In Nixos, he enslaved thousands and burned a bishop. And then in Kostany, I saw him drown a little girl and trample babies as if they were weeds.” – Aicard, on Micah’s downward spiral

There were a lot of awesome side characters too that we meet and get close to throughout the book.  Whether or not they live is another story, but I enjoyed the time spent with them all the same.

The world building was pretty epic in scope too, especially in the religious context.  The two warring nations are both crusading for their holy land.  I liked how deep the author went into each side’s beliefs and also their questioning of faith when things got … grimdark.  When we actually meet the angels and certain gods, including the truly “Lovecraftian” ones, I could appreciate the scale of havoc they wreak.

We go forward to victory with whatever power we have, whether of the light or the dark

There’s a ton of other world building too like history, stories, lore, food, wartime hardships, customs and poems, past times, seasonal weather, art and architecture. The book really didn’t lack for much at all and it all flowed well.

I wanted more from the Mages but that’s definitely coming in book two.  The magic is tied into either the gods, the djinn, or both, and was pretty epic in scale so far since one mage can do a ton of damage to the army.

You want brutality? Stomping babies. Burning refugees. Cutting off horse’s ears.  Loves and morals and families into the sea or on the sharp end of the sword. This is off the grimdark chart as far as I’m concerned. There’s really no end to the dark in this although Akhtar does give us just enough hope to not completely despair while reading.

“What if there are no answers?” I laughed to distract from the dread spreading through me. “What if the world is as dismal as it seems?” “Then at least we’ll know it. We won’t be lying to ourselves. We’ll drown in the truth, our eyes wide open.”

Overall: this is a great read for GrimDarkTober.  I loved the story. I loved the magic and religions. Loved the character arcs, including some of the more minor character roles.  Loved the shifting political alliances and power struggles. Loved the twists and turns that kept me guessing throughout.  Totally recommend this one for dark fantasy fans with a tough stomach.

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

A GrimDarkTober Guest Post: Dr. John Mauro reviews Norylska Groans!

A quick note from OneReadingNurse: Welcome to the first guest post for GrimDarkTober month! I’m honored to host this review written by Dr. John Mauro of the indie grimdark fantasy Norylska Groans! You can find him on twitter at @DrJohnmauro and locate more of his reviews on both GoodReads and the Grimdark Magazine website. Without further ado, let’s introduce the book and see the review!


Here’s a bit about the book:

  • Title: Norylska Groans
  • Series: N/A
  • Authors: Michael R. Fletcher & Clayton W. Snyder
  • Publisher & Release: Independent, 2021
  • Length: 378 pages
  • Guest Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀

The synopsis via GoodReads:

Norylska Groans

with the weight of her crimes. In a city where winter reigns amid the fires of industry and war, soot and snow conspire to conceal centuries of death and deception.

Norylska Groans
and the weight of a leaden sky threatens to crush her people. Katyusha Leonova, desperate to restore her family name, takes a job with Norylska’s brutal police force. To support his family, Genndy Antonov finds bloody work with a local crime syndicate.

Norylska Groans

with the weight of her dead. As bodies fall, the two discover a foul truth hidden beneath layers of deception and violence: Come the thaw, what was buried will be revealed.


Finally, here is the review by Dr Mauro!

Norylska Groans is a tour de force from Michael R. Fletcher and Clayton W. Snyder, two of the top authors in grimdark fantasy. The story is set in the Russia-inspired industrial city of Norylska, bathed in filth and constantly groaning from its brutal cold and wind—the perfect setting for an urban grimdark novel.

As an avid fan of both classic Russian literature and grimdark fantasy, I loved every aspect of this book. With an assortment of pseudo-Russian slang and an ultraviolent cast of characters, there is also a clear inspiration from A Clockwork Orange.

Much of the book revolves around memory stones, which store memories and even personality traits from the individuals who wear them. Dostoevsky would be impressed with the depth of psychological analysis in this book, as the traits from the memory stones fight against the personality (and often sanity) of those who wear them.

The concept of this book is so creative, combining some of my favorite literary elements from across multiple genres. It’s the type of book that makes me think: “I wish I had thought of this idea.”

