Categories
Fantasy

The Sword of Mercy and Wrath by N.C. Koussis

It’s nearly the end of GrimDarkTober and I want to talk about the last book I finished this month!  The Sword of Mercy and Wrath is a dark fantasy book with werewolves, their hunters, a twisted trope of adopted sibling rivalry, set in a world of territory conflict and war.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Sword of Mercy and Wrath
  • Series: The Swords of Dominion, #1
  • Author: N.C. Koussis
  • Publisher & Release: Self, September 2022
  • Length: 267 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ for fans of  dark fantasy and action

***See note on the synopsis at the end


This is an exceptionally addictive read.  For such a short novel, N.C. Koussis packs nonstop action and character development from start to finish to create a fast paced read that is hard to put down.

The two main points of view are Tristain, off to war as a knight’s squire in hopes of making a name for himself and getting his adopted sister and mother away from their abusive father back home.  The other is Selene, the sister, attacked by a werewolf and in turn sets off with a dashing inquisitor to become a hunter of those monsters.

I think the Selene character stole the spotlight from Tristain and ran with it.  I enjoyed both viewpoints but her character arc was the best part of the book for me.  An interesting look at how grief and revenge can cause a loss of identity as Selene shucks off her last to become a remorseless werewolf hunter for the religious order.  The training was brutal and dark and everything I’d expect from an order that targets those with hurt in their heart and no where else to turn.  Then the question becomes – can Selene find herself again?

Tristain took a bit of a different arc and showed us the life of the army, the depths of betrayal in the novel, and that monsters can take many shapes and forms.

I liked how both characters, and most of the side characters, were in the moral grayzone.  They had faults, they were ravaged from war and hardship and grieving, making mistakes and learning from them.  The book was pretty dark though the middle to end but managed to keep up a thread of hope that I don’t see in a lot of Grimdark anymore. The end was… Uh… Well, I’d like a sequel, let’s put it that way.  (My heart didn’t need a hug at all before the epilogue).

While I did truly enjoy the book, the action, the battles, the military strategy, the violence that all makes up a solid dark fantasy, one can guess by the length that there might not have been a ton of world building.  I am a world building fanatic and (while I 100% recommend the book for fans of fast paced action packed reads), I really wanted some more background and development for the world, the characters, the political conflicts, maybe some more history, just those little things that flesh out fantasy worlds.  I know that’s not necessity what the author set out to do but I think it would have helped without slowing things down too much.

That said though, the action and moral conflicts and characters more than carried this book! I am now patiently waiting for the next installment👻

I didn’t include a synopsis because I think it reflects an earlier version of the text that isn’t quite accurate.

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series ~ Featuring John Palladino

For my super special Halloween edition of Sunday Brunch this year, I’m so excited to jump into the book tour for The Trials of Ashmount in conjunction with Escapist Book Tours! This book is great for GrimDarkTober and John Palladino is a local author so I’m dually excited to share this interview. Actually he might fight me on that statement but in general, WNY is “local” in my eyes.

I’ve already read and reviewed the book, so search for that on the blog if you’re interested! Also do check out the other tour posts here on the Escapist website!

Read on to see some great thoughts on the Grimdark genre, Trials, the next book, and of course, Halloween vs Christmas.  

Anyway, let’s get on with it 🎃


🥞Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone your favorite thing about ‘spooky season’?

🎤Well, my favorite thing about “spooky season” is that it’s the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (my favorite holiday), New Years, and, on top of all that, the weather gets cold, it becomes darker, and snow begins to fall. I love all of it. And to me, Halloween is the start of it. And maybe I’m ashamed to admit it, but I also enjoy the holiday music – it adds to just a generally positive atmosphere in stores and stuff that isn’t around during the rest of the year. 

🥞What’s your brunch order today?

🎤 I’ll be honest – I’m usually asleep when brunch occurs. However, if I’m at brunch, I’d probably order a breakfast sandwich (sausage, egg, cheese on an english muffin because that’s the only way to have them and I’ll die on this hill) and then some sort of potato side. Hashbrowns? Sure. Those are good. 

