Little Vampire Women by Lynn Messina and Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any corpses.”

The dear, sweet March sisters are back, and Marmee has told them to be good little women. Good little vampire women, that is. That’s right: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy have grown up since you last read their tale, and now they have (much) longer lives and (much) more ravenous appetites.

Marmee has taught them well, and so they live by an unprecedented moral code of abstinence . . . from human blood. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy must learn to get along with one another, help make society a better place, and avoid the vampire hunters who pose a constant threat to their existence. Plus, Laurie is dying to become a part of the March family, at any cost. Some things never change.

This horrifying—and hilarious—retelling of a timeless American classic will leave readers craving the bloodthirsty drama on each and every page. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Little Vampire Women is available now.

I’m afraid this review will be a little on the shorter side because I find myself in the strange position of feeling as though I’m almost having to review the original book. I’ve read several of these monster mash-up books (my favorite being Grave Expectations by Charles Dickens and Sherri Browning Erwin being my favorite) and this is the first one that felt so incredibly similar to its source material.

Everyone knows the plot of Little Women. But what if Marmee and Co. were vampires? That should change things more than it really did, which is where I’m getting a little stymied. While the idea is a fun and clever one, the main storyline changed very little, instead having small asides that added a vampiric touch. I would have loved to see the author do more than add in an extra sentence here and there.

The extra bits added served to twist the story ever-so-slightly. For example, the family that the Marches bring Christmas food to are human, so there are an added few sentences about the March women needing to suggest that their gift of raw animals be made into a stew. See what I mean about small bits being added? On a few occasions, it was entertaining, but at other times it threw the pacing off a little.

I feel that the author would have done much better writing her own original book instead of going for a mash-up. Then she would not have had such restrictions on her creativity. She has written several other books and I am 100% sure that her wholly original books are much much better. As it was, I found myself disappointed in Little Vampire Women.

Small Press, Big Stories: Paladin Unbound

I am excited to be a part of #SmallPressBigStories, conceived of and led by the awesome Runalong the Shelves! Small Press, Big Stories exists to celebrate indie presses and the awesome titles they publish.

Paladin Unbound has become one of my favorite fantasy books. I’ve already reread it once, and plan to read it again before too long. It’s an amazing book to fall into. Here’s my original review, although I think I failed to fully describe my love of the book:

When people ask for books I’d recommend to a fantasy newbie, ones that represent all the wonderful things the genre has to offer, I have a few go-tos. The Hobbit, obviously, and the Dragonlance Chronicles (really, is anyone surprised?), and, more recently, The Ventifact Colossus. Now I’m adding Paladin Unbound to that list, because this book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

The story starts with the main character, Umhra, just wanting to find work for himself and his band of mercenaries. When they are hired to find out what has happened to several missing people, they are thrust into a situation that is much darker and more dangerous than Umhra expected.

I was sucked in from page one, which begins at an ending. The ending of a war between gods, no less. The war ends with an asterisk, the sort that always leads to trouble down the road. What I loved about the opening is that it started huge, before moving on to the main storyline which is much more personal. It showcased a fascinating history, one that we continue to get snippets of throughout the book. I love when the history of a world or its belief systems is shared naturally like that, avoiding the dreaded info dump. I have to admit, though, I would actually read an entire book just dedicated to the history and mythology of the world of Evelium, I loved it so much. It was creative and well thought out.

As much as I enjoyed the world building, though, where Paladin Unbound shines is in its characters. There’s an excellent cast who build off each other in the best of ways. The interactions felt natural and allowed each character to grow and develop brilliantly. This was, in some ways, the typical adventuring group sometimes found in ttrpg’s – and that’s a great thing! It works very well, after all. There was Naivara the druid, Laudin the ranger, a mage named Nicholas (I have no idea why, but his name made me smile), Shadow the rogue, Balris the healer, Talus the fighter, and Gromley the warrior priest. While I loved all of them, I must say that I had a soft spot for Shadow.

Then there’s our main character, Umhra. Oh, how I loved Umhra! Being half-orc, he was distrusted, looked down on, or treated poorly quite a lot. He could have been bitter or angry and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead, he was an optimist, always looking for the best in every situation. He was, at his core, a good, honorable character. He was not your boring “lawful good”, however. He was incredibly nuanced and I loved reading about him. I haven’t been a huge fan of paladins in the past, but Umhra has me planning to make a paladin for my next D&D campaign.

