“Hall of Bones” by Tim Hardie- A SPFBO7 Finalist Review

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

Hall of Bones by Tim Hardie

Hall of Bones follows the epic story of Rothgar’s coming of age as his clan suffers from brutal attacks from its rival. That rival is powered by dark magic and ancient evil, and the novel reads as a great first entry in a long saga.

The story starts off as a kind of hero’s journey, complete with love interests, numerous rivals, and familial tension. The plot doesn’t stay wholly trope-y, though, as things go off the rails with both political drama among the clans and a greater evil threat to the whole way of life of all those within the world.

It’s easy to get lost in Rothgar’s narrative, in ways both good and bad. The cacophony of Norse-inspired names and places can become overwhelming, even from the first pages of the book as numerous characters are thrown at the reader on every page. On the flip side, the wealth of characters and detail makes the world feel full and robust. I did occasionally feel like I needed a printed off dramatis personae sheet, though.

When the narrative works, it works well. Readers will be drawn into the alcohol-soaked halls filled with revels, the language the people utter, and the dramatic buildup of conflict throughout the story. While the narrative occasionally flounders in the midst of the sea of characters and names that can make even the most focused brain feel a bit muddled. Rothgar’s own destiny is questioned throughout the novel, as he struggles to figure out what the dark dreams he has mean, and what his abilities entail.

Hall of Bones reads like a Viking epic, complete with all the positives and negatives that might engender. Readers wanting to dive into a richly realized fantasy world with a darker turn of magic should check it out.

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SDG.

“Burn Red Skies” by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero- An SPFBO7 Finalist review

I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest who’s reading all the finalists for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off! I’ll have reviews for every finalist, and ultimately choose my own winner!

Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero

Burn Red Skies has a bunch of stuff for fantasy fans. It feels, honestly, a bit like a fantasy video game with how many elements are piled on with carefree abandon. There are dragons, summoners, a genocide-in-progress, rifts, flying ships, armies, and more. There are a couple ways for authors to get readers’ legs under them. The way I enjoy the least is when you get thrown into a world with a lot going on and very, very little context. That doesn’t–quite–happen here, but there are quite a few info dumps near the beginning before the plot gets its legs under it.

The worldbuilding eventually gets more dynamic as the novel progresses, and characters’ stories get looped together and entangled in intricate ways. I think this is the strength of the novel.

What didn’t work for me is the way that genocide seems to be kind of a ho hum issue. We’re supposed to, I think, have some sympathy for those carrying out the Purge. There is some nuance built in, but it is never expanded upon or given the depth that it needed as a theme. The people who are supposed to be the bad guys–maybe?–are more sympathetic than they ought to be in my opinion based on the awful acts they’re doing. I also had difficulty getting into the story at the beginning due to the sheer amount of info dump happening all at once. It felt like I had to figure out how the world worked before I could really start to read about and enjoy it.

Burn Red Skies is a fantasy epic that readers who enjoy lots of plot elements can enjoy. It certainly has enough going on to build into a great epic, and there’s more coming.

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Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

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Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

SPFBO Finalist Reviews: “The Forever King” by Ben Galley

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest- see all my posts on that here), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

The Forever King by Ben Galley

The Forever King is the start of a new series by Ben Galley that’s set in the same world as 4 novels he’s written before, the Emaneska series. I decided to go back and try those before reading this one. I enjoyed them well enough, but having now read The Forever King as well, I would say that this may be the best starting point.

The Forever King is in a world in which magick is banned with a death sentence. The current ruler of the land is fiercely trying to stop magick from spreading because, he argues, that’s how peace was brought to the land. Of course, there’s always more to the story.

Mithrid lives in a gentle seaside village, gathering flotsam from shipwrecks to see if it can provide a boon to her family. Other characters show up, and whether it’s a mage fighting against other mages, a vampire, or dragons, they all have interesting backstories. Some of them are from previous books in the series, but, again I think this is a fine place to start. The stories for individual characters are quite strong, and I hugely enjoyed the setting of the novel as well.

This is a long read, though, and you’ve got to be committed to some of the tropes of epic fantasy going in. Sometimes, it seems the evil characters are evil for evil’s sake and little else. Motivations at either the good and bad ends of the spectrum are fairly transparent. Mithrid went from being an intriguing child character to something a bit more one-dimensional than I expected.

