The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Write Reads on Tour- Ariva: Heart of the Sky by DH Willison

It takes great courage to stand against a ferocious mythic monster.
It takes far greater to stand WITH one who’s at her most vulnerable.
Tremors rock the land. Wild magic and creatures from the abyss ravage a formerly bountiful forest, while a creeping magic ailment spreads among the harpies. A fragile peace between harpy and human teeters on the brink.
Darin and Rinloh, oddest couple in all the land. They must become the oddest of heroes to save the land.
Heart of the Sky. A charming blend of whimsy, terror, and a lot of heart.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Arvia: Heart of the Sky will be available for purchase starting tomorrow.

I’m excited to join the Write Reads tour with my review of Arvia: Heart of the Sky. This is an enjoyable book, full of heart, humor, and a small dash of romance. The relationships built and the begrudging friendships developed are well done and take pride of place with the adventure framing a story that is ultimately about more than harpies. Although it’s great seeing a book about harpies!

Darin and Rinloh are not strangers to struggle. First of all, is their relationship. Most couples have obstacles to overcome, but Darin’s and Rinloh’s are a bit more unique. You see, Darin is a human and Rinloh is, um, not. She’s a harpy. What’s more, harpies in Arvia are quite a lot bigger than humans and generally see humans as snacks instead of friends. In fact, everything is bigger and more dangerous than Darin, coming from Earth, is used to. Including the danger.

One of the great things about this book is that, even though harpies are higher up on the evolutionary ladder, Rinloh is much more affected by the mysterious tremors suddenly rocking the land than the humans are. She has to rely on Darin who is used to being the weaker of the two. Not only that, the harpies have to band together, putting aside their differences and petty squabbles. See what I mean about Heart of the Sky focusing on relationships at its heart?

Author DH Willison writes with confidence, crafting a tale that is snappy and without unnecessary pauses. The chapters are long enough to move the narrative, switching between Rinloh’s and Darin’s points of view, but never overly wordy. The dreaded info dump is skillfully avoided, while the important background information is given in bite-sized pieces at exactly the right time for the story.

The characters were all great, with Darin being my favorite. I had to laugh a little when he tried to compare his past experiences on Earth with the critters found on Ariva. Everyone’s surprised but condescending reactions to his observations were just so fun. He also never gave up on Rinloh or on somehow helping, despite being rather ill- equipped for the setting he finds himself in.

Rinloh was a lot of fun and her inner monlogue was so darn honest! Who doesn’t hate their job or coworkers sometimes (although most people’s jobs don’t involve attacking creatures with way too many teeth)? Her charcter grew a lot throughout the book as she had to learn to rely on others. I think sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow.

While you can just go ahead and jump in here (this is book 3), go ahead and grab the entire series. You’re in for a treat. Arvia: Heart of the Sky is a fun and playful book, with a sutble look at different relationship dynamics hiding beneath harpy-sized charm.

Highly recommended.

About the author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.

He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.

Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).



Dragonlance Side Quest: The Second Generation by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Years have passed since the end of the War of the Lance. The people of Ansalon have rebuilt their lives, their houses, their families. The Companions of the Lance, too, have returned to their homes, raising children and putting the days of their heroic deeds behind them.

But peace on Krynn comes at a price. The forces of darkness are ever vigilant, searching for ways to erode the balance of power and take control. When subtle changes begin to permeate the fragile peace, new lives are drawn into the web of fate woven around all the races. The time has come to pass the sword — or the staff — to the children of the Lance.

They are the Second Generation. (Taken from Amazon)

I have a confession: I am not a monogamous reader. I usually read multiple books at the same time. Lately, I’ve been rereading my Dragonlance books while also reading new books. You can read my thoughts on my latest reread of Kindred Spirits here.

“…Weis and Hickman are like kender and bad pennies-they keep turning up. And so here they are again, all set to tell us about the wonderful things that are happening in Krynn”. -Forward by…Fizban the Fabulous?

