Book Review: The Shades of Winter by Morgan Smith

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Synopsis:
An aging band of sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.
Tam Isliefsdottir wasn’t planning to end her life in a futile attempt for vengeance, but when your brothers- and sisters-in-arms need you, what can you do? Leaving her son and her granddaughter behind and sailing to the shadowy island of Alvandir, she expected to die gloriously for the sake of her country, her king, and her own reputation.
Nothing is as it is supposed to be, however, and it hasn’t been for the last twenty years. Tam and her Kyndred are in for the surprise of their lives.

Review: The Shades of Winter by Morgan Smith is an exceptional addition to the Averraine Cycle series, and demonstrates why Ms. Smith is one of my favorite fantasy authors. The characters are compelling, complemented by a unique world and inhabitants that entwine into a multilayered plot, entrenching you into a phenomenal story, where you experience every captivating facet with the characters.

The Shades of Winter begins during a late summer harvest in Dyrsholt. Although a necessary task, it’s also tedious: especially for aging sea raiders. This is explicitly so for Tam Isliefsdottir, who relates this fantastical tale from her point of view.

When a ship appears on the horizon, the harvesting halts, and the denizens arm themselves to defend against possible raiders. However, Tam was startled to learn that her Kyndred (brothers/sisters in arms) were sailing into port. After arranging a quick welcoming feast, they meet in the hall for not merely a celebration, but to deliver some astounding news about a raid on a shrine at Heilaegr.

Author Smith provides a fascinating history of the battles, fallen kings, lost comrades, and the state of the current world…and what, if anything, aging warriors can do to soothe old wounds and avenge fallen heroes.

In a world Tam considers made for the young and strong, at times, those more wizened, battle-seasoned, and yearning for past glories, make the most formidable heroines/heroes. With nothing to lose but their lives, Tam and her Kyndred embark on an expedition of vengeance, which escalates into life altering events, unexpected reunions, arcane magic, murder, manipulations, and buried truths resurrected by desperation…not desire.

Morgan Smith has exceptional insight into ancient cultures and ethos, whilst adding her distinctive elan. The detailed sea voyages, attitudes, characterization, and fighting techniques and armaments are impeccable. I appreciate the strong female characters that stood on their own, without the need to lessen the masculinity of the males. They stand on equal footing: in intellect, banter, and battle.

The Shades of Winter by Morgan Smith is an amazing journey with an engaging plot and extraordinary characters. Once the foundation is laid, you’re propelled into a magnificent tale where events and people aren’t necessarily what they appear to be. I can’t wait for the next novel to find out what new adventures are to be had.

 

Book Review: The Brittle Riders by Bill McCormick

RGB Trilogy Color I Synopsis: In a far future, Earth had already been visited by an alien race called the Sominids, who came here for the express purpose of drinking and having sex with everyone they could. When one of their infamous parties resulted in the moon being cut in half, and killing everyone who happened to live there, they quietly left. Their encounter with the Sominids had taught the human race many things, primarily that faster than light travel did not exist. Denied the stars, the human race began to dwindle in numbers and terminate all of their space programs.

A thousand years after that, a scientist named Edward Q. Rohta circumvented anti-AI laws, laws which had been on the books for millennia, by creating organic creatures to provide manual labor. Instead of dying after ten years, as promised in the company brochure, they would develop flu-like symptoms and go into hiding. Eventually, fed up with the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of humans they rose up and killed every man, woman, and child on the planet.

This is the story of what happens next.

The Brittle Riders; Apocalypses are funny that way.

Review: The Brittle Riders (Book I) by Bill McCormick was an unexpected pleasure to read. While I love science fiction and fantasy, it took me a while to immerse myself in this new and creative world. This debut novel commences with a preamble establishing the atmosphere that caused the apocalyptic demise of humankind. We’re introduced to Edward Q. Rohta, who is a brilliantly arrogant geneticist (and avowed hedonist). Since the “Plato Wars,” the creation of artificial intelligence was forbidden. Howbeit, Rohta circumvented that law by developing organic hybrids designed to assist humans. The transgenic beings he created were categorized as pseudo-humans and granted no rights. Rohta continued his research, creating more mutated and intermixed species called gen-o-pods, selling them as international slave labor and sex slaves. After fifty prosperous years, a succubus visited Rohta, stating that her contemporaries had studied humanity and deemed humans unscrupulous and indecent creatures that were a blight on their world. War soon followed.

