The Magic of Chaos (Tempest Blades 3) by Ricardo Victoria

Two figures, one singing into a mic, one in a combative pose. Cover title The Magick of Chaos

Two teams, two missions, and one world to save against the clock.
Gaby and Sam must lead their teams while facing personal problems. Gaby, divided between her duties and her musical passion, tormented by memories of the distant past that have returned, must find the Crown of the Dead before the enemy gets it first to win the brewing war. Sam, torn between her gifted human side and her freefolk side, and between two loves, must help an amnesiac deity to fix the whole of magick, before her people become easy targets. Will their inner turmoil hinder them or give them the strength they need to find unexpected ways to solve the quests?
In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible, including finding out who you really are. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Shadow Dragon Press and the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Magick of Chaos will be available on June 13th. This is book 3 in The Tempest Blades series. You can find my reviews for the previous books here: The Withered King; The Cursed Titans.

The Magick of Chaos continues the story that has been building from book one. Threads are tied together, new story arcs are introduced, and everything is dialed up to eleven. There is a sense of urgency to The Magick of Chaos that serves to elevate the importance of everything. There was a palpable tension that bled over to my reading experience, leaving me racing through the book, curious to see what would happen next and how things would play out.

The characters are split (all TTRPG fans here are shouting, “Never split the party” but it works magnificently in this case), into two groups both with huge tasks. The failure of these tasks will lead to horrible consequences. No pressure, right?

What I appreciate about author Ricardo Victoria’s writing is his ability to take emotional or mental struggles and set them against an epic backdrop, while somehow retaining the importance of the personal obstacles. Books that can do this are few and far between. Don’t get me wrong: the action is amazing, vividly described. But it is the character dynamics and what each of them is dealing with on a personal level that has made this series stand out. You have past traumas that affect decisions, as well as characters with depression, and self-doubt. And yet, they get up and deal with it, while also attempting to save the world. That is the real heroism on display.

Once again, Gaby was my favorite character. I love seeing her shift and become more nuanced with each new novel. Her backstory is harsh but is written in such a way that it never became too much for me. It was also done with purpose. I need to add a huge thank you to author Ricardo Victoria for letting me know about the content beforehand. It is also mentioned at the beginning of the book, which I found to be a classy choice by the publisher.

I also really liked Kasumi. She just kind of rocked. She’s one of those characters who is tenacious, taking risks even knowing that the probability is high that it’s not going to end well. She was also involved in what I thought was the most hardcore of fights. It is rare that I read a book and immediately think “This needs to be a TV show” but the pictures that the author paints with his words is so darn vivid. It would be absolutely amazing as an anime, as long as they can do justice to the complex storyarc.

And it is complex. There is a lot going on, all of which builds upon things that have happened before. The Magick of Chaos isn’t the sort of book that you can set down mid-chapter. You won’t want to anyway. This is a book that I wanted to both take my time on and devour quickly. The writing is fast-paced, explanations weren’t wordy and were given only when it was needed. The story moved along extremely well, never dragging.

There is a reason that the I enjoy the Tempest Blades so much. It’s a story written by an author with a distinct voice. He can’t be mistaken for a number of other authors. This voice is unique and the series is one of a kind. I enjoy each book a teeny bit more than the previous one, which I didn’t think was possible at this point.

This is a treasure of a series, and The Magick of Chaos is the crown jewel. I highly recommend it.

Poems Inspired by True Love by Marcus Lee

Poems Inspired by True Love welcomes the reader in true love’s warm embrace, taking them through a soul-gripping journey of laughter, lust, and undeniably romantic moments. Through emotive storytelling and sultry lines, poet Marcus Lee lovingly awakens one’s psyche to the innermost amorous stirrings of the heart. In equal measure, these poetic outpourings serve as a vital reminder that one is not alone in their ocean of feelings. Above all, this poignant collection of over 100 poems invites you to “behold a radiance that burns and sustains you”, a radiance that goes by the name of True Love. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with the book in exchange for my honest opinion. Poems Inspired by True Love is available now.

Some of you who may have noticed the author’s name might be wondering, “Wait- is it that Marcus Lee?” Yup, Poems Inspired by True Love is penned by none other than fantasy writer Marcus Lee, author of The Gifted and the Cursed series and The Mountain of Souls. While romantic poetry is a far cry from the gritty and nuanced fantasy I’m used to from Marcus Lee, it works. This is a versatile author and I am extremely impressed.

One thing that has stood out to me with his fantasy is Marcus’ ability to take the smallest thing and turn it into something deep. Nowhere is this on display as much as it is in Poems Inspired by True Love. This collection follows different stages of romantic love. From infatuation to physical love and love that delights in the everyday experiences with another person, all is included. This isn’t the musings of a surface-level relationship. These show a deepening affection and appreciation for a loved one.

The poems themselves are beautifully written. One thing I loved is the variety of form. They weren’t all written in the same way and while they shared a common thread, they changed from page to page, keeping things fresh. The arrangement of the poems themselves within the book is important. If it had been done poorly, I think the collection itself would have felt clunky. Instead, it flowed well and painted a picture of a complete relationship.