This book would be perfect for fantasy newbies, ttrpg players, or readers who have traveled the length and breadth of many fantasy worlds and are looking for new adventures to go on. It left me excited and wanting more. Paladin Unbound is fantasy at its finest.

*Paladin Unbound is a Literary Wanderlust title

To Purchase:

Paladin Unbound

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon

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

When an author combines extraordinary worldbuilding with a strong understanding of human nature, something magical happens. Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots. Author Erin M. Evans has created the sort of book that will be treasured for years to come. The description of the book, while making me desperate to read it, doesn’t begin to show the full scope of what waits inside its pages.

The book opens with an errand. Quill comes to the Archives with a request: he needs some artifacts. A simple job, and nothing spectacular. But, then there’s a grisly murder with Quill involved for the most upsetting of reasons, and each theory leads to more questions. The twists and turns were brilliant, weaving a surprising story with much larger implications than anyone realizes.

It became less of a “whodunnit” and more of a question of how bad the fallout would be. The danger grew even bigger with each page, threatening to swallow everyone in it. By the end of the book, my house could have been on fire and I would have been annoyed at the interruption to my reading.

The plot wove between the past and the present, showing that history does not exist in a vacuum. Everything past had a connection to the present. I loved that, despite everything being connected in some way, the world was nonetheless huge. The book focused on a small cast of characters but did not exclude the rest of the world or make the story small in any way.

And what a cast! I can’t pick a favorite. I loved Quill’s tenacity and his willingness to admit that he was way outside his depth. Then there was Yinni, devout and oh-so-lost, completely unaware that everyone feels alone sometimes. Her character growth was astounding. I loved prickly Tunuk, who made me smile. And Amadea, full of secrets and questions herself, trying to hide her insecurities by being the pillar of strength for everyone else. As incredible as the world was and as fascinating as the storyline was, it was the characters that made me fall in love.

Well, that and the way the magic system perfectly described what my anxiety disorder is like. I was in tears at parts and the self-deceptive litany of “I’m fine” that could be found throughout Empire of Exiles felt so incredibly familiar. I loved the way the magic worked, how it threatened to swallow the character when they “spiraled”. I read that the author’s magic system was created from her wondering what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would be like. I can say with confidence that she nailed it. I was in awe at the way she put words to the indescribable.

The history of the world was fantastic, with hints of more to come. I loved the Changelings and the layers to their mystery. I’m a fan of changelings in books anyway, and these were so creatively done. The questions of morality that were raised with their inclusion added an intriguing facet.

I’m desperate to continue the story and will be waiting impatiently for book two. Empire of Exiles is truly incredible, captivating, and thought-provoking. I loved every word.

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.

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/

Self-Published Author Appreciation Week- The Swordsman’s Lament by G.M. White

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book. The Swordsman’s Lament is available for purchase now.

A dead prince. A grieving king. A legendary swordsman accused of murder.
Loyalty counts for nothing when the king demands blood.
Royal champion, and confidant to the king, Belasko thought he was beyond intrigues and machinations. But when the grief-stricken King demands vengeance for his murdered son, Belasko discovers he is expendable. His options are clear: find the killer or die for a crime he didn’t commit.
This breakneck fantasy thriller is perfect for fans of David Gemmell, Sebastien de Castell and Miles Cameron. Pick up your copy today! (Taken from Amazon)

The Swordsmans Lament is an excellent fantasy filled with swordfights, intrigue, and a warrior whose most dangerous enemy is old age. Despite his aches and pains, the warrior’s mind and sword are both still sharp, making for a book with never a dull moment.

The story follows Belasko, the king’s Champion, a peasant-turned-soldier whose deeds on the battlefield have won him notoriety. He’s grown close to the royal family over the years, going from valued for his skill with a sword to being a valued friend. Until, that is, he is arrested for the murder of the prince. He has to somehow prove his innocence, but the evidence against him is damning.