Once the humans were defeated, the gen-o-pods constructed new communities and rid themselves of anything that was reminiscent of their human creators. However, like in all societies, not everyone desired a world of peace. Instead, they launched a war of their own, enslaving other brands (species) they deemed inferior. Xhaknar and Yontar (super soldiers), devastated the new world, and decimated numerous brands.

So, what happens when a succubus, a wolfen, a badgebeth, a rangka, and a braarb walk into the haven bar for a meeting over a few flagons of skank? No, seriously, that’s what happens. What comes next is an intriguing tale regarding those fringe dwellers of the wasteland, and an unfathomable plan by “the dead one,” Geldish.

The Brittle Riders is a well-crafted and intricate tale about these unlikely ‘heroes’ on a quest to free Arreti (formally earth) from its new, tyrannical leader. Author McCormick interweaves the backgrounds and the histories of their brands into an engaging, multi-layered plot. It isn’t merely a good vs evil story. Both concepts are interspersed with gradations of each, creating a compelling tale that you won’t want to stop reading.

As an added benefit, there’s a meticulous accounting of all brand names and descriptions, as well as the new measurements of time, days, years, etc. I referred to it a few times, but after I was well into the story, I didn’t need it. However, it’s always a pleasure when an author includes such details for the readers’ benefit.

The Brittle Riders is full of multidimensional characters, great battles, and the complexities of seeking new allies amongst sectarian brands to benefit the whole of Arreti, whilst rectifying wrongs of the past. In some places, the prose appeared a tad stilted, but once the story unfolded, it flowed quite well. There’s also some adult content, but not overly so. It’s used to demonstrate the turpitude and maleficence of integral characters. Definitely a “Zanubi” of a story, well worth 4.5 stars.

“La’Kyee Shhak.” You’ll understand once you’ve read it.

Book Review: Darkrise by M.L. Spencer

DarkRise Synopsis: Darien Lauchlin betrayed his allegiance to the Rhen when he sold his soul to the God of Chaos. Now the unthinkable has occurred: war between Malikar and the Rhen looms on the horizon. As Darien prepares to lead an invasion against his former homeland, he struggles to unite a diverse people who still view him as the enemy. Darien is forced to abandon his former loyalties and confront the tragedies of his past. With the help of Azár, he embarks on a series of trials that will forge him into the Battlemage his people desperately need him to be. But will the price of becoming a weapon be the last of his humanity?

Review: Darkrise by M. L. Spencer is the fourth book in this unique epic fantasy series (counting the prequel, Darkstorm). If you’re looking for a satisfying conclusion in this novel, you’ll have to wait until the next book (maybe). If you’re seeking an enthralling epic adventure comprising the fantastical elements you love, Darkrise is that and more.

Darkrise continues from where Darklands ended. Malikar and the Rhen teeter on the brink of war if a peaceful solution can’t be achieved. Darien Lauchlin, revered as a hero by some and an enemy to others, is entrenched within a battle not only between civilizations, but also within himself. Regardless of his moral conflicts and waning integrity, he’s determined to ascertain a peaceful solution and stand as a bridge between both worlds. Howbeit, his desires are incongruous to those of his new oath and master. Darien struggles with retaining his humanity, whilst striving to protect it. In doing so, numerous aspects of his life must change as he realizes that in order to attempt the impossible, he must surrender to the unthinkable.