My greatest complaint, though, is that Galley chose to use the name “Loki” for one of the gods in the world. I know this might be a little thing to some people, but it really killed my immersion in the world to have “real world” names for gods overlap in what is otherwise a completely fabricated world, including largely names that don’t sound similar to our own. I wouldn’t even have minded Loki as a name for a character, but having Loki be a trickster-ish god yet again and with no connection or reason to have the name be the same just made it feel strange.

The story itself is captivating, if somewhat predictable. The development of a resistance movement and the ways magic works, revenge and other motivations, dragons and other magical creatures–all of these and more feature in the plot of this sprawling epic fantasy.

The Forever King is a lengthy but rewarding read. It’s got plenty of action to go along with solid character development. It stumbles occasionally along the way, but ultimately delivers an experience well worth reading.

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1980

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I have included a brief reflection on the year’s Hugos at the end. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke (Winner)- Grade: D
The Fountains of Paradise is dull almost beyond words. It’s served with a heaping helping of ‘religious people are stupid’ on top. Hey, maybe you think religious people are stupid, but if you do, can you at least acknowledge that some of them are thoughtful instead of making them all into cardboard caricatures?  There’s a decent premise, I guess. Let’s build an elevator to the stars. Of course, only one place on Earth is suitable for some extremely dense hard sci-fi reason. I love science fiction. And I have enjoyed books by Clarke, but this one was aggravating and boring. That’s an accomplishment.  Clarke has done much better.

Titan by John Varley- Grade: D
Titan is a combination of some hard science fiction themes along with some fantasy elements. It’s a recipe for something that I love, but when you add something awful into the mix, it all goes sideways. Here, that something awful is a heaping dose of misogynist sexual fantasies. The amount of ink spilled upon how women look and just how good they might be because of a shapely thigh or somesuch is just… so over the top. It was distracting all the way through to the extent that it, along with the assumptions about how men and women in general would act, detracted entirely from my enjoyment of the novel. But then I started to notice some of the other issues with it–some big plot holes, somewhat annoying characters, and nonsensical twists. I’ll be reading the next book, entirely because it also got an award nomination, so I’m hoping that I like it more.

Jem by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D
I did not like this book very much. A planet is discovered and humans want to peacefully colonize it as a kind of idyllic vision. Back on Earth, things go south and the new colony turns into a kind of last hope for humanity. On the colony, the alien races there are more (or less, in some ways?) than they appear. Honestly, the last 5% or so of the novel was good–it shows the consequences of even well-intentioned colonialism. Everything else was a slog. The first 80 pages or so seem to be half tribute to Pohl contemporaries, half boring meetings of people talking about or seducing each other as they try to figure out colonizing. The whole thing just ends up feeling extremely boring and even chore-like to read, though the bit of payoff at the end made me less upset about paying the fee to interlibrary loan it. 

On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch- Grade: D+
How do you grade books that clearly demonstrate talent while also being nearly unreadable because they feel caught in the past with ideas that are sometimes cringe and sometimes just silly? I don’t know, but here’s where I settled on this frustrating, strange book. The premise is that the United States has turned, in parts, into ultra-conservative dystopias while at the coasts there exist some kind of hippy-ville that also has its share of problems. Someone has developed a way to have astral projection and trigger spiritual experiences, and Daniel Weinreb, our protagonist, has no small amount of trouble because of this “flying.” Ultimately, the book climaxes in a kind of revelation of the capacity to fully leave the body with the mind even as many conservatives and non-flyers reject the reality. It seems to clearly be a parable of a kind, but one that is so hidden behind layers that it’s difficult as to what Disch is trying to get at. Is he warning of the dangers of ultra-conservativism? Probably? Is it a broadside against religion? Perhaps? Is astral projection via machine a metaphor for drugs? I don’t know? It’s such a strange read set in sometimes strong prose that makes it all the more frustrating. I didn’t like it, but I understand why many might.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip (My Winner)- Grade: B
Harpist in the Wind is the third and concluding volume in the Riddle-Master trilogy by McKillip. Like the other books in the series, the focus is pretty narrow, largely following a group of characters on an adventure as they quest to discover the mysteries behind some shape-shifters that have been dogging them, along with the mystery of the Kingdom in which they travel. There are moments of great revelations, especially when the magic is revealed in various parts. There are also moments of tenderness that are surprisingly strong in characterization. I have to express some disappointment, though, in that despite the massive focus on riddles as ways to control and even do battle with others, there is very little by way of actual riddles in the novels themselves.