The Second Generation is set after the end of the War of Lance which is when the events from the Dragonlance Chronicles (the original trilogy) takes place. An uneasy peace exists, but it’s much more tenuous than people want to believe. A new generation of heroes needs to step up. This book of short stories introduces the children of characters from the Chronicles. They are not their parents and they think and act differently. The writing also flows differently. That isn’t a bad thing. The tone is similar, but it needs to be at least a little different because this is a different cast of characters.

This book is actually a grouping of five novellas by the masters of Dragonlance. It’s an odd one to review since a few of the novellas have been elsewhere as well. It’s good to see them gathered together with other stories about the children of the Heroes of the Lance, though, and it does form a bridge to the next part in Dragonlance’s history.

I’m always a little wishy-washy on books of short stories or novella collections. There are usually some that I just don’t like as much as others. Unfortunately, that is the case with The Second Generation, although I do think it’s a strong connection point between the characters from the original series and the characters that take center stage in the next book.

I do wonder if some of my not quite glowing reaction to a few of these novellas has to do with the fact that I love the original characters so much. Part of me struggled with these new additions at first. That being said, the characters themselves have new and interesting stories to tell.

“Kitiara’s Son” is one of my favorites from this book. Of all the book characters who lack parenting capability, she’d be at the top of my list. She has a son that is first discovered when his adopted mother comes to Tanis and Caramon for help. He is about to take the vows to become a knight of Takhisis- an evil order of knighthood that has recently sprung up. His mom hopes that Caramon and Tanis can convince him to not give his soul to their evil cause.

There are a few things I really enjoy about this story. One of them is the identity of the father. It isn’t who most people who have read the Chronicles would first expect. Another thing I love about this one is the personality of Kitara’s son, Steel. He’s very conflicted, although he tries not to show it. What follows is more of a story about choices and shades of gray than one of action (although there’s action too, of course).

“Raistlin’s Daughter” is a myth about Raistlin having a daughter. It’s not my favorite, possibly because I feel that it doesn’t fit his character, possibly because the tone seems a little…off. Whatever the reason, while I don’t particularly like the story, I do feel that it is the weakest in the collection. It isn’t bad, it’s just not fantastic. Moving on.

“Wanna Bet” is a rip-roaring tale of adventure, featuring Caramon’s three sons and an ill-fated errand. This is more funny than anything, although any story that involves the Graygem of Gargoth adds a bit to the lore behind Krynn’s creation. This is one of the novellas that appears elsewhere and it also feels most like a side quest from the original trilogy to me. I think it’s the addition of some very bad choices, a character who is not what he seems, and things that go so wrong that they almost go right.

“The Legacy” also focuses on Caramon’s three sons. This time it’s the youngest, Palin, who takes center stage. Unlike his war-like brothers, he’s interested in magic. He’s just enough like Raistlin to scare and worry his father. This story talks about his trip to the Tower of Sorcery and what transpires. I love this one! While it could be the connection to Raistlin, I think it’s a lot more about what it shows of Caramon (and the other original Heroes of the Lance). There’s a reluctance from Caramon to let his kids grow up, a fear of the horrors in the world and a desperate desire to protect his kids. Authors Weis and Hickman perfectly captured the struggles loving parents face every day. I feel for Caramon.

At the same time, it’s a story about the new generation of heroes coming into their own, about how what came before will play into their characters, and an introduction to the next part of the story. It’s masterfully told.

Lastly, there’s “The Sacrifice”, about Tanis’ and Laurana’s son, Gilthas. He reminds me so much of the protagonist of The Scarlet Pimpernel (or Batman, in a less Gotham-y sense). He is a weak fop who lazes around, doing nothing of importance. Except that’s not true at all. Underneath his metaphorical mask is an intelligent mind and a strong will. Gilthas resents his parents for being overprotective and wishes to help. Unfortunately, things don’t go as hoped and he ends up in a sticky situation. It also proves to be a break between himself and Tanis. This story lends a good explanation of what comes next in Krynn’s timeline. It’s probably the one that matters most as far as setting up the next few Dragonlance books. As far as the novellas go, it really does seem the center point of The Second Generation.

This is a well-written side book and an engaging one. There are a few inconsistencies between some of the tales told here and the events from the original story, but the reason for that is perfectly explained in the forward and actually adds a sense of fun and adventure. While I will always prefer the original companions and the Chronicles, this is a strong introduction to the new cast of big players, the ones who get swept up into events bigger than themselves. Also, major points for the addition of the Knight of Takhisis stat blocks!

It’s definitely worth reading if you want to know more about the world and get a good idea of the direction the series will take after the War of the Lance.

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.
As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all. (Taken from Amazon)

A River Enchanted is a magical book full of contradictions. It is meandering and slower in pace. It is breathtaking and kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a book where the setting lived and breathed, almost overshadowing the plot and characters.

Cadence is a land divided. It is also a land of magic. On one side, some can use this magic in different (and unique) ways, such as weaving protections and secrets into wool. There is a cost, though: it shortens the life span of those who use it. On the other side, magic can be used without paying a price, but there is never enough food or resources. These two sides are at war, the peace only lasting as long as neither clan crosses over into the other clan’s side.

Jack left the island of Cadence and has been gone for years when our story starts. He receives a request to return to help with an emergency: girls on the island are disappearing. The Laird’s daughter, Adaira, who summoned Jack, is convinced that only Jack can help. He has a unique gift: he’s a bard and his music can summon the spirits. Adaira hopes that she can persuade the spirits to tell her where the girls are and how to get them back.

Adaira and Jack are both interesting characters. They have a complicated history. As children, they were rivals. Adaira is beloved, the only child of the Laird. Jack was sent off the island and has always felt unwanted. It is a clashing of personalities and the friction between them leads to opportunities for them to build off each other, developing both characters in unexpected ways.

Jack’s mother is the one who sent him away. She has also kept the secret of who his father is. Needless to say, their relationship is strained. I liked that it was more than just resentment. There was love there on both sides, even though they struggled to fit into a family dynamic or even a healthy relationship. It’s hard to be close to someone who keeps secrets like that, and the author conveys this struggle brilliantly.

The book isn’t quite a mystery and it isn’t quite a fantasy. It defies classification. It is beautifully written and kept me enthralled even though I could argue that the entire book is merely setup. The ending dropped a bombshell and set up the second book wonderfully, but the majority of the book showcases the magic of the island, the history of the warring clans, and the relationships between the people on the island and between the people and the magic of the island itself.

There is no explanation as to why the island of Cadence is full of magic while the mainland where Jack has been for years is completely devoid of it. There isn’t a lot of explanation for several larger points, but I actually loved that. It left an air of mystery and excitement. There is so much lurking beneath the surface, peeking out in small ways and giving wonderful tidbits of a world both large and seeped in enchantment.

This isn’t a novel that will be enjoyed by everyone. It is a book to read if you like to be drawn in by the magic of language itself. If you love being lost in lovely prose, puzzling out the quiet beauty of a story well written, A River Enchanted is for you.

The Adversary’s Hand by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company has saved the world—again.

The bad news? Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the company are stranded centuries in the past. The magical gemstones that could return them to their proper time have broken.

The worse news? That’s only the start of their troubles.

With the world of Spira in dire peril once more, the heroes must make an impossible journey beneath the Iron Barrier, pursuing agents of the Black Circle who seek to unleash the greatest evil power ever to plague the cosmos.

In this final volume of the Heroes of Spira, Horn’s Company will face monstrous creatures, explore ancient temples and mysterious ruins, confront gods both living and dead, and show valiant resolve in the darkest depths.

Should they fail, the world will fall beneath the might of the Adversary’s Hand. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Adversary’s Hand is available now.

The Adversary’s Hand is the fifth and final book of The Heroes of Spira series. I will do my level best to avoid spoilers, but you have been warned. You can find my reviews for books 1-4 here: The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, The Greatwood Portal, and The Infinite Tower.

The Adversary’s Hand was one of my most anticipated books of 2023 and it didn’t disappoint. The cast of characters known as Horn’s Company is back and facing danger far above their skill level. This evil takes them across worlds and through time, calling on every shred of bravery (or stick-to-it-ness) they possess. As with every book in this excellent series, The Adversary’s Hand immediately swept me away, taking me on the adventure right along with the characters.

The stakes continued to grow, as did the world. I have no idea how author Dorian Hart was able to have so much detail in this book without it ever becoming too much or slowing down the plot. However, The Adversary’s Hand moved at the perfect pace, neither too fast nor too slow. Once again there was a combination of the sort of threat that requires a sharp pointy object and the sort that needs to be solved by intelligence or cunning. Every member of the party was useful and things wouldn’t have worked out as they did without the contribution of every character. I loved that, despite there being several characters focused on, not a single one is ever superfluous.

I had no idea how things would work out, although I truly hoped they would. The Heroes of Spira has an undercurrent of hope running throughout that is so refreshing. Yes, things are dire at times and not everyone makes it out unscathed, but to balance out the bad were truly good characters. I was so invested in the outcome because of them. They had strengths, flaws, worries, and hopes that were relatable. Even their exhaustion at having to save the world again was easy to understand and believe. I loved the sense of frustrated resignation that a few of the characters experienced upon learning that still more was being asked of them.

It’s these wonderfully developed characters that have made me fall in love with this series. Kibi’s story arc was flat-out awesome and I loved Eddings (and his appreciation of a good pair of slippers). Ernie has been a favorite of mine throughout the series, as has Dranko. The way they have evolved throughout the series is nothing short of astounding. It was natural and believable. Basically, these fantasy characters felt very real, magical powers and goblin blood aside. I wanted them to succeed.

The Adversary’s Hand brought the imagination, excellent storytelling, and sense of wonder that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place. I was sad to see the series end, although the ending was the sort that I like best. It was more of a beginning, really. Answers were given and things were wrapped up but there was also the idea that, years down the road, you could visit the world again and find new stories or characters to follow.

I can’t recommend The Heroes of Spira enough.

Conversations on Hope in the Fantastical Featuring Ricardo Victoria

Continuing my blog series about hope in the fantastical, today I am delighted to feature a guest post from Ricardo Victoria. Ricardo is the author of the excellent hopepunk series, The Tempest Blades (you can read my review of book 1 here). Here are his thoughts on hope in the fantastical.

When I was a kid, I often wondered why the last thing to come out from Pandora’s box was hope. After a myriad of evils, hope comes up. What can a tiny bird can do in what’s basically a screwed-up world with deities that border on evil?

It’s a question that even today I make myself, with different answers every time. Especially this time as I’m writing this post on hope in the fantastical. Why even write about hope, or even include it as a main component of your books, when the world is going to hell in a handbasket? 

I can only think of one answer: because as with the tiny bird, hope is always there, in the back row, on the bottom of the box, waiting to jump off, to be noticed, to be remembered. So someone has to write about it. I kinda touched on this very topic at my blog during the toughest time of the COVID pandemic (so if you want to read about that, here is the link: The Power of Hope).

I’m well aware that one of the modern trends in fantasy is grimdark, this –and apologies for the succinct and probably inaccurate- depiction of morally grey characters barely surviving an uncaring world. Power to those who like it (the farthest I got into grimdark was GoT), and more power to those that have the fortitude to write it. I just can’t. And I tried. My most ‘morally ambiguous’ story ended with no ambiguity, rather more like with the hope of redemption for the character.

