Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy. 
Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality.

Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea.

It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notorious Sorcerer is available now.

Well, buckle my swash! Notorious Sorcerer is an entertaining adventure that kept me guessing. There is action almost from the get-go, as the reader is treated to a world peopled with ambitious characters, crime, and madcap escapades.

Bezim is the only place where it’s possible to perform alchemy. It’s illegal, but a little illegality doesn’t stop everyone. Siyon, the main character (although not the only point of view used) is desperate to learn a little magic, although only the rich can afford lessons. Siyon is far from rich, leading him to travel to other planes to collect sorcerous ingredients to sell in an attempt to finally afford lessons.

Things go south and suddenly Siyon has eyes focused on him-not necessarily a good thing. Then all heck breaks loose and he has to somehow save the day, a feat which may well be impossible. These stakes kept me interested, wondering what on earth would happen next.

There was a bit of uncertainty for me at first, with the author chucking you into things head-first. This is always risky, since I tend to end up distanced from books that leave me confused for too long (real life is confusing enough). In this case, it paid off, as curiosity hooked me. I was able to pick things up as I went along, and all was made clear relatively quickly.

The characters were an intriguing mix of poor and desperate, and privileged (although sometimes equally desperate, just for different things). I liked this switching between perspectives. It made the story seem fuller and added a layer of social unrest which I found fascinating.

Siyon was my favorite. His derring-do and rather careless way of risking life and limb was both endearing and exciting. I also enjoyed Zagiri, especially her desperation to prove that she was more than just a bank account and social status. All of the characters were great, but Siyon stole the show.

I wasn’t huge on the romance angle, but I rarely am. This is a me thing and has absolutely nothing to do with the skill of the author or the character dynamics. Fans of romantic entanglements will more than likely be drawn in by the complicated nature of the relationship.

The world was complex, but also felt a little underdeveloped to me. There was just so much teeming under the surface and I wish more of it had been fully explained. I loved what we did get to see, though, although it took a while to really understand the nuances of it.

There was so much happening that it was a race to turn pages and see what would happen next. This breakneck pace made for a massively enjoyable book. Notorious Sorcerer was a rollicking dash through pages, with roguery and mishaps aplenty.

Book Review from a Middle-School Reader: The Three Musketeers

I’m back with another guest review from my middle-schooler. I’ve been waiting for him to read The Three Musketeers, which is one of my favorite books. I’ve shared his review here as he wrote it, with permission.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas is, in my opinion, a great book. It is an intense book with scenes that will amuse you, anger you, and maybe even make you sad. It is a story of intrigue, dueling (with swords, not pistols or cards. I’m looking at you, Yu-Gi-Oh) and some romance and war on the side. Overall, I enjoyed it and I recommend it for anyone who likes the things I just mentioned.

And now, here are some more things. Things about The Three Musketeers, specifically.

First things first, I just want to say that D’Artagnan is my favorite. Funny story: I originally thought his name was D’Orangutan. D’Artagnan is brash, brave, intelligent, and also hilariously thickheaded at times. This combination of shrewd intelligence and idiotic behavior, in my opinion, combine to make a really great character in general.

But there’s more than just D’Artagnan! There’s also the vain Porthos, the pious Aramis, and the brooding Athos to aid D’Artagnan in his adventure, as well as the so-called villains Cardinal Richelieu, and Lady de Winter. Every single character in this book feels larger-than-life thanks to Dumas’ excellent portrayal of their personalities.

But don’t forget, there’s more to a book than people (unless, of course, you are reading a phone book)! There’s also scenes and events! Events such as the dangerous journey to England and back, and my personal favorite the time the heroes had breakfast in a captured enemy bastion while the other side’s troops tried desperately to recapture their fortress. I found that scene really fun and adorable and I hope you do too.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the story any more than I already have for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I can safely assure you that there is never a dull moment with this book. Good show, Al Dumas!

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…(taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Knave of Secrets is available now.

The Knave of Secrets was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The premise immediately had me thinking of a fantasy-meets- Ocean’s 11, which sounded like a blast. However, while the concept looked entertaining, parts of the book just didn’t seem to quite pan out.

The beginning of the book dropped you right smack into the middle of intrigue and a rather abrupt exit, which I loved. I was excited about the pacing and looked forward to a fast-paced con with twists and turns aplenty. Alas, ’twas not to be. The pace slowed quite a bit and just seemed a bit choppy to me. The sections on card games that were scattered throughout might have contributed to that; while they were interesting, they added pauses that sometimes took me out of the narrative.

I did like the magic system and how it figured into so many aspects of the book and its characters. The concept of the tower being held together by magic was a creative one as well. I feel like the author had a lot of really good ideas that just didn’t necessarily belong all in the same book. Or maybe the book needed to be a little longer so he could fully develop them all?

My biggest quibble were the characters, particularly how they interacted. They were supposed to know each other well, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. The way they communicated (or didn’t) felt jilted and a little awkward. At this point, I’m beginning to think it’s a matter of “it’s me, not you”. I think that I was the wrong reader at the wrong time, which makes me wonder if I would have loved The Knave of Secrets had I read it at another time.

At the end of the day, The Knave of Secrets just didn’t work for me. The concept was a cool one, but the execution just didn’t seem to pay off.

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

A thrilling race against the clock to save the world from fantasy creatures from a cult 80s film. Perfect for fans of Henson Company puppet classics such as LabyrinthDark Crystal and The Never-Ending Story.

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

If you ever danced with the Goblin King, if you cried when Artax died, if you were a little bit scared of skesis when you were young – then The Shadow Glass will have you pumping your fist and grinning like an idiot. This book was a love story to the wonderful, imaginative things I grew up with, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Jack is the son of Bob Corman, an eccentric who made a cult classic fantasy movie called The Shadow Glass. As an adult Jack has been estranged from his father, who wasn’t the most present of parents. He hates Bob’s movie, as in his mind it represents everything that is wrong in his relationship with his dad. When Bob dies, Jack decides to sell the memorabilia from the cult classic film but plans abruptly come crashing down as he learns that the fantasy puppets are no longer only puppets. Somehow, they’ve become flesh and blood heroes and villains in a war that has spilled from fantasy into reality.

Jack is a very real, relatable character. The justified anger and bitterness he feels toward his dad is juxtaposed by a sense of responsibility and a fondness for his dad’s movie that he has pushed down over the years. He both loves and resents his dad’s creation, much as he both loves and resents his dad. The characters he interacts with showcase different aspects of his character and allow for development and change. The no-longer-puppets Zavanna and Brol bring so much to the book (I loved Brol in particular), and the superfans are a blast.

There are subtle nods to 80s pop culture throughout The Shadow Glass, which is just awesome. Far from distracting from the story, these little details brought that amazing sense of nostalgia to the fore, putting a smile on my face. The sense of excitement I got from seeing the name “Toby” is hard to explain (if you know, you know). I would love to chat with the author, to see if I caught all the references.

From the characters to the storyline, every word was perfectly placed. The Shadow Glass was a delightful smorgasbord of nostalgia and fun, while at the same time exploring themes of loss, love, grief, and self-discovery. I know- I didn’t think it was possible to cram all of that into one book, but author Josh Winning did it beautifully. The balance between fantasy action and extremely well-written character development is perfect. The battles and madcap adventures are a brilliant backdrop for a profound look at how broken relationships can affect every part of a person. Parts of the book had me on the edge of my seat and I actually teared up at one point.

The Shadow Glass is sheer perfection. Read it.

*My review first ran in Grimdark Magazine.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a rollicking fantasy filled with a little bit of blood and a whole lot of adventure and intrigue. The book (which has Victorian mystery vibes) follows, Roger, a wanna-be surgeon who earns a little extra on the side by virtue of his willingness to liberate a cadaver or two from the local cemetery- all for the sake of science, of course. Unfortunately for Roger (but fortunately for the reader), he picks the wrong cadaver and finds himself accused of murdering, not just one, but several women. Things are looking grim for Roger, but he is saved from the noose by his childhood sweetheart, who binds him to her in a magical ritual, proof that “things can always get worse”.

Sibylla, Roger’s childhood crush, also happens to be royalty. In The Resurrectionist of Caligo, royal blood is proven by the magic that all royalty possesses. I love the magic in this book! It is so very different. I am used to magic that can blast open doors or make someone float. Sibylla’s magic is slightly less…flashy. She has ink that flows from under her fingertips, useful when one needs to write a letter, but an author needs to be creative for magic such as that to work. The authors managed it beautifully. Sibylla does the only thing she can to save her childhood friend from hanging for a crime (she is pretty sure) he didn’t commit. Together, Sibylla and Roger need to figure out who the killer is- before they strike again.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo has a smaller cast of characters, and each person is important. Sibylla is clever, but also a bit naive. To be fair, she hasn’t had a lot of life experience. Her storyline provides the fine details that flesh out the broader plotline, giving little hints to a larger mystery. I found the intrigue and the family sniping interesting, but it was Roger who stole the show in my opinion.

