audiobooks Fantasy

The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold (Audiobook Review)

As Wyrd & Wonder winds down I am in the mood for standalones.  Surfing my audiobook library I happened to stumble across this absolute gem of a book.  The Spirit Ring is a  deceptively simple fantasy full of magic, humor, kobolds, and taking power in whatever form your status allows.  From ghost dads to corpse buoys and kobolds, let’s just jump right in

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: The Spirit Ring
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Publisher & Release: Baen, 1992
  • Length: 369 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of fantasy

A quick note on the Audio: running 13.25 from Blackstone Audio, 2019. Narrated by Grover Gardner. Total 5⭐ experience 

Here’s the synopsis:

In an alternate Renaissance Italy where the church regulates magic and licenses magicians, fiery Fiametta Beneforte wants to be more than her goldsmith-mage father’s unpaid apprentice. But when the Duchy of Montefoglia is laid under military and magical siege, she unexpectedly must join with Thur Ochs, a young Swiss miner and foundryman, to tap their skills in both metalwork and necromancy to rescue her father’s soul and combat an evil sorcerer

My Thoughts:

This is easily one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It takes a good look at how magic would have fared in the time of the Renaissance era, within the church, putting sanctioned white magic crafters against black magic users and necromancers. How are women treated in this world? How does class limit someone’s reach in life? Is magic written in Latin so only the learned and upper class people have access to it?

But she wasn’t a man and she doubted she’d get ten paces with a sword in her hand.  Not man but true mage. If God wanted to damn her for using the only strength he’d given her, that was God’s choice

There are lots of good themes running through this that are appropriate to the historical time period. The magic is fairly simple and I think it makes sense as far as how the church would have tried to control it’s use. Some of the necromancy parts get pretty dark and it’s more of what I am looking for when I pick up books like this.

I’ve heard the prose described as “stiff” and I can understand that, but the book is funny as all hell and had some of the actual best moments. There’s a whole sequence of Swiss Army Man in book form when Thur is trying to get his brothers corpse out of a window, across the river, down the road … it’s ghastly hilarious and Bujold has a serious talent at imagery plus dry humor to create a wonderful effect.

He has a sudden picture of himself: a naked Swiss madman carrying a corpse.  Well he had nothing to attract a robber certainly

The ending also had me rolling despite the kind of sadness to it all. I think that once you get past the first two chapters which introduce the main characters, the book takes off and becomes quite a delightful read. Both points of view are told equally well so that I never minded if I was reading Fiametta or Thur.

A strong female lead, a miner who ends up being pretty brave after all, and even the Abbott who surprised me at the end are all great characters. I love the obstinate old horse, trying to balk and eat grass while a battle is taking place 😂

The conflict is believable, the action constant, the kobolds something that you don’t see every day. Oh the kobolds! I need more kobolds in fantasy please 

Overall, this is really a great little book and of course Grover Gardner adds a stunning narration. His voices are awesome and the humor or gravity radiates in his voice. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this as much on page but I think I would have.

The Ring! Of course! Damn – I mean God bless me, that’s what it was

My last thought, as someone who’s lost their dad and can now appreciate ghost dads, is that I freaking love Prospero. He meant well for Fiametta and I love that even in the afterlife he was looking out for her and stayed snarky as ever.  I’d like to have seen Fiametta grieving a little more but I think she will when the shock wears off.

Overall: simple on the outside but full of great themes and humor to balance the darkness.  A tale of occupation in renaissance times based loosely on the life of Benvenuto Cellini. My first Bujold but definitely not my last. If people are describing this as one of her “lesser” works, I need all the “better” ones now!

Thanks for checking out my audio and book review of The Spirit Ring by Louis McMaster Bujold. I purchased my audiobook on Chirp and I’m definitely buying myself a hard copy for my collection. As always, all opinions are my own ♥️

Fantasy Young Adult

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Book Thoughts)

Thanks to Wyrd & Wonder this month for hosting a read along for The Bone Witch! This book has been on my TBR for a while since it was pretty popular on bookstagram.  I was disappointed overall and all things considered don’t regret checking it out.

While the weekly discussion posts included spoilers, these are my spoiler free thoughts on the entire novel.

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: The Bone Witch
  • Series: The Bone Witch #1
  • Author: Rin Chupeco
  • Publisher & Release: Sourcebooks Fire, 2017
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans of slow moving fantasy
Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

A story of scorned witches, sinister curses, and resurrection, The Bone Witch is the start of a dark fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Serpent & Dove and The Cruel Prince.

Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price…

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother, Fox, from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha―one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

My Thoughts:

I wanted to hit two stars for most of the book and came so close to DNFing.

The one thing I will truly give the book credit for is keeping all content age-advertised appropriate.  There’s one use of the word ‘ass’ and nothing “physically romantic”, so I would let kids read this no problem.

There were a lot of potentially cool elements like resurrection, dark magic, undead familiar horses… I wanted to like this more but the second quarter of the book lost me irredeemably.

