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: Kurintor Nyusi by Aaron-Michael Hall

KN-Front-SEALSynopsis: As the gods battle in the heavens, darkness descends on earth.

The Keepers of Nine guide the primordial Kurintor warriors protecting the mortal world from the demons of Ashemohn. But after a god’s corruption empowered their demon goddess, Sokka, her manipulations have brought the Kurintor to the brink of extinction.

Can the Keepers of Nine awaken the Kurintor descendants in time to defend the Fifth Kingdom, or will the eidolons Sokka has sent forth destroy them?

It isn’t prophecy, destiny, or a birthright, that will decide the fate of the mortal world.
It is choice.

Review: Kurintor Nyusi is one of the most exciting and refreshing books I’ve read in a long time. The plot was not the usual fantasy fare, the world not like the usual worlds you find in the genre, and the characters…well, it was the characters that made this tale a pure pleasure to read. The author has created something very unique, and this is sure to be an award-winning story.

Through the eyes of these believable and well-portrayed characters, the reader is treated to a wonderfully enthralling experience, seeing the world through their eyes and coming to care for each and every one of them. We feel their emotions, share in their pains and joys. Even the antagonists. Nurisha, Xavion, Qaradan, Zuri, Alyelu and so many more. Yet, while there are plenty of characters, I did not feel overwhelmed at any time while reading this book.

This is fantasy as it was meant to be, not focused on creatures and landscapes, or even on the events, but on the people who live them, and we get to experience it all right along with them. I cannot say enough about how well-written this story is. This is an author all fantasy fans should keep their eyes on, and I highly recommend reading Kurintor Nyusi. I am anxiously awaiting the next book, and if this book is any indicator, the next will be magnificent! It deserves more than a mere 5 stars.

Book Review: Melokai: In the Heart of the Mountains by Rosalyn Kelly

51NpZ0clkbL Synopsis: Legendary warrior Ramya has successfully ruled as Melokai for longer than most. Prosperous, peaceful, and happy, her people love her. Or so she thinks.

Ramya’s time is up. Bracing herself for the gruesome sentence imposed on all Melokais who have served their purpose, she hears instead a shocking prophecy.

Is the abrupt appearance of a mysterious, eastern cave creature the prophesied danger? Or is it something darker, more evil? And what of the wolves? Will the ferocious war with their kind oust her from power?

Suddenly Ramya must fight threats from all sides to save her mountain realm. But while her back is turned, a conspiracy within her inner circle is festering. Ramya and her female warriors must crush an epic rebellion before it can destroy her and devastate her beloved nation.

She thinks it’s the end, but it’s just the beginning…

Review: Melokai: In the Heart of the Mountains by Rosalyn Kelly is an engrossing, dark and diverse fantasy that propels you into the world immediately. The cover alone promises an epic read, and author Kelly didn’t disappoint.

In the opening, Melokai Rayma is accompanied by her counselor and Head Scholar, Chaz, to entreat the Stone Prophetess Sybilya. Each Melokai ruling the matriarchal society of Peqky serves for a decade, and then a new Melokai is elected. After which, the departing ruler’s tongue is removed and they’re banished from Peqky. This isn’t a prospect that Rayma or her counselors relish, since their fates would be the same, save the banishment.

Rayma visited the stone goddess each week for her ruling, but instead of proclaiming Rayma’s rule at an end, the goddess remained silent. As a result, Rayma had ruled two years longer than any other Melokai. Howbeit, this visit would be different. The stone goddess spoke a prophecy that will inexorably alter the Peqkyians future.

Although bemused by the prophecy, Rayma continues to lead her people and make great strides to improve the lives of her denizens as well as lessen the severe treatment of the pleasure peons (PGs). Regardless of some opposition, she is loved by her people and surrounded by loyal counselors and warriors. Or is she?

The Peqkyian society is also intriguing. Most inhabitants display catlike features and also communicate with their feline companions. In the times of Xayy, a thousand years past, men had a place of ruler as the Melokaz. However, after the then stone prophetesses cursed them, that changed, and now the males (peons) are considered lesser citizens, and nothing more than a means to procreate and provide physical pleasures. Unfortunately, if males can’t demonstrate their ability to provide the latter, they are disposed of in a most horrific way. The PGs (male pleasure givers) existence is better than most other males. Notwithstanding the threat of castration and an excruciating death if they can’t satisfy their female summoners, they live and are treated modestly well.

Another interesting (and relevant) element is the Peqkian children. Women can choose a soulmatch if they feel connected to a certain male. Evenso, once they birth children, they’re taken to a communal pen. Naturally, with the use of PGs, women are pregnant often, and Peqkian law mandates that no child can know their parents and vice versa. “Mothers” have positions in each pen facility to rear and teach these children until they reach the appropriate age (fifteen). If the young boys can’t pass a ‘usefulness test,’ they are disposed of immediately.

With the dire implications of the prophecy, distrustful allies, warring wolves, and a banished, foreign Trogr (Gwrlain) arriving in the city, fealties are wavering, and the brittle filament tethering the Peqkian together could shatter at any moment.