But is it grimdark enough? Ummmm…yes.

Fletcher and Snyder cranked the grimdark knob up to eleven, and then kept turning it up until the knob broke off and sank into a pool of blood. This book is manna from hell for grimdark lovers.

If you love grimdark, you need to read this book.

5/5


There you have it!  Stay tuned this month for more awesome grimdark and generally spooky content from a few of my good friends!

Categories
Fantasy

The Skald’s Black Verse ~ Book Tour & Giveaway

Endless thanks to Escapist Book Tours and Jordan Loyal Short for having me on the book tour for The Skald’s Black Verse! This is the first in the Dreadbound Ode trilogy.  The final book just released back in March so check it out and binge the whole thing if it sounds good to you!

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Skald’s Black Verse
  • Series: Dreadbound Ode #1
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published – 2018
  • Length: 339 pages
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you’re looking for a solid grimdark SFF trilogy

Here’s the synopsis:

Brohr needs out of his village before they put a noose around his neck.

The unwanted son of a conquering soldier, Brohr will soon discover that he is cursed, haunted, a berserker. When a strange murder sparks unrest amongst his people, Brohr becomes the prime suspect.

Hunted by invaders from another world, only the forbidden blood magic of the Skalds can save him. To survive, Brohr must unravel dire omens, uncover the truth of his brother’s death, and lead a desperate revolt against an empire that spans the heavens.

But an ancient horror lurks in the shadows, intent upon a rebellion of its own.

The Skald’s Black Verse takes a personal look at what it means to live under your oppressor’s thumb as a conquered people.  It takes place in a small village on a planet that was overtaken by a superior branch of humanity. We watch as both the conquered and the conquerors deal with planetary level destruction and certain doom, and I have to say that I loved it.

There are quite a few characters but I didn’t struggle with remembering them. Brohr is dealing with a curse after his grandfather made a dark pact. Lyssa is a sneaky and resourceful bar maid, and Brasca is taking charge of the town for the Federals. Henrik stepped in later and was used to show how little control the nominal provincial leaders really had. 

It’s a tough and interesting bunch of characters. I like them and will leave it at that since the biggest surprises and plot twists come in character form.

He’d been a fool to think he could manage the end of the world

Plot and action wise, the story itself was fast paced and I flew through this book.  As the conflict deepened and the plot became apparent it turned into an easy two day read.

I am a lover of all things world building and this is where the book excelled.  We see so much of the local food, herbs, medicine, religion, and way of life of the local Norn people.  A lot of culture is revealed as the Federals tried to snuff it out in favor of cultural assimilation.

The folklore element is also strong as it ties into both the local and imposed religions.  The runic binding that can fly spaceships is considered proper magic while the Skald songs are the black, illegal, blood and witchcraft type.  What I wanted was more conflict between the two magics since it was one of the first things out of Brasca’s mouth.  The two magics have vastly different uses although both require blood and sacrifice. The Skald Songs were well fleshed out while there’s a lot of potential for the Binders going forward in the series.

I thought that just due to the scope of the novel towards the end, I felt a disconnect between the sci-fi and dark fantasy element. More from the binding and rune lore was needed to close that gap but I think I see it coming in book two. I also don’t think Brohr was prepared to step into the role that he did at the end, considering that he was never taught the rituals. 

To a man who fears death, even suffering is precious

Overall: I can definitely appreciate apocalypse and LOVED the setting and scenery, mood and atmosphere, lore and fighting spirit that kept the book feeling more congruous than not. It‘s interesting, it’s fast paced, it’s grimdark, it’s brutal, and some scenes aren’t for the fainthearted.  Would recommend for fans of dark SFF!


For bonus content…

Here is the giveaway for you all!

Prize: An eBook, Audiobook, or Paperback Copy of The Skald’s Black Verse!
Starts: August 15, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: August 21, 2022 at 11:59pm EST

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/79e197ac45/


There’s also a tour webpage now where you can see everyone else’s content and find more info about the book!

The Hero’s Journey: The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short


Last but not least, meet the author and go find him online!