It was hard not having an antagonist or clear conflict throughout. I don’t come to necromancy to read about clothes and dancing. At the end, the antagonist that was presented felt tossed into the story with no clues or lead up or prior thought regarding the one responsible, which caused the ending to not be rewarding at all. She just revealed a bunch of new but apparently ongoing things and said ok, readers will accept this for sure since it has apparently been happening for weeks now.

The story is framed by Tea telling the events of the past to a bard. I kind of liked this because it gave a degree of separation from the teenage first person point of view. Something exciting is building up in the present as Tea bored me to tears with the past. I was expecting the time lines to meet up in book one, although the story that Tea is telling the bard at the end of The Bone Witch is still well behind the events happening in real time. I thought the frame would only frame one book but apparently not, and that’s what I found the most disappointing.

I also think that we wasted a lot of time learning about clothes and Asha customs and it felt essentially like reading Memoirs of a Geisha, to the point that I set it down for a week wondering if I should just go read that book again instead. Then there’s the random storyline of Likh wanting to cross dress and dance as an Asha, which isn’t inherently bad but it’s bad enough to read about women’s clothes for so long without adding men into it as well. Basically most of the “Asha Training” was boring as hell and the book left all actual plot and storyline with consequences to be damned until the last quarter or so.

There are a lot of cool things she could have done with an undead familiar. Fox could have been interesting but there were no consequences to his dead-ness until the third quarter when the author finally decided to characterize him. I also think Tea felt like a wet blanket. She didn’t really have an arc of growth or maturity, it was more about her excelling in “training” and coming through the novice Asha cough Geisha ranks.  I can’t even say she’s more mature in present time yet, more powerful yes but the rest is to be determined.

Chupeco did bring out the action and make it all much more interesting in the last quarter but prior to that I hadn’t been compelled to continue reading at any point throughout.

Also I don’t think the author owes the copy editor and proofreader any favors. Some dialogue hinted at previous events that as far as I could tell never occurred. Kalen referred to himself as Kalen a few times in conversation like the author forgot who was talking while writing the conversation, or had originally intended a third person to be talking. This book had a LOT of those kinds of errors. One of my biggest issues was how much of this felt ripped off from other books, it wasn’t just Geisha.

My general lack of interest was the result of lots of small things.adding up. In the big picture, the snail slow pace and lack of clear conflict didn’t align with a typical YA novel at all. I’d expect this pace for a slow burning and very long adult fantasy. Speaking of time it was also very hard to tell how much time was passing as the story went. At one point Tea was “almost 15” but I thought she was much older already. Then I couldn’t even remember two years having passed 🤷‍♀️

There were a few funny parts and some witty dialogue and overall it’s a good idea, but I don’t personally feel like the book delivered. I did LOL at the cow and the horse part. Even at the end when things are heating up and I expected answers, we just got more questions pointing towards the next book.

The series may get better as it goes but I don’t have any immediate interest in continuing the trilogy. It has some redeeming qualities and obviously going forward there’s going to be more action than party training (hopefully) so….we’ll see.

Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

From Phoenix Horses to the Royal Apothecary Society: Alchemy in Fantasy

Witch Art credit to Astromoali 

The subject of yesterday’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt, Alchemy, is one of my favorite fantasy topics. I will always read about alchemy.  There’s a lot that an author can do with the topic although usually it takes one of two forms:

1) Creating or locating an alchemist’s stone to transmute gold or other precious metal


2) Trying to create or locate an elixir of life

While those are not bad ideas, I find them overdone and frequent quest goals. I am going to highlight some of my favorite alchemy related books, ideas, and alchemists who do different things with the subject.

Alright let’s go!

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen: Alchemy -> Magic Phoenix Horses

Phoenix horses are cool by themselves, right? In this YA book that I affectionately dubbed Hunger Games meets The Scorpio Races, alchemists choose their materials to create magic horses with specific abilities.  They are in a potentially deadly phoenix race against other promising young alchemists and each ingredient gives the horses different powers.  That one was unique to me. I reviewed it here


Give the Dark My Love: Alchemy -> Necromancy

Alchemy is a higher trade and a young girl wants to go and learn the craft.  Alchemists can transmute, brew, craft crucibles of different metal, and then there is a forbidden fourth branch …. necromancy.  Alchemy is a wild ride in this as the crucibles can trap souls, transfer pain, create plague, and when the worst happens our main character takes off down the darkest road possible.  One of my favorite YA books. Look at her holding a crucible on the cover!


Grand Apothecary Putress: Alchemy -> Undead Plague

Branching off into a different sect of storytelling (but yes there’s a book too), the Royal Apothecary Society was a black line of lore in the Warcraft universe.  Creating potions, necromancy, the forsaken plague, general plague, and lord knows what else.


Grand Apothecary Putress eventually staged a coup at Wrathgate after years in service to Sylvanas and the Forsaken, and you’d better believe that I loved seeing his dead head roll at the end. 

Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold, now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken! Death to the Scourge! And death to the living!

A small but iconic figure in the universe for sure and one that I’ll always remember.

The Royal Apothecary Society’s story is best told in Sylvanas, although it’s a small role.