Belasko is the sort of character that I love reading about. He’s grizzled and experienced, sometimes gets lost in his memories, but is as smart as they come. The decisiveness (and desperation) that lead him to take risks that many people would avoid take the book in unexpected and exciting directions.

At less than 300 pages, The Swordsman’s Lament isn’t a chonker. It makes great use of its length, moving at a quick pace and keeping me entertained throughout. The use of flashbacks during pauses in the action (such as when a certain character is incarcerated) was a clever way to establish both the world, its history and its occupants without the dreaded info dump. The flashbacks were also short, made sense to the story and its development, and- wonderful for my poor eyes- were not italicized (seriously, I cannot overstate how much I appreciate that).

I loved everything about The Swordsman’s Lament, from the plot to the dialogue (there’s an observation on monologuing that had me in stitches), to the well-described fight scenes. This is a world I’m happy to get lost in and a character I’m excited to read more about. Highly recommended!

Spear by Nicola Griffith

She left all she knew to find who she could be . . .

She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon.

With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home.

The legendary author of Hild returns with an unforgettable hero and a queer Arthurian masterpiece for the modern era. Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a spellbinding vision of the Camelot we’ve longed for, a Camelot that belongs to us all. (taken from Amazon)

Lyrical with a fairy-tale cadence, Spear is the adult version of the Arthurian tales I loved as a child. Spear follows a girl without a name, one whose quest for an identity leads her to Caer Leon (Camelot), to The Lady of the Lake, and beyond. Each encounter and every experience serve to add another facet to the girl, as she discovers who she is and where she belongs.

The girl- Peretur- is raised nameless in a cave with only her mother for company. Her mother has hidden Peretur, her treasure, and only mutters their history in bits and pieces. One day the girl discovers Artos’s Companions and her destiny is set. She will become a King’s Companion and find her true name. Disguised as a man, Peretur (the girl) sets out to do just that, breaking her mother’s heart- and the geas that has kept them hidden from a powerful enemy.

I loved how the book began, with the story of a nameless girl and her life as she grows. The glimpses of her dreams and aspirations and the chance encounters that set her on her path drew me in. The way the first bit of the book was descriptively and beautifully written kept me entranced.

However, once Peretur left the cave to find her fortune, the language and cadence of the book changed. The book became bigger, with less of the beautiful prose and more of a “normal” fantasy writing style. This is in no way a bad thing, but I did miss the way the first little bit of the book flowed.

While there seems to be a split in writing style, I was engrossed by both halves of the book. The characters Peretur meets are all very familiar to me because I’ve loved stories of King Arthur and his knights for a long time. Author Nicola Griffith fleshed them out and took them from larger-than-life characters to realistic people with their own fears, loves, and interests, while still somehow retaining a bit of that fairy-tale magic that often comes with Arthurian tales.

After reading (and loving) several chonkier books, the shorter length of Spear was a great palate cleanser. The story moved along nicely and took me with it into a land rich with adventure, promise, and magic. I recommend this beautiful shorter novel for those who want a new twist on familiar lore.

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Wrap-Up

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find (I have a post about fantasy subgenres which can be found here). I think when people hear “fantasy”, their mind immediately goes to serious epics with swords, magic, and dragons. While I happen to love all of those things, there are many ways to tell a story. This week’s focus has been on grimdark, that subgenre with morally complicated characters and often gritty worlds.

Below is a (far from complete) list of grimdark authors worth reading. I’ve also collected the guest posts from throughout the week, in case there are any that have been missed. I’m grateful to all the writers who were kind enough to share their opinions during this week!

Guest Posts:

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Holly Tinsley

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Rob J. Hayes

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Krystle Matar

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Luke Tarzian

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring M.L. Spencer

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Beth Tabler

Author suggestions:

