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.

Book Review: Casting in Stone by Morgan Smith

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Synopsis: They said ill winds blew at her back. They said she was cursed, a hex, a jinx, a hissing in the dark. And it was true: everywhere she went, no matter what she did, misfortune seemed to follow in her wake. But that, of course, wasn’t the worst of it.

The evil that seemed to track Caoimhe throughout her life had caused so many tragedies. She fled her old life, trying to lose herself in anonymity , but the unholy circumstances of her birth, and the machinations of those who sought to use her existence to further their own schemes followed her still. Can she overcome a long-dead evil and finally be free?

This epic fantasy tale of medieval swords and sorcery will appeal to young adult and adult readers alike.

Review: Casting in Stone by Morgan Smith is an expertly crafted tale set in a wondrous mythical world. The protagonist piqued my interest and I was immediately plunged into a story that I couldn’t put down.

Casting in Stone is told from Caoimhe’s point of view and starts with a devastating tragedy and mystery. Each chapter is more intriguing than the last, weaving a stimulating tale: the mysteries of Caoimhe’s birth, childhood, benefactors, and a host of peoples spinning their webs of deceit and manipulation.

Most of the story takes place in Rhwyn. However, through flashbacks, we are introduced to different places, times and given greater pieces of the tragedies of Caoimhe’s life. Starting with the hatred of her parents and shunning of all those about her, save her grandfather.

The characters are well thought out and described. I found myself empathizing and rooting for Caoimhe. Though, she seemed an unlikely hero, she was also an inevitable one. Her past was devastating and cruel, and yet, she survived by repressing any emotion. In truth, she may have had the greatest emotion and loyalty, especially for her sister, Meryn.

The level of intrigue is mind-blowing with just the right amount of twists and surprises to keep you interested, not frustrated. I read this book in one sitting and started looking for book II as soon as I finished. Morgan Smith has written a fabulously engrossing tale filled with believable and fallible characters. There’s just the right amount of magical/spiritual elements as not to overshadow the story, but to enhance it.

Book Review: Abiku: A Battle of Gods by Elizabeth Salawu

AbikuSynopsis: She was called an Abiku, an evil spirit sent to this world to lure men to their doom

Dayo is a bi-racial twenty something year old with a German mom and a Nigerian dad. She has a semi bougie lifestyle, always jetting across the pond between Africa and Europe.

She starts dating her father’s driver in secret after seducing him.

On her return from her cousin’s 21st birthday in Manchester, she tries gbana (crack) for the first time. She finds herself in an alternate realm and thinks she’s hallucinating from using gbana. She doesn’t take anything that happens there seriously as she thinks she’s having a vivid dream. That is until she couldn’t wake up from getting married to a ‘man’ she met in that realm…

Review: Abiku: A Battle of Gods by Elizabeth Salawu is a unique “erotic” paranormal romance set primarily in Nigeria. The protagonist, Ekundayo (Dayo) is of a blended heritage (Nigerian and German) and labeled an Abiku (witch or one born to die) due to not only this, but a particular mark of birth. Apparently, she’s revered as one of the most beautiful Nigerians because she doesn’t look Nigerian. Many girls are envious of her lighter complexion and longer hair and she earns the title ogbanje (a water spirit) because of this unnatural beauty. Throughout the book, this aspect of Dayo is made quite clear.

Abiku: A Battle of Gods by Elizabeth Salawu is a telling of Dayo’s story to discover her true self. Through numerous graphic sexual encounters and some experimental drug use, she finds herself in an alternate reality. Once discovering this “world” and the intriguing man, Akin, who inhabits it, she continues using the gbana (cocaine) to relive the experience. She’s drawn to Akin’s masculinity and fears it all at once. However, her sexual desire for him outweighs her trepidation, and with great alacrity, she agrees to become his mate and they consummate that bond quickly.

Although she has another lover in the “real” world, Henry (a driver for her family), her lust and unnatural urging for Akin consumes her. During the consummation of their marriage, she understands why she’s drawn to him and also discovers the love she has for Henry.

Abiku: A Battle of Gods by Elizabeth Salawu was an interesting story introducing African gods and mythologies that I’ve studied. The use of ‘Pidgin’ English was also a nice touch. Although the title includes “A Battle of Gods,” there isn’t truly a battle; not a physical one. The true battle is within, and Dayo’s choices and future aren’t certain at the book’s end.

Overall, an entertaining short read.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

RF_Official_Reviewer

Book Review: Rites of Heirdron by Newland Moon

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Synopsis:  They poisoned his planet, massacred his people, and violated his mother. Now, they’re coming for him.

A bastard prince, born to a dishonored queen, Zrahnz is the last hope of a dying world nearly decimated after a treacherous interplanetary betrayal. He struggles to reclaim his legitimacy as a ruler and for his planet’s survival. But as he endeavors to unravel the manipulations of the past, a debilitating malady threatens his sanity and his life. If he cannot save himself, his planet will succumb to the corrupt intergalactic alliances aligned against them.
 
The irrepressible allure he feels for an Earth-born visitor, Itanya, threatens to overwhelm him, yet through her, Zrahnz discovers the secret that can ease the devastating agony of his illness. Could she be the key to his survival and the future of Triaxeyn?
 
With Q-1 Raydren at his side, and with the influence of the Oracles, he discovers corrupted truths and a forgotten prophecy. But he must make a crucial, life-saving decision, or else his people and everyone he loves could be destroyed.
 
He was denied his rule, denied his birthright, and denied the one truth that would save his life.
 
He wasn’t supposed to survive, he wasn’t supposed to fight, and he wasn’t supposed to receive, the
                                                     RITES OF HEIRDRON

Review: Taking a chance with a new science fantasy author is usually risky, especially in this genre. And although I got a copy of the book as a prize in a contest, reading the first few pages of Rites of Heirdron impressed me enough to really “sink” in its world. And what a world it was–Newland Moon has a knack for crafting scenes, descriptions and tension that can take your breath away, especially those particular scenes with Zrahnz and Itanya in them.

I cannot give away the spoilers here, of course, but let me try to describe some of its best narrative aspects. The story dredges through a number of meaningful issues–it touches upon the issue of race, although in an “interplanetary” sense, but racism nonetheless. It reminds me of those episodes in the original Star Trek in which the central plot navigated these touchy subjects with thrilling finesse, and that’s the same with Rites. It’s not at all preachy with some of its heavier meanings; instead, author Moon subtly slips everything in between the layers of scenes, right along with the story’s forward movement.

I also love the fact that Zhranz is saddled with both a blessing and a curse in many ways. His power is double-edged, like a Damoclean sword hanging over his head, and that fact makes Itanya’s presence all the more meaningful.

I love the twists and turns of this little book. At its best, Rites is delightfully entertaining and should keep you enthralled for many hours. A great read!

Author: Newland Moon is a Speculative Fiction author originally from Illinois. Even before she started kindergarten, she loved to read. That love only grew and blossomed into a love of writing as well.

Since 2015, she has written eight full-length novels and published four. She loves creating complex, diverse characters and multi-layered plots. Rites of Heirdron – Book I is her first Science Fantasy Romance novel.

When she is not wrangling stampeding miniature dachshunds, being super mom, managing her 9 to 5, or skillfully navigating a grocery store with the skill of a master, she enjoys reading new authors and discovering new worlds.