Snape -> Potions

Now that I’m branching off into favorite alchemists, I can’t neglect our favorite potions master aka THBP

What was your favorite Snape moment? There aren’t enough potions masters in fantasy as major characters.  It’s not usually an exciting topic for book matter but I always love a brewmaster


A Far Wilder Magic: Alchemy -> Magical Hunt

Here’s one more book that I’ve read fairly recently, where the competitive hunt is on for a magical creature.  Hunters enter in teams of two: a sharpshooter and an alchemist.  Margaret is a sharpshooter, and Weston is…well … barely an alchemist in training. He had natural talent though, kind of. There wasn’t as much alchemy as I’d have liked in this one but it was a different concept. I reviewed it here 


The Lady Alchemist

I’m surprised that it took so long for Rumplestilksin – with – alchemy to become a thing.  Here, Samantha Vitale has a young alchemist attempting and unable to transmute straw into gold as a prison sentence.  Eventually she has to transmute a body for a magician and things get a little twisted, but I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit


What fantasy books with alchemy do you recommend?? I need more and am always looking for unique takes!

audiobooks Fantasy

Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams (Audiobook)

I am finally back with more book content! While sticking to fantasy books this month for Wyrd & Wonder, it seemed like a good time to revisit a classic fantasy tale.  Plus I misread one of the prompts, ‘Magic Casters’, as ‘Magic Cats’, so I was looking for fresh cat magic to talk about.  Tailchaser’s Song is a book that I almost couldn’t finish as a teen, and now as an adult it’s a whole different reading experience.

Let’s take a look at the book then I’ll share some brief thoughts

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: Tailchaser’s Song
  • Series: Standalone
  • Author: Tad Williams
  • Publisher & Release: DAW – originally 1985, reissue edition 2000
  • Length: 333 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ if you love stories about animals
Here’s the blurb:

Fifteen years ago, a young author surprised and enchanted readers with his first novel—the story of Fritti Tailchaser, a courageous tom cat in a world of whiskery heroes and villains, of feline gods and strange, furless creatures called M’an.

The book was Tailchaser’s Song, the author was Tad Williams.The legend was born

-From the 2000 reissue edition

A Quick Note On the Audiobook:

Narrated by Alex Kydd, it runs a little over 13 hours and is released by Tantor Media.  I personally liked Kydd’s narration and gave the overall experience ⭐⭐⭐⭐. At least at the time of this writing you can listen free as part of the Audible Plus subscription


My Thoughts:

It’s an odd feeling to come back to this book as an adult. To me it always felt like TS Eliot meets The Hobbit, but with cats.

As a teen I remember being mortified by all the dead, dying, and maimed animals.  For a book about a cat quest to find his lost friend, Tailchaser gets pretty dark towards the end.

Even as an adult I still find it disturbing in places. A reanimated corpse made of dying and dead animals? Omg. And I felt constantly awful for poor Pouncequick who is like the cutest little kitten but also the punching bag of the story.

Other than a pile of corpses and animals killing each other like humans do in similar books, it’s a decent story. You obviously have to root for the characters (except Hushpad) because they’re adorable cats.  There’s plenty of action once the story gets going, you just have to wade through a lot of introduction and cat stuff to get there.

One thing I appreciate more as an adult is the language and cultural creation.  I love when authors go crazy creating language for their fictional worlds. Williams made a whole different world of cat culture, naming conventions, speech patterns etc, for the world and it’s pretty darn well thought out. This includes alternate pronunciations within the cat language and a glossary in the original edition. He also creates tons of legends and origin stories for The Folk which I enjoyed. Many different authors and poets are quoted at the chapter intros too. I’m not sure if that aspect distracted or added but I liked them.

My last thought is about world building in animal stories.  It’s hard to accomplish a good build because the author is limited to the point of view and understanding of the animal characters.  I think Williams nailed it here though with the legends and stories and using setting to relate the cats’ world views, without overdoing it and bringing in unnecessary information that’s not relevant to the characters.

Overall, this is a fun coming of age adventure. It gets darker than I’d expect and has enough depth to keep readers of any age interested throughout.

(Now pardon me while I open up a refuge for all the animals brutalized by Hearteater in cat hell 😭)

Thanks for checking out my book and audiobook review of Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams. I do own a copy but listened this time on Audible through my subscription. As always, all opinions are my own ♥️

General Posts, Non Reviews

The Bone Witch Read Along: Week 2 Questions!

Boat art credit to Tithi Luadthong

It’s read along week two!

Overall I don’t love that this section essentially turned into Memoirs of a Geisha (and bored me to tears) but how much longer can it go on for before the actual plot starts?  😳


Week two of The Bone Witch readathon is hosted by Annemieke at

Alright, onto it!

1. The heart glass is a very important of everone’s life but especially if you are an Asha. Having heard of Lady Mikaela’s story, can you imagine giving your heartglass to anyone?