Jordan Loyal Short is an author of epic fantasy. His first novel, The Skald’s Black Verse, is a dark and beautiful story about families, cultures, and beliefs at war with themselves. The protagonist, Brohr, must navigate the tangled loyalties and unforgiving biases of a planet conquered by invaders from another world. Using black magic, and the bizarre bond he shares with his stillborn brother’s spirit, Brohr unravels the truth about himself and an eon spanning war that has reached its end game.

You can see Jordan’s latest book reviews at Booknesteu.com.

Jordan has worked in a variety of industries, as a web developer, bartender, copywriter and more. He lives in Washington state with his wife where he is currently daydreaming about the end of the world.

Author Site: https://jordanloyalshort.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jordanloyalshort
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jordanloyalshor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jordanloyalshort/

The Skald's Black Verse tour stops (ig)


I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review feature, all opinions are my own!

Categories
Fantasy

The Last Blade Priest by W.P. Wiles (ARC Review)

Today is my stop on the online book tour for The Last Blade Priest! This is an epic fantasy that I enjoyed quite a bit for it’s overall mood and atmosphere, care for language, and different takes on certain tropes that had me surprised by the end.

TLBP checked a lot of my best boxes for fantasy. It is dense in world building and slow at the start, but once the action and twists start picking up it was hard to put down and the pages started flying.   Keep an eye out too for the W.P. Wiles Sunday Brunch feature on July 24th!

Screenshot_20220706-151722

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Last Blade Priest
  • Series: …. ? Hopefully
  • Author: W.P. Wiles
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot Books, 7/12/22
  • Length: 554 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐   Yes for epic fantasy fans who like dense,  atmospheric worlds and twisted tropes!

Here’s the synopsis:

An absorbing and original epic fantasy with rich world-building and a wry take on genre conventions from a Betty Trask Award-winning author

Inar is Master Builder for the Kingdom of Mishig-Tenh. Life is hard after the Kingdom lost the war against the League of Free Cities. Doubly so since his father betrayed the King and paid the ultimate price. And now the King’s terrifying chancellor and torturer in chief has arrived and instructed Inar to go and work for the League. And to spy for him. And any builder knows you don’t put yourself between a rock and a hard place.

Far away Anton, Blade Priest for Craithe, the God Mountain, is about to be caught up in a vicious internal war that will tear his religion apart. Chosen from infancy to conduct human sacrifice, he is secretly relieved that the practice has been abruptly stopped. But an ancient enemy has returned, an occult conspiracy is unfolding, and he will struggle to keep his hands clean in a world engulfed by bloodshed.

In a series of constantly surprising twists and turns that take the reader through a vividly imagined and original world full of familiar tensions and surprising perspectives on old tropes, Inar and Anton find that others in their story may have more influence on their lives, on the future of the League and on their whole world than they, or the reader imagined.

I think the “file under” area is what hooked me on reading this one – “nightmare crows, scarred altars…” etc.  I love anything rich in world building and this book 100% did not disappoint.  The first 100 pages ish WAS confusing to me because Wiles threw out all the native terms without taking time to explain, but, I’ve learned to just let these things roll until they make sense.  As long as they make sense by the end of the book – and trust me, they do in this case – I don’t consider this a big deal anymore.

The main points of view are Inar and Anton, one a builder and one a priest trained to sacrifice human lives to the Mountain and it’s Custodian/s. One cool aspect is that as the storylines and characters progress, we learn who else is important, who will be dictating furture events. I didn’t see the twists coming but as the storylines converge (and the book wraps up) I found myself really liking these other people who wormed their way in. The less you know the better but I do like being surprised by side characters.

The world is rich in history, lore, religious lore, magic, and atmosphere.  The settings are well fleshed out too. A lot is added setting wise as the author’s career is somewhere in architecture. To me at least it’s cool when the setting becomes such a big part of the story and lore. It sounds dull as hell to read about but he stated that he created a “Fantasy architecture” for the world and it’s awesome, it makes sense, it fits, and it’s cool.  I just like cold, mountainy settings anyway and these take a huge toll on the characters here.

The other thing that adds a lot to the atmosphere is how the language sets a specific tone – I honestly had to look up quite a few words used but it did add to the world’s feeling of… consistency?  The book overall has a dark feel and while I have read much darker fantasy, this one had it’s moments and a consistent heavier feeling throughout.