1980- Uffda. This was a rough year for the Hugos. Several familiar names headline these nominations, but none of them delivered the goods, imo. McKillip’s novel is a worthy choice for a nominee, but would not win a stronger year. The winner chosen at the actual ceremony–Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise–is a tedious slog. The other books don’t fare much better. It’s almost like the voters just nominated favorite authors for the sake of seeing their names yet again on the ballot. One of the worst years, in my opinion. 

Links

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Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off Finalists: “We Men of Ash and Shadow” by H.L. Tinsley

parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

We Men of Ash and Shadow by HL Tinsley

In this grimdark gaslight fantasy, readers follow John Vanguard, a kind of mercenary, through the streets of a city where corruption is rampant. Vanguard runs into a would-be assassin and the plot takes off from there.

The story follows Vanguard fairly closely, as he takes on some morally rough tasks. I can’t say I ever really got into Vanguard as a character. I don’t dislike the trope of following someone who’s morally gray or even bad (one series I enjoy follows a Hitman who likes stamp collecting, for example), but there has to be some kind of hook. Vanguard reads to me as a kind of milquetoast down-on-his-luck guy who doesn’t necessarily want to be doing what he does even though he does a lot of it anyway. And because of that, readers are supposed to be empathetic towards his plight or something. I just couldn’t buy into it as much as I’d have liked to.

There are some neat moments of critique of the world, such as the way cities are run and how difficult it is to get in. I thought it was both an interesting piece of worldbuilding and a kind of oblique critique of stratification and wealth-hording. Indeed, the world-building was the highlight of the book.

Overall, though, I couldn’t help but feel that the idea felt a bit stale. That’s not really the fault of this specific book, I guess. At this point in my reading for the SPFBO contest, 3/5 books have been grimdark mystery-esque books in grimy or morally opaque worlds.

Gray morality is the theme of the book, which made it hard for me to really root for anyone specifically. Characters hook up, kill, fight, and more, but sometimes their motivations are unclear for why they act the way they do. There is no small amount of political intrigue, as well, but with those characters also embroiled in the same broad wash of colorless morals, it becomes difficult to truly decide who to root for.

Overall, I thought this novel was a tad more generic in its characters, which made it difficult for me to get into. On the flip side, the many reviews on Goodreads almost all lean towards glowing, so I might just be the minority here. We Men of Ash and Shadows is a morally tenuous fantasy story in a dark world filled with violence. If that speaks to you, give it a shot.

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Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1979

Not the original cover, but the one I read and the one that will forever define the novel to me.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end. There may be SPOILERS for the books discussed.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Winner)- Grade: A+
Just about every aspect of this novel is spectacular.  It had so many things that I love in science fiction. But what truly struck me the most was how very different and unique it was in what issues it addressed. For example, how often do we run into -anything- about men having difficulties with sex in science fiction? Especially when those difficulties are not something like “He’s ugly so he can’t get with a hot woman”? I mean, I was absolutely blown away by the discussion of Gabriel’s difficulty with control, whether it was meant as a possible euphemism for something more explicit or not. Just having that part of the story exist made it wonderfully unique, and, frankly, intimate in a way that I have rarely experienced in a book. As a reader, I hugely appreciated Snake’s handling of the situation as well as the way it all played out.

Then, there’s the story right alongside that with Melissa, which not only addresses another serious issue but also does it in a way that provides a child with genuine agency. After Snake rescues Melissa, they have a rather lengthy conversation about what happens next. And Snake actually listens to the 12-year-old child and grants that this child might have reasons for wanting something. I cannot say how huge that is for me to encounter in science fiction. Children are generally either prodigies with near (or actual) divine powers or essentially props for adults. Here, Melissa is granted space to have agency.