I think people give their hearts away every day? Like was said in the first section, some people like Tea’s idiot sister give theirs away every week. Others give it away once and get burned. You never know.  Unfortunately in the book land stupid teenagers do it all the time 🤷‍♀️

Would I give it away? Not to anyone so far in my life but if the situation ever calls for it, sure

2. Continuing on from that, how would you feel if your heartglass showed your every emotion?

I would have to keep it hidden at work to not get in trouble constantly 😂 I’ve mastered the “dealing with idiots face” too well to have it betrayed.  It would be handy in some cases though like to tell how people really feel about things and if they’re sincere or not


” I don’t see the importance of good manners the way asha seem to,’ Kalen said. ‘People respond to a show of force, not to etiquette. You asha are powerful in your own right. I don’t see why you have to wrap it it up in pretty clothes and dancing. People don’t kowtow to me because I know what type of spoons to use with my stew.’

‘You’re a man, Kalen,’ Zoya laughed. ‘Or, rather, you are the type of man who has little patience for intrigue, and so you dismiss it and think others should do the same.’ (P 103-104)

How much do you feel that Kalen and/or Zoya have a point here about how the Asha are regarded as to their powers?

So…. I think they both have a point. This is also where I say that I don’t see why the hell the Asha need all that either and reading a whole section about clothes and dancing and lessons in party society has me crying from boredom.  This is so much like Geisha that I came really close to DNFing when someone actually flashed an ankle in a similar scene to the other book 🤦‍♀️

Like this is just stupid. I need to see some Asha doing real magic soon or this is a bust for me.

That said, Kalen has a to-the-point personality that I like. Some people live for drama and intrigue and these women plot behind their gowns and makeup all day. I’m team Kalen on ths one but they’ve built this whole society around the women trying to find intrigue at these parties

4. After the incident with the other asha, Tea is quite shocked to find she is not getting a punishment by Parmina. What did you think of this change of heart by Parmina and the conversation they had (on p134).

I don’t think punishing her would have served anyone, and it likely wasn’t going to be anyone’s intention.  Parmina wanted to see power and she certainly got a large display of it.  It makes sense that the women are going to try to cultivate it instead of punishing her for something they know she didn’t have control over.


‘She is a mix of both Water and Metal and a faint touch of Fire,’ she told Mistress Parmina. ‘Determined and highly intelligent. This is good. She will strive for perfection, and she has a strong sense of righteousness. She accepts change quicker than others, but she will always be questioning her abilities, no matter how far her training takes her. That is not necessarily a good thing.’

5 Salika seems to have a sense for who Tea is as she uses her vials. How do you feel this descriptions stacks up to the young and older Tea we have seen so far?

It seems along the right lines so far.  Tea at some point had to adapt to living in a cave and she seems to make the most of it.   At some point we will have to start seeing more of Tea in action to find out about the rest

6. Fox is still a constant throughout the story though it has been more than 2 years than he was raised. He seems to act as when he was alive, discussing and disagreeing with Tea. He can go through the city and make his own choices. And except for the tie to Tea and wounds not healing, there doesn’t seem to be much back lash to being undead. How realistic does that feel to you?

It really doesn’t feel realistic.  There’s obviously some kind of corpse magic at play but we don’t know enough about the forces animating him to form an opinion on it.  Lots of books with revenants give them personalities but this is like “oh, he’s dead, deal with it”. This book is VERY Y.A. in a lot of ways.

‘After all,’ she mused, ‘who would deliberately break all eight kingdoms only to save the lives of Dark Asha?’ (p164)

7. Well that is an interesting drop! How surprised were you? And how much do you feel this might have to do with Lady Mykaela (the mention of her potentially dying)?

I’m a little surprised that it took 164 pages to actually drop the hint of a plot starting! It could have something to do with Mykaela or just the need to (for some reason) keep bringing back and re-banishing these Daeva. Tea seems to want an army of them. Society seems to need them dealt with every few years as part of the status quo. Why? We finally get a hint and it’s so vague and buried in cryptic language.

What happens once there aren’t enough dark Asha left to deal with these things? Do we assume they’re dying against the beasts? Who knows


I was grateful no one else was around to see a young asha appprentice chasing her brother down the lane leading back to the Valerian, their laughter riding on the wind. (Page 192)

This very last bit of our section for this week made me laugh out loud amidst the more serious moments this part had. Were there any funny or stand out bits to you in this weeks reading?

Are we not going to talk about the heart forger? That’s our first introduction to the next book in the series! It was very interested to meet him and see what he had to say about the kingdom and the Asha and everything.

The funniest part of the whole week for me was that the one guy wants to cross-dress in order to dance in the pageant thing. It seems like an odd storyline to throw into everything else and I’m much more interested in what he could potentially do as a death seeker.

Overall now I’m curious about the dead thing that’s stalking them, the heart forger, and all the other somewhat interesting revelations that are hopefully leading us away from Geisha cough Asha training and into the actual story

Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday (Wyrd & Wonder Style): Fantasy Books I Always Recommend

The Wyrd & Wonder prompt for today is Most Recommended (fantasy), and the Top Ten Tuesday prompt is something about the books we recommend the most! Perfect, here we go.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.