So you get through the first hundred pages and the book starts rolling, the quest begins, the priesthood starts making sense, the characters develop, and the magic starts unfurling.  Did I say unfurling? Yes! I liked how the magic wasn’t dumped on us to begin with but revealed as we went along.  The elves are evil too and there’s a lot of backstory that rolls into the plot as the characters journey along.

Overall – I really liked this one. I liked how the story unrolled and that I didn’t mind being along for the ride in the meantime.  I liked a clearly dark fantasy that wasn’t truly horrific.  A lot of my favorite books set a tone and keep it, and this one fell into that category.   For the slow and slightly rough start I docked a star but fully would recommend this one to epic and dark fantasy fans!

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Redemption (Book Review) by T.R. Slauf

I finally read Redemption, the second book in the author’s Legends of Lightning series! This is embarrassing considering that I not only had an early copy but the Kindle preordered too, so this is a disclaimer that I absolutely suck.

Redemption picked up not too far after the end of Hidden Realm, with Esther and the other Huntsmen reeling over Oisin’s loss and the Queens dealing with their own problems.  Overall this was a stronger book and it was awesome to see the growth between the two novels

((Book 1 review))

((Author interview))

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Redemption
  • Series: Legends of Lightning #2
  • Author: T.R. Slauf
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 11/02/21
  • Length: 374 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy and twisted fairytale fans!

Here is the Synopsis via GoodReads:

Esther escaped the horrors of Castle Rose, but at a cost. Believing her lost guide is still alive deep in the bowels of Adam’s dungeons, she aims to save him, but the other Huntsman are not so sure he’s alive… Desperate to rescue Oisin, Esther makes tempestuous allegiances with dangerous foes. Walking a fine line between enemies and allies, life and death, she rages war against the monsters of the Hidden Realm.

Esther’s journey continues in this heart wrenching sequel as she navigates the politics and grudges of ageless Queens. By night, she’s haunted by what she’s seen fighting in a war that was never hers. What she’s done to survive in the Hidden Realm will haunt her forever and she’s terrified of losing herself in the darkness without a star to guide her. Will Esther be able to save Oisin and the lands before the shadows of her mind overtake her spirit?

I definitely liked Redemption more than Hidden Realm.  Now that the story is more streamlined, the plot and action felt stronger and the characters had believable arcs.

Esther had to deal with the PTSD from the torture, separation, and worse from her imprisonments.  It was also interesting to see how the soldiers responded to war that hadn’t seen battle before.  One particularly affected character – I could have sworn it was a nod to the Venture Bros henchmen 21/24 dynamic, but the author said no – it was particularly grisly though.  Trauma affects people in many ways and this book took a deep dive down some dark paths

I think the character (and world) building got a big, necessary boost too.  With more background on the Queens and politics, personalities, alliances, and a bit more history, tbe plot was carried a long way.

I liked spending more time with the Queens to see how truly twisted they are. A few personalities and developing characters surprised me and kept the story interesting.  A lot of things actually kept it interesting, such as betrayal on more betrayal, political maneuvering, an exploration of various forms of fanaticism, and meeting more magical creatures.  T.R. got creative with the torture too – this wasn’t splatterpunk but definitely grimdark

After a chat with the author, let me give Indie authors a piece of advice: so I was reading the Kindle version and felt like the book needed a solid proof-read before the final went out.  There were up to two typos on some pages and honestly it was enough to throw me off a tad.   This is now the second time an author told me that they spent good money on an editing service. I think that all the people do is run the manuscript through a spell check, without reading for context or grammar or other non spell check errors.  The result makes me think that 1) these services should be ashamed of themselves and 2) authors would be better off using a private editor with good references, or even asking a friend with a critical eye.

Now, that said – I did dock a star for readability affecting immersion at times, but, I would still 100% recommend for fans of dark fantasy and twisted fairy tales! As I said it was a much stronger story than book one and had many hard but important themes to unravel.  You will hurt for these characters!  Personally I can’t wait for the next book, this ended on a ridiculously suspenseful note!