Joe Abercrombie- First Law series

Alicia Wanstall Burke- Blood of Heirs

Sarah Chorn- Seraphina’s Lament

Glen Cook- Chronicles of the Black Company series

Steven Erikson- Gardens of the Moon

Michael R. Fletcher- Smoke and Stone

C.S. Friedman- The Coldfire trilogy

Ben Galley- Chasing Graves

Rob J. Hayes- The Ties that Bind series

R.F. Kuang- The Poppy War

Mark Lawrence- The Broken Empire series

Ulff Lehman- Light in the Dark series

Scott Lynch- Gentleman Bastard series

Devin Madson- The Reborn Empire series

George R.R. Martin- A Song of Ice and Fire

Krystle Matar- Legacy of the Brightwash

Alex Mead- Unstoppable Shadow

Richard Nell- Ash and Sand series

Mike Shel- Iconoclasts trilogy

Anna Smith Spark- Empires of Dust series

Clayton Snyder- River of Thieves

ML Spencer- The Chaos Cycle

Luke Tarzian- Adjacent Monsters series

Holly Tinsley- We Men of Ash and Shadow

Brent Weeks- The Way of Shadows

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Fighters and Barbarians (Repost)

This is a repost, because I loved it so much. This was originally published in February of 2021.

There used to a be a bit of a “these people are weird” attitude toward people who enjoyed roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was pretty funny to hear it coming from readers of fantasy (or any genre, really: you’d be surprised at the similarities that can be found). I’m assuming some of the judgement came from a place of discomfort at older kids and adults using their imaginations. I’m honestly not sure. Fortunately, D&D, and other roleplaying games are becoming much more accepted, which is great because playing can be pretty stinking fun.

As I briefly mentioned, there are similarities between books and roleplaying games. Both require the use of imagination to fill in pictures, both allow for a suspension of disbelief, and both take us to new and unusual places, constrained only by the author (or Dungeon Master).


A ‘character class’ is a profession or set of skills that help differentiate different types of characters in roleplaying. I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to give their thoughts on D&D classes in books and they answered in a big way! In fact, what I originally thought of as a single post has become a few, each post focusing on two or three of the main character classes. While I have each writer’s link attached to their amazing contribution, please make sure to check out a more detailed introduction to each of them at the bottom of the post. I’ve also included my own ideas here and there, as well as some loose definitions of each character class. Enjoy!

FIGHTER: This is pretty self-explanatory, but also has a lot of room for creativity. A warlord, knight, or rich person’s bodyguard are all different types of fighters. A fighter has a ton of skill with a weapon, and functions as a pretty good meat shield (can you tell I’ve used the fighter in that capacity before?).

Behind the Pages gives examples of fighters in fantasy: “

“Atae from Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A. Nix. To the Kaji warriors, being a halfbreed means being weak. Atae refuses to back down and engages in rigorous combat training to stay at the top of her warrior class. Strength and skill in battle are revered among the Kaji, and Atae will do everything in her power to become a true warrior. Trained in both hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, Atae will cut down her foes without a second thought.”

“Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews: Kate was raised to be a weapon. Forced into fighting pits from a young age, it was hit the ground running or die trying. Any weapon in her hands is lethal, though she prefers her sword. When she unleashes a combination of magic and blade, she is a near unstoppable force.”

“I gave him a smile. I was aiming for sweet, but he turned a shade paler and scooted a bit farther from me. Note to self: work more on sweet and less on psycho-killer.” – Ilona Andrews, Magic Strikes

Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series says: “Here, there is a lot to choose from in Fantasy. I think this is the class most well represented. So I will keep this one short: Boromir [from The Lord of the Rings]. Aside from the fact that he is the character from the Fellowship that needs more love, he is a classical fighter. Knows all sort of weapons, can improvise during a fight, has the Con [constitution] of an Ent (I mean, how many arrows did he take before falling?). He even trains Merry and Pippin. Had he lived to amend for his sole mistake, he would have been Aragorn’s second hand.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub shares an opinion: For me, when I think of the D&D fighter class, my mind immediately goes to Clay “Slowhand” Cooper from Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. He’s a used-to-be-impressive warrior, a member of an elite mercenary group. He has major fighting skills-or at least, he used to. He and his friends come out of retirement for one last impressive feat-one that may get them killed.

“Clay pushed his body off him and mumbled another apology – because, enemy or not, when you hit a man in the nuts with a magic hammer the least you could say was sorry.”– Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld

Barbarian: the simplest way I can think of to describe a barbarian is as a fighter with anger issues. They thrive on violence and chaotic battles (although they may not always crave them). Their anger can give them a berserker state of mind: think an overdose of adrenalin allowing someone to do the nigh impossible.