Wyrd & Wonder artwork by Tithi Luadthong 

Compared to people who have been reading fantasy nonstop their whole lives, I’ve come and gone with the genre.  I don’t necessarily have the depth of older fantasy reading that many SFF bloggers do but I can definitely have at least ten books that I tend to recommend to just about anyone! Here are some recs from all across the target age spectrum, in no specific order:

1. Green Rider

I will never not recommend Green Rider. It starts out very YA and just turns into something amazing throughout the series. My heart books

Books in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain

2. Malazan

I think the hate around Malazan is mostly focused on the fans who consider themselves superior elitists, not the books themselves.  If you actually read the books and ignore the community, I’m not sure how anyone *can’t* recommend Malazan. Deadhouse Gates is everything

A few books in the Malazan Book of the Fallen Series by Steven Erikson

3.  Give the Dark My Love

For those looking for a darker YA fantasy recommendation, GTDML is my go-to recommendation. I love Beth Revis’ writing and she’s a lovely individual too.  These books are sad and a little tough to get through with the depth of the loss involved but they’re about as Grimdark and beautiful as YA can get


4. The Tide Child

Pirates, amazing characters, dragons and bone ships, stunning scenery, and souls… This series has it all. I will never not recommend RJ Barker’s books to just about anyone


5.  His Majesty’s Dragon

I know people are hit or miss with these but I love the historical context and think war with dragons is amazing. Laurence and Temeraire are a ship that I’m happy to sink on


6. Dragon Mage

I think by now, y’all can tell that if dragons are involved they’re probably my favorites. Or at least magical animals of some kind, whether horses or dragons. Dragon Mage is by far one of the better indie books I’ve ever read. It’s long but constantly engaging and changing


7. The Old Kingdom

These books should be up top somewhere. They are technically YA I believe but the series once again grows and matures into something amazing, with one of my favorite magic systems ever and a cast of wonderful characters, both human and “animal”. They’re thematic and sad and just everything to me. I’ve probably read them more than any other books with at least three read throughs and I’ll recommend them to anyone


8.  The Crowns of Croswald

For people who want something “similar to, but not Harry Potter”, these are my go to.  A magic school with tons of magic, a curse, a little pet dragon, friends and all the good things that a YA series needs.  I actually haven’t read the fourth and I don’t even know why 🤷‍♀️


9.  The First Law

Is an explanation needed? I read these recently and can absolutely tell why they’re a cornerstone of the fantasy genre. Now when people are looking for a recommendation and haven’t tried these, I can confidently say YES, read it

Before They Are Hanged Book Cover

10. The First Argentines

I don’t necessarily recommend Wheeler to everyone, but I recommend him to a LOT of new fantasy readers and people looking for clean, wholesome reads.  I am personally glued to every series he writes and they are mostly all connected in some way. The First Argentines is as good a place to start as any, but there’s also Kingfountain, Muirwood and others 🤷‍♀️


audiobooks Fantasy

A King’s Bargain by J.D.L. Rosell (Audiobook Review)

As I am reading all things fantasy this month for Wyrd & Wonder, I switched gears to go indie! JDL Rosell is an author with an impressive amount of work out so far, and those books are absolutely everywhere in the indie community.  I wanted to start towards the beginning and found books one and two of The Legend of Tal series on Audible (and KU too) so I decided to start there.

I’m not disappointed at all. This is an incredibly tropey classic feeling fantasy with everything from a cursed piece of jewelry to a petulantly funny king.

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: A King’s Bargain
  • Series: The Legend of Tal, #1
  • Author: JDL Rosell
  • Length: 386 pages (Kindle)
  • Release: Self published, 2020
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of classic fantasy

The audiobook is a combined book 1 & 2, narrated by Derek Perkins.  Released in 2021 through Podium Audio. I gave him 4 stars too for narration!

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon

The legend of Tal Harrenfel is sung across the Westreach—and with each telling, the tales grow taller. But though he’s declared a hero by his king, Tal has never claimed to be more than a man…

After three decades of fighting warlocks, killing mythical beasts, and hunting enchanted treasure, Tal has had enough. Running from the deeds of his past, he retreats to his home village under a different name and meets an unlikely companion: Garin, a village boy who dreams of making a name for himself and seeing the world beyond their sleepy town.

When Tal receives a mysterious visitor, both he and Garin are thrown into a journey across the kingdom. Soon, they become embroiled in the plots of monarchs, on the frontlines of an ancient war, and at the mercy of a fabled sorcerer.

Now Tal must live up to his legend, and Garin discover his own power, to survive the forces pitted against them…

My Thoughts:

You want tropes, we have tropes! A boy (a man!) leaves a small town and has a coming of age adventure. There’s a cursedly evil piece of jewelry. The retired hero is going to either save the day or epically ruin everything, or a little of both. There’s first love and plenty of humor and banter.  A big bad guy and a big fabled magic item.

If only everything we’re so simple, right?

What I liked about A King’s Bargain is that while Rosell doesn’t do anything new or stunning, he makes the old tropes interesting through likeable characters and a fast paced plot.  I like that I can read something like this in 360 pages when something like the Wheel of Time is a thousand page investment for a similar result.

Legends are a big theme and one of my favorite themes. What is true? Why are stories told like they are? Are the fables real, and what were they based on? Tal’s story unveils and eventually ties into that of an old “evil”.  I also like that the big picture is revealed slowly throughout the story, keeping me interested in long term as well as short term events.