It wouldn’t be a Rhenwars novel without the beloved, misunderstood, and flawed, Quin Reis. He’s continuing his efforts to aid Darien on a separate, perilous journey of discovery and strife. Even so, there’s some interesting facets of his personality that are brought forth along with more insight into who and what he is. Can a touch of humanity deliver him from the turbidity encompassing his soul? One can only hope. As one of the most intriguing characters in the series, Quin Reis never ceases to sacrifice himself for others and continuously advocates for causes that are beneficial to the whole. I do love that numerous so-called ‘demons’ in this series comprise more rectitude and ‘goodness’ than those proclaiming morality and righteousness. Furthermore, those purporting other cultures as savage, display the very barbarity they assign to their nemeses.

With a few darker undertones than the previous novels in the series (at least to me), Darkrise comes closer to having a grimdark edge. Conflicted characters, demons, hell-hounds, magic, torture and war, are all interwoven into a compelling tale that I didn’t want to end.

The one thing that perplexed me was the sudden aberrant behavior of an essential character. Throughout the series and especially in this novel, he remained unflinching and cold (as he should). Even after proclaiming his ‘blood-thirst’ and elation at decimating his enemies (or friends…he’s like that), it completely changed when the opportunity presented itself. It was contrary to everything that he is and previously demonstrated. Perhaps, this aspect was needed to augment another character’s purpose and significance. He certainly benefited from this reversal in characterization. I can’t wait to read the next novel and see.

Darkrise by M.L. Spencer is a captivating read with relatable characters that you’ll care about. The world is richly drawn, enhancing the epic experience. Definitely recommended.

Book Review: Where Shadows Fall by Tom Fallwell

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Synopsis: When the Rangers discover that a deadly and horrific dragon of unspeakable power has been loosed upon their world, they must find a way to destroy the monster before the creature of shadows burns them all into oblivion. Complicating their efforts, the discovery of a secret and hidden dragon cult that worships the monster, and a conspiracy of dark forces from the realm of shadows, threatens to destroy the peace their world has known for centuries and bring war to the people of Hir.

Struggling to survive the deepest of betrayals, the Rangers face a dark and foreboding time, as the world of Hir changes dramatically around them.

Review: Where Shadows Fall by Tom Fallwell is the second installment in the Rangers of Laerean trilogy. Although I thoroughly enjoyed A Whisper in the Shadows (Book I), this one had more gravitas, originality, and a richer plot. Author Fallwell fully conceptualized the land of Hir, and introduced some interesting and relatable characters. Baric and the Rangers are back, and facing some inconceivable nemeses (Grom’shikar: Agents of Chaos).

Where Shadows Fall continues after the devastation in Book I. However, the great protectors of Hir (Rangers of Laerean) didn’t anticipate the repercussions wrought from past decisions or the corruption and betrayal that roiled beneath the surface of fallacious comradery and brotherhood. Once revered as men and women of integrity, the Rangers must defend themselves against the denizens they swore and oath to protect.

With some nice action sequences, a few surprising deaths, and new allies, Where Shadows Fall was a quick and engaging read. There weren’t many plot twists, but the storyline doesn’t need them. There was plenty of magic, new species, and dragons to keep any fantasy lover satisfied. I would have liked to have seen a few things: more problems solved by the characters rather than by the magic, a strategic and intelligent antagonist remaining that way, and a little more consistency with one main character. Those are not gripes, just observations from one reader.

If you love fantasy filled with magic, new species, battles, and dragons, you’ll enjoy this series. I’ve already purchased book III! (Grom Nar! You’ll understand once you read it).

The Outcast by Mukul Rana

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Review: The Outcast by Mukul is a high fantasy that opens during an intermittent peace tethered by a brittle filament. That filament is shattered when the king of Britia beheaded a prophet conveying unfavorable news regarding his people’s future. After the prophet’s pronouncement, the king waged a war against his Viking enemies, ordering the deaths of every pregnant woman.

The Outcast by Mukul is an extremely fast-paced story with a plethora of mystical, fantastical, and historical elements. The author introduces characters quickly with images and short biographies inline with the text. With mysterious rangers, corrupt kings, deities, ents, shifters, dragons, and lore, there’s something for everyone in this action-packed tale. Some of the modern day vernacular was a bit jarring, but not enough to keep me from enjoying the story and these uncommon “heroes’” quest to discover more than they previously knew existed.

If you enjoy fast-paced adventure novels with a few recognizable characters and concepts, you’ll probably enjoy The Outcast. The ending will leave you wanting to know more.

Pigeon by Daniel Zadow

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Synopsis: For Simon, the plaintive cries of desperation emanate out from him to find a semblance of who he was. In doing so, he calls to the depths within his mind and awakens psychological manifestations that help remind him of his past.

The pigeon visits him and begins to wake up the old Simon by removing the masks, which cover a past made up of something from another world.

On this journey, Simon uncovers all the secrets trailing back to where it all started in Germany.

Review: Pigeon by Daniel Zadow is a complex tale detailing Simon’s misanthropic existence and his esoteric ruminations regarding his life, and innumerable memories of past events that he’s compartmentalized within a layered mind pervaded with obfuscation and dubiety. Facets of his deliberate masking emerge after he’s visited by the spirit of a pigeon who crashed into his window and subsequently died. Through the pigeon, the masks Simon has meticulously incorporated over the years begin to dissipate, revealing versions of interconnected lives, secrets, and objectives. The pigeon, or spirit, edifies Simon’s mind whilst piquing his curiosity and assisting in alleviating the enigmas plaguing him. As Simon reflects on past events and lives, he’s introduced to the Intractable Energy Agency, and rediscovers knowledge that he already possessed, yet suppressed. Through this journey of rediscovery, Simon realizes why he is where he is, and his importance to this world and limitless others. After numerous immersions into past events, characters, and epochs, Simon traces his origins back to Schrödinger and his wave emitter that creates a link-up to the Many Worlds Portal.

Pigeon by Daniel Zadow is an intriguingly outré and multifarious glimpse into the life and mind of Simon Parsons. The stream of consciousness style of the narrative is captivating, propelling you through aspects of varying characters’ existences, spanning epochs, genders, and realms (both physical and metaphysical). Pigeon is definitely a well-written and intelligent narrative detailing events from Arosa, Switzerland, 1920 to New York, 2030. I found myself rereading most of this novel to ensure that I fully grasped the conceptualization that Zadow intended to convey. Pigeon is a compelling read that left me with a few questions regarding the veracities of the mind versus the fabrication inserted to mask or expunge undesirable realities.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

Chosen of Trees and of Talons by Jeff Pryor

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Synopsis: Hope is a fragile thread. Imprisoned for over four-hundred years, the Arneisian people tenuously held onto that thread. Generations were born and generations died. Sons were Chosen and given to the sorcerers who imposed the chains of slavery on their people, hoping the one foretold would Return to lead them from their prison. The thread of hope is tested as a new group of boys is Chosen. Their secrets will free the Arneisians or break that thread forever. The survival of a magical forest is in the hands of a young brother and sister. A father refuses to accept their destiny, and fights to protect them from the dark creatures who hunt them. A husband and wife only hope to reunite as he leads an army while she attempts to uncover spies for her king. Their futures, as well as the fate of kingdoms, hang in the balance as a boy fights to fulfill his destiny amid the gathering storms of war.

Review:  Chosen of Trees and of Talons by Jeff Pryor is an impassioned epic fantasy with a multi-layered, in-depth plot encompassing a complex world filled with intriguing characters, creatures, and magic.

Chosen of Trees and of Talons begins after a devastating war. Once the Arnesians were defeated, their king, Je’Hail Mulnaro, had to surrender his life along with his wife, and last Truthseer in exchange for his people’s survival. Although they’d foreseen that The Ones (their enemy) wouldn’t hold true to this agreement, it was the only chance to save his people. After insuring his children were hidden and safe, King Mulnaro prepared a journal and a few magical objects he hoped would aid his people in the future to free them from The Ones and the darkness they serve.

Chosen of Trees and of Talons by Jeff Pryor is an extremely detailed tale with a host of characters. The story is told from numerous points of view throughout the world. After the initial betrayal and the imprisonment of the Arnesians, we learn what The Ones’ plans for these once powerful people are. If they can find a prophesized child amongst the Arnesians, they can unleash the true darkness. In order to do this, they ‘choose’ young men each year from their prisoners that show a particular magical ability. Over the centuries of the Arnesians imprisonment, The Ones have bastardized history, filling the past with alternate facts where the Arnesians were evil aggressors and The ‘goodly’ Ones barely survived their genocidal attempts. Most Arnesians hate their ancestors for these evil acts and praise The Ones for allowing them to live, and giving them the opportunity to redeem their people.

Chosen of Trees and of Talons is far too complex with the different guilds, kingdoms, beasts, sentient forest, magic users, mythos, and betrayals to do it justice in a short review. It was an engrossing read with numerous interesting characters both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ I’ll be looking for the next novel to see what’s become of some of my favorite characters and creatures alike.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

The Grey Mage by Aidan Hennessy

The Grey MageSynopsis: Before he was the Archmage, he was the Exile…

Driven from his home and made a slave, Aelzandar flees his captors in an unknown land. As the natives turn against him and threaten his life, he is saved by a mysterious cadre who dwell in the Tower of the Magi.

Welcomed into this brethren, he is introduced to their enigmatic master, the Grey Mage Cassian. In this place, Aelzandar feels at peace for the first time in decades.

Aelzandar’s tranquil new life is short-lived when a discovery in the tower destroys this utopian society and drives a wedge through Aelzandar’s new comrades. Deserted by his students and friends, Cassian looks to Aelzandar for help, but what can one slave do against the power of the divine?

Review: The Grey Mage by Aidan Hennessy pulls you in immediately with the pursuit of an escaped elf, Aelzandar, by his Qardleean slavers. Though a short read, The Grey Mage isn’t lacking in action, well-defined characters or interesting plot developments. It’s a novella you could read in one evening and want to read again.

After Aelzandar encounters two spellweavers, Donal and Pedr, he’s both grateful and bemused. He wasn’t accustomed to mere human barbarians being blessed with such abilities. However, he learns that their master, Cassian the Grey, sent them to liberate him and escort Aelzandar to his tower (which is an ancient ruin of Eldaran elves) where Cassian teaches his students the Art. During a cursory meeting with Cassian and his paramour Vanaja, Aelzandar agrees to remain as the “school’s” cook in exchange for his lodging. But when he’s invited to an excavation in the west wing, some extraordinary developments unfold that shape the remaining story and his future. A secret room, a powerful relic, and an ancient evil manipulate a few to conquer the many. A battle of good vs evil ensues and the victor isn’t necessarily predetermined.

With fast action, relatable characters, secret portals to a forbidden land, and magical battles, The Grey Mage by Aidan Hennessy is an enjoyable and engaging story. There weren’t any huge plot twists or surprises, but it didn’t need them. It was an intriguing read with a satisfying end. I’m looking forward to more.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

Book Review: Diary of a Dead Man by David Listzwan

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Synopsis: What would happen if you woke up one day and you couldn’t remember anything at all? Even worse then that, some people are telling you that you are dead. Daron knows not only how that feels, but also what it’s like to be told you held the fate of all life. No one likes to be told they are the Chosen One.

Follow Daron through a magical quest and learn why God created life and death in the first place. Be there with him as he stops Gods children (the Angels and Dragons) from destroying everything out of the name of jealousy. Learn the inevitable fate of mankind.

Review: What happens when a Chosen One awakens in a “heaven” consisting of realms created and controlled by emotion and besieged by god’s disgruntled son? Diary of a Dead Man by David Listzwan opens with this narrative and introduces us to Daron the DragonSlayer: a dreamer soul awakening in chaos, disguised as paradise.

Diary of a Dead Man is a unique glimpse into a world created and abandoned by god. Upon Daron’s awakening, he’s greeted by two spirits (Jim and Brent) who provide him with an identity and a mission. After receiving a crash course in the rules and abilities of the realms, Daron learns that the reason for his “rebirth” is to slay Lucifer. As difficult as that sounds, his journey to find Lucifer is compounded by manipulation, sacrifice, and subsisting within multiple realms that can fade his soul while corrupting his mind.

Nothing is as it truly appears as he travels the realms and meets the spirits controlling them. After slaying a dragon and receiving a mystical sword and shield, Daron trains in a protected realm overseen by Peter, the guardian of the gate to the Realm of Life. Albeit, the year he spent training with Jim and Peter, allowed some significant changes to occur in the connected realms. Lucifer’s army is growing and Daron must find a way to unite the guardian spirits to prevent Lucifer from destroying all life. Once Daron visits the spirit realms: fear, contempt, lust, guilt, curiosity, etc, the imminent war begins.

Diary of a Dead Man is a different perspective of God, heaven, the angels, and creation itself. David Listzwan constantly challenges what/who is considered “good” and “bad” by reconstructing the beginning of time and God’s role in it. He also uses Daron as a savior of sorts. I was reminded of aspects of the movies Dogma and The Matrix III in numerous instances. It was a unique read with many imaginative concepts. 

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

Book Review: Bad Reception by S.C. Wright

51+eJclwuNL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ Synopsis: Listening to your parents is hard work. As a teenager, you’re always right, of course, but to them everything you do comes up short. Kana is nearing the end of her teenage years and is already a young woman. With no career prospects, no goals in life, she just can’t seem to attain her family’s expectations. On her nineteenth birthday, an accident caused by her own shortcomings causes a domino effect of chaos turning her life from boring and mundane to terrifying and supernatural. Kidnapped by a vampire and her chauffeur, she ends up the hostage of a host of strange creatures: Chloe, a mild mannered Cajun vampire. Vincent, a Welsh werewolf with a penchant for piracy and a history of drug abuse. Gabriella, a Spanish immortal who cannot die, and her daughter, a shapeshifter. Will she finally find her way back home to her family? Or is family more than blood and kin?

Review: Bad Reception by S.C. Wright isn’t usually the type of fiction that I read. Albeit the synopsis was interesting: a vampire, a werewolf, an immortal, and a shapeshifter? Who wouldn’t raise a brow at that cast of characters?

S.C. Wright captured my interest in the first chapter. We meet Kana and her son Michael, on a train headed into the “unknown.” She’s having a rough time managing her son until she notices a gentleman in the car with her. After introducing herself to him (Theodore Schmidt), the tale truly begins. The circumstances for Kana being on this particular train are interesting, and that’s what greets us in the first chapter.

She begins telling Theodore (in exchange for something she wants) about why she is traveling alone in such a foreign place with a toddler. As is mentioned in the blurb, Kana is miserable at home. She feels unloved and unappreciated by her mother and sister. This goes to the extreme, but is indented to help you understand more of Kana’s reactions to certain situations.

An unfortunate accident on her 19th birthday sets a world-wind of events into motion. Her kidnapping by a vampire and an immortal is only the beginning. Meeting the werewolf and similarly fascinating characters propels this book forward. Each has their own backstory, and we learn more of why they respond to Kana in different ways.

It’s difficult to write this review without giving away any of the more intricate details. Suffice it to say, Kana ends up in a situation that she could’ve never dreamed of with a group of “people” only thought of as imaginary.

Parts of the story are a bit jumpy as well as some of the slang. Bad Reception is an interesting tale for young adult readers. I found myself laughing in a few areas and saddened in others. The cast of characters isn’t vast, but they’re fairly well-developed. However, I would’ve liked a more in-depth explanation or showing of certain characters unique abilities. That would’ve definitely made the story more enthralling. I would recommend this book for YA readers. There’s a bit of a language, but it isn’t overly used. The book needs some editing, but that did nothing to take away from my experience.