Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care & Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olsen

Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.
Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…
Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.
The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”
But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons is available now.

What a delightful book! The adventure in Miss Percy’s Guide might not include epic sword fights or swashbuckling moments (although Miss Percy is certainly not lacking in the ‘derring-do’ department). I was on the edge of my seat nonetheless. Mildred Percy is an extremely likable main character, and I loved rooting for her to succeed.

Miss Percy’s Guide to the Care of Feeding of British Dragons has an unexpected beginning. Mildred is a quiet, introverted spinster ( I can relate to the first two things), who lives in her sister’s home and takes care of her sister’s children. Despite this being a longstanding arrangement, Mildred’s sister makes it abundantly clear that Mildred is a guest who is there only through her kindness, happily ignoring the fact that Mildred is basically raising those kids. Mildred is rather resigned to not having an existence of her own when she receives an inheritance from a great uncle she barely knew. Hidden in among a bunch of paperwork is an honest-to-goodness dragon egg.

The hatching of the dragon and the challenges of having a dangerous hatching is tackled by Mildred, a certain vicar, and his bustling housekeeper. The growing relationship between Mildred and Mr. Wiggan (the vicar) was so much fun to read! If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that literary romance and I don’t always mix. However, it was done so subtly and sweetly that, much like the kid in A Princess Bride, I didn’t mind so much. Mrs. Babbinton, the housekeeper, vied with Mildred for the elevated Favorite Character spot. She made me laugh with her no-nonsense approach and her habit of plying everyone with copious amounts of food at every opportunity.

A book like this needs obstacles of some sort and author Quenby Olson was so clever in hers! There was Mildred’s niece Belinda, a conniving and manipulative brat who uses her “charms” to get her way and is petulant and sometimes even cruel when that doesn’t work. Add in a poor and desperate young man who is certain that the egg should be his (his father having lost it to Mildred’s great uncle during some drunken gambling), and you get an intimidating and desperate villainous duo. There’s Mildred’s older sister as well, who had ground poor Mildred down into a long-suffering person who takes what she gets and almost thinks she deserves it. Almost. And this leads to my very favorite, and cleverest villain, of all: Mildred herself. She has to fight against her own self-doubt and injured self-esteem all throughout the book. Each victory against herself (so to speak) had me cheering.

There were excerpts from Mildred’s guide to dragons at the beginning of each chapter, which added an extra dose of fantastic to a book that I had already fallen in love with. Of course, I can’t forget the dragon. What a great choice of catalyst! I’m sure at this point it is crystal clear that I loved everything about the book.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons is wonderful, a perfect cozy read. Pick it up if you want a smile in book form.

Operation 2022: Success! (Or Favorite Books From this Year)

Well, another year has come and (mostly) gone. It was another amazing reading year, making coming up with a list of favorites a delightfully difficult task. I kept thinking that I would only write a top ten, but after agonizing over which books to leave off, I told myself, “Self, it’s your blog, dash it all! You can have a top twelve favorites list! No one can stop you!”
It was around this point that it occurred to me that I should probably stop talking to myself (although I am a very witty conversationalist) and just write the darn list. Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present my top TWELVE books of 2022.

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)

“This book was a love story to the wonderful, imaginative things I grew up with, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Review

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR― the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom―only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world. (Taken from Amazon)

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons was a riveting look at the rise, fall, and reincarnation of TSR, the most honest one I’ve seen to date.”

Review

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies book 1) by Margaret Weist and Tracy Hickman

Destina Rosethorn—as her name implies—believes herself to be a favored child of destiny. But when her father dies in the War of the Lance, she watches her carefully constructed world come crashing down. She loses not only her beloved father but also the legacy he has left her: the family lands and castle. To save her father, she hatches a bold plan—to go back in time and prevent his death.

First, she has to secure the Device of Time Journeying, last known to be in the possession of the spirited kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. But to change time, she’ll need another magical artifact—the most powerful and dangerous artifact ever created. Destina’s quest takes her from the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin to the town of Solace and beyond, setting in motion a chain of disastrous events that threaten to divert the course of the River of Time, alter the past, and forever change the future. (Taken from Amazon)

“Unsurprisingly, Dragons of Deceit was incredible.”