The points of view go between Tal trying to reason his way through his return to the spotlight, and Garin who is along for the ride and maybe making his own story along the way.  I like Tal’s moral conflicts put against Garin’s learning curve.

There’s plenty of action, plotting, and magic to keep things interesting. There are some darker parts so it’s not all fun and games and creates a good overall balance. I wish he had done more with the various races but i think we are going to meet more of the dwarves, goblins, etc later in the series.

Overall I like this one and recommend for fans of classic fantasy. I don’t want to go into too many details but it’s a solid read, almost a popcorn fantasy, and definitely a good investment on audible (1st two books currently free with membership). Derek Perkins is a great narrator – I couldn’t speed him up very well and still understand names (settled on 1.10 speed 🤷‍♀️) but he does good voices and brings a lot to the storyline.  Continuing on to book two soon!

Thanks for checking out my book & audiobook review for A King’s Bargain by JDL Rosell! I acquired the book with KU/Audible as a mood read and as always, all opinions are my own ♥️

Fantasy Young Adult

The Splintered Series by A.G. Howard (Wyrd & Wonder: Magical Location)

Magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong

Today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is Magical Location.  What could be more magical than Wonderland?  I have struggled with whether I should write something, anything, or nothing, about the SPLINTERED series by A.G. Howard.  I carried the books around for years because they had pretty artwork and made good Instagram props, but honestly I was miffed and half disgusted reading them.


I pushed through the series mostly out of respect for how long I lugged them around while I moved and travelled and … *Sigh*.  If it weren’t for the audiobooks it would have been a no go. I couldn’t have finished. All the pretty artwork and burgundy/purple/blue font in the world can’t fix this!

The gist is that Alyssa’s maternal line is descended from the original Alice who went down the rabbit hole. There’s an interesting story buried somewhere regarding family secrets and what *actually* happened all those years ago.

We spend book one, Splintered, meeting  Howard’s questionable take on mental health and learning how wishy washy & stupidly dependent the main character is.  Her one “love interest” is possessive and awful despite the fact that they aren’t even dating at first. No one cares about their skateboarding plaid wearing emo drama awfulness.  Alyssa has fake dreadlocks made of string that the guy called “tight” and I said, good God can this get stupider?

Well, yes, it can

Moving on to Wonderland, I actually did like Howard’s creepy take on the Fae inhabitants of the other realm.  She has good descriptions and maintains that dangerous, wild atmosphere.

I didn’t like Morpheus, who is the only one obviously even more possessive and terrible to Alyssa than the first guy, Jeb.  I get that solitary fae are terrible anyway but she never exactly stuck to her guns and said no to him. So we spend about 2.75 out of 3 books watching these assholes literally kill Alyssa as she tries to please everyone and never learns to stand up for herself.  There is an outright episode of strangulation in book two that’s apparently excusable and not a big deal because he was given drugs.  Please talk to your teens if you buy them this series, I would recommend confirming that they don’t believe this is acceptable behavior under any circumstances.


Anyway, back to the book, when we are in Wonderland, or the looking glass realm, those were my favorite parts. The second book in the series, Unhinged, was my least favorite because 1) we never saw Wonderland and 2) omg the evil queen is attacking PROM and the entire book is about post prom sex that thankfully doesn’t occur.

Ok let’s go there for a minute – by the end of the series, in Ensnared, Howard made Wonderland into a religious afterlife take, which is fine.  She kept Alyssa virtuous for both of her weddings, which is great, but she didn’t own the religious theme throughout the series at all.  I don’t like when authors just dump it in at the end, and in this case it was a weird take since neither the characters nor series really reflected a lot of christian ideals.

The last book, the collection of novellas, gave a lot of background and closure that she never gave us in Ensnared. I felt like Howard tried to keep doing apologetics for Morpheus and just also failed in negating how disloyal Alyssa was to either guy throughout the series, and, frankly she should have left both of them because emotional abuse is abuse too 🤷‍♀️ I actually get what she was trying to do with the “split selves” but it just comes across as poor behavior on everyone’s part.


I mean ok I thought the Caraval series was bad and Tella was the stupidest female MC ever, but Alyssa just is so, so much worse. I think it’s hilarious that Stephanie Garber plugged the series because it’s so similar.  The girls can’t go one page without being trusting, being betrayed by, “learning their lesson”, and then going back to the guy that’s spinning them around like a yo-yo.  Really how much can we take of this? Why did I finish these books?

There was just enough of a story that I wanted to see what happened, and wasn’t too mad.  Alyssa’s dad is the only character that I liked and he became a big part of book three, which was my favorite of the entire lot by far.  The looking glass world was interesting and there wasn’t actually a terrible plot at heart with the manipulative red queen and all the terrible things happening in Wonderland.

Lord I just wish the characters weren’t so terrible. And I didn’t like that book two kept us only in the real world.  As far as the audiobook, how did this take place in a small town in Texas yet only one character had a southern accent? He also sounded like the voice that young kids make when they’re making fun of a dumb person and try to use a low, flat octave.