Really, this made me think of the book in strongly feminist terms, which apparently is not unwarranted given McIntyre’s history so far as I can tell on Wiki. It’s not only adult women given autonomy and action in this world. It’s girls whose opinions are valued and who even manage to change the mind of an adult. It’s a beautiful moment in a novel that has them in spades. I haven’t even mentioned McIntyre’s handling of the city and the hints of “offworlders,” or the deft handling of the Dreamsnake problem itself. All of these were things I loved–the limited perspective, the hints of hard sci-fi in my Mad Max-like book, the strong featuring of snakes. The book is a superb work on every level. I adored it.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey- Grade: B
McCaffrey’s science fantasy series continues to entertain with the third book, The White Dragon. The central aspect of the world of Pern which McCaffrey created is the threat of Threadfall, some non-sentient creatures that fall at certain intervals from a distant planet. In the first book, Dragonflight, this was made bleakly threatening. The second book kept that threat and the sense of ancient age of the world in which the characters exist. In this third book, The White Dragon, readers get more intimate with the characters. This gives us a better picture of how the world is lived in on a day-to-day basis, but it also takes away some of the density of the world building in the first two books that I enjoyed so much. Here, we have a titular white dragon who would not have lived had he not been saved at hatching. His powers are extraordinary in some ways, but we don’t get a great sense of how this might play out. Eventually, after some threats are met and defeated, the book ends on a hopeful note that leaves it wide open for future development. I liked this one, but not as much as the first two in the series.

Blind Voices by Tom Reamy- Grade: B-
I found this such a surprising novel on just about every level. I have to admit, I did not expect to like it going in. It looked very much unlike anything I would enjoy. The premise seemed outside of anything I like either. The book’s central plot is around a summer in which some children from a village in Kansas discover the delights of a traveling wagon show. But it turns out that the people with their strange features are more than they appear–and certainly more than the deceptions some of the children assume them to be. As the novel wears on, we discover strangeness time and again. There’s a strong sense of the mysterious here, combined with a sense of wonder. Mix in a bit of “coming of age” type plotting, and the novel ends up being a rather unique mix of material. On the negative side, the pace struggles at times and the characterization is fairly thin. That said, this is a fascinating book that is rather shocking to find on the Hugo list at this point in time. It’s so atypical from what has been featured thus far.

The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh- Grade: A-
A fully-fleshed out world that shows off the range of Cherryh’s aliens and the depth of her character interactions. Cherryh is an author whose works are so dense that it can become difficult to unpack them from themselves. I have tried time and again to enter into her impenetrable worlds, and this novel finally felt like things began to click. The recovery from a devastating war is intertwined with the social niceties of alien cultures in ways that still feel dense but at least are presented through a narrative perspective that allows some explanation for the reader. Comparisons to Dune feel inevitable here, as the world is a desert planet and one of the main characters is even named Duncan. These comparisons will only find superficial points, though, because Cherryh has made her own endless well of world and character development that has that feel of only barely scratching the surface here. This novel actually took me 3 tries to finally get going, as I struggled keeping track of everything going on. It’s a great story, but only if you’re in the mood for a read that requires quite a bit of effort.

1979- Only 4 nominees this go-round, but it’s an incredible lineup. Dreamsnake can arguably considered among the best-ever science fiction in my opinion. Blind Voices is weird but absolutely deserving. The White Dragon sees McAffrey’s series truly start to sprawl out, and Cherryh finally made sense to me. Truly an excellent year.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Iron Kingdoms Chronicles: “Acts of War I – Flashpoint” by Aeryn Rudel

Iron Kingdoms is a campaign setting from Privateer Press that has enthralled me for almost two decades with its fantastical steampunk world and deep national histories. I spent hours upon hours poring over sourcebooks and thinking of all the stories that could take place in the setting, but still haven’t found a group that wants to play in it (alas). It was to my great delight, then, that I discovered there were novels in the setting that I had never heard of. I was surprised that they’d gone under my radar because I thought I’d been following Privateer Press fairly closely. When I saw Flashpoint by Aeryn Rudel at a bookstore, I grabbed it without any further deliberation. It was enough to know it was a novel in a setting that I’d been in love with for years. I was deeply gratified as I read the novel, though, because it cashed in on that setting in ways that I knew were possible.