Roger is a down-on-his-luck guy just doing the best he can with what he has. He is a good guy whose morality is a little fluid. His kindness shows in his small ways, such as his relationship with Ghostofmary (who I adore, by the way). His sole hope is to become a licensed doctor, but that requires an education that he can’t afford. He swipes corpses to pay his bills and finagle his way into lectures from surgeons. The knowledge he has provides the broad strokes to the story. His medical expertise, as it were, adds an extra level of fun to an already ghoulishly entertaining tale.

Sibylla and Roger actually share very few pages. Instead, most of their interactions come through misunderstood letters and convoluted messages from third parties. It was truly delightful to see the characters’ frustrations and anger over things that were completely misinterpreted. Add in angry magic-ink bees, and it becomes a singularly entertaining way to develop character relationships.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.


Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

About the blogger:

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 Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.

The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar-The Write Reads Blog Tour

The SHIP of SHADOWS_final

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always been told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates-and discover what they are risking everything to find.

                             Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you also to The Write Reads for including me in this blog tour. This book is available now.

Well, buckle my swash! Wow, this book is fun! Adventure, piracy, and a fair bit of mystery made this an enjoyable romp full of nonstop excitement. I can tell you with absolute surety that all of the excitement surrounding The Ship of Shadows is well deserved.

Aleja is a wonderful main character. She loves books and adventure, and is incredibly smart. While she wishes she fit in more with the other children her age, she never pretends to be someone else. I loved that. When she finds a pirate crew of all females going on the sorts of adventures Aleja thought were reserved only for males, I felt like cheering.

The ship itself is full of mysteries to answer and wonders to discover. The pirates themselves are each a puzzle waiting to be solved. I especially liked Frances, an incorrigible partner-in-crime. Oh-and the ghost. Yes, there’s a resident ghost and it’s fantastic.

The book is full of small details that elevate it above “just” an adventure book (although there’s nothing wrong with that sort of book): there are bits of history thrown in, and travel to exciting (and real) places.  Aleja learns from each crew member, as they all have their own individual strengths.

The main story-line itself is fantastic and there was never a dull moment. This is the sort of book that will capture the imagination of anyone who longs for adventure. While it is meant for the middle grade audience, this would make an excellent read-aloud for slightly younger kids, and it was a blast for me to read as well. I highly suggest picking this one up!

Guild of Tokens by Jon Auerbach

Image result for guild of tokens

All Jen Jacobs has achieved in life is loneliness. So when she stumbles across a real-life game of epic quests on the streets of New York, she jumps at the chance for some excitement and gold tokens. Little does she know that the items she strives to collect hold a darker purpose…

After a particularly harrowing quest pairs her up with Beatrice Taylor, a no-nonsense and ambitious mentor, Jen hopes she’s on the path to becoming a big-time player. But as she dives deeper into the game’s hidden agenda, she realizes Beatrice has her sights set on the Guild, the centuries-old organization that runs the Questing game. And the quests Jen loves are about to put both of them in grave danger.

Will Jen survive the game before powerful forces cut her real life short? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It’s available to purchase now.

If you enjoy RPG’s, read this book. If you’ve ever spent hours on end trying to defeat the end boss in a video game, read this book. If you enjoy scavenger hunts, adventure, mystery, and excellent writing, read this book.

I had so much fun with this one! Poor Jen just wanted a bit of escapism, but ended up wondering what was going to do her in first: the Guild or her mentor. At the beginning of the book I thought that it would be a blast to go Questing, but I changed my mind right around the time that, as the movies say, “sh– got real.”

Things escalated the further into the book I got. I was on the edge of my seat for the last half of the book. There are some short stories involving my favorite character that I am planning on checking out as well. Just like Jen, I’ve found myself drawn into the game.

The characters were interesting, the plot fascinating, and the way it all came together was fantastic.

Trust me on this one: you need to grab this book and join the Quest.