Ryan Howse, author, reviewer for Grimdark Magazine and contributor for Before We Go Blog, weighs in: “For gamers, barbarians are often some of the most memorable and dynamic characters played. They tend to be chaotic (in earlier editions, being a lawful barbarian was against the rules) and their ignorance of civilized customs provides some obvious comedic fodder.

But barbarians are not fools. They just don’t care about civilization. People who are fools don’t survive the wilds—especially fantasy versions of the wilds, with all the strange new monsters and dangerous terrain that implies.

Fafhrd, from Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, is an iconic barbarian. He’s the bruiser of the duo, and the tank. He’s a massive man from an ice-covered land, and he mostly wants to spend his adventuring loot on women and ale.

The greatest part about these stories is that while they’re classics of the genre, they feel closer to a real tabletop game than even the best tie-in fiction.

In the first chronological story of Fafhrd, he straps rockets to his boots to make a jump down a hill. That feels absolutely like something out of an all-night gaming session where the barbarian has a ridiculous plan and rolls just well enough to make it work.

There’s also a story where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser die, and end up dealing with Death Itself, which again feels like a DM trying to keep the campaign going after a TPK [total party kill]. (They get better.)”

 “And even when we serve, we make the rules. We bow to no man’s ultimate command, dance to no wizard’s drumming, join no mob, hark to no wildering hate-call. When we draw sword, it’s for ourselves alone.”– Fritz Leiber, Sword in the Mist

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub chimes in: I see Beowulf as the ultimate barbarian. He fights Grendel with near-supernatural strength (Grendel definitely meets his match), and several other feats of strength are boasted about throughout the epic poem. He feels no fear and isn’t big on laying traps or making battle plans. Any character that divests a monster of its arm without using a weapon to do it lands in the “berserker” category for me.

Meet the contributors:

Behind the Pages 
is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one is titled The Withered King. The sequel is titled The Cursed Titans.

Ryan Howse is a literary jack-of-all-trades. The author of several books, he also reviews for Grimdark Magazine and is a regular addition to BeforeWeGoBlog. I honestly have no idea how he found the time to contribute to my post, but I’m excited that he did!

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is not an idiot, no matter what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

It took exactly four sentences for me to become so engrossed in Nectar for the God that I was annoyed by any interruptions to my reading. Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.

“With a smile and a nod to the other customers, Etta Mirian left the bakery, crossed Long Step Avenue, and stabbed Peyt Jyston three times in the neck. She then turned the knife on herself and, still smiling all the time, opened her throat from side to side.”

The reader finds Mennik Thorn slightly the worst for wear after the events in Shadow of a Dead God. He’s been avoiding both his mother (who has far more power, and far fewer scruples than is ever good), and her rival Wren, with varying levels of nonsuccess. While Mennik is realizing that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, a case drops into his lap that is far above his skill level, and much more complicated than it looks. From there, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush which somehow manages to also have a complex and incredibly clever mystery involved.

In between traipsing through sewers and attracting the attention of something rather terrifying, Mennik’s character also continues to grow. Through his interactions with his mother, his sister, his thieving friend, Benny, and Benny’s murderous daughter, we are given a more complicated picture of who Mennik is and why he acts the way he does. He never seems to end up on top. The most he can hope for is to break even, and that’s an ambitious goal. Mennik is the sort of character who gets kicked around by life, although in many instances he walks right into trouble. This juxtaposition between the desire to survive and a complete lack of caution leads to all kinds of problems. Mennik’s slightly skewed moral compass shifts continues to intrigue and delight, and his inner dialogue is absolutely brilliant. Author Patrick Samphire takes the smallest of details and makes them fascinating with his incredibly descriptive writing.

The world is gritty and messy, teeming with the equivalent of magical gangsters, meddling gods, and–even worse–politicians. It constantly grows, tantalizing the reader with details and mysteries that have yet to be solved. The dreaded info dump is nowhere to be found, with history and mythology being given naturally throughout the book. While Mennik is juggling multiple disasters, I could see they were puzzle pieces waiting to be fit together. Watching the seemingly disparate parts of Nectar for the God meld into a complete whole is a joy, and the final product is an entertaining romp that will draw you in and captivate you.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine.