Thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to take part in the blog tour for Kings and Daemons, book one in The Gifted and the Cursed series. The full series is available now, including a newly released audiobook.
Wowza, Kings and Daemons was fantastic! This book felt very old-school fantasy to me – and I loved it! It had so many of the elements that I love to see in fantasy. A group of characters to follow? Check. Inner conflict to match the external struggles? Check. Fantastical creatures? Check (daemons: need I say more). A terrifying Big Bad who is deliciously evil? Check.
Despite having these well-known and well-loved fantasy building blocks, this book is in no way a copy of other works. It is wholly original and incredibly creative. The characters were fantastic. I loved them all, but at the moment my favorite is Kalas. I reserve the right to change my mind, however. Each character has so much going on that not only provides fascinating backstories, but explains their personalities and the choices they make.
The world is grim and bleak, but not enough so that it killed my reading mojo. I know that sentence makes next to no sense, but sometimes a world is too dark for me to enjoy -this wasn’t the case here. The shades of despair in this book were nuanced and offset by the sheer waves of stick-to-itness that the characters possessed. Here was a group who had taken their hits and were still kicking. I love characters like that!
The pacing was fabulous. The story started moving and never stopped. I was immediately drawn in and I stayed enthralled from beginning to end. Everything unfolded with perfect timing and nothing felt forced. There was no dreaded info-dump. It was obvious that the author knew exactly what story he wanted to tell and confidently went about doing it.
The world was incredibly well-developed. The history was fascinating, (spoiler alert ) it is explored even more in future installments. In case you can’t tell, this is my long-winded way of saying Kings and Daemons was fantastic and I highly recommend it.
Writing hasn’t always been a serious hobby for me … but it has always been there, lurking in the shadows, serving me well when called upon.
As I look back over the years, I realise I was guilty of writing many short stories, as well as poetry, and I’d like to think, that even if they were never intended to be published, they were nonetheless warmly received by the intended recipients.
Then in 2019, I was inspired to write not just a short story, or poetry, but a book. Then, suddenly, one book turned into a trilogy and a labour of love, and it was a love I wanted to share with the world.
So, here we are. The pandemic that put my career in sport on hold also gave me the opportunity to lavish time on my alternative hobby, and now I’ve started, I don’t intend to stop.
Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notes From the Burning Age is available now.
Notes from the Burning Age tells a tale perfectly balanced. Humanity has been brought low by the nature it destroyed: no longer does technology rule supreme at the cost of the land. Instead, humans have found a different way to live. They have a newfound reverence for the kakuy- sky, water, and fire spirits. The kakuy are credited with cleansing the earth of humanity’s hubris through fire, drought, or flood. While I found this idea to be an interesting one, the kakuy are not ever really the main focus.
The extremely thinly veiled parallels between what happened in the book’s world and what is being done to ours were written well. The almost-philosophical musings found throughout were thought provoking and utterly fascinating. Somehow, author Claire North merged two very different tales- one of scholarly interest and debate, the other of espionage and danger- into one engrossing story.
The book opens with Ven as a child. His own childhood experience with the kakuy, which cost him his best friend, change his outlook and help shape the person he grows up to become. There are “before and after” parts in everyone’s life: the very moment something shifts and one life is swallowed up by another. The reader has the pleasure to experience this with Ven as he finds himself embroiled in a revolution he didn’t ask to be involved in, one that he is quite literally beaten into joining.
Ven is a disillusioned temple scholar, one who left the Temple after losing faith in both the Temple’s mission and its methods. He is working in a bar when he is contacted by the Brotherhood, an organization that could be seen as extremist. They pressure him into using his Temple skills to translate and verify the origins of “heretical texts”, things from before the worlds destruction that the church considers to be too dangerous for the common man. These texts range from harmless emails to instructions on bomb making. This the impetus for what becomes a fast-moving, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ultimately, though, everything is a veneer over the true focus of the book, which is the exploration of themes such as spirituality, knowledge (and who should have it), and respect for both one’s surroundings and for other people.
The writing itself is impeccable. A book such as this could easily become too heavy, and either bore or confuse the reader. Claire North kept it moving at a good pace, while also making sure that nothing was ever rushed. The prose was beautiful in an unconventional way. In fact, I would describe the entirety of the book like that: beautiful and unconventional. Combining an interesting and relatable protagonist with a writing like this made for a book that was difficult to put down.
Notes from the Burning Age is unlike anything I have ever read and I had to mull over my thoughts before deciding what I thought of it. At the end of the day, I don’t think a book like this can fall into a “like” or “dislike” category. It is too nuanced for that. There are too many pieces that fit together to make something complex and new. Instead, I can say that it made me think. Ven was the window through which truths and wonderings are explored, in a world that-in some ways- is not too dissimilar from our own.
Today, I have the pleasure to interview L.A. Wasielewski, author of the Alchemist trilogy. Thank you for taking some time to chat with me!
First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about TheAlchemist trilogy?
“The Alchemist Trilogy is the story of Ryris Bren, a talented alchemist with a secret—he possesses the power of magic. It’s not something you can learn by studying, you need to be born with it. In his world, being able to use magic is viewed as a curse, and you’re taught from birth to hide it—or risk being hunted and killed. Maybe by magic hunters, maybe by vindictive citizens. He has a family heirloom, an amulet, that keeps the magic hunters away. At least, that’s what his Gran told him, and he’s been conditioned never to take it off. Ryris decides he wants to spread his wings, gain some…
Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Campaigns and Companions will be available on September 14th, although everyone really should go ahead and preorder it.
If you have played Dungeons and Dragons for long, you’ll notice that there are those things that just sort of go along with it. First, there were comics. The humor found in Dork Tower or Order of the Stick totally encapsulated the funny side of D&D. Later on, the guys at Penny Arcade starting bringing D&D into their own work. Well, make room next to your D&D sourcebooks: all ttrpg fans need to own Campaigns andCompanions. It’s genius.
What would happen if cats, dogs, hamsters, and other critter companions picked up some dice and decided to go on a gaming adventure? Simply put, hilarity. This book is clever and snarky. It had me laughing out loud and showing my favorite pages to everyone in my house. Authors Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett perfectly captured the attitudes our animal friends show on a daily basis. From the cat who has a theologically-charged experience with a protection from evil circle, to the dog who gets…um, held up in a narrow passageway, each page offered a new laugh and more than a few knowing nods.
Of course, I have to talk about the art. The hilarious illustrations from Calum Alexander Watt elevated Campaigns and Companions to a whole new level. There’s something altogether too fitting about seeing a berserker rabbit. This book was everything I was hoping for and then some. I’m planning on buying this for some friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I did. Basically, I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns andCompanions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).
This is perfect for pet owners as well, although the full brilliance behind the humor will be more fully appreciated by D&D players. In fact, I guarantee that by this time next year, Campaigns and Companions will be mentioned in regular conversation around many a gaming table. I can’t recommend it enough.
A while back, I thought it might be cool to do a week of reviews, cover reveals, and book spotlights focused solely on self-published authors. I shared this little idea with some others, and Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week was born. So many people joined in and made it amazing! I tried to gather (hopefully all of) the posts in one place, which you can find here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. The fun isn’t over, though. Let’s talk about Indie August!
I am not the originator or organizer of Indie August. That credit goes to the fantastic Literature & Lofi. While Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week focused the spotlight on self-published authors, Indie August includes indie and small press as well. It also runs for the entirety of August!
How can you participate in Indie August?
1. Whenever you write a blog post/review/cover reveal etc. about an indie or self-published book, use the hashtag #IndieAugust.
2. Buy indie books!
3. Practice safe social distancing: yell loudly from your window at random passersby, sharing (or bombarding them with) the love of great indie books.
I can’t wait to read all the fantastic posts that will be coming out during Indie August.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to post nearly as often as I wanted to during Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. I have been planning on giving this tag a go for ages, however, so I can’t let the week end without taking this opportunity to finally get it done. I don’t know who came up with the original tag, so please let me know if you do. I’d love to credit them.
These are all self-published books, which goes to show (yet again) that any stigma against self-publishing is completely without merit. I encourage you to read off the beaten path!
Best Book You Read So Far This Year
Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer
This is actually a three-way tie at the moment (I reserve the right to add to this number at any given time), but since I think everyone and their brother should read Dragon Mage, I’m going to go with this one. Aram is one of the most wonderful main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. I’ve gushed at length about the book here, but there really isn’t a single thing that I didn’t love about Dragon Mage. Definitely read this book, if you haven’t yet.
Best Sequel You Read So Far
The Infinite Tower (Heroes of Spira Book 4) by Dorian Hart
Both my oldest and I are loving this series. From the characters and their relationships, to the world-development and the fantastical creatures, this hits every checkmark on my list of favorite things in fantasy books. It’s quickly become one of my most given fantasy recommendations and for good reason. Not only am I looking forward to seeing what happens next, I am planning on rereading from the beginning of the series before too much longer. You can find my review here.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet
Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes
Why haven’t I read this yet? WHY???
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
Mirror in Time by D. Ellis Overttun
I’m not going to say too much because my review is still forthcoming. I’ll just point out that any reader of sci-fi needs to add this to their tbr right now.
Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland
I honestly expected a fun, entertaining little story. I got that and more. It was more violent than I expected, but it was also much more thought-out than I expected. Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale was a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.
Favorite New Author
I’ve decided that M.L. Spencer could write a book about sandpaper and I’d pre-order it.
Newest Favorite Character – Merovich
Small Places by Matthew Samuels
Merovich was a delight. They were so child-like and sweet, while at the same time they invented the most dangerous of things. I loved that juxtaposition. Honestly, all of the characters in Small Places are fantastic. You can find my review here.
Book that Made You Cry
The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald
I don’t often cry over books or movies. This one had me tearing up, though. Author Dan Fitzgerald used it as a kind of mirror, to show the best and worst in all of us. It was beautiful. Find my review here.
Book that Made You Happy
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton
Oh, how I loved this book! The mystery was great, the author nailed the characters, and the ending was absolutely perfect. This was a brilliant homage to the foremost Consulting Detective. You can find my review here.
Most Beautiful Book You Got this Year
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
I mean…look at it! Gorgeous!
What Are Some Books You Need to Read By the End of the Year?
Oh, jeez! My tbr has a longer life expectancy than I do, so this is one of those questions that could be answered with many many titles. I’m looking forward to : A Troll Walks Into a Bar: A Nori Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden, Sacaran Nights by Rachel Shaw, and A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley are a few that come to mind.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview the authors of Joy of the Widow’s Tears, Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee. This writing team will be contributing something pretty stinking cool to this blog in the next month, but I’m not saying what. Keep your eyes peeled!
First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Joy of the Widow’s Tears?
Geoff: “Joy of the Widow’s Tears is the second book in our fantasy detective series, the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. In this book, Reva and her magic-user partner, Seeker Ansee Carya, are sent to investigate a potential double homicide, but when they get to the crime scene, both of the victim’s bodies have disappeared. The case is off to a bad start, and it gets worse when Reva is suspended for the way she handled the arrest of some adventurers. Reva figures that the time off will be good, since her boyfriend, Aavril, has just arrived back in town after spending months at sea. Unfortunately, Reva learns that Aavril has been promoted, and will be returning to sea instead of staying in Tenyl like he’d promised. Meanwhile, Seeker Carya investigates a missing persons case and soon discovers that his missing persons, and the missing murder victims, have all become seemingly invulnerable zombies with very strange powers. Reva must work outside the law to stop the mad cultist who is controlling these undead before they are unleashed upon the city.”
What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
Geoff:” I would say that I just have an overactive imagination. I always made up stories when I played as a kid, and I realized I could tell these stories to other people. My interest in fantasy came from Dungeons & Dragons. Being able to play games in worlds filled with magic, monsters, and dragons, fueled my interest in reading fantasy, but also in writing it.”
Coy: “Reading. Once you read enough books, on varied subjects, by different authors and in different genres, you start to think “I can do that”. What drew me to fantasy – the short answer, Gary Gygax. I have vast roots in Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. Plus, I’ve always liked other legends from real life, like King Arthur and Robin Hood.”
When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Geoff: “Yes. They both seem to come about at the same time. Sometimes the plot comes first and a character is developed to suit that story. Other times, it is the character that comes first. For us, more often than not, it is the character that comes first. In the Reva Lunaria series, it was Reva who came first. Our basic premise for the series was, “In a world of magic and monsters, how do the cops solve crimes?” We couldn’t figure out what the stories would be, or what the plots were, until we knew who Reva was. What kind of person is she? How does she act and react?
For our other series, a vampire gangster series that starts with Unremarkable, the basic plot came first. Once we had that, then we found a character, in Saul, who fit into the story that we wanted to tell.”
Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
“Not intentionally. One of the characters (Ansee) is the same height as Geoff and seems to be as timid and cautious as Geoff is, though that wasn’t intentional. We just wanted somebody who could contrast with Reva. On the other hand, Reva very much has Coy’s personality. That does make it pretty easy to write her, since Coy just needs to know how he’d act in a similar situation. But we didn’t start out planning her that way, it just works that her forthrightness and determination, and inability to suffer fools, really matches with Coy’s personality.”
What was the hardest character or part to write?
“For Coy, it is the exposition, writing the back story, information, and other details that give depth. For Geoff, the hardest parts to write are the dialogue, making sure that characters remain true to their own voice and don’t all start sounding the same.
Characters come and go, and if the dialogue isn’t right – if you can’t experience them and get the essence of that character – then you probably need a new character. Coy is very good at making sure that the character’s essence is there and remains consistent throughout the book. Geoff likes the exposition and background, writing the setting and description of people and places. He makes sure that the stage dressing is there for the characters to perform within. We think that our skill sets really complement each other and that really makes our writing click.”
You mesh fantasy with a detective character: what are some challenges with that? What is something you love about putting those two types of books together?
“One challenge is that, when you have a prevalence of magic, you have to prevent the solving of the crime from being too easy. It’s not good if your magic user can just cast a spell and identify the murderer. We have to make sure that there is enough mystery, enough of a challenge, like you’d find in a traditional (non-fantasy) mystery novel, so that the mystery will unfold as the story progresses. To make sure that we don’t let this happen, we have created rules for our magic system, to give us a framework for the world and to make sure that our characters still must face challenges and overcome struggles to be able to solve a crime.
Why do we put them together? They’re fun! We both love detective stories and fantasy stories, so putting them together just made sense. Plus, it’s a shift in the paradigm. It’s not just another detective novel, and not just another fantasy novel. There are so many books in each of those genres already, so in a world of fantasy and mystery, how do you stand out? For us, it was to put them together. Might we have alienated some readers of each genre by doing that? Probably. But have we gained some readers who didn’t know that this was a thing and it was missing from their lives? Heck, yes. And we love meeting them.”
Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
“The villain is easier, hands down. Their motivations are simpler, and generally they don’t have to be as complex as the heroes (though having complexity does give depth). Plus, with villains, we usually don’t have to have deep back stories, or try to interweave multiple sub-plots, character interactions, or other things that our main protagonists have to deal with from book to book.
As to fun, for us it is some of the minor characters that pop into the story, who are neither the hero nor the villain, that are the most fun to write. With them, we are not constrained by their motives or their actions, and we can play them however we want. We sometimes play these minor characters for humor, but we can also play them as over-the-top characters to help contrast with our main characters. In this series, we have several characters that are fun to write. Rhoanlan is a pawn broker, a known fence for stolen items, and a confidential informant that Reva uses. He is based on Sidney Greenstreet’s character of Signor Ferrari in Casablanca – a man who has his fingers in many places, has the pulse of the city, seems to know more information than everybody else, and will give it up for the right price. Rhoanlan has been in both books in the series so far. In Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduced several other minor characters that are a lot of fun to write. Pfastbinder is a cleric of Banok, the god of chaos, and this gives us immense freedom in how we play him, and in how he interacts with the other characters. Another new character is Amaryllis, who is a costume designer at Pfenestra’s Playhouse, and is another resource that Reva sometimes uses if she is in need of a disguise. Amaryllis is a blend of Nathan Lane’s character of Albert from The Birdcage and Edna Mode from The Incredibles. This makes Amaryllis very easy to write, and a lot of fun.”
I know you also work in publishing. Does that affect your writing process at all?
“Only in the sense that it means that Geoff has less time to write. It doesn’t really affect the actual writing process itself. We still plot our stories (we are both plotters) and then Geoff usually writes the first draft while Coy then fixes all of Geoff’s mistakes, corrects the dialogue, and makes sure that it is a coherent story.
Where being a publisher really helps is in what happens after the story is written. The publishing company (Shadow Dragon Press, which is an imprint of the main company, Artemesia Publishing, LLC) handles the expenses for editing, cover design, etc., as well as distribution and marketing. Geoff treats himself and Coy the same as he does all of the other writers he publishes, giving just as much focus to their stories so that there is no playing of favorites.”
Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)
Coy: “Currently, John Dies at the End by David Wong.”
Geoff: “Without Remorse by Tom Clancy because it is a great character study.”
For Self-published Authors Appreciation Week, it is only fitting that I repost a review of one of the most uniquely-written fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure to read. My review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.
Grim and fascinating, Shadowless is a masterpiece told in shades of gray. It is a fantasy of the epic variety, one with incredible world building.
Every now and then, in the Northern Realms, a child will be born without a shadow. These children are half-human/half-gods, a concept that is very reminiscent of Greek mythology. They each have a bit of their godly father’s power. Where the book goes from here, though, is completely unique. See, a god’s offspring can be used as a vessel to gather more power, which the gods harvest in the most brutal of ways. These Shadowless are hunted. Their killers are soldiers, priests, even the gods themselves. How do you survive when even the gods want you dead?
Shadowless unfolds in a very unusual way: each chapter follows a different character and is almost a short story. Eventually these individual threads form a tapestry, rich in detail and creativity. The Shadowless are gathered together by a mysterious figure, with a common goal: ensure their safety by any means necessary.
Each character is fully formed and developed, adding their own one-of-a-kind perspective. In fact, every character’s story could easily be made into a separate novel, complete and incredibly interesting. Rarely is there that much detail in a book with multiple points of view. It was impressive, to say the least.
Another point in the book’s favor is that the reader doesn’t have to wait long to understand what being Shadowless means: an explanation is given in the very first part. It helped to know a little bit more early on, as there were so many characters that trying to figure things out without much detail would have detracted from the story.
I loved each character (oh-and did I mention that here there be dragons?). However, where author Randall McNally truly shines is in his ability to paint vivid pictures of a grim world, one filled with darkness, but not quite hopeless. That tiny shred of hope–call it a refusal to lay down and give up–lends extra layers to a book that is already extremely nuanced.
This is a longer book, but I flew through it, sucked into both the story and the world. Shadowless is a perfect book for fans of large, sweeping fantasies. Any book that contains complex histories, secrets to be discovered, and meddling gods is one that I’ll happily disappear into.
This was a book that I was a little scared to read. It was so hyped up that I thought it couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone claimed. I was so wrong. The Sword of Kaigen is riveting.
The story is brilliant, with a militaristic flare that I always find intriguing. This is an Asian-inspired fantasy, and I was sucked into the history and lore that dripped from the pages. The breadth of world-building is truly astonishing, with an amount of detail that’s above and beyond what I usually see in a fantasy book.
There were some differences in pace: the action built to a crescendo earlier on, and sort of slowed down after that. While an unusual choice, it worked wonderfully for this book since the characters are so incredibly interesting.
I thought Mamoru’s character developed amazingly throughout the book. Seeing him grow and evolve was truly a joy. Misaki, however, was absolutely incredible. I loved her so, so much! She lives as almost a background character in her own life, quiet and obedient. But…wow! I loved the strength of character and the hidden depths that Misaki has. From now on, whenever I think of a unique, strong, and well developed character, she will be the first to come to mind.
The storyline itself is genius, although I feel I should warn the readers that there are harsher parts to the book. TheSword of Kaigen is incredible. If you’re looking for an engrossing read with truly unforgettable characters, this one is for you.