Review

The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington

Heroes… you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. You can’t even hatch a nefarious plan without some adventuring party invading your dungeon to thwart you. So, it stands to reason they’re a force for good—right?
Well—yes and no…
Elburn Barr is a Loremaster who has turned his back on his family’s tradition of adventuring and stepped out into the realm of heroes to interview a whole smörgåsbord board of fantastical characters from stoic, swear-shy Paladins through to invisible sword-carrying Mime Warriors.
Through his transcribed journal, he’ll take a cheeky peek at the truth lurking behind the hero myth—and everything associated with them. Across his many encounters, he hopes to uncover his brother’s fate—a brother who has been missing for ten summers after brazenly setting out to forge a heroic name for himself.

Will Elburn discover what really happened to his brother, or will he fail in his quest and become another casualty of the adventuring trade?
The Hero Interviews is a departure from the usual swords and sorcery yarn—it’s a sometimes gritty, sometimes amusing, but completely bonkers look at the realm of heroes.

“It is a brilliantly funny book and one that had me laughing from start to finish.”

Review

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots.”

Review

One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. “

Review

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. (Taken from Amazon)

” The perfect book to read on a rainy day with a cup of your favorite hot beverage.”

Review

The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms book 2) by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Now a thrice born priestess and an Elder of Ahiranya, she dreams of seeing her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And saving their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn will come at a terrible price. (Taken from Amazon)

The Oleander Sword is beauty with teeth. It’s a gorgeously written, breathtaking tale of manipulation, revenge, cruelty, and the things sacrificed in the quest for power. “

Review

Small Angels by Laura Owen

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read.”

Review

The Hummingbird’s Tear by C.M. Kerley

In the high towers of Castle Kraner the King has chosen to hide away, leaving his kingdom undefended, open to attack from men, monsters and magic users.His loyal son Prince Orren, despairing of his father’s wilful ignorance, is doing all he can to gather the men and women he believes can help him avert the war before it starts, to save his land before it needs saving. Brennan and his young brother Calem find themselves drawn to Kraner; as their innate powers begin to manifest and they are woven into the mad schemes of rulers and invaders they must decide what to believe, who to trust, and how far they’re willing to go to fight an enemy they can’t see. (Taken from Amazon)

The Hummingbird’s Tear is a gem of a book and one that all fantasy readers should pick up.”

Review

Dragons of a Different Tail Edited by Marx Pyle

ighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre–here be dragons!

Join Asimov’s Readers Award winner Timons Esaias, science fiction author Heidi Ruby Miller, post-apocalyptic author J. Thorn, along with K.W. Taylor, Sean Gibson and more as they put their personal twist on the usual dragon tale. (taken from Amazon)

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading.”

Review

Strange Cargo (A Mennik Thorn Short Novel) by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more.”

Review

The Write Reads on Tour: The Hanged God Trilogy

I’m so excited to be joining the Write Reads on Tour to spotlight not one, but THREE books! Let’s take a look at The Hanged God trilogy.

Book 1: Northern Wrath

Following in the steps of Neil Gaiman & Joanne Harris, the author expertly weaves Norse myths and compelling characters into this fierce, magical epic fantasy.

A dead man, walking between the worlds, foresees the end of the gods.

A survivor searching for a weapon releases a demon from fiery Muspelheim.

A village is slaughtered by Christians, and revenge must be taken.

The bonds between the gods and Midgard are weakening. It is up to Hilda, Ragnar, their tribesmen Einer and Finn, the chief’s wife Siv and Tyra, her adopted daughter, to fight to save the old ways from dying out, and to save their gods in the process.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Northern-Wrath/dp/B08LZQ79KH/  

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50891086-northern-wrath

Book 2: Shackled Fates

Following on the breakout success of Northern Wrath , Holdt weaves myth and history in a deeply magical saga.

As Ragnarok looms, the trickster Loki breaks free from his chains.

In the battle to come, all shall die, but Ragnar will do anything to save his gods.

Einer scours the nine worlds for Hilda, who walks among gods and goddesses, searching the truth of the Runes.

For centuries Siv has run from her past, but she knows that to protect her daughter, and Midgard, she will have to face her worst fears.

It is time to confront the Alfather.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1781089256/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56897864-shackled-fates

Worlds collide – and are shattered – in the epic conclusion of the Northern Wrath saga.

The Concluding Part of the Epic Viking Fantasy Trilogy

ALL SHALL PERISH

The great wolf howls for Ragnarok to begin. The half-giant Einer leads an army of the dead to clash with the golden shields of Asgard. The nornir tie and retie their threads, as Loki’s and Odin’s schemes unfold… and unravel. For not even cunning gods and giants see every part of the web.

As the survivors of the burned village of Ash-hill converge on the final battle on Ida’s Plain, only two are truly free to choose their paths and prevent the annihilation of the nine worlds: a storyteller who holds all destinies in his hands, and a shieldmaiden with no destiny at all.

To purchase:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Slaughtered-Gods-Hanged-God-Trilogy/dp/1786187450/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57394030-slaughtered-gods

Thilde Kold Holdt is a Viking, traveller and a polygot fluent in Danish, French, English and Korean. As a writer, she is an avid researcher. This is how she first came to row for hours upon hours on a Viking warship. She loved the experience so much that she has sailed with the Viking ship the Sea Stallion ever since. Born in Denmark, Thilde has lived in many places and countries, taking a bit of each culture with her, and is currently based in Southern France where she writes full-time. 

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.
I’m Ernest Cunningham. Call me Ern or Ernie. I wish I’d killed whoever decided our family reunion should be at a ski resort, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Have I killed someone? Yes. I have.
Who was it?
Let’s get started.
EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE
My brother
My stepsister
My wife
My father
My mother
My sister-in-law
My uncle
My stepfather
My aunt
Me (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone will be available on January 17th.

How can you see a title like this and not be immediately intrigued? The book blurb hinted at intrigue and some wacky secrets waiting to be revealed, and the book more than delivered. The story starts with a murder and the body count piles up as the pages turn. The twists had twists and the narration was a delight.

Ernie is on his way to the most awkward family reunion he’s ever attended and that’s saying something. He prefers to avoid them, but this one is different: his brother, just released from prison, will be there. And that’s the awkward part. Ernie is the one who cemented his brother’s conviction. Ernie expects a long, uncomfortable weekend. He just didn’t expect the dead body. As far as family drama goes, the drama in this book is a doozy.

Ernie’s narration guides the reader through a morass of secrets and mysterious happenings. He isn’t an unreliable narrator (as he mentions multiple times), but he manipulates the information he gives, leaving you guessing. Okay, maybe he is a bit unreliable. He was a fantastic character. Oh- and he happens to be a writer. Can you guess what he writes? Books on how to write mysteries! He talks to the readers, even guiding us through the hows and whats of mystery writing. I loved when he admitted that something happening was stereotypical of a murder mystery (he had a lot to say about phone batteries). He was fully aware that he wasn’t any less guilty of deception than any of the other characters in the book, he just felt a little bit worse about it.

His tone was wry and more than a little snarky. And the chapter titles cracked me up! There was one chapter that consisted solely of an “I don’t want to talk about that”. Genius.

A book like this relies on strong characters to keep it interesting. If the characters are boring, then the mystery becomes stagnant. Ernie’s family members were all shifty and dishonest, with their own agendas. It was awesome. They were more than just caricatures, instead being fully developed, shady people. Relationships and alliances shifted throughout, adding an extra layer to this already complex story.

Some of the twists were overly convoluted, but the majority landed and added fogginess and fun. I did call the final “whodunnit” (I have a knack for that in books, for some reason), but I missed a million other things and I had the motive way wrong. Going back through, the clues were all there. Mysteries like that are the best.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is smart, bloody, and darkly funny. This is my first book by Benjamin Stevenson, but I guarantee it won’t be my last. I loved it.

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Luke Winch

One great thing that I’ve learned is that I am not the only person who reads about a cool creature in a novel and thinks, “Wow, it would be fun to encounter that in a TTRPG”. It turns out many reviewers have similar reactions to the monsters found in fantasy and sci-fi books.

Luke Winch is a fantastic blogger and podcaster. He is also a fan of D&D and was kind enough to share his STAT Block for…The Sludge Man from The Grey Bastards!

Deep in the Lot Lands, some forty miles from the seas lies a huge swath of miry, boggy, wetlands called The Old Maiden Marsh. For miles are sickly streams, thickets, and crooked trees. There is a foe who inhabits the swamp that even make the mighty orcs think twice about travelling through. He is no man, but he treaties with half-orcs and men alike if it suits his desirous needs. He has been called djinn by outsiders, demon, or a foray of indecent slurs by the half-orc hoofs of the Lot Lands.

He is The Sludge Man. A pale humanoid with soft, fat flesh, a sizeable belly, and thinning hair. His ever-suspicious eyes see all in his domain and if you go to treat with him, words need to be chosen carefully, for to ignite his anger, is to invite a battle, that, if you are not prepared for, or have not the numbers for, you will likely lose.

A team of multiskilled warriors, druids, mages, and rogues are required to beat The Sludge Man in battle. He can control large leech like sludges that surround the party and can envelope and consume their targets. The Sludge Man can move with lightening speed in combat so sharp reactions are required.

This formidable foe also has the ability to send the strongest of elves, mages and warriors into a slumber as the large sludges encase them in their black, oily bodies. Tactics and quick thinking are needed by the party to survive any battle with The Sludge Man, but his arrogance can be his downfall.

So, tread carefully when traversing through The Old Maiden Marsh. Treat with The Sludge Man at your own risk, always read the small print on the contract and, if you go to battle with him, make sure your party is in full health and have their wits about them.

About the author:

Luke Winch is the host of multiple podcasts, including Turn of a Page and Observing the Pattern. He writes for Before We Go Blog as well as writing his own blog. Basically, he’s superhuman. Check out his blog at https://lukewinch.com/

Strange Cargo by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Mennik (Nik) is back and in even bigger trouble than usual, in the third installment in the Mennik Thorn series. Strange Cargo was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. It was awesome, unsurprisingly.

I am a sucker for books featuring down-on-their luck rapscallions who can’t seem to stay out of danger. Whether it’s a smart mouth at the wrong time, or a penchant for chasing trouble, these kinds of characters keep me smiling and guessing. Mennik Thorn is high on my list of favorite trouble-finders and each book in the series makes me like him more.

After the events of Nectar for the God, book two in the series, Mennik is on the outs with his best (and some would argue, only) friend. He’s also unfortunately on the outs with a group of smugglers. Seeing as they’d happily see him dead, they choose the next best thing and pressure Mennik into a job protecting an item they plan to smuggle into Agatos. Of course, if he ends up dead in the process, that’s just a perk for them, right?

Not only does this “job” not pay, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Once Mennik learns what it is he’s helping smuggle in, things go from sideways to dangerous. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s a doozy. The stakes keep going up from book to book, keeping me interested and wondering what fresh hell Mennik will find himself in next.

I love that Mennik always has another side problem that he’s trying to solve while the main story arc takes up most of the attention. In this instance, Mennik’s less-than-enthusiastic client is none other than the cranky owner of the crap bar Mennik frequents. Their passive-aggressive conversations entertained me to no end.

Mennik is a brilliant character, a study in contradictions. He tries to do the right thing, but he rarely knows what the “right thing” is. He’s smart-mouthed and mocks pretty much everyone but he is equally mocking of himself. He would probably have a longer life expectancy if he didn’t feel the urge to help people (even when they serve him subpar alcohol), but he can’t seem to stop helping anyway. Oh, and he might as well write Killed by Curiosity on his headstone now and get it over with.

Of course, his character does not exist in stasis. He has grown and changed since book one (Shadow of a Dead God), although he remains delightfully disaster prone. Strange Cargo doesn’t highlight that character growth quite as much because it is shorter (more of a novella than a full-fledged novel). In some ways it shouted “side quest” but it still managed to pack in revelations and world development aplenty.

As always, the writing is phenomenal. Everything is brilliantly described, painting vivid pictures of both Agatos and its inhabitants. The dialogue is witty, and things move at a quick pace. Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more. Book four in the Mennik Thorn series can’t come soon enough!

*Review originally appeared in Grimdark Magazine

Fantasy Focus: Urban Fantasy Featuring Jamie Jackson

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark, and Epic/High Fantasy.

Today, I’m privileged to talk with Jamie Jackson, author of the Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid series.

Hi Jamie! Thank you for joining me to talk about urban fantasy!

First, will you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

So, I’m basically Doug from Up.  I’m easily excitable, loud, and often distracted.  I love fantasy and science fiction but will read any and all genres I can get my hands on.  I’ve worked backstage in theater and behind the scenes documentaries about movies and TV shows are my favorite things to watch.  I’m also married to an awesome and supportive man, have three kids, and two dogs.

Will you talk a little bit about Fear and Fury?

So, it’s the first novel in my urban fantasy superhero series, Adventures of a Villain-Leaning Humanoid.  It has a 4th wall-breaking 1st person narrative, Greek mythology retelling, and a cast of ruthless, morally grey heroes going up against some epic villains.  The first book is essentially Meg’s “origin” story, when a previously unknown villain makes her his next target, she has to turn to the heroes she’s spent her life trying to avoid for help.

I love that your main character, Megaera, is a “self-described not-a-hero”. How did you get in the “zone”, so to speak, when writing a more self-centered character?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea.  I like to think that I thought about if I was hero, what kind of hero would I hope to be, and then wrote the opposite of that.  But she just showed up as a petty, and somewhat self-centered person to start with.

Your book is considered urban fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

I would say urban fantasy is anything occurring in a modern setting that has fantastical elements, either magic, superheroes, the paranormal, etc.

What first drew you to writing urban fantasy?

I wanted a world that had cell phones.

In truth, it’s a genre I enjoy reading, and for my first real novel I wanted to write something where there wasn’t going to be an overwhelming amount of world-building.  When it’s a universe like ours, we already know most of the rules for how things work, so for a project I was attempting while involuntarily homeschooling it was the ideal genre to write in.  And the idea for Meg had been knocking around in my head for a while already. 

What are some difficulties with writing urban fantasy?

Realism! You have to balance the line of what could realistically occur in our world with modern elements like technology and still being able to exaggerate it without losing your readers benefit of the doubt.

What are some strengths in this subgenre?

I think one of the strengths is that since it occurs in the modern world, it can be easier for readers to relate the situations the characters get into.  And as a whole I think we would love for there to be magic in the modern world, and urban fantasy gives that to us.  It’s also flexible with the amount of creatures, mythology, and magic you can put into your story. The genre runs the gamut from werewolves and vampires to the fae and gods and goddesses being a part of those worlds.  And it tends to blend sci-fi, fantasy and horror.

Who are some of your go-to authors?
Craig Schaefer, Rachel Aaron. I’ve read the majority of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Right now I have a huge backlog of indie author books I’m working through, but the authors of the ones I have read are all on my instant buy list.

Purchase links:

http://mybook.to/FearandFury

http://mybook.to/TormentandTarnish

http://mybook.to/ScornandSorrow

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third book in the Fetch Phillips series, so there might be some spoilers for the first two books. You can find my reviews for those books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

I knew from about twenty pages into book one that I’ll read anything by Luke Arnold, up to and including a pamphlet on beige paint. His writing is that good. I obviously had ridiculously high expectations for this latest installment in the Fetch Phillips novels, and One Foot in the Fade more than delivered. Buckle up, folks: this is going to be a rave. Or you could save yourself the trouble and buy the entire series now, which is the better option.

One Foot in the Fade continues on where Dead Man in a Ditch left off, with a much more motivated and slightly more capable Fetch taking the small bit of hope he’s seized and holding onto it for dear life. Thanks to a friend of his, Fetch’s sign has gone from an advertisement for a P.I. to a declaration: “Bringing the Magic Back”!

After sniffing the slightest possibility of a return to before everything went to crap, returning magic has become Fetch’s driving goal. He’s following every lead and hunting down any hint of a way to make that happen. Which is how he ends ups embroiled in what is either an almost-miracle or a very grisly murder. The answer leads Fetch on a journey both physical and emotional.