🥞I’m willing to forgive some rabble rousing, but do explain how bringing up Christmas in October is a good idea 🤣 p.s. this is about the authors Twitter handle, which states that Christmas is better than Halloween 😳

🎤Is there such a thing as there ever being a bad time to bring up Christmas?? It’s the best holiday. Presents, snow (though not so much anymore lol), vacation, music, the food? It’s all splendid. I’d do Christmas once a season if it were up to me. Halloween I could live without. It’s a fine holiday, but I don’t generally participate. Costumes are cool, but I generally stay home and hide during Halloween. Halloween is social, Christmas is not (unless you’re one of those family families, in which case, I wouldn’t like Christmas… who wants to do all of that travel and family visiting when you could be in your own house? I know – plenty of you… but for me, I prefer times when I don’t have to deal with people, and most Halloween celebrations are packed with other costumed people!). Also I’ll just say it, and I know this is going to offend a lot of you… pumpkin spice anything is gross. I know, I know, I apologize. I just hate the smell, taste, and look of all the special pumpkin spice stuff… I am not willing to completely write off Halloween, though. As a kid it was always my second favorite holiday. I suspect if I wasn’t single and had somebody to hang out with, or a family, I’d probably be more willing/eager to participate. But for the last decade of my life, I’ve not participated in a single Halloween event. 

🥞 Alright, let’s talk about the book. So there are a bunch of pretty different characters in Trials, is there one point of view that you either wrote yourself into or just enjoyed writing the most?

🎤I loved writing the Demri, Villic, and interlude chapters. Kelden/Seradal/Edelbrock all had enjoyable chapters to write, but Demri and Villic I never got sick of writing. Villic was definitely based on my childhood. As a kid I had major introversion and found socializing with anyone to be a very difficult/nerve-wracking experience. His fears are directly related to my experiences. Fun fact about Villic – originally he wasn’t a main character in the book. His role was expanded after discussing why he was in the book with my editor and early readers. And now, I hear from a lot of people that he’s either their favorite/second favorite character, so I’m really happy I did. Overall though, Demri is my favorite character to write. I think he’s just a blast. I struggled with the decision to actually write out his stutter for the entire book or not. I wrote the first draft with the stutter written out and a few people mentioned I should just note that he had a stutter. I didn’t want to do that though because I thought it would make Demri’s character more real, and nobody would forget that it existed. Demri owns his stutter, it doesn’t bother him, and it felt sort of disingenuous to “hide it” behind a “he spoke with a stutter” because it’s such a big (yet also insignificant) part of his character. 

🥞 Is it hard, as an author, to put your characters through hell and back?  I don’t think anyone in Trials had it easy 😳

🎤 No. I see all the time that people are upset about the things they do – like they cry over something they wrote. I don’t understand that. When I’m doing something bad to a character, I’m laughing and grinning ear-to-ear, excited for people to read it, and hoping they’re surprised by it. I will say that book two I’ve written a few things that made me sad because I sort of wanted more time without said things happening (I can’t be more specific without spoilers). However, that’s what made sense for the story, so that’s why it doesn’t bother me. 

🥞 Did you have a scientific method for who you were going to kill off, or are we an impulse murderer? (P.s. your character page was amazing)

🎤Mostly impulse. There were a few deaths that I planned on, but a good majority of the ones in Trials just sort of happened. And thank you – the character page was a lot of fun to do. The heading started out as a joke to my editor, but she loved it so much I kept it. 

🥞 What elements do you think make up a good Grimdark? Where did you succeed the most bringing that into Trials?
 
🎤I think the best Grimdark stories have realistic consequences, an unpredictable nature, and morally gray characters. Those are the three aspects I most judge a book on when deciding whether or not it’s Grimdark. Personally, I think I did a pretty good job at implementing all of these into Trials. I get a lot of messages/comments on some of the surprises in Trials – I’d love to elaborate, but I can’t without spoiling the book. In regards to morally gray characters, I don’t necessarily mean that everyone’s a prick, but that everyone acts in their best interests (or most of the characters – it’s not wrong to have a “heroic” character in a Grimdark world, but a majority of people don’t self-sacrifice like the characters in epic fantasy often do). 

🥞 Feeding off of that, do you have any personal favorites or Grimdark book recs for us?

🎤 I will always recommend A Song of Ice and Fire by GRRM and all of the books in the First Law world by Joe Abercrombie. For people who enjoy a very dark-feeling world, check out Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar – the overall “vibe” of the world might be the most cringe-inducing I’ve experienced.