It’s so bad, I can’t reconcile these pretty books with how much I don’t even think teens need to be reading them.  The most telling fact is that book one had 61,000 ratings while book three didn’t even clear 20k.  A lot of people got bent out of shape over the mental health aspects, but I get it, I mean we do terrible but necessary things to psych patients even in the hospital so I’m assuming they do it in care centers too if worst comes to it.  It was definitely fictionalized though.  The glorifying and apologetics regarding partner abuse was the other thing bringing a lot of reviewer criticism and that’s the one I don’t think teens need. Learn to say no and stick to your guns.


That said, at the end of the day I can see where these were fairly popular books but I don’t think they’re going to hold up well.  I rated the first two books 2/5 stars and the third and fourth (the stories collection) 3 stars.

There’s a decent plot there and a lot of good ideas but you have to wade through a LOT of shit to find it

Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Under the Northern Sky: A Hidden Gem of Modern Heroic Fantasy (A Guest Post by At Boundary’s Edge)

Hello, happy Saturday to everyone! While I am reading some longer books and working far too many hours, I offered my blog up for guest posts! Alex @ At Boundary’s Edge writes exclusively science fiction on his blog, but also reads some excellent fantasy books. Here he’s talking about a series I’ve never heard of until we were in London: Under the Northern Sky by Leo Carew. I’ll shut up now, enjoy this great article ♥️

Under the Northern Sky: A Hidden Gem of Modern Heroic Fantasy

When people say ‘fantasy’ to me, it’s usually got another word in front of it. Epic Fantasy. Grimdark Fantasy. Urban Fantasy. These are the subgenres that have come to dominate the modern fantasy field. Urban Fantasy is the home of detectives wielding magic. Grimdark fantasy is the home of horrible people being horrible to each other in a horrible world. Epic fantasy, the most dominant of three, is about scheming politicians, calculating wizards, and world-spanning conflicts. There are other subgenres, of course. Cosy Fantasy seems to be on the rise. Science Fantasy will always work its way through the cracks. But one subgenre that seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years is Heroic Fantasy. On the face of it, Heroic and Epic fantasy look much the same. Look a little deeper, and you’ll start to see the differences.

Heroic Fantasy is what it sounds like. Fantasy about heroes. People who try to do the right thing, even when it’s far from the easiest thing to be doing. It has a lot in common with Sword & Sorcery, in that it tends to feature wilder worlds, where bandits and monsters are in abundance. Magic is rarely explained, and certainly not commonplace. To my untrained eye, Heroic Fantasy seems to be more a British genre than an American one. It was pioneered by the late, great David Gemmell in books such as Legend and Waylander. Gemmell’s heirs include James Barclay, Miles Cameron, and Stephen Aryan. These authors create vivid worlds that feel at once strange and exotic, yet plausibly familiar. Gemmell was famously in the anti-map camp of writers. Yet with the simple worlds ‘Lentrian Red’ he conjured visions of epic landscapes and lived-in worlds. I have searched for years for an author who can bring that same vivid touch to the simplest of things.

In Leo Carew’s Under the Northern Sky, I have finally found it.

Consisting of The Wolf, The Spider, and The Cuckoo, this trilogy is a masterful fusion of history, myth, and fantasy. It is set in a world analogous to the Dark Ages of Europe, and shares common elements of our history. The people speak Saxon, an Empire clearly Roman has receded, and even the place names and towns of Albion will be familiar to a reader with a grasp on geography. But this is not our world. In the book world, homo sapiens is not the only strain of humanity to prosper. The protagonist, Roper, is from the evolutionary chain that spawned the Neanderthal, larger than a man, and with thick plates of bone across his body. In what we would call Wales, there lives a race of giants descended from the ape Gigantopithecus. The evolutionary science is speculative, yet plausible.

All of this feeds into a conflict across Albion as Roper first ascends to power, and ultimately leads his armies against the south. Here we find the Saxons, regular humans who have nevertheless diverged from real history in their kingdoms and alliances. The South has the feeling of history, while not being a slavish retelling of what truly happened. The differences allow Carew to push society in new directions. Not needlessly modernising it for the reader, but by taking what could have been, and turning it into what is. Here we meet Bellamus, by far the most compelling and ultimately sympathetic antagonist I’ve met in recent years. The courts of the Saxon are different from those of the Black Lords in the North, but equally compelling.

There is no magic to be found in this world. Battles are won by the swinging of swords, and the grit of one man pushing steel into another’s belly. Spears rule battlefields, and hyenas crawl in the aftermath. Combat bleeds from the pages, visceral, brutal, and bloody. Carew pulls as few punches as his protagonists, and no one is spared the killing blow. This is a series where you can feel the mud churning around your feet as you read. The rain hammering on shields overhead, and the screaming of the dying.

But this is no mere bloodbath. There is politics too, with scheming and duplicity on both sides of the conflict. Everyone, from Roper and Bellamus to the lowliest of courtiers has an agenda. Allegiances shift quickly, and no one is ever fully in the right or the wrong. Albion is a land wrought in tragedy, and plans change as swiftly as the tide of battle.

And yet even amid all this, there is light in the darkness. Those who commit atrocities are driven by noble goals. There is love, and romance, and kinship. In this land of violence, there are years of peace. Yes, war will come, but the soldiers are fighting for something. This is not death for the sake of death. Hard as life may be, they are fighting for life. For the chance to build something for their families, and those who will come after them.

Carew’s writing is simply fantastic. It’s Abercombie without the snarl. Jordan without the fluff. Erikson without the pomposity. Nothing in his words is wasted. It is fresh and modern, yet at the same time is as timeless as the realm his characters inhabit. It is as close to Gemmell as I have ever found. Simply put, it’s stunning. It has the freshness of the best fantasy, but the familiarity of historical fiction. If you enjoy shows like Vikings and The Last Kingdom, then this is the perfect gateway into fantasy. And if you’re knee deep in all the latest epics, Under the Northern Sky still has plenty to offer.

Perhaps the best part of all is that this trilogy is complete. No waiting for the next book. No wondering if it will ever come. Three books. One story. Finished. That’s rare enough to be worthy of praise. If there were to be more books, I would be overjoyed. But in this trilogy, Roper’s arc is complete. His myth is written, and now he stands as a shape in the mist. Another great man of fantasy whose path I will not cross again.

You can find Alex online

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Book Review of The Wolf by Leo Carew


Sordaneon by L.L. Stephens (Book Review)

You guys might remember that I was on a book tour for Sordaneon a few weeks ago. LL Stephens did a great Sunday Brunch Series interview for that and I hope you’ll all check it out if you haven’t yet.  I took my time reading the book itself since it’s pretty dense and honestly took me a while to get into, and now I’m finally catching up on back reviews. Let’s take a look at the book and see my thoughts finally!

Bookish quick facts:
  • Title: Sordaneon
  • Series: The Triempery Revelations #1
  • Author: L.L. Stephens
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 2021
  • Length: 538 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for epic fantasy fans
Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Secrets sheathe swords.

A fallen world is littered with the corpses of broken god-machines, and a sheltered, angry youth is destined to re-awaken their power. But to embody a god, Dorilian Sordaneon must first learn to be human…

Dorilian is blood bound to the Rill, a quasi-living artifact that spans continents and empowers a privileged few to reap the riches of an entire civilization. Unfortunately, decades after seizing control of the remaining god-machines, those privileged few aren’t willing to give up their power—even if it means destroying the human bloodline to which the Rill is tethered.

My thoughts;

This is a big book with a lot to unpack, aka perfect if you like epic fantasy.  There’s politics and godlike abilities and character arcs that will provide something for every type of fantasy fan. My initial reaction was to be turned off by all the names and places and threads at first but my advice is to use the appendix in the back and be patient: the reward is worth it!


Two unlikeable princes are the major points of view. One on either side of a political conflict. Dorilian is the main character and while I did warm to him eventually, there’s a godlike quality to his race that makes him inaccessible. He’s got a great arc that ties into that of the King of the occupational force as the books set up for the rest of the series.

As someone who doesn’t like character driven stories, my favorite part was watching Dorilian learn to be human.  The opposing king is an older guy that miraculously steps in as a father figure and tries to change the course of conflict moving forward by teaching Dorilian about family, history, civility, and so much else.

How much of Dor’s world view is true and how much is manipulation from people trying to stay in power?  One would be surprised. The other POV is Stefan, the king’s grandson, who embodies the “other side” of the political spectrum.  More of a static character than I was expecting. I’m excited to see where the two boys take their countries in the next book.

The political plots are epic, brutal, and Stephens isn’t afraid to kill off a few characters. I love all the backstabbing, plotting, and paranoia threading the pages.

The magic is there on a big epic scale too. A lot of it is done through magical objects but I also think that Stephens is leaving a few things dormant until later books, like a powerful sorcerer and the attention of a god entity.  The magic is there but this is more of a political fantasy so far.  The other interesting thing is that Stephens I think had written later books in the series first, then went back to the start to tell Dorilian’s story first.  I’m most curious to see where this goes now that the story is set.


And what a story! Vaguely so it’s not spoilery, towards the end there is one of those huge, vastly huge, events that I love in fantasy.  There’s absolute slaughter. Total mayhem. Souls screaming as they die as a tower is cracking and raining destruction.  It’s really a wonderful reward for getting through the book and I’m just so excited to keep reading on.

The only part I didn’t like was again, something that I think will be important later on in the series because it’s too big to just toss into a book like it’s nothing.  There’s a big idea of the gods creating layers of the world so that humans can live in reality. Tying into this somehow is modern day Earth – I mean are we A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or are we an epic fantasy? Bringing “reality” into this amazing fantasy setting seemed like a terrible idea, but I’m willing to see where it goes in future books.

Overall… Yeah, I like when fantasy is actually pretty epic.  Sordaneon has a lot of background but it also has a ton of action and heartfelt moments, and my pulse was pounding by the end.  A lovely mix of political, personal, epic fantasy. Check it out for sure and don’t forget to go read the author interview too!

Thanks for checking out my book review of Sordaneon by LL Stephens. I originally won the paperback in a giveaway and as always, all opinions are my own. Support indie!