Flashpoint starts off with a bang as we follow a desperate, undercover noble trying to escape from an assassination attempt. From there, we get kicked into a setup for a diplomatic showdown between the Empire of Khador (a kind of play on Imperial Russia, but with magic and steam-powered mechs) and Cygnar, a powerful Kingdom that has too many enemies. Rudel introduces readers to a cast of characters including Lord General Coleman Stryker of Cygnar, a warcaster who commands a mech in battle, Asheth Magnus, another mage-like character who is willing to do whatever he thinks it takes to win the day, Maddox, Beth Maddox, a warcaster just doing her duty, and more. The cast is full of strong enough characters to carry the plot, which is itself full of political intrigue and, eventually, squad and battle level combat.

I hugely enjoyed the mix of politicking, character interactions, and combat Rudel uses throughout the novel. It reads like a truly excellent campaign, with battles interspersed at somewhat predictable intervals as action to break up the story exposition. There’s enough conflict here to make things interesting, and both sides of the conflict have sympathetic characters. It’s a great fantasy read, and for readers who enjoy steampunk, there are new wonders in abundance.

It’d be remiss of me to not mention that there are several editing errors in the book. On at least 3 separate occasions, I ran into a sentence that very clearly had a word missing. In two cases, I was able to easily supply the word because it was a common phrase. In the third, the sentence was left somewhat ambiguous by the missing piece. These errors didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the novel, but they did take away from my immersion at points.

Overall, Flashpoint was a delight to read. I loved seeing the Iron Kingdoms come to life. I hadn’t read much from my campaign settings books in a while, and was gratified to see that I could have easily dived into the novel with no prior knowledge of the setting. I recommend the novel to those interested in a fascinating steampunk world.

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SDG.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) Finalist Review: “The Mortal Blade” by Christopher Mitchell

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

The Mortal Blade by Christopher Mitchell

The Mortal Blade follows several characters on their journey in a city that has an eternal siege from green skinned goblins. The only thing holding back the hordes appears to be the intervention of a massive dragon, whom the people of the city revere and take care of. Characters include a shape-shifting assassin, a new ultra-powerful warrior who takes the fight to the horde, a fairly stuck up nobleman, and a down-on-her-luck solider hoping to not join the cleaning crew.

At first, the diverse array of views makes several chapters verge on baffling at times as readers have to re-orient themselves to the new characters. Each character, however, is interesting enough to carry the story on his or her own. Mitchell strips away a lot of the filler that some epic fantasies have–almost a necessity given the number of main characters he’s developing–and presents a no-frills approach to epic fantasy. This approach is clear in the world-building. For example, the city in which the plot takes place is intriguing, but Mitchell doesn’t info-dump about it, either through characters or narrative. Instead, readers learn about the city only through individual characters’ viewpoints. There are no massive walls of text describing the political mechanics going on behind the scenes. Instead, readers get only what they “see” through characters’ eyes. As a setting, it works because the question of the Eternal Siege looms over it, making the city interesting because of the sense of impending doom.

The “no-frills” approach also characterizes the novel more generally. Mitchell takes readers straight to the action time and again. This doesn’t mean there is no room for reflection or character development, but it does mean some of the standard trappings of epic fantasy like lengthy descriptions of the setting, characters’ clothes, etc. aren’t there. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it gets readers right into the thick of things time and again, but also makes it hard to slow down and orient oneself as one reads it.

Mitchell weaves an interesting tale here that ultimately brings some characters together while also bringing up additional plot threads and broader conflicts. This city has quite a bit going on in it, and I was all-in from the beginning to several excellent hooks tied to each character’s story arc. Doing some more research on the series, I found that this book is the first book in the series, but part of a much larger series that has been ongoing before it. I will definitely be reading more, but not sure where I’ll start next.

The Mortal Blade was a fun–even refreshing–read. The characters give readers a great vision of a powerfully wrought setting. Meanwhile, the fairly relentless action and use of magic makes it feel like a fully-realized fantasy world. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy, especially if they like urban fantasy settings.