🥞 Can you tell everyone how book 2 is going? Any hints you’re willing to give us?

🎤 Book two is just about finished being edited by Sarah Chorn. I can’t wait to edit the book and get it out there. The title is Buzzard’s Bowl and there is a brand new main POV character I think everyone will like. Her name is Ashen, and that’s all I’ll say for now, although if you want to know a little more, read on.

🥞 Seeing as it’s Halloween, what’s your favorite costume that you’ve ever worn? Bonus points if you have a photo!

🎤 This is a great question but it’s really difficult for me because I don’t even remember most of the costumes I’ve worn. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since I was sixteen. I’ll say a werewolf. I DO have a picture of it but I have no idea where it is. And it’s physical because the whole digital thing didn’t really exist back then…

🥞 Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! This last space is an open forum for you so feel free to talk about anything in the world you may want to here!

🎤 Iwant to thank Athena for this fun interview! Hopefully my Halloween takes weren’t too painful for you to deal with 😛 

Alongside book two in the series, I’m working on releasing a short story anthology called Before the End that’s going to have a bunch of stories set in the world of Cedain. Some of the characters will be familiar, while others will be completely unique to the anthology. There are also a few character introductions who will appear in Buzzard’s Bowl. I’m also considering putting a pair of characters into book three. Some of these stories can be found, unedited, on my website, johnpalladino.com One of these stories is a character introduction to Ashen, the brand new main POV character in Buzzard’s Bowl. I think people will enjoy her – she’s quickly become a favorite of mine. If people want to wait for the anthology, I plan on releasing it BEFORE Buzzard’s Bowl comes out. I don’t have any ironclad dates for either of these. My *hope* is to release Before the End this year, and Buzzard’s Bowl at the beginning of next year. We’ll see if everything pans out, though. This is hoping that there aren’t any major delays from any of the services I’ll need to pay for (which is often unusual).

Meet the Author:

You’ve stumbled upon somebody who takes nothing seriously, not even author bios. It’d be a good guess to say John Palladino was born in 1988, lives in Avoca, New York, has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management, and enjoys hibernating at home while writing. He might also lie and say he enjoys pets, long walks on the beach, and his hobbies include happiness and scuba diving. You’d see right through those lies, however, and notice he prefers the simpler things in life—reading, video games, and making ill-timed jokes. John also dislikes taking care of anything that excretes substances.


Here are the author links & Giveaway info!

Author Website: https://johnpalladino.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AGrimBastar
Facebook:  https://facebook.com/AGrimBastardAuthor
Goodreads:  https://goodreads.com/AGrimBastard

Giveaway Information:
Prize: A Paperback Copy of The Trials of Ashmount!
Starts: October 27, 2022 at 12:00am ES
Ends: November 2, 2022 at 11:59pm EST

Direct link:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/79e197ac63/

Categories
Fantasy

Jamedi @ Vueltas Reviews ‘The Worthy’ by Anna K. Moss (A GrimDarkTober Guest Post)

Surprise surprise, I am lucky enough today to present one last GrimDarkTober guest post for you all!  There’s always that one person who waits til the final moment before sending something awesome over 🤣

Anyway, Jamedi @ Vueltas is a SFF blogger who turns out an incredible amount of review and interview content.  Everyone should check out his links below, and for now, his review of a dark fantasy called The Worthy by Anna K. Moss!


Book Information:

Title: The Worthy

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Grimdark

Pages: 432

Intended Age Group: Adult

Published: August 15th, 2022

Publisher: Self-published

Heres the Synopsis:

Blood is thicker than water.

Tell that to Prince Barsten, betrayed and abandoned on foreign soil. His sister is intent on claiming the throne and he’s intent on stealing it back. One of them might succeed, if it weren’t for a sacred creature infecting people with its emotions. Rage, fear, paranoia, despair. As their country collapses, the royal siblings must stay true to themselves or find out just how thick their blood really is.

Moss’s compelling debut novel dives into a desperate kingdom, full of intrigue, treachery and sapphic-longing. Fast-paced and awash with sinful characters and fetid settings, The Worthy is a must-read for all lovers of dark fantasy.


The Review

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐(4 out of 5 stars)

The Worthy is the debut novel from the British author Anna K. Moss. As a big fan of the grimdark genre, reading it was a no brain, and I have 0 regrets about it because I felt constantly the same vibes as when I’m enjoying some of Abercrombie’s works, the same level of brutality, the morally grey characters, and those situations that make you feel uncomfortable; in definitive, what separates grimdark from dark fantasy in my opinion.

We are going to be mainly following two POVs, Ailith and Barsten, daughter and son of the king of Crell, both trying to make merits to ascend to the throne. Let’s start with Barsten, because his condition as the prince of Crell, and his struggles to make himself worthy in the eyes of his father, leads him to lead an invasion to Jintin, where he will enter in contact with a creature, the Sentinel, and where he will be treasoned by his own men (especially Grey), and almost assassinated, being captured by the Jintians. On the other hand, we have Ailith, princess of Crell, with a long list of achievements for the kingdom, but whose main problem is simple: is a woman, and we are in an extremely sexist society; her own father doesn’t take her seriously, exacerbating the conflict between her and his brother for the throne. This conflict between brother and sister will be the main fuel for the conflict in this novel

Quote_2_-_The_Worthy

There are other POVs in this story, but personally, I found them pretty pointless, adding almost nothing to the novel and its development, sometimes feeling more like a drag than a help to the plot.

Moss uses this novel as an excellent way to treat certain themes as can be sexism, and more in concrete, how women tend to be deemed as less by their masculine counterparts, without taking into account their merits; the sapphic love is also treated, lightly, but as a subplot in the Ailith story, adding another layer of complexity to the character, one that is struggling because, despite all her merits, she is not being taken in the account due to her sex. Political intrigues are used in a brilliant way, using the conflict that the king is fueling between his sons as the better way to reach power, especially on the part of certain lords.

Characters are well developed, most of them pretty significant to the development of the story, especially certain secondary ones, such as Grey, who remembered me to Lord Varys in ASOIAF, always machinating, always doing what he considers the best for Crell, working also in the best for himself. We could call him one of the sparks that starts the fire over Crell, leading to chaos and violence.

Quote_1_-_The_Worthy

As a good grimdark novel, violence and gore abound, following the line established by other grimdark writers. The world is brutal, almost hopeless, but still rich on the detail level. There are two different countries, Crell and Jintian, each one of them being totally different. Crell represents the status quo, the brutality, the supremacy of men over women, and the resistance against change; Jintian is the opposite, a place where equality exists, prosperity being the rule and not the exception, where people climb due to its merits (and highly influenced by keeping control of the Sentinar).

Said that I find there are some problems in this novel that don’t allow me to give it a better score, despite I enjoyed it greatly while reading. As said, I find some of the subplots adding nothing to the main story, dragging the pace sometimes (which outside of this concrete subplot is excellent); and personally, I found the ending to be too abrupt, letting so many things open. An excellent story still, but it felt like the dessert for this meal was missing.

In summary, The Worthy is an excellent debut, and a must for grimdark lovers, people who love it so much. The world created by Anna K Moss is rich, and full of nuances; and honestly, I would like to see more of the different countries there. Characters are grey, making you uncomfortable cheering for any of them, being used as the perfect way to discuss some modern themes such as feminism and equality are


About Anna K. Moss:

Anna K Moss grew up in the shire, both literally and figuratively. Books were her constant companion and she quickly learnt they were far more interesting than reality. She trained as a journalist, but news writing dealt with too much truth, so she veered off into videogames and make-believe. The Worthy was her first foray back into words, with both feet planted firmly in the imaginary. She’s happily married, queer, and has a dog called Ethel

Anna Moss


You can find Jamedi online at:

Site: https://vueltaspodcast.wordpress.com

Twitter: @jamediGwent

Plus others here at https://linktr.ee/jamedi

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy General Posts, Non Reviews

Why I Gave Up on Grimdark Fantasy (A GrimDarkTober Guest Post from At Boundary’s Edge)

October is wrapping up along with a great month of GrimDatkTober guest content from a few of my favorite people across the SFF blogosphere.  I hope everyone has found a few more books to add to their ever growing TBRs!

Today I’m happy to present the last GrimDarkTober guest post for you all.  Nowadays he mostly sticks to Science Fiction, but Alex from At Boundary’s Edge used to be a huge fantasy reader as well.  True to his brand of cranky-but-actually-cinnamonroll-in-disguise vibes, check out this great piece on why he eventually put GrimDark aside

 


Why I Gave Up On Grimdark Fantasy

I grew up reading fantasy. I tried a thick, somewhat battered omnibus of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings twice before I was 10. Admittedly, I never made it through The Return of the King, but I was absolutely enchanted by the world. I remember seeing Robert Jordan’s Winter’s Heart on the shelves of a used bookstore and thinking from the sheer size that it must be something truly Shakespearean in content. I didn’t complete either Tolkien’s or Jordan’s epics until much later on, but I filled my time with other classical epic fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks were my first adventure in collecting a whole series. I read David Edding’s The Belgariad and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, and knew I was hooked on fantasy. As I hunted out new books to read, and sent my mother to do the same, I soon found myself in possession of a book with a bloodstained map for a cover. It was called, rather enticingly, The Heroes, and it was written by a man named Joe Abercrombie.

I was fifteen, and The Heroes offered me a new window on fantasy. This was a fantasy where people died a lot. There were no heroic sacrifices, just meaningless and pointless deaths. It was great. Blood spattered on every page, there was no clear-cut good and bad. Most of all, it was absolutely hilarious. It wasn’t only Union soldiers who had split sides by the time I reached the end. I rushed out by the other books set in the same world, and found them all in a similar vein. Though the books were filled with hateful characters, the writing itself was a clearly loving poke in the eye of the tropes and stereotypes of the fantasy I’d read up to that point. It was while looking for Abercrombie’s next book that I encountered the word that would change it all. Grimdark.

Finally I had a label for this darkly humour thing I enjoyed so much. I let that label guide me to my next reads. And so I came across Mark Lawrence. The Broken Empire wasn’t quite as riotously funny as The First Law, but Jorg had a way with words that could get a laugh out of me at times. His successor, Jalan from Prince of Fools was a much more jovial character. The comedic elements running through this books were distinctly British. A raised eyebrow and a ‘here-we-go-again’ mentality when it came to the tropes. These stories weren’t so much subverting tropes as having fun by actively running against them. And that’s what grimdark became to me. Fun. Over the top violence and a fistful of jokes wedged in for good measure.

At around the same time as I was reading Lawrence, I started Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle and Brent Weeks’  . Both of these were books I had seen bearing the grimdark label in some corners of the online community, so I assumed they’d fill the same void. But they didn’t. I enjoyed both series, but neither was particularly funny. Even when they were over-the-top, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being played straight. They weren’t laughing at how bloody they could be, they thought it actually meant something. It was a emo, edgelord mentality that left me utterly cold.

Within a year or so, I discovered the work of David Gemmell, a forebear of grimdark who truly believed in heroism, and his work was a breath of fresh air. Gemmell’s work also led me to that of Stan Nicholls, who surely deserves more credit for running ahead of the grimdark curve. His Orcs novels are a sweary, bloody spectacle, at one point putting a unicorn horn to truly inappropriate use. But they’re funny. Weapons of Magical Destruction in its title alone tells you the tone of the book. A satire not only of fantasy, but of real-world events, all told with a crazy grin and an axe in each hand.

Meanwhile, the modern grimdark train rolled on. As an avid fantasy reader, I did what I could to keep up. I bought the first book of countless series, looking for that same witty high. I bought Anna Stephens’ Godblind, Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm, and Mike Shackle’s We Are the Dead. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed a single one of them. They were well-crafted books, but they proved to me one incontrovertible fact. Grimdark had started taking itself seriously. The joy was gone. The laughter was dead. There were still some good books falling under the grimdark label. R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is more of a historical fantasy, but uses that history of violence to provoke thought. Adrian Selby’s Snakewood is one of the few books to include a magic system that doesn’t make me pull my hair out. Anna Smith Spark’s Empires of Dust is a literary masterpiece in terms of prose, and even includes some of that too-rare humour amid all the misery and tragedy.

As the grimdark label covered more and more books, it ceased to hold the meaning that had drawn me in all those years ago. Worse still, the nihilism had spread to the far corners of the fantasy genre. Fantasy became a place where hope was for idiots and anyone calling themselves a hero was only after your money. It just wasn’t fun anymore. The worst offender was R. Scott Bakker’s The Darkness That Came Before, a book that was, with its central thesis that men exist only to destroy and subjugate each other, so utterly devoid of cheer that I finally decided to call it a day.

Grimdark has cultivated a reputation for telling it like it is. For showing the world for the horrible place it is. But that’s wrong. Yes, there are bad things in the world (and worse than you’ll see in most grimdark books), but there’s joy in the world too. Even in the worst of situations, people will crack a joke. If all you’re doing is showing humanity being horrible to itself, you’re not being anywhere near as smart as you like to tell yourself. So much of modern grimdark seems intent on wallowing in self-pity, and dragging the reader down with it. Quite frankly, it’s become dull.

So yes, I’ll still read Joe Abercrombie. I’ll pick up Anna Smith Spark’s next book. But because of the author. Not because of the genre label that gets slapped across the cover.

Grimdark – whatever you are anymore – I’m done with you. Let me know if you get your sense of humour back.


You can find him online at: 

Blog: https://atboundarysedge.com/

Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/HormannAlex

Categories
Fantasy

The Trials of Ashmount by John Palladino (Book Review)

Thank you to Escapist Book Tours and John Palladino for my copy of The Trials of Ashmount! I should specify that my tour stop is on October 30th, featuring the author for a super special Halloween edition of Sunday Brunch!

For now, here is a look at the book and my thoughts below.  Definitely recommended this for dark fantasy fans that enjoy a fast paced read with lots of different things happening!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Trials of Ashmount
  • Series: Tragedy of Cedain #1
  • Author: John Palladino
  • Publisher & Release: Self – June 2022
  • Length: 576 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy fans

Here’s the synopsis:

Cedain is destined to collapse.

Across a world rife with blood, betrayal, and brutality, five people wade through unexpected tragedies.

An egotistical student, a fleeing refugee, a nomadic warrior, a fallen noble, and a criminal in hiding navigate the sinister dealings of politicians, two sudden wars, and nefarious lies that surface at Ashmount-a university dedicated to teaching the five branches of magic.

Survival means adapting or dying.

Fans of Joe Abercrombie and hard magic systems will enjoy navigating a morally gray cast of characters in a world on the brink of collapse.


The first thing I have to say is that this did not feel like an almost 600 page book at all.  It’s extremely fast paced and alternates between five different major points of view that keep things fresh and moving right along at all times.  There are also ‘interlude’ chapters that give insights from side characters.  Each viewpoint is wildly different too so the book truly never gets dull.

Keeping on about the story: it’s definitely a dark fantasy.  I was having thoughts about true grimdark vs. horror-shock elements, of which the author employs a bit of both.  To avoid spoilers I won’t discuss anything specific but there is a lot of violent death of both children and adults, sometimes in vast quantities.  I wouldn’t get too attached to anyone if I were a reader, as evidenced by the list of characters page which is bluntly and hilariously titled “people who may die”.  From start to finish the book was rather hard to put down .

There is a lot to like in the different storylines, despite not exactly liking any of the characters.  Some I certainly respected more than others and it was fun to learn their backstories and see their various forms of resilience despite their worlds falling apart in blood and mayhem.  There are big spells, game like trials, a gladiator type storyline, a warrior, a new knight, wars developing, political alliances and intrigue, just to scratch the surface.  It was also interesting to see the various storylines start to weave together by the end.  None were fully intersected yet but he has the story well and truly set up for the sequel now!  I think the book has something for almost every fantasy fan as long as they can stomach the dark parts.

My favorite aspect was probably the world build.  For such drastically different storylines and climates and with so much going on, the author managed to create wildly different but fully realized regions as well as local flavors.   Whether it’s a school set up on a volcano, a small village where falcons are raised, kids fishing without bait, or desert clans, it’s all there and pretty well realized in both climate and local flavour, as well as regional issues and larger political inner-connectedness.  I love when setting affects the book and here it does in almost every climate, making things feel more real. There’s a lot of history too that ties into current mysteries and conflicts without bogging the story down.

Not that the book was ever slow, but holy cow the ending few chapters!!! I just can’t wait for book two to be released!  I’ve got to know where all these threads are leading. This is a fast read with a bit too much repetition and simplicity at times to come in at a full five stars for me, but despite that I immensely enjoyed the read and would recommend it to any dark fantasy fan!

Stay tuned on October 30th for my book tour stop and author interview!

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 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!