That’s quite a bit to absorb, but it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. Author Rosalyn Kelly has created a vividly intriguing world pervaded with new species, deities, talking animals, concepts, great battles, and milieus that immerse you in this epic world whilst tickling every fantastical desire to satiate even the finickiest of readers. With numerous sub-plots, betrayals, manipulations, and intricately scrupulous treacheries, you’ll barely have time to catch your breath.

Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly effectually whisks you through multiple lands and societies (not all human), and a huge cast of interconnected characters. With the sexual content and brutalities, it’s intended for mature readers and not those unfamiliar with dark or grimdark fantasy. I don’t have an issue with such content when it’s used for characterization and along with the plot…not in place of one. Melokai is the former, and I was captivated from page one, and can’t wait to see what’s next revealed…especially with Sarrya, V, Artaz, and Gwrlain. What appears to be an end will certainly be a new beginning.
Easily 4.5 stars.

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.

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

Book Review: Dragonblood Throne by Tom Fallwell

Dragon Blood
Synopsis: Orphaned as a young child and growing up alone in the forest, Delina lives a life of isolation; her only companion a saber-toothed panther. Her strange eyes frighten those she occasionaly encounters, so she keeps to herself, until a young, wounded warrior ends up at her doorstep. As she nurses him back to health, she discovers she is more than just a young woman with unusual eyes, she is a dragonblood, destined to become the ruler of Almar.

Now hunted by the dark sorcerer who murdered her father, usurped his throne, and killed all her kin, she must find out how she can release the essence of the dragon inside her to defeat him. Everything depends upon her willingness to embrace her legacy and reclaim the Dragon Throne.

Review: Dragonblood Throne Legacy by Tom Fallwell was a very enjoyable fantasy novel. Delina’s character was well-written as were her motivations for multiple decisions she made throughout the story.

After being isolated for most of her life, she struggles to trust a young warrior that she’d nursed back to health. Although she feels an attraction (beyond physical) to him, her dealings with others makes her extremely cautious. With an unknown past and mysterious eyes, she’s been labeled a witch, and lost most of her family due to the same. Her only companion is a saber toothed panther (Morlok) who has protected her since she was a child.

Once Merrick convinces Delina of impending dangers, she journeys with him and learns more about herself and her family. Not only is she a dragonblood, she’s the rightful ruler of Almar. Now, she must choose to embrace her heritage and become who/what she’s meant to be, or she can reject that heritage and succumb to the forces of Kargoth: the malefic usurper who murdered her father.

Dragonblood Throne Legacy is full of magic, fantastical creatures, and intrigue. There were a few places that caused my brow to raise, but the story as a whole is a good one. All of the expected fantasy elements are present with some new creatures called Malcoraths as well. Author Fallwell redefines what a dragon is, and entwines those aspects into a forward-moving plot.

Being a lover of characterization, I’m always searching for “why” a character displays certain behaviors. I never truly understood Kargoth’s motivations for his abominable acts, but that didn’t take away from my reading enjoyment.

Easily 4.5 stars and recommended for fantasy lovers: young and old.

Book Review: Darklands by M.L. Spencer

Darklands
Synopsis:
He was once their greatest champion. Now he’s their fiercest adversary.

Compelled to obey the dark god he pledged his soul to, Darien finds himself tasked with delivering the people of the Black Lands from under the curse of darkness which shrouds the skies. With the enemy mage Azár, Darien sets out across a barren darkscape to assume his place as the leader of a people who despise him.

As he journeys deeper into the shadowed waste, Darien is confronted with difficult truths that force him to question every loyalty he has ever held. For there, in the brutal proving grounds of the north, Darien will be inexorably forged into the most dangerous adversary the Rhen has ever faced.

Review: M.L. Spencer’s novels are expertly woven fantastical tales that encompass more than mere fantasy. Darklands (book III) is no exception.

In this continuation of the Rhenwars saga, we’re reunited with some of the characters we’ve grown to love (or loathe) within DarkStorm and DarkMage. M.L. Spencer’s characterization and conflicts reaches new heights as Azár unseals the gateway to the Well of Tears, raising the Eight. With that summoning, the peace of the Rhen is threatened by enlisting their former savior to become their fiercest adversary.

Darien struggles to complete the tasks assigned to him by the dark lord (Xerys) that he’s obligated to obey, while remembering the love and life he led in the Rhen. Conflicted by memories of a life that no longer belongs to him; he strives to gain the honor of peoples that he nearly destroyed.

After messengers are dispatched to the Rhen, this epic tale unfolds in a masterful way. My favorite character, Quin, plays a major role in assisting Darien and protecting (the Prime Warden) Meiran on a perilous journey to the Dark Lands. That assistance is not without a hefty price and sacrifices to both human and demon alike. Through their journey, you learn more of the complexity of Quin, as well as the true nature and elitism of Meiran.

Darian’s conflicts dominate Darklands, and his tormentor (Nashir) twists the proverbial knife at every turn. As he travels with a woman who loathes him, to free a people who want him dead, he’s haunted by a love forever lost. Can he overcome the abuses and demonic hordes to reclaim what’s been taken, or succumb to the brutalities of a world where he no longer belongs?

Darklands is an exceptional continuation in the Rhenwars Saga, and I’m looking forward to the next novel. The decisions made in Darklands will have detrimental consequences for both worlds, separated by darkness and light.