One Foot in the Fade takes the series from a grimy noir-fantasy to something completely new and different. I didn’t know what would happen next and I loved it. From duels (aka fights with self-important rich men who hold all the cards in life) to a not-quite-a-corpse, to an unfortunate encounter with a monster of legend, there was plenty of danger and action to be found. However, the heart stopping action scenes weren’t what held me enthralled. Rather, it was the incredible character growth to be found in Fetch.

Fetch Phillips has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Ever. His staunch refusal to give up, even when he’s convinced himself that he has, is heartbreaking. His grasp at the smallest glimmer of hope is relatable. And his palpable loneliness and the way he slowly learns to open himself up to the possibility of friendship is amazing and a privilege to read. Despite this being a fantasy setting, or maybe because of it, Fetch is one of the most supremely human characters I’ve read.

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. The story is engrossing, the descriptiveness of the writing is brilliant, the characters are all wonderful, and the ending made me tear up. A perfect blend between fantastical creativity and fascinating character development, One Foot in the Fade hooked me from page one.

Fantasy Focus: High & Epic Fantasy Featuring Coby Zucker

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, here are links to my fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy , grimdark and romantic fantasy.

This month I’m focusing on High and Epic Fantasy. I’ve been privileged to chat with Coby Zucker author of the epic fantasy, Nomads of the Sea.

Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!

Thanks for having me!

Will you introduce yourself?

My name’s Coby Zucker. I’m a 24-year-old debut fantasy author from Toronto, Canada. For my 9-5, I’m a journalist. Currently I work in the wild west of gaming and esports. 

Can you talk a little bit about Nomads of the Sea?

I can talk a lot about Nomads of the Sea but for the sake of your sanity I’ll keep it brief. 

Nomads is an adult fantasy epic that spans continents and multiple POVs. The setting for the main plot is heavily inspired by Southeast Asia, though the world is big and also encompasses a more traditional medieval fantasy world. It’s a bit grim, occasionally funny, and—hopefully—an all-around decent read (especially if you like giant shapeshifting bears, the interplay of medicine and magic, and big beefy tomes with lots of worldbuilding). 

Have I sold it hard enough?

But yeah, Nomads is really just a passion product from a bored grad student whose summer job was cancelled during the first wave of COVID. It was my first, but certainly not my last, foray into writing novels.

What were some obstacles to writing Nomads of the Sea?

Amazingly, writing Nomads went pretty smooth. Since it was my first book I had to learn my personal writing cadence and style, but I settled into those things fairly quick. If we really want to get into the nitty gritty, one of my biggest challenges as an author was writing compelling characters that didn’t think the way I think, or act the way I act.  

Also romance. I’m not a romance person by nature so that took some trial and error. 

Really most of the obstacles came after I’d finished writing the book. Learning how to revise, compose, publish, and market a book was way harder than writing it.

What are some successes?

To be honest, just getting the novel into the world was a huge personal success. As for the book itself? I guess I’m happy with how it all came together. I like the characters, I like the world, and I’m honestly just excited with how the whole writing process went. Creating a full novel was something I’d always wanted to do, but I never knew if I had the chops.

Nomads of the Sea has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

Well Wikipedia defines epic fantasy as… 

I’m just messing with you.

Basically, epic fantasy is, at its core, a subgenre of fantasy defined by its scale. Epic fantasy is expansive worlds with full casts of characters, huge plots that span years, and big ol’ chonky books. Occasionally, it’s none of those things. That’s probably not a helpful answer but everyone has their own definition of epic fantasy so it’s hard to give a catch-all. For me, if it’s fantasy and it has a big scope, that’s epic fantasy. 

I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?

I actually do, even though you’re right and they are often lumped together.

In your opinion, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

You already know how I define epic fantasy so I would contrast it against high fantasy, which, in my mind, is more a comment on the world of the book itself. Whereas epic fantasy is about the scale of the book.

High fantasy is often seen as “Tolkien fantasy” with elves and dwarves and dragons and all that good stuff. Really it’s a little broader and many phenomenal authors are drawing on diverse mythologies to create unique high fantasy worlds (that’s not a knock on elves and dwarves and dragons by the way. They’re still dope.)