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off Finalists: “Legacy of the Brightwash” by Krystle Matar

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

Legacy of the Brightwash: Tainted Dominion I by Krystle Matar

Legacy of the Brightwash starts with a body washed up on shore. It’s been brutalized, and it’s a child. I was ready after that opening chapter for a grim fantasy mystery, but was a bit surprised by how Matar delivered it. Tashué is a tinman–a kind of law enforcement officer who for years hasn’t compromised his dedication to law. But as he investigates this mystery, and interacts with those who are on the wrong side of the law throughout the city (including his son), he starts to lose confidence in his dedication to law.

One star of the show is certainly the world Matar makes. I kept wanting to know more and explore more of the city, plumb its depths, and discover more about the way it was being run. Much of this is tapped into by Tashué’s perspective, though I still felt myself wanting more of the city itself at times. How did it get this way? Part of that is the mystery at the core of the book, but part of it is left either to an upcoming book in the series or to readers’ imaginations. The world puts its hooks in and holds on. I found myself thinking about it even when I wasn’t actively reading the book.

Tashué is an intriguing protagonist, and his foil, Stella, has her own motivations that start to get revealed later. As the plot really starts to open up about 40% in, Matar deftly moves it along without losing too much steam. However, I did think it was in this lengthy middle portion that the book started to drag. The pace of plot revelations slowed down, and the story with Stella started to feel more and more like a lost strand. Matar does a good job tying it all back together towards the end, but by then enough other major characters and plot points have been introduced to make it seem like a bit of an afterthought. The will-they-or-won’t-they is strung along just a bit too long, and it got to feeling like it just needed to be resolved. The central mystery went in a direction I most definitely did not expect, but in a good way.

I’d be remiss not to mention a central point of the book, which is how frequently people are willing to use the skills and talent of those they label as “other” or “less than.” This is a truly major theme throughout the book, especially following one character who has the ability to heal but is an outcast because of it. It looms large in other parts of the book, as well. I thought this was a welcome theme and it kept me thinking throughout the book.

Legacy of the Brightwash is a good read for those interested in gaslamp settings and the intersection of mystery and fantasy. It’s a solid entry in the SPFBO.

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Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) Finalist Review: “Reign & Ruin” by J.D. Evans

I’m a judge for the first-ever SPSFC (Self Published Science Fiction Contest), but couldn’t help noticing the parallel SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest happening. I always love finding some new indie authors and books, so I decided to read through the finalists of that contest and review them on my site. As always, let me know your own thoughts in the comments.

Reign & Ruin by J.D. Evans

Reign & Ruin is, at its core, both a fantasy of manners with court drama and political intrigue in abundance and a romance. The story follows Naime, a Sultana who is trying to bring unity to her nation in the face of many challenges, and Makram, a prince with destructive magical powers.

The setting and world building are major winners in the novel. I thought the way Evans built the world was compelling, and certainly made a great place for the many different scenes of political intrigue to play out. Naime is trying to find her way with her father’s failing mental health making it more difficult for her to keep a grip as others try to wrest powers from her. Time and again, she faces off with others trying to discern her interests and thoughts on her path forward, even as she deflects their advances and those of others trying to force her into marriage or other ways of manipulating her. Readers who are interested in political intrigue will eat this book up. I would say well over 50% of the plot is focused around these kind of court drama/intrigue among various factions, and as a big fan of that kind of story, I was delighted.

Makram’s story is interesting, but he reads more like a side character to me. Maybe that’s because of where my interests lie–with the court drama–but I found it harder to connect with him. It was also somewhat predictable to see where the romance was headed and when at times. I should note the romantic elements include quite explicit scenes.

The fantasy elements aren’t subtle, necessarily, but they don’t drive the plot as they do in some other fantasy settings. There are many different kinds of magic, and one of Naime’s driving goals is to bring the destructive magic back into the fold of mages so that she can unite them and bring peace as the Wheel turns. It’s a neat concept, though I found at times I wasn’t sure how important it all felt. On the flip side, there seems to be much more action-type conflict as a possibility in the future.

Reign & Ruin is a great read, despite its predictability. The world-building and setting are treats for fans of fantasy, and the romance elements add to, rather than distracting from, the main plot. I’ve enjoyed the first one enough to give the second a try once I’ve gotten through other books on my list.

All links to Amazon are affiliates.

Links

Fantasy Hub– My hub for links to posts about fantasy works on this site. Hugo and other Award nominees, vintage fantasy, indie books, and more!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.