I don’t read too much romantic poetry (I don’t read too much romantic anything, oddly) but I loved Poems Inspired by True Love. I appreciated that not all poems rhymed. I know that’s a weird thing to point out, but importance was placed more on cadence and meaning than on the rhyme scheme and it makes a huge difference. The poems that rhymed did so with reason. Nothing was accidental.

While I liked all the poems, I did have some favorites. I loved “Never Far”, a shorter, sweet poem about having a loved one always in your thoughts. It was relatable and simply written, which made it all the more beautiful. My absolute favorite, however, is “Evolution”. I loved the way it described a love that has grown, shifted, and become stronger and even deeper with time. It made me think of my own relationship with my husband. It’s a lovely homage to the author’s loved one.

This collection surprised and delighted me. Poems Inspired by True Love would be a great gift to a loved one. Marcus Lee pens the words that many of us think, but aren’t able to say.

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub Presents: The Hero’s Journey and Modern Fantasy

Most fans of fantasy and science fiction (or of storytelling in general) have heard of the Hero’s Journey. This template is spoken about at length in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Boiled down, the Hero’s Journey is a framework around which many books build their narrative arcs. While the Hero’s Journey has twelve steps, it can be broken down into three phases: The Departure, the Initiation, and the Return.

I got thinking: what does the Hero’s Journey look like in modern fantasy? Even though I’m more than willing to have a conversation with myself, I decided to ask some experts what they think. I’m joined today by Beth Tabler from Before We Go Blog, David (Book Meanderings) from FanFi Addict, Peatlong from Peat Long’s blog, and Filip Magnus from The Grimoire Reliquary.

W&S (Jodie)- Hi everyone! Thank you so much for being willing to share your time and your thoughts. First of all, do you think the Hero’s Journey is less common in recent SFF? Why or why not? 

David- I don’t know that it’s less common. I think as humans most if not all of us look for someone to look up to, to inspire us. I don’t think that will ever go away. The Hero’s Journey does look a lot different, though. I’ve always thought of the Hero’s Journey as a very black and white trope. Something pretty straightforward and pretty simplistic at times. Good triumphing over, evil, right over wrong, etc. It’s not really like that anymore and I think the Hero’s Journey is all the better for it. Because we have characters that are not black and white good guys we are able to have characters that are both highly relatable and I would say even more inspiring than before. They can be weak at times just like us, but they ultimately overcome. They experience loss just like us, but they can deal with it and even be better for it sometimes. This change also makes for more flexibility in the plot which allows for the possibility of more unique stories. So I do think the Hero’s Journey is still huge in SFF, the journey and the Hero just look a lot different.

Peat- Right now I think my experience is different, although it’s possible we mean different things. I don’t think I see it as much as I once did, at least not from the major publishers. Why? I think there’s a bunch of reasons so I’m just going to give my favorite theory- a lot of us want to see what comes *after* these days.

W&S (Jodie)- Interesting point, David. I really love seeing characters that are more nuanced taking the Hero’s Journey. I always saw Beowulf as a good example of the “straightforward” Hero’s Journey, but there is definitely more of an archetype happening there than with more recent books. Why do you think the shift occurred and when?

Peat- Can’t speak for David, but my gut instinct answer for all “when did fantasy start doing this modern thing” questions is A Song of Ice and Fire and First Law. I think you can see very clear Hero’s Journeys there, but the way they questioned and interrogated the Journey told publishers and agents that people wanted different takes on it.

Filip- When Bruce Campbell [sic] defined the Hero’s Journey, he was looking for this universal structure through which virtually every myth, every legend, even folktale could be approached. It’s not so much a trope as it is a scheme or template a pattern open enough that, if you look hard enough for it, you can find just about everywhere. In fantasy, we might think of works such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or, say, The Wheel of Time, as the quintessential examples of the Hero’s Journey. A protagonist (predominantly male–one can only hope that’s no longer the case) leaves behind their home (in an idyllic countryside that looks suspiciously like Wales or New Zealand) to answer the call of adventure. They have a lark, nearly die a bunch, get a magic ring or a sword or a bangle and make it back home in time for tea (ten to twelve months or years later). That story mold is the one I think of initially. Yet the Hero’s Journey can be boiled down to three much more vague steps, “Departure, Initiation, Return”. The notion of departure as leaving behind the hero’s familiar world, navigating the unfamiliar world, before eventually returning to that familiar world–such a definition allows us to map the journeys of plenty more protagonists onto the Hero’s Journey, I think.

Peat- Bruce Campell! The Hero’s Journey would look a lot different with references to collecting the boomstick… Enjoying that one aside, that’s an accurate summation of what Joseph Campbell was doing, how it’s been used, and how most recognize it – but it’s all about how closely people cleave to it, or if they recognize that. And speaking of the predominantly male nature of many of the Hero’s Journeys of yesteryear – has anyone come across Gail Carriger’s The Heroine’s Journey

W&S (Jodie)- Bruce Campbell’s Hero’s Journey would be awesome! I haven’t read it, Peat, but I’m curious now! Have you read it?

Peat- Not yet, but I plan to.

Beth- Hello everyone, just catching up here. To answer the original question that Jodie posed, I think the Hero’s Journey is so ingrained in literature as a format of storytelling that it would be hard to get away from it. However, with newer SFF, I think that the idea of a hero’s journey is broadening in scope. It feels to me more like a protagonist moving through different acts of a novel, more than leaving and going on a quest.

David- I agree, Beth. I think it has changed so much in part because after seeing it so frequently as almost the same story it became predictable and therefore somewhat boring. The Hero’s Journey is still just as present in my opinion and can be even more compelling now than it was before because of the many twists and turns on the original format that make it more unique. I don’t necessarily agree that a return home has to be included in a Hero’s Journey, but maybe that’s just me being somewhat ignorant of the original definition because I haven’t read a lot of classic fantasy. Ha ha!

Filip- As I understand it, it’s not necessarily a return home so much as it is a return to a state where the conflict that pushed our hero on their journey has been put to rest, David.

Peat-My understanding of the return home is similar to Filip’s. Look at Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, both famously faithful uses of the hero’s journey. You don’t see them back in the homes we met them in come the end. What we see is an end to the extraordinary circumstances that forced them to be heroes and a return to something we recognize as normalcy – even if their version of normal is different to ours.

W&S (Jodie)- I just read an excellent book that covers the *after*, Peat. I’m a sucker for that sort of story but only if it has direction. Do you think it’s possible for a book like that to cause a reset, so to speak, with the Hero’s Journey starting again only with different stakes or characters? 

Filip-If I may jump in real quick, series of SFF books, especially older ones, often make use of several hero’s journeys to power the continued return to their respective narrative worlds. 

W&S (Jodie)- Jump away, Filip! Is it the main character (or the character who embarks on the first Hero’s Journey) starting another Hero’s Journey to return to the world, or are you referring to different characters taking on the Hero’s role in that template?

Peat- Adding on to Jodie’s question – are there any series you’re thinking of in particular, as I’m struggling to think of them?

Filip-Let’s see if I can put up a proper answer to these lovely questions, folks! I was thinking of several series: the first one is Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea. The first novel sees Le Guin’s protagonist, Ged, experience an arc we could map onto the hero’s journey structure. The second novel, The Tombs of Atuan, centers around a different protagonist (Tenar) who goes on her own journey. Meanwhile, we can extrapolate that Ged, in his role as a supporting character, is going through a second Hero’s Journey, with all new lessons divorced from the Hero’s Journey he went through in the first novel.

I was also thinking of a more recent read, The Drowned Empire trilogy by Andrea Stewart. Jovis, to me, has one very distinct Hero’s Journey across the first and second book, and then a second Hero’s Journey across the final book in the series. So, to answer your original question, Jodie, I am referring to consecutive Hero’s Journeys experienced by the same character across different novels. Let me know if this reads like the random ramblings of a madman and a prophet–I am one but would hate to advertise it.

Peat- I just read revisited Earthsea with Tehanu and yes, now I think about it, I see what you mean by Ged’s second hero’s journey. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a few in Feist’s Riftwar, and you absolutely can in Kerr’s Deverry Cycle. Druss and Waylander do in Gemmell’s Drenai Chronicles. I would point out though these, along with Earthsea, are all series in which the books don’t form one long continuous narrative. I think the multiple hero’s journeys are rarer in series that do (i.e. Wheel of Time, Song of Ice and Fire) because the hero rarely gets to go home.

Beth- If I can interject a series, The Enders series as three specific journeys. The first is Ender’s journey in the first book, then Bean’s journey, and then Ender’s second journey on the alien planet. They are all very different arcs in tone.

W&S (Jodie)-I see what you’re getting at with The Drowned Empire, Filip. That’s pretty much what I meant when I mentioned a “reset”- the same character experiencing the Hero’s Journey, then going through it again. What’s interesting to me with that example is that Jovis’ goal (or reward, so to speak) in the second Hero’s Journey didn’t seem to be that different from the first, but rather more in-depth and developed. 

I know David reads manga (which I’m not very familiar with): what does the Hero’s Journey look like there, David? Is it found often?

David- I basically look at anime and manga as a single entity, so I’m going to speak through that lense when answering this question. The Hero’s Journey in my experience is incredibly prevalent in manga/anime. In fact, I would say it is just as common as it is in fantasy. But just like fantasy, it is morphing and changing into something new as time goes by. I know that some of my favorite manga/anime are ones where the protagonist feels like an underdog or outcast that matures and grows both mentally and physically and transforms into the hero that we know from the Hero’s Journey. Black Clover is a fantastic example of this from what I’ve seen so far. So is Demon Slayer

I also really love stories in manga/anime that twist and flip that story structure on its head like Attack on Titan, One Punch Man, and other stories.

W&S (Jodie)- I like to play TTRPGs and I see the Hero’s Journey there a lot, especially in pre-made adventures. There seems to be a less straightforward journey when playing a homebrew, which I love. I know many great sff books, such as Jeffrey Speight’s Paladin Unbound and Thomas Howard Riley’s We Break Immortals have taken their inspiration from D&D. What role do you think the Hero’s Journey plays in TTRPGs?

Filip- It really depends on the player, their character, and the DM (I don’t play pre-made adventures, and so I couldn’t tell you how that more guided experience compares). Every hero has their journey, but not every journey is a Hero’s Journey in the schematic sense. 

Peat- My group was decidedly unheroic; I don’t think we ever had anything like that in there! I have read RPG actual plays where I suspect I could map it on though (DaveB’s Mage the Awakening actual plays on are utterly epic).

WS&S (Jodie)-Something that I’m not sure all companies who sell pre-made campaigns consider is that, even when they go in with the Hero’s Journey pretty much written out, the players themselves tend to not cooperate. It’s one of the things I love about gaming: the people playing are the ones telling the story, and it will never be the same thing twice, even if every group were to start from the exact same campaign.

How important is the Hero’s Journey to SFF? What role does it play?

Peat-I think the main thing it offers is a recognizable, iconic template as to what someone’s experience of dealing with a whole new world would look like, how they’d react, how it’d change their life, and so on. Given how much SFF is about people discovering these incredible worlds – both to us and to them – that is pretty important. Even when people are using different narrative models, or are writing about characters who live in fantastical worlds they find completely normal, people are often subconsciously using their understanding of the hero’s journey to help it make sense.

Filip- I don’t think it’s altogether important. It’s a famous template and that might provide the reader with some familiarity, but when I read a SFF novel, I like to be lost in the world without thinking about how well a story maps onto Campbell’s scheme or not. I agree with Peat that what strength the Hero’s Journey derives is more on a subconscious level than anything else; humans work well with familiar patterns at the back of their minds.

W&S (Jodie)- Is there such a thing as an “arrested” Hero’s Journey?

Filip-  Psst, Jodie, did you have Alf from The Sword Defiant in mind with this one?

W&S (Jodie)- You caught me dead to rights, Filip. Although by the end of the series, I suspect he’ll move on from that stalled state.

Peat- I don’t know I understand what you mean by arrested, can you go into more detail, Jodie?

W&S (Jodie)-As in, instead of completing the Hero’s Journey, it stops at a certain point, never completing. Does it then become something other than the Hero’s Journey?

Peat- Oh, interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like this, but I can see it being very fun to read. Would it be something different? I think it would, but in a way, that’s a variation rather than its own thing. My immediate guess for what it would look like, and how it’d get used, is it’d be side-arcs belonging to heroes that failed and whose mess the book’s hero has to clean up. In fact, hang on… right, yes. There’s a book called The Shape of Fantasy by an academic named Charul Palmer-Patel, all about how the shape of heroic epic fantasy. It talks about what it calls ou-heroes, which are basically characters who went out there to become the hero and ended up the villain. Think the Lord Ruler in Mistborn. I think those are probably where you see arrested Hero’s Journeys in fantasy right now… but I’m sure you can do more with it. 

W&S (Jodie)-See, now I’m curious: can a “villain” or morally gray character follow the template of the Hero’s Journey without any sort of redemption story arc also added? I kind of think yes. But jumping off that, what would that look like in a grittier setting, such as grimdark, where the line between hero and villain tends to be blurred? 

Beth-  I can see this playing out. This reminds me of a book I read last year that started as one journey, but became something else entirely. A young man wanted to join a group of warriors as they cross the frozen wastes to slay the baddie. But what he found along the way changed his journey significantly. I just remembered that the book is The Coward by Steven Aryan.

As for the talk about grimdark, I don’t think a hero’s journey is a part of grimdark. Grimdark characters have more agency in their decision-making. It is to do the right thing for the wrong reasons and vice versa. There is no set path to follow, no trope. Characters choose to behave in a manner in which they find it best to fit the situation. A hero’s Journey is a path that implies redemption in my opinion. Not all characters/protagonists can be redeemed, but they can move from point A to Point B. Grimdark as a genre is sort of hazy, and is changing constantly so it is difficult to say if something is possible.

Peat-  I was thinking we’d get this question and I’m both yes and no. No, because Campbell’s model contains an atonement stage. No, because it’s about becoming a better person as well as vanquishing the evil. But yes, because you can clearly create a dark mirror of it with all the same steps but instead of becoming a better person, they just become more effective. Or worse. Off the top of my head, I think the protagonists in Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword hit a lot of the same beats as the Hero’s Journey on their way to tragically bad decisions. Ditto Caul Shivers in Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. Even if they’re not quite the same thing, even if they’re riffing on it… well, they’re still riffing on it.

I also do think you could do a straight-up hero’s journey in grimdark simply by applying different moral standards to what heroism is. I mean, all the dudes in the Iliad are called heroes, most of them are bounders and cads, and what’s more grimdark than “the city falls, the lovers are split, and most of the victors come to bad ends anyway”?

Beth-That is a very good point. It would have to be a hell of a story to achieve that, but I can see that happening.

Filip-To my mind, grimdark contradicts the notion of a Hero’s Journey. Grimdark’s principal traits include the denial and negation of hope, as well as the impossibility of positive growth and change–which are the signature traits of a Hero’s Journey. Of course, I agree with Peat that each of the beats can be flipped–but I don’t believe we can call that a Hero’s Journey. There’s also an objection to be made about calling the Illiad grimdark–I’ll permit my love for all things classic speak when I say that the epic is done a disservice when we conflate its tragic overtones with those of grimdark, especially considering that its final book ends in the reconciliation between Achilles and Priam, and their common mourning for their loved ones.

Peat- I accept that in terms of solely the Iliad you’re correct, but in terms of the broader story of Troy as we know it? In any case, there are other tales of ancient times and different morality that lend themselves well to grimdark inspiration in terms of celebration of people easily seen as immoral today, great betrayals, and tragic ends. Or, at least it works with how I see grimdark.

David- I agree that the Hero’s Journey isn’t really possible in grimdark, but at the same time the genre is so hard to define. What I would call dark fantasy some people would call grimdark. I generally define grimdark by the tone of the book when it comes to hope. I think of grimdark as basically the nihilism that is a consistent message throughout the First Law books by Joe Abercrombie. No right, no wrong, no redemption and even if there is a hint of redemption it’s not for the reasons that would fit A Hero’s Journey.

I’m actually starting to realize in my own reading life that I love Dark Fantasy, but the brand of grimdark that First Law represents is not for me personally. And that’s not to say that I don’t believe First Law is written well because it really is. I just need and want elements of hope in my story. I want redemption. I want the good guys to win, even if the “good guys” look a little different now than in classic fantasy. There’s more gray now and that’s a good thing. For me, the Hero’s Journey will always be important even if it looks different than it used to.

W&S (Jodie)- I  see what you mean, Peat. I suppose it would also have a little to do with how the character sees themself: a villain can easily see themself as a hero. In that case, redemption might look different. Of course, then it all becomes semantics. Even a hero can look like the villain, especially in fantasy when there is a good amount of stabbiness. 

You make a strong case about grimdark, Beth, and how much it is changing. I think it might even be the subgenre that most strongly defies definition. I think the Hero’s Journey might be easier to categorize in certain subgenres over others, anyway. I’ve sort of seen the final step in the Hero’s Journey as a change in some way, not necessarily redemption. I think that’s me bungling that final step up, though.

David, I also need elements of hope in my fantasy. The “good guys” don’t always need to win, but I need to know that if they don’t at least they’ve set things in motion so that hope will win out in the future.

Well, we should probably wrap this up, although I could keep going and going and going (just like the Energizer Bunny). Thank you for discussing the Hero’s Journey!

What do you think, readers? Feel free to weigh in!

Meet the contributors below:

Beth Tabler:

Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is a lead on Grimdark Magazine. She was at one time an architect but now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and was on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5, and is a judge for SPFBO7.

You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other.

Blog: Before We Go Blog

David (Book Meanderings):

David S. loves fantasy and Sci Fi books and enjoys hiking, spending time with friends, and eating too much pizza. On the weekend you can find him visiting family, going to church, and most of all at home under a blanket while reading books, watching anime/tv shows, or playing video games with friends.

Blog: FanFi Addict


Peat is an ageless eldritch horror currently incarnated in the body of a grumpy man. Introduced to fantasy through bedtime readings of The Hobbit, he swiftly fell in love with the whole shebang. When not writing novels that will change the world if he could only just finish them, or making torturous food and sport analogies on his blog, Peat enjoys job hunting, playing ringmaster to a house of feral beasts, and run-on sentences.

Blog: Peat Long’s Blog

The Filip Magnus:

Prisoner #91734, also known as F.I.L.I.P. is certainly not an advanced artificial intelligence system meant to make your blogging experience more frustrating. He is instead a human man person who loves discussing SFF in any context and experiencing it across multiple mediums. You can find him at his blog, The Grimoire Reliquary, as well as on YouTube as FilipMagnus.

Blog: The Grimoire Reliquary
Youtube: Filip Magnus

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub:

Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing table top roleplaying games, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”.

Book Spotlight: The Exile of Zanzibar by Daniel Maidman

Today I’m delighted to spotlight The Exile of Zanzibar by Daniel Maidman. This book mixes fantasy and magic with history. The Exile of Zanzibar is an entrant in SPFBO 9, a yearly competition that features some of the best that self-published fantasy has to offer (let me tell you, I have found some incredible books through the SPFBO competitions). Check it out!

Book Blurb:

Claire built a device to fold space and time. It had a flaw…
When the smoke clears, she finds herself halfway across the world, thousands of years in the past, and no device in sight.
In bronze-age Florence, war has lasted for generations. All Claire wants to do is get home, but she’ll need help from the locals. She wins an ally in Marcus Diophantus, a pickpocket turned soldier turned general, who hopes to turn into something more than just her champion. Together, they broker peace between Florence and its enemy.
If Marcus is going to help Claire, he’ll have to survive. Peace has upset the balance of power in the capital city. The king stands increasingly alone against: the Constantines, a commercial enterprise as much as a clan, who aim to profit from peace as they have from war — the warrior nobles, descended from the founders of Florence and quick to turn against a weak throne – and Reburrus, the high priest of Florence, convinced Claire answers to hostile foreign gods. As the city comes to a boil, Claire and Marcus – and Marcus’s formidable army – will have to decide where their allegiance lies.
Claire becomes a reluctant participant in a savage campaign. While Marcus leads the battles, she tries to gain control of the unimaginably powerful Ctesiphôn – a ghost tower in the heart of Florence, shrouded in magic and myth. (Quoted from Amazon)

To purchase:


Barnes and Noble

About the author:

Daniel Maidman is an author and artist. His art is included in

the permanent collections of the Library of Congress Department of

Prints and Drawings and a number of American art museums. His art and writing on art have been featured in The Huffington PostARTnewsForbesW, and many others. The Exile of Zanzibar is his first novel.

Wild Court by Matthew Samuels

A secret organisation is losing the battle to maintain the empathy levels that sustain the planet’s protective barriers against the nightmare worlds.

A young aristocrat safeguards a terrible secret, sponsoring an archaeology graduate obsessed with biblical artifacts. An all-knowing orphan worshiped by a cult joins a textbook exemplar of toxic masculinity and an introverted librarian. Together with a retired demon hunter, they’ll face the apocalypse. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild Court is available now.

One of the great things about fantasy, urban fantasy in particular, is how authors explore ideas such as empathy, humanity, mental health, and its effects, all while also including magic and monsters. Wild Court presents a remarkable dichotomy between reality and fantasy, guided by Matthew Samuels’ skillful hand.

The book has a few different points of view; one isn’t enough to contain the narrative. Each one moves the story or plot in a way that makes the novel more complete. While they are all great characters, my favorite is Ben. He’s an introverted bundle of anxiety who appreciates a quiet life. I can relate. At the same time, when an opportunity comes to help in the struggle against otherworldly dangers- which are becoming more present in this day and age- he is willing to do what he can. His friendship with the extremely flawed Matt adds a new layer to an already complicated character.

The plot is a lot to take in at first. There are historical artifacts, ancient societies, and violent spirits. Hang in there. As the book progresses, all is explained and it meshes together well into a creative whole. It is a book that requires trust and attention. Trust that the author is going to deliver a heck of a story (he nails it) and attention to the nuances of both the characters and narrative.

Wild Court begins with introductions to the main players, then moves on to explanations in the most fun of ways: a series of “tests” to decide if the characters are a good fit for the secret evil-battling group. It was a little reminiscent of the movie Men in Black, but just a little. During these tests and training scenes, more detail is given, both to the characters and the reader. It is a clever way to avoid an overload of information all at once.

The pace isn’t slow, but it does take the time it needs to introduce the world. It ramps up as the book continues, which makes sense with everything that ends up happening (no spoilers given, I promise). There’s a doozy of an ending, a major payoff for all that happens throughout.

I love that the characters didn’t immediately go from zero to hardcore, shedding their initial personalities. They remained who they were while also growing and developing throughout the book. Wild Court is a unique book, one of the rare ones which wonderfully combines great characters with creative prose.

Waiqar: A Descent: Legends of the Dark Novel by Robbie MacNiven

Enter the extraordinary fantasy world of Descent: Legends in the Dark through the eyes of its most notorious necromancer as he begins his conquest of the realms of Terrinoth

Waiqar, Lord of the Mistlands, is a necromancer of supreme power, arrogance, and skill. Driven by his hunger for power, he has the whole of Terrinoth in his sights. But before he can raise his undead armies and march on the Baronies, his hold on the Mistlands must be complete. Waiqar’s court is rife with scheming and deception, from corrupt vampires with plans to usurp him, to an apprentice harboring dark ambition of his own. As his enemies vie for power, Waiqar’s own plans come to fruition. For power is hard won but easily lost, and this great necromancer has more to lose than anyone. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Waiqar: A Descent: Legends of the Dark novel is available now.

I’m beginning to associate Aconyte Books with fun. The last two Aconyte books that I read were entertaining adventures and, while Waiqar is dark and bloody, it has an underlying sense of excitement that begs you to suspend disbelief and join a fabulous fantasy world for a while. Author Robbie MacNiven balanced a classic gothic with a sense of enthusiasm, to brilliant effect.

Waiqar is set in the world of Descent: Legends of the Dark, which I have limited knowledge of. Previous experience isn’t required, though. The book jumps right in but has a gentle learning curve, taking the reader along with it. It begins with a poor hapless student who strayed a little too far down the path to necromancy. His “friends” betray him and he finds himself enslaved to Waiqar, necomancer extarordinaire. Think the worst of the worst, and you’ve got our Big Bad here.Except he isn’t the only Big Bad. He just happens to be the one calling the shots. Waiqar in turn gifts his slave to Tristayne, his protégé, who chafs at being the student of his undead teacher.

See, Tristayne can’t possibly achieve all that he dreams of while his necomanctic overlord controls everything. Thus, the stage is set for a novel that takes place through the eyes of the villains. This is the strength of the book. There are no heroes, no paths to redemption. There’s just evil, manipulations, lust for power, and a setting reminiscent of the best horror movies.

The pacing in Waiqar is snappy. There are no lags and I never got bored. The evil characters are unapologetically evil, not deigning to give a reason or excuse, which I loved. Backstories were short and to the point, never slowing down the storyline. The characters themselves were great, each offering a different brand of wickeness. Even Tomaz, the unfortunate student-turned-slave was unique in his own right.

While I enjoyed Waiqar’s brooding brutality (which was delightfully over the top from time to time, keeping the fun of a slasher movie), Tristayne was by far my favorite character. He was sulky and entitled, but also ambitious. His scenes were always a blast and I enjoyed seeing him plot against Waiqar. His confessions to his human slave, Tomaz, added extra layers to his pesonality. I thought the idea of using his slave as a sort of a diary was fantastic and often found myself grinning.

There was a ton happening within the pages, what with wars being planned, shifts in power being plotted, and lots of action besides. I’m not going to spoil the book by sharing how everything came together, but it was loads of gory fun. There were ghouls, liches, vampires, and battles aplenty. The ending was extremely gratifying and fit the tone of the book perfectly. Waiqar is a rip-roaring gothic adventure that I highly recommend to those looking for a bloody good read. Sorry, I had to permit myself a bad pun.

Pick this one up.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

Liesl Weiss long ago learned to be content working behind the scenes in the distinguished rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she’s left to run things, she discovers that the library’s most prized manuscript is missing.

Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book, but is told repeatedly to keep quiet, to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian unexpectedly stops showing up to work. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues’ pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomes clear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft. What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long—and about the people who care for and revere them—shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.(Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is available now.

If you have read my blog for a while, you can probably guess what drew me to this book: I’m a sucker for books about books. The fact that it’s marketed as a mystery, as opposed to a slice of life, made me even more interested in reading The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Whew, that title is a mouthful!).

This book features Leisl, who has always been a quiet and experienced cog, taking care of rare books and leaving the prestige of the job to be gobbled up by others. When her boss has a stroke, she ends her sabbatical to take over in the interim, unexpectedly encountering both a theft and a disappearance which she winds up trying to solve.

Leisl is a slightly older main character, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Not that I have anything against younger main characters, but variety is the spice of life. Leisl’s more advanced age gave her a unique perspective not always found in books. She was also a bit of a doormat, which I went back and forth on. It gave an interesting dynamic, but there were a few times when I desperately wanted her to find a backbone. As a person who has been known to reach doormat status herself from time to time, I understand that this is often easier said than done.

While I expected a mystery, this book really is more of an exploration of character dynamics. There was quite a lot of time spent on relationships, how women are often viewed in the workplace, and a little bit on mental health. Normally, I appreciate mental health being talked about in books, but I felt that it was sort of thrown in and not done very well. That being said, while I didn’t expect the mystery aspect to take such a back seat, the time spent on other things wasn’t necessarily a waste. I personally would have just preferred the mystery to be a bit more of a mystery. I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more had it been marketed differently.

The writing was solid, although the pacing was slow. There weren’t any twists and by the end was I comfortably aware of where the book was going. The book kind of went back and forth between timelines, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. It jarred me out of the book on a few occasions, right when I was beginning to be invested.

It probably sounds like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It definitely wasn’t what I expected and I’m sure I would have liked the book much better had it matched the blurb, but it wasn’t poorly written. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections would be a good match for people not looking for an edge-of-your-seat mystery, who enjoy reading about workplace dynamics and the concerns of everyday life.

Also, Leisl- stand up for yourself!

Book Tour Spotlight: Grave Danger by Alice James

I am delighted to join a book tour for Grave Danger by Alice James. Grave Danger is the second of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries. Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book. Grave Danger is out now.

Book Blurb:

More murder. More vampires. More snogging.

Toni Windsor is failing at ‘happily ever after,’ but it really isn’t her fault.

All she wants is true love and the perfect wardrobe, but it doesn’t look like they are coming her way any time soon. Instead, there are murders to solve and zombies to raise, and she’s broken her phone again.

Worst of all, her shiny new boyfriend turns out to be a jerk; maybe dating a vampire wasn’t her best decision ever?

*This book does contain domestic abuse. As such, please go into it with caution.

Vampires? Murders to solve? Zombies? This book is loaded with all that and more!

Purchase links:

Grave Secrets (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 1)

Grave Danger (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 2)

Grave Suspicions (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 3)– preorder now

Dragonlance Side Quest: The Companions by Tina Daniel

The final installment in the New York Times–bestselling Meetings Sextet series brings the cast of Dragonlance together for their first adventure

While on an innocent ship’s errand, Caramon, Sturm, and Tasslehoff are blown thousands of miles off course by a magic windstorm and transported to the eastern Bloodsea. Caramon and Sturm are left for dead while Tasslehoff mysteriously turns against his friends.

Back in Solace, Raistlin convinces Flint Fireforge and Tanis Half-Elven that they must make a perilous journey to Mithas, the kingdom of the minotaurs. Their task: not only to rescue their friends, but also to defeat the elusive Nightmaster. (Taken from Amazon)

The Companions is the sixth book in the Meetings Sextet, a group of books that takes place prior to the Chronicles (although the Chronicles were written first and definitely should be read before the Meetings Sextet). It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one so I was curious how it would hold up.

The book starts with Sturm, Caramon, and Tas on an errand to collect a rare spell component for Raistlin. Their ship is overrun and they are captured by minotaurs who mistake Tas for an evil mage. An evil kender is a recipe for disaster of the funniest kind, and The Companions is worth reading to see that on its own.

It’s never been a favorite, so I was hoping mainly for an entertaining side trip into a fantasy world I love. The Companions has some issues with it, for sure. In fact, it ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. The reasoning behind Raistlin’s conclusions at the beginning is pretty weak sauce, but I could suspend disbelief. The thing that really bothered me were the number of inconsistencies between this book and the Chronicles. Each side novel is going to have some things that just don’t match. That happens when you have so many authors adding their stamp to a series. I do think that this book has a lot more than some of the other books, however. It was distracting and at least some of it should have been avoidable. For example, Raistlin already had his famous hourglass pupils despite not having taken the Test yet. Someone should have caught that rather egregious oversight.

The author’s writing is full of unbridled enthusiasm, though, which is infectious. The spirit behind the story is one of fun and adventure, and Tas is hilarious. I remember a conversation I had with some friends during which we mused on what an emo Tas would look like (black leggings with big buckles and spikes on all of his pouches are a must). This isn’t the same thing, but it’s still massively entertaining.

As for the rest of the book, I feel like it’s one of the weaker of the side novels. The dynamic between the characters isn’t quite there yet,and at times they look like nothing as much as caricatures of themselves, which is kind of a bummer. I remember liking another of Tina Daniel’s Dragonlance books, Marquesta Kar-Thon, much better. Maybe she felt more comfortable and confident writing a character that hadn’t already been so well developed by other authors, and that’s the difference.

There are some Dragonlance side books that work better than others and unfortunately this is a weaker offering. While I appreciated the author’s exuberance and commitment to adding to the story of the Heroes of the Lance, this just didn’t work for me. I don’t regret rereading it, but it isn’t one that I plan on revisiting again for a while.

The Companions is a good choice for those who plan to read every Dragonlance book or anyone who wants to chortle at Evil Tasselhoff. For the rest of you, put this one lower on your TBR.

The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord’s cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Sword Defiant is available now.

I’m sorry to anyone who will be hit by this book, after I throw it at them while yelling, “READ THIS” at the top of my lungs. I’m guessing there’s a better way to go about sharing my love of The Sword Defiant, but I need everyone to read this. Right now. Just go ahead and stop what you’re doing and pick this up.

Trust me, it deserves to take precedence over unimportant things like going to work (okay, maybe bringing in a paycheck so you can eat is slightly more important, but only slightly).

The Sword Defiant follows Aelfric, one of the Nine heroes who defeated Lord Bone years ago. While the events of that battle are told in the form of memories (not quite flashbacks, just musings of a man who was deeply affected) throughout the novel, this book focuses on the after. After the battle is over and the day is won. After everyone decides that the status quo is what they have to work with. After secrets are revealed, the dark underbelly of larger-than-life legends begins to show, and heroes are mainly figureheads trotted out to be cheered at or used at the discretion of the people in charge.

Aelfric, known as Alf, finds himself at a loss in this new world. For him, the memories crowd in, and his charge- the defeated Big Bad’s sentient sword- keeps him from moving on. When another of the original heroes tasks Alf with the prevention of another evil rising (with vague warnings, because of course), he feels a returning sense of purpose. However, things are much murkier than he is used to. He can’t just be the unthinking Meat Shield of the party anymore. Someone has betrayed them all and the fates of many others may just rely on Alf figuring out who and why.

I loved Alf. He’s adrift, lost, and bone weary. He wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is. He also argues with a sword, which was kind of hilarious. The sword itself was a character in its own right, conniving, casting doubt and manipulating its unwilling wielder. At the same time, the sword unflinchingly reveals truths about Alf that he’d rather not confront. It’s rare to see such character growth caused by an object (I am reminded of a certain Ring that is utilized in the same brilliant way).

Along the way the reader is treated to interactions with the other surviving members of the Nine. They’ve gone their separate ways and their companionship is broken. I loved seeing the directions they each took. From Blaise the magic user with his ostentatious displays of power to Berys using her knowledge of thievery to basically run a city’s entire crime syndicate, it’s never what you’d expect. They help move the story along, feeding off each other and events as they unfold.

My favorite side character is Gundan, general of the Dwarfholt. He was brash and hotheaded and got both himself and Alf into some pretty bad situations. He also added a different perspective. He managed to both entertain and, whenever he reminisced about his glory days, also make me a little sad at how the mighty had fallen.

The story becomes bigger and bigger, causing a snowball effect that eventually sweeps everyone up into a galloping last third of the book. I didn’t want to put it down. Things like eating seemed much less important than finding out what would happen next.

The writing is fantastic. Hanrahan wove together the past and the present in such a cool way. And the stories that were told even when old friends were catching up! Holy crow, this world lived and breathed! I was left reeling and wondering why on earth I haven’t already devoured everything this author has written. It’s an oversight I mean to fix.

The Sword Defiant is a work of art. Read it.