People will use the term “secondary world” to characterize high fantasy. Basically it just means a world that’s not too Earth-y. And yes, high fantasy is often epic fantasy, which makes it all the more confusing.

Take all this with a grain of salt. I’m by no means an expert. Just a guy who likes to read and write fantasy books.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

It’s right there in the name. It’s freakin’ epic. 

All respect to people who want to write a slice-of-life novel about Elmer, whose biggest problem in life is he’s run out of yarn (great idea for a book by the way, someone hop on it), but if I’m writing, it’s going to be about monsters and heroes and giant battles and high stakes plots. 

Also, as someone who comes from academia, there’s nothing more liberating than making shit up (am I allowed to curse?) Obviously epic fantasy still requires research but it’s nice to not feel beholden to detailed footnotes or the laws of physics.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Little of column A, little of column B. But I’d say I’m mostly a plotter. I definitely need to know the beginning, the middle, and the end before I start writing. But part of the joy of making a book for me is discovering new things about the story along the way, solving problems as they crop up, and confronting situations from my characters’ POVs.  

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Anne McCaffrey, Joe Abercrombie, Jack Whyte, Christian Cameron, Fonda Lee, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Mark Lawrence…

There’s probably others but I’ll stop myself before I just name every amazing author I can think of.

What/who inspired you to start writing epic fantasy?

There’s not really a “who”, unless you count my family, who helped foster my love of reading sci-fi and fantasy books. 

The “what” is a desire to create something wholly my own. It’s fun to delve into another author’s world but building something from the ground up was an entirely new experience. One I’m now addicted to. 

Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?

Nothing in particular. I’ve been able to get Nomads of the Sea into the hands of a few awesome bloggers and vloggers so keep an eye out for their reviews. Maybe they’ll be able to convince you to get Nomads where my unhinged ramblings have failed. 

There will be more books coming from me in the future. Hopefully not the distant future. 

About the Author:


Coby Zucker is a 24-year-old part-time fantasy writer who lives in Toronto, Canada. He writes about more mundane subjects for his day job. Follow him on socials for updates about his writing. Nomads of the Sea is Coby’s debut novel.

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.

The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the City of Dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving metropolis. And without it, all the realms are dying.

Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Risha, a necromancer fighting to keep the peace; Nikolas, a soldier who struggles to see the light; and Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with a reckless heart—will become reluctant allies in the quest to save their city.

But their rebellion will cost them dearly. (taken from Amazon)

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

Dark and complex, with intrigue and machinations aplenty, The City of Dusk was a fascinating book. I was a little surprised; it started out slowly, and I was often curious as to how the seemingly unrelated bits of narrative would mesh. While the book follows multiple points of view, each lends its piece to a whole that is bigger and much more complicated than I could have possibly hoped for.

The City of Dusk follows four heirs from separate houses (houses who worship different gods) as they try to unite and save their city. Each house has a different skill, for lack of a better term, which has to do with their patron god. I’m grateful for the list of houses at the beginning of the book. While the four heirs have very distinctive voices, I sometimes found myself forgetting who was related to whom and which house other characters belonged to.

While each of the characters offered a different and unique part to the story, Taesia was by far my favorite. She seemed to be more fully developed than some of the others. She was also a bit cantankerous and sarcastic, which I loved. She seemed happy to mock from the shadows, while at the same time fighting like mad to save her realm. It was a delightful combination of character traits, and I loved every chapter told from her point of view.

Angelica really annoyed me, although I couldn’t say why. There was something about her that felt very self-pitying, and it got under my skin pretty quickly. I did like the way her music acted as focus, though. That was extremely creative.

The political vying for position and the behind-the-scenes machinations were quite possibly my favorite aspects to the book. Everyone is so busy wondering whether they can trust the person they’ve formed an uneasy alliance with, that it adds almost a level of anxiety to the pages, which was a blast to read.

The descriptions were beautiful and the history and mythology that author Tara Sim has created is astounding. There’s so much to it! The city itself oozed personality and was almost a character in its own right.

It took a while for me to become fully invested in the book, but once it got going, The City of Dusk held me captive. This is an excellent start to what I’m sure will be an addictive series.