Categories
Fantasy

Kagen the Damned (ARC Review) by Jonathan Maberry

I am super grateful to St Martin’s Griffin for the free advanced copy of Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry! All opinions are my own!

It took me forever to read this book due to work, life, and the length. I ended with mixed feelings as it had both good and bad elements. I would recommend for fans of (or readers new to) dark fantasy.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Kagen the Damned
  • Series: Kagen the Damned #1
  • Autbor: Jonathan Maberry
  • Publisher & Release: St Martin’s Griffin – 05/10/22
  • Length: 560 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for dark fantasy fans

Kagen the Damned marks the first installment of an exciting new series of dark epic fantasy novels from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.

Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection of the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of his enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper, the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic―long banished from the world―returns in strange and terrifying ways.

Fueled by Rage
To exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

The Plot:

This is a dark fantasy novel about the conquest of an empire and the subjective failure of one of it’s guardians.  I was drawn in by the synopsis and like the idea of conquest and revenge.  There is nothing terribly original about the plot or the main ideas of magic being bad and outlawed, a chosen one come back to avenge the nation, etc, but I still enjoyed it.

If nothing else the plot moves quickly, with plenty of action scenes and alternating points of view to move the story along.

The themes:

Kagen shined most in it’s themes for me.  The main character had to deal with letting his guilt go after he believed he was responsible for the fall of the empire and had been forsaken by his Gods. There were questions and themes of honor, oaths, oppression, monsters vs saviors, and found family.  One of my favorite themes centered around What Makes a Monster? Is the conquering Witch-king a monster for decimating a nation that did much worse 1000 years ago? Is a dragon or a grotesque creature a monster just because it kills to feed itself, or is hideous?

Obviously per Grimdark there are also themes of brutal violence, in pretty much any imaginable fashion… I liked the brutality of the dark elements and the historian figure who carried his own theme of re-writing history for the victors.

The Characters:

I think the book is about 70/30 plot/action vs character driven

Kagen is about as morally gray as you can get, but he’s got values.  I liked his story and his path to redemption.  Tuke is another main character who swears by the BALLS of about 1000 different creatures, he was hilarious.  The friendship/bromance between those two was hilarious and provided the comic relief

The witch-king … Is probably the most brutal A-Hole I have seen in a while, but some of his points are solid.  He liked killing. A lot.  His high priestess practices a rather grotesque form of necromancy that had me equal parts CRINGING and wanting to see more.

I hated one storyline though where a 20 something year old “nun” more or less lied to, then seduced her 15 year old “cousin”, and then either pretended or believed that fooling around with another female maintained their religious purity. Well .. That’s why their ritual didn’t entirely succeed.

A few other things:

I think I needed more from the magic. There wasn’t much described except the necromancy. How did the rest work?  I also think too many modern and real elements slipped into an otherwise made-up and highly creative world (like Cthulhu. I love him but he didn’t quite fit).  There was everything else from alternate realms to outer space mentioned and I think it created too much white noise in an otherwise straightforward fantasy world.  I wanted more from Kagen’s dreams and the Dragon in the ice.

Hopefully in the next book.

Overall: there is a lot to process in this one but overall, I liked it. There is a lot of absolutely excellent Dark Fantasy out there and I think that this is a good one for people who might be looking to sample the genre. While it doesn’t deep dive into the world-building and fantasy elements so much, the author maintains a fairly consistent mood and keeps the book moving.

I will plan on reading the second installment when it is released!

Categories
Fantasy

Dark Oak (Book Tour) by Jacob Sannox

Thank you so much to Storytellers On Tour and the author for having me on the Book tour for Dark Oak! This is a dark ish fantasy that takes place after the end of a great war, where the evil has been vanquished and a time of peace is beginning.

Or… Well it should be, anyway.  Unfortunately once the prime evil is gone and unity is no longer necessary, humans tend to create new enemies and now war is brewing in the territories again as the lands and Lords revert back to their pre-war dispositions.  This right here was probably my favorite theme from the book.

Despite my 3 star rating and various struggles: I want to say up front that the ending of this book is EVERYTHING.  Once you learn what “Dark Oak” refers to and things start getting dark, it’s just… Really something else.

Screenshot_20211124-164300

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Oak
  • Series: The Dark Oak Chronicles, #1
  • Author: Jacob Sannox
  • Publisher & Release: self, April 2017
  • Length: 313
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐for dark fantasy fans, maybe military fantasy 

Here is the synopsis:

Humanity has finally defeated the Dark Lord, but Morrick fought on the wrong side.

Though he was a slave, he is branded a traitor and must earn the trust of new lords in order to return to his family – if they are still alive.

Now that their common enemy is dead, the nobles begin to forget old loyalties, and Queen Cathryn’s realm looks set to plunge into war once more. But there are older and more terrible powers dwelling within the forest, and when they are awakened, Morrick will decide who lives or dies.

The starting point of this book was an interesting choice, as it started at the end of a war.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around who and what was relevant at first, even though right at the start of the book it disclaims that it is NOT the story of the dark lord!

Dark Oak has a LOT going on, and a few different points of view to be aware of.  Morrick is the main character, and probably the most interesting one as we watch his moral struggles.  There is a lot of humanity in the book as various tragedies are met and death with, including post war trauma and death of family, seen mostly through the eyes of Morrick.  Cathryn, the queen, and the various lords also have points of view.

I thought his wife, Rowan, was important too but she was mostly entirely brushed over. For example, she went through all this trouble to consider starting a rebellion with some people who showed up, then we hear nothing except that it was over and went badly.  That was probably the hardest part of the book for me – to decide what was relevant. I also struggled with  what parts the author chose to brush over vs. expand on.

I thought jt was pretty real that most of the Lords, including the queen, really just wanted to kick up their feet and essentially retire after the war but there’s always that *one* problem child.

As far as the magic- the Dryads were definitely the best part of the whole book for me.  The supernatural things were dumped into the book kind of suddenly, but once I learned that a main focus going forward was angry Dryads having their home and trees destroyed, things made a lot more sense.  I really loved the descriptions of the tree and water folk, and how their magic worked.

The worldbuilding was high in setting, scenery, and geography, decent in history, but kind of mish mash on the micro level.  I had a good idea of the history and politics of the realm and the forest, but not so much the cities and moods, weather and foods, etc.  There were some interesting cultural pockets like the “whores” in the Whoreswood.  I originally felt like the world lacked any kind of cohesion, but that plays a role since although the humans united under the name “The Combined People”, they didn’t necessarily have anything in common except the enemy.

Here is a preview of the map, which helped SO much to visualize the book

Screenshot_20211125-201848

I think the magic is definitely the strongest aspect.  I liked the political maneuvering by the Lords and watching the kingdom dissolve into mayhem.  The book definitely had both strong and weak points, and it *lived* for the final quarter.  I do plan on ordering book 2 so i can see what happens, and how he grew as a writer going forward.

Definitely check out the tour page and see what others had to say about the book!!

Book Tour: Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox


Meet the author

Jacob Sannox is a 37 year old writer from the sunny climes of Bedfordshire, England. In his spare time he is generally writing, thinking about writing or berating himself for not writing.

He loves to play the acoustic guitar, but wishes he was better at it, and he has recently taken up Dungeons & Dragons. This is dangerous, as he has a propensity for disappearing into fantasy worlds. Nobody saw Jacob Sannox between 2000 and 2010, during which time he was LARPing.

Do not judge him.

Author & Book Links

Website:http://www.jacobsannox.com/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jacobsannox

Facebook: http://www.twitter.com/jacobsannox

Instagram:http://www.instagram.com/jacobsannoxwriter

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55810045-dark-oak

Purchase Link: https://books2read.com/u/mVQZ65 

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Book Tour & Giveaway: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley!

As always, a huge thank you to Storytellers On Tour and Lee Conley for having me this time around!  Last year I featured the debut novel in The Dead Sagas, A Ritual of Bone, you can find that review here! Now comes the sequel, a even more grim dark-er read called A Ritual of Flesh. Definitely check out the tour schedule and giveaway below because I am 100% fully recommending these books to any dark fantasy and horror fans!

It is also of note that the author is going to be coming onto my GrimDarkTober interview lineup so definitely keep an eye open for that!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Ritual of Flesh
  • Series: The Dead Sagas #2
  • Author: Lee C. Conley 
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 10/10/20
  • Length: 476
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ fully!

Here is the synopsis:

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.

Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.

Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.

In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.

The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead

Holy crap, so I thought that book one was immersive, desperate, dark, and a true grabber from page one .. and then I read this installment. Conley blew it out of the water in terms of maturity, atmosphere, and bringing the storylines together in a cohesive, interesting, and seamless way.

Imagine if you will, the stinking bloody dead victims of a plague piling up in the gutters, no food to be had, and the gates of the towns all sealed. A man is crawling through the corpses, risking the plague himself, trying to find some coin – but even if he found something to steal, he couldn’t buy food. The surviving townsfolk just look on, too numb to bother.

That, friends, is an actual scene (but not a quote) from the novel. I can’t tell you the immersive, seeping atmosphere of dread throughout this book without just describing the scene where I feel they *almost* hit rock bottom.

Each surviving character experiences significant loss and witnesses family as well as other loved ones die, so I know Conley is setting the end up for something even more desperate and epic.

I loved how the characters still managed to find something to fight for, even if all they have left is their family legacy and claim to their homeland.

One thing I have to mention too is the utter chaos of some scenes … Certain parts are just absolutely crazy but still remain within world possibility.

My favorite thing is that this is such a welcome break from the newer fantasy I have been reading: I honestly don’t care about romance and character development and all that crap, just entertain me with something amazing and immersive and intelligent and well written, and this is IT.

Long story short: if you like chaos, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, fighting and honor set in a world reminiscent of Skyrim (I hold by that comparison in terms of my visualization of the world): you need these books!

Has this captured your attention yet?? Enter here to win a copy!

You can also check out the links below to learn more!!

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43245727-a-ritual-of-flesh  

Website:http://www.leeconleyauthor.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

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

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor 

Categories
Fantasy Paranormal Young Adult

The Keeper of Night (ARC Review) by Kylie Lee Baker

Bring on the morally grey characters and complicated endings, it’s fall! Thank you so much to Inkyard Press for my proof of The Keeper of Night! This is a YA fantasy with Japanese mythology, and I still enjoyed it quite a bit as an adult

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Keeper of Night
  • Series: The Keeper of Night #1
  • Author: Kylie Lee Baker
  • Publisher & Release: Inkyard Press, 10/12/21
  • Length: 400 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ all the stars for this dark fantasy

Here is the book blurb:

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy duology set in 1890s Japan.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

I liked the premise here, a young British Reaper is also half Japanese Shinigami, and she is bullied by the other Reapers. They don’t treat her much better in Japan and she just goes into this totally selfish spiral of darkness after being forced out of London. Her brother, Neven, would have followed her to the ends of the world and I was surprised by Ren’s lack of empathy towards him, how brutal!

I guess that’s what makes a good morally gray character, their self serving attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to reach their goals.

It was cool to get a look at Japanese mythology and legends too, especially the underworld.  Baker does a great job with descriptive language, world building, and setting.  I felt like I was there, seeing the sights and smells, being crushed by darkness, wondering what would come next.  A very immersive read.

The magic system was pretty low key, the Reapers had a very cool time turning ability and a lot of the Japanese folklore involved abilities as well.  It was well described and once again I liked the concept of magic/legends/beings only being susceptible to the fatal influences of their own culture.

This is a great October read. I’m shocked that it’s a debut. Minus a few wordy forays into similes and purple prose that I thought hurt the flow – it was beautifully descriptive enough without going over the top those few times!  I thought overall it was a mature enough novel to enjoy as an adult.

There was some humor and good dialogue too, as well as a darker romance, but my favorite part was definitely the legends and stories.

Overall? This is an interesting, fast paced novel with good themes, morally questionable main characters, lovely language, and fresh mythology. You might cry though! A big ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me as an adult or for YA

Categories
Fantasy

The Echoed Realm (Blog Tour)!! By A.J. Vrana

Tour Banner with host names!

Thank you so much to Storytellers on Tour and A.J. Vrana for having me on the tour for The Echoed Realm!   I really enjoyed the first book in the duology (my review for The Hollow Gods is up on the blog too) and A.J. did a phenomenal job bringing this series to conclusion! Just in time for fall reading comes this darkly atmospheric, spooky, haunted and hallowed book where we get the real history of the wolf under the willow tree.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Echoed Realm
  • Series: The Chaos Cycle Duology #2
  • Author: A.J. Vrana
  • Publisher & Release: Parliament House Press, 08/10/21
  • Length: 444 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Yes for fans of book one, folklore, and unapologetic dark fantasy!

Here is the bookblurb:

Miya’s world ended in Black Hollow.

It’s been three years since the Dreamwalker upended her life and left her with a heavy burden. A fledgling to the ethereal realm, Miya stumbles into the nightmares of those haunted by spectres. Little does she know, one of them is coming for her, clutching a dark secret abreast.

Kai has found a new purpose with his companion, but the price is his freedom. Bound and beholden to Miya, he struggles to adjust to his new role as her vanguard.

Meanwhile, Mason discovers he may be a pawn trapped in a web of schemes. Was his time in Black Hollow an accident, or was it only the beginning of some greater machination?

As Black Hollow’s bloody stain spreads beyond its wooded borders, Miya fights to evade a past she barely understands. The Dreamwalker’s legacy is a vise grip, and it isn’t letting go. Primordial horrors draw near, fables come alive, and long-buried histories rise from the grave, ready to hunt.

Sharpen your claws and bloody your teeth. There’s fear to be sown.

Sharpen your claws and bloody your teeth. There’s fear to be sown

Three years after the events of The Hollow Gods, we see Miya and Kai settled into their new “normal”.  If you can call traversing the dreamscape after demons normal.  Kai has become tethered to the dreamwalker and he really isn’t a fan of this new bond.  There is old evil on the loose and the only way to free themselves and the town of Orme’s Rest is to confront age old trauma and make the choice to move forward.

I think that while reading The Hollow Gods, I missed the kernel of the story.  There was a certain level of ambiguity in the folklore that didn’t make 100% sense at the time, but reading book two answers all the big questions.  I think Vrana did this on purpose, gave us enough to appreciate the legends, and then told us the backstory and revealed the true meaning of The Chaos Cycle at the conclusion.

The folklore aka legend aka bedtime story is amazing.  We learn the origin of the black wolf, the creator, and the dreamwalker, and it’s as dark and bloody and violent as I could have possibly wanted and expected. 

My only question was – Where did Ama fit into it all? Where did she come into the legend? We even got Gavran’s back story so not including Ama felt like a big omission.

One of my favorite themes was how Miya and Kai both had to realize and appreciate their own worth in order to beat their literal and figurative demons.  Yes they were tethered together but individually they are both worth their weight in existence. 

I also looooved the theme that love is a choice, not a need or a calling or a hex or an ages old tether. 

Tie those themes into an utterly dark and atmospheric read that never once loses it’s character, and I think A.J. Vrana wrote the ultimately perfect fall read.

The dreamscape and the roots, trees, swamp, were practically their own characters in this book. I love when the setting and atmosphere are so alive. Fear is practically a living character as well,

The one thing I want to add is that if you tend to avoid horror novels because they are too scary – this really does not fit into that realm for me. It’s definitely a dark fantasy but I don’t want anyone to see “horror” and run! I absolutely recommend these as a quintessential fall spooky season read though!


Like the artwork that you see? Enter the giveaway by clicking here to win your choice of a poster!


Meet the Author!  You can click the tour link below to find all of her social media links!

A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer from Toronto, Canada. She lives with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter, who nest in her window-side bookshelf and cast judgmental stares at nearby pigeons. Her doctoral research examines the supernatural in modern Japanese and former-Yugoslavian literature and its relationship to violence. When not toiling away at caffeine-fueled, scholarly pursuits, she enjoys jewelry-making, cupcakes, and concocting dark tales to unleash upon the world.

 Please do check out the rest of the tour schedule for more info and to see what the others have to say about The Echoed Realm! 

Book Tour: The Echoed Realm by A. J. Vrana

Lastly here are some preorder links and goodreads!