So that’s why I latched onto hopepunk, which is kinda the opposite of the aforementioned trend. A common misconception of hopepunk is that everything is sunshine, candies, and happiness. Nah, it’s not like that. Hopepunk is more about finding hope and using it to keep moving, to keep fighting, to keep living, even amidst the direst of circumstances. Paraphrasing the message of the superb third episode of “The Last of Us”, it’s not enough with surviving. You have to live. Which I think is the actual message of hopepunk and of writing hope in your fantasy stories in general.

There is no denying that both in real life and in fantasy stories, things can get dark, very dark, before the light at the end of the tunnel is glimpsed. The main cast of Lord of the Rings, the granddaddy of modern fantasy, is always on the verge of total failure, and yet somehow, the quest gets solved by a series of events that started way back in The Hobbit. Hope is sneaky like that. Like a ninja.

And like a ninja, will always jump at you even when you least expect it. That’s why hope hasn’t gone out and probably will never get out of fashion, at least when it comes to fantasy. Maybe it’s because humans need hope to process real-life struggles as part of trying to remain somewhat functional. Because we have to believe that in real life, as with our favorite characters in fantasy, things can and will get better at the end of the day, and the end of the story. I would even dare to say that having hope is essential for our mental health. This is why we use stories to process trauma, fears, dreams, aspirations, desires. Fantasy is not just about escapism –though it can be part- nor is less “worthy” than “literary fare”. Fantasy is about what can inspire us to keep fighting against the dark forces of our demons, against the pressures of our daily lives. It’s about giving us a chance to believe that things can improve, that maybe, in our small trenches, we can contribute to make a better world, with perhaps something as mundane as smiling at that retail worker that has been enduring rude customers all day.

Fantasy and hope are allies, are companions, are the weapon and shield we take on our dangerous journeys. Are about finding solace when we need it the most. And that’s the importance of hope in fantasy, I believe. Hope is at the end of the day, an inimical part of the human psyche, the root of faith, the fuel of willpower, the foundation of creativity. And that’s why at the end of the day heroes like Superman, like Captain America, the goody two shoes speak more to use even if we don’t actually listen -and are probably the hardest to write because not many writers get them, shock value and cynicism is easier to write and sell than actual hope against all odds-. Thus I tell you, don’t dismiss hope in fantasy as a childish thing. Hope in fantasy is the foundation on which we can build a better world, fight for a better one. Heck, as Pratchett showed us in the Discworld series, hope can even feed the kind of silent, slow-burning righteous rage at the state of the world that makes try to make it right, even if it never will be, because the other alternative is to fell into despair. And if we allow that, then all will be truly lost. As long as hope remains, you can get up for another day and live.

I write hopepunk, yes, in part due to my own mental health circumstances, but also because as much of a cynic as I can be, I want, I need to believe that you can get out of problems, change things somehow if you believe you can (and has served me well). My characters, like those from LOTR, see defeat closer than victory at the most critical moments. Yet they get up and keep going at it, as long as they can draw a breath (and sometimes even when they can’t) because for them the alternative is losing their heart and with it, the world.

And that’s where I believe that the true value of hope in fantasy resides: it’s to keep our metaphorical heart beating so we can keep moving and improve the world, in the measure we can.

So maybe like with Pandora’s box, that hopepunk book you just get when you were looking for something else, was there for a reason. Don’t dismiss it, just read it and form your own opinion, because paraphrasing Walt Whitman: Sometimes, Life doesn’t give you the books you want, it gives you the books you need.

About the author:

Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and a mix of all of them. He’s the author of the hopepunk science fantasy series Tempest Blades, of which book 3 will be released on June 13th of this year, by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing. 

He is one of the co-founders of Inklings Press, a small publisher of thematic anthologies, has written episodes for The Wicked Library podcast, and has been nominated to a Sidewise Awards and two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. He has written and published over a dozen of short stories.

He also holds a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis on sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures, especially Ninja Turtles. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pet dogs and works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university.–

Ricardo Victoria

Purchase links:

The Tempest Blades series

To pre-order book 3:

The Magick of Chaos

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.