Categories
Fantasy

Travels in the Dark by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Review)

Happy weekend everyone, hopefully you’ve all got some good reading time planned!

It’s hard to talk about book three in a series without giving anything away, so I just want to make a few general comments about the conclusion of The Dreadbound Ode trilogy.

The Skald’s Black Verse was decent, I loved The Weeping Sigil, and found Travels in the Dark to be the weakest of the three but still a great read and satisfying conclusion.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Travels in the Dark
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode #3
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, March 2022
  • Length: 342 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for dark fantasy fans!

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lyssa is going to the Dead Place and everyone she killed will be waiting.

As the Hidden One’s twisted plan to resurrect the Deep Gods unfolds, the only way to stop him is a secret buried in the land of death.

But Lyssa has not given up. If the Deep Gods can return, so can she.

Can Lyssa find a way back? Can she delve into hell’s darkest corners and emerge with the lore to stop the Deep Gods’ rise? Or will she become a lost soul, like so many of those she loved in life?

Ancient horrors will wake. Skalds will sing. And a blind seer will see the shadows gather.

Lyssa Pedersten has tasted poison, and hell had best beware.


Whew… Overall this series was very, very good.  It’s rare for me to sit down and binge a series like this but it was hard not to know what happens next. If you TL:DR this review, just know that I recommend it for dark fantasy fans that like equal parts character and action driven content with tons of world building.

Brohr, aka mister “this dark and no darker”, is trying to figure out how far into the void of corruption he is willing to go. Can he regain his own agency? He is willing to travel to Hell, the outer void, or straight into a clash of monsters to get Lyssa’s soul back.  That’s great for Lyssa because fuck being dead, she’s not done with life and has a long road through the underworld to travel.  Then you have Henrik who is balancing by the hair of his little toe over a pit of political vipers while witnessing the aforementioned clash of gods. I think, for all that I didn’t like Henrik at first, that he ended up being my favorite character.  All three have pretty amazing arcs.

Each characters storyline will break your heart in this book as they finally come to their fates.

The mood and setting just keep getting darker.  Lyssa’s trip through The Dead Place was probably my favorite part even if I never cared for her as a character.  The terrors and obstacles she navigated were cool, sad, and added a lot to the world building.  Talk about letting hell loose 😅

Is it bad that my favorite character was a talking severed head, and a minor side character in the form of an 8 year old girl?  This, if nothing else, to me showed that everyone retains a choice despite their situation.

A smile found its way to his lips, despite everything, as he spied Greta bobbing down the hallway with Sascha’s head tucked under her arm.

The world building continues to grow too and once again, only adds to the story.  There’s more lore, we see The Dead Place, encounter more magic, and see all the terrible choices that people end up making as the end of the world closes in. Ooh I loved seeing how these people grew and adapted to overcoming challenges, and seeing who still had hope at the end.

That all said, this was the hardest for me to read. Compared to the first two books, the ebook was challenged with editing and formatting (KU version) where the other two were near flawless.  I also had some minor questions at the end. Then there were just silly things like ok if this creature is totally alien, it probably doesn’t have human arms and legs (even if there are hundreds of them) …. It was just overall harder for me to get through, was a tad repetitive for it’s length, and really needed a final proofread.  Don’t let that deter you though please!

Don’t get me wrong, I love this series and recommend it fully for dark fantasy fans. It’s both character and action driven, full of lore and world building, and wrecked me a little bit. Overall the series gets a strong ⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me and I can’t wait to see what he does next!

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
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
audiobooks Fantasy

The Weeping Sigil by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Thoughts)

Wrapping up GrimDarkTober here with … More dark fantasy! Back in August, I was lucky enough to participate in a book tour for The Skald’s Black Verseand knew that I needed to read The Weeping Sigil sooner rather than later. As always, I’ll keep this one 99% spoiler free.

I eventually bought the audiobook and despite that and despite enjoying the narration quite a bit, I ended up reading the second half pretty quickly.  Fully recommend checking out this series if you like dark fantasy, folklore, and fast paced action with some scifi elements.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Weeping Sigil
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode, #2
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 2020
  • Length: 337 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis:

Adrift in the void, Henrik’s rescue is only a prelude to slavery.

But his new life on Tyria is not at all what he expected. When the illustrious House of Quoll purchases him, Henrik finds himself living in the home of his old enemy, Prefect Brasca Quoll. Desperate to hide the truth of his last days on Heimir, Henrik dives into the murderous game of Tyrianite politics. Devastated by the catastrophe on the Norn homeworld, the Federation teeters on the brink of civil war.

While the Shining Ones maneuver their champions for the final confrontation, Henrik’s fevered visions unveil the scope of Moriigo’s nightmarish rebellion.

Aboard a stolen voidcraft, Brohr and Lyssa hurtle into the depths of the starry abyss, on a desperate exodus in search of safe haven. But the outer reaches of the system are full of strange worlds, haunted ruins, and bizarre cults.

As anarchy grips the streets of Tyria, Henrik vows to reveal the true peril facing the Federation: Moriigo’s return! While rival electors, assassins, and federal inquisitors plot the downfall of House Quoll, Henrik must bind himself to the future of his onetime enemies, lest the horrors of his prophetic visions come to pass


So this one picks up right where The Skald’s Black Verse left off.  The Skoljan refugees are heading towards Brohr’s blue planet but have no idea why, and Henrik is adrift in space awaiting rescue.

I think this one excelled most by introducing a lot of new places and people to the world.  Descriptions of the Clockwork and other marvels of the new worlds kept me interested.  Seeing the grand Roman-esque world of Tyria and it’s politics and intrigue.   Terrifying void creatures that actually just wanted to cuddle each other? Ok. I’m down.

Probably the best thing about the book is that I just like Short’s writing.  For a self published book these are exceptionally well edited, and the audio (narrated by Aaron Smith) sounded amazing too.

I think I mentioned the little chapter preludes in book one’s review.  They’re occasionally just anecdotes or parts of texts but often add a lot to the world.  We finally learn what the Dreadbound are because of these little excerpts so I definitely recommend paying attention to them.  Anything quoted from text or prophecy (or heresy)? ends up being if not important, at least interesting.

Henrik and Brohr are still the two main points of view, but now we also get to meet a raider captain named Petra and of all people, Brostar Quoll (Brasca’s father).  I actually liked the Henrik storyline the best in this one as we see him become a pawn of prophecy, blinded, and wreaking all sorts of amazing havoc in Tyria.  I didn’t even dislike Brostar, he seemed like a much better person than his son.  The little kid was cute too and I’m more than a little afraid for his future.  All the political intrigue, plotting, betrayal, and prophecy tied into this storyline was amazing.

Not that Brohr’s storyline was dull, but I can only take so much screeching and bloodshed.  I liked the segment regarding the “shit luck” of the people, because it’s a real dark fantasy trope for characters to just keep making the best out of whatever is left to them. It’s certainly sad to see every ounce of the Norn refugee’s hope stamped out but I just feel like Brohr is heading towards his part in this inevitable war of the gods, and it’s not as interesting yet.  I never liked Lyssa nor cared about her either so… my bad, more Henrik please!

No one had asked him if he wanted to be haunted, to be cursed, a butcher, a horror. He did not walk a path of freedom, but one of fate. She would understand. The sagas needed monsters (p. 253)

So yeah, there wasn’t much hope here at all.  It kept getting darker, and darker, and darker, right until the end.  There’s more magic, more prophecy, more of everything, and I’m probably to jump right into book three and have absolutely no regrets about it.

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
audiobooks Fantasy Historical Fiction Middle Grade

The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane (Audiobook Review)

Thanks to the author for letting me listen to and review the audiobook of The Witches of Crannock Dale! I’ll also be interviewing Thomas Kane on the Sunday Brunch Series soon so keep an eye out for that 🍳🎤

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Witches of Crannock Dale
  • Series: Mara of the League #1
  • Author: Thomas M. Kane (Nar. Stevie Marie)
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, 2019
  • Length: 288 pages (11h48m run time)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for middle grade fans!

Synopsis:
Spies. Witch-hunts. A little girl who asks dangerous questions.

When invaders threaten, eleven-year-old Mara must grow up fast. All her life, her homeland has been on the brink of war with the Commonwealth of Waan. But as bells warn of approaching enemies, her own realm’s knights arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft. This prompts her to rethink much of what she has been taught about her country. When adults ignore her points, she teams up with unlikely friends in a bid to rescue her aunt and protect her village. Mara must make sense of grown-up politics if she is to save the people she loves.

This is Book One of the political fantasy series Mara of the League.

I thought that for a middle-grade, this one checks pretty much all the boxes for me.  I can’t speak for the rest of the series yet but Mara is 11 here, and the content stays 100% age audience appropriate. Although she is 17 in book two I believe it remains a middle grade age level throughout.

Mara is a very smart and brave little girl who eventually becomes a spy for her country in later books. Here in Witches we are introduced to Mara and her family and learn about the plots and political conflicts happening in the world.  Told in the first person point of view of an 11 year old, I think it’s a marvel that Kane had me interested in the imposter bandit king and how the war will eventually unfurl.

Mara is an easy character to root for as she becomes involved in local issues.  I liked her brother too and the rest of the family.

As I’m obviously not 12 anymore (🤣🤣🤣), when reviewing for middle grade, I tend to look more at whether the book is fast paced (yes), interesting (yes), repetitive (no), and age appropriate (yes). I think it will hold their attention well. It’s also extremely well edited for a self published book so that’s helpful!

Are the themes something I would want my little niece reading? Yes, absolutely. Mara has to navigate complicated adult politics while still doing what she thinks is right. She also learns  that sometimes rules do have a time and place in society, and that actions can have severe and unintended consequences.  I like the sense of responsibility she has towards family and even town & country.

The issue I had is that the audio itself did not hold my interest, likely due to the Authors Direct app and a few challenges that it presented. That was an experience related issue though and I think Stevie Marie was a pretty solid, clearly spoken narrator. I did end up reading on Kindle Unlimited though and was then lucky enough to see the map and drawings.

Overall: I’m excited to keep reading to see how Mara and the war develop.  It’s a solid middle grade read that I think YA can enjoy too since Mara ages fairly quickly in the books. Stay tuned for the author interview!

Categories
Fantasy

Age of Shadows by R.E. Palmer (Book Review)

I thought last night’s post would wrap me up for this month here but it’s been a while since I could post a review.   Last year around this time I read the first book in R.E. Palmer’s Song of Echoes series [See Here] and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  The series has an epic classic fantasy feel with large scale battles and brave deeds, sorcery, a powerful leader defending the realm, tales of old, and a not necessarily happy outcome.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Age of Shadows
  • Series: Song of Echoes #2
  • Author: R.E. Palmer
  • Publisher & Release: Self, December 2021
  • Length: 437 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ Yes for classic fantasy fans that don’t mind the indie feel

Here’s the synopsis:

As Elodi strives to defend her realm against a new enemy threatening the north, Toryn discovers the dark secret that plunged Hope into despair, destined to live under a shadow of her own making.

But as both struggle in the face of overwhelming forces, the Archon demands all who can bear arms, rally to his cause.

Age of Shadows has been sitting in my request pile since about February making me feel guilty, and I finally made time to pick it up. Palmer introduced a ton of new world building and history, character development, magic, new races, stark imagery, and many other things that made it another enjoyable read. Despite its somewhat numerous flaws in editing, this is a solid indie fantasy and the conclusion was particularly mind blowing.

Let’s talk about the magic first since it was the biggest change from book one.  We saw more of the Wyke’s abilities, for bad and for good, and all the terrible things that the dark magic can accomplish.  The Song and Verses were developed too in both theory, good, bad, and corruption, with a returning character (Hope/Nyomae) discovering her past.  There is also magic introduced with the two new races, Amayan and Nym, both of which contributed a lot of mysticism to the storyline.  Don’t worry though there’s plenty of sword, bow, and siege machinery too if you prefer your battles fought by hand.

The best part of this one was how Palmer took all the world building gaps in Song of Echoes and fleshed out the world through reverie and discovery.  The end is absolutely mind blowing. How can deception and corruption run so deep? HOW? I admire an author that is willing to tear their whole world down.  Will they even manage to rebuild it with the core cast going forward into book three?  There are so many tangled political webs and fronts of battle to defend that I have no idea how he’s going to take the series forward.  I appreciate all the micro world building too as things like the Sunrise tradition were brought to page.

The amount of military strategy and preparation/execution of battles through Elodi’s chapters felt like a bonus.

The characters are pretty well coming into themselves too.  Toryn has recovered from captivity and is learning his own personal history. Nyomae is starting to teach him the ways of the Verse and he FINALLY intersects with Elodi’s storyline.  I have to say she is still the star of the show for me. The Lady faces every fear imaginable as her city falls and she is summoned to defend the realm despite the loss of her lands.  I don’t know how she rode straight into battle but she did, with her two captains at her side. Gundrul and Cubric both ended up being good characters too, carrying most of the banter and “aw shucks” moments.  I’m worried for the other captain, Ruan, hoping he made it to safety. Palmer doesn’t tend to leave loose ends so I assume he will be back in book three.

I do wish though that some of the revelations came sooner, although I’m ok with a slowburn.

And the end? No spoilers but the entire world did a somersault and I’m here for it this time.

Overall: Tons of action and many new discoveries kept Age of Shadows moving at a great pace.  I loved all the new things and never felt bored while reading, As a fan of all the world building ever – yes I’ll keep reading these!  I kept a star docked for the ton of editing issues and a few mishaps but overall would recommend these to fantasy fans who enjoy a large scope and classic feel to their adventures.

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
Adventure Fantasy Paranormal

Where Blood Runs Gold by A.C. Cross (Book Review)

I was telling Red, my chestnut mare, about this book and specifically how A.C. Cross called a Chestnut horse a sweetheart, and the other horse a Cee-U-Next-Tuesday! We had a good laugh over this as we all know how Chestnut mares are the true evils of the horse world

Joking aside, mostly, Where Blood Runs Gold is (to me) a unique book that I am pegging as the Wild West meets The Walking Dead. I’m a bit at a loss of how to describe or categorize the book because I’ve never read a fantasy/western before!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Where Blood Runs Gold
  • Series: N/A (room for a sequel)
  • Author: A.C. Cross
  • Publisher & Release: Indie, January 2022
  • Length: 494 pages (fast read)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I would if it sounds up your alley, for 18+ readers

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon!

Sheriff Errol Thorpe’s life is chaotic, brutal, and above all, solitary. After an unimaginable loss years ago, all he feels is the compulsion to seek vengeance. But when a vulnerable family arrives in town, facing an ugly future, he is pulled headfirst into a web of violence, secrets, and things he never imagined. In search of truth and answers, Thorpe finds himself battling deadly flesh-eating Dust, acidic golden blood, and the political designs of powerful people – all the while learning how to be a person again. When Dust rises in San Dios, people hide indoors. When Sheriff Thorpe arrives, people run.

The author spins the legend of Sherriff Errol Thorpe, aka The Judge, as he fights gangs, robbers, sin, corruption, his own demons, and a greater evil too.  There are stories offered in flashback format that I love, as they help build the man’s life and legend.

Gettin’ damn near tired out of bein’ told when I can or can’t die. I’ll die when I’m damn well ready {Sheriff}

The sheriff is a good example of a morally gray character. He 100% does what he thinks is right and sometimes gets carried away while bringing the pain. Watching him wrestle with his strict code and trying not to be soft made him memorable too. He has had a tough life and I liked him a lot by the end.  The young girl he rescues and a lady that sort of becomes his partner seem realistic and create some good banter, although my favorite side character was an easily exasperated captain of the army named Josie

Language wise, the slang and dialect are consistent, smart, and to quote the author – “gloriously profane” at times.

It’s dark as a crow’s dick out here

Or my personal favorite –

Great green fucks on a hill, son

I say smart because Cross consistently writes language and dialect that is realistic to the old West, without breaking character at all, and I found that consistency impressive. One note on the editing too – I read this as a Kindle Unlimited and was very happily surprised to find only one typo in the entire novel. This is an extremely well presented indie work

Where westerns don’t tend to world build a lot, he makes up for that in atmosphere, setting and tone

Here’s where I docked the star: I wanted a little more from the “big picture” side of things. How did the entire world fit together? It seemed to be civil war era (brief mentions of Union and Confederate) but that never really played into the plot. There also wasn’t a history of the big bad evil given, it just kind of appeared and then the book ended without explaining what it was (or how it got into that cave)?

The horror elements aren’t too bad but I am solidly recommending this book for 18+ readers.

If you like Westerns, adventure, weird, legends and stories, check this one out! The book is out now!

DON’T MISS THE SUNDAY BRUNCH REBOOT ON 4/17, FEATURING A.C. CROSS!!