The Art of the Dragon: The Definitive Collection of Contemporary Dragon Paintings Edited by Patrick Wilshire, J. David Spurlock & Julie Bell

I love dragons. I love the way they look, I love the lore behind them, I love that almost every culture has a dragon myth of some kind, and I love the myriad ways they’ve been represented throughout the history of fantasy books. This beautiful book was given to me for my birthday by my youngest son (he also gave me a stuffed dragon because he is convinced that I don’t have enough stuffed animals and it’s been his mission to fix that serious problem).

The Art of the Dragon is different than some of my other dragon books (I have quite a few). It doesn’t discuss the “anatomy” of the dragon, or what breath weapon each color dragon has (because only having fire is so passé). Instead, it has paintings of dragons from some of the preeminent dragon artists as well as explanations from them regarding their inspiration and process.

Credit: Lars Grant-West

And, good gravy, this book features an amazing group of artists! From John Howe to Michael Whelan, Clyde “Make it Sexy” Caldwell (yes, my husband and I have given him a nickname) to Julie Bell, The Art of the Dragon includes a broad range of styles and several years’ worth of contributions to the fantasy genre. I was especially pleased to see Larry Elmore, since his art is synonymous with the series that made me a lifelong fantasy lover.

Credit: Larry Elmore

The thoughts each artist gave about their art and the reasons why they paint them the way they do is what pushed this book over the edge from beautiful to epic for me. Little explanations, like how one artist thinks about the “behavior” of each dragon he is painting, to Elmore’s thoughts on how his contemporaries paint their dragons (“I painted my dragons one way, and Keith [Parkinson] painted his pretty similar to me, and Clyde [Caldwell] did his more serpentine and Jeff [Easley] did his more as a pit bull”), each feature made me understand and appreciate each artist even more.

Something else that makes The Art of the Dragon stand out is the sheer number of paintings in the book. Some dragon art books only have a few paintings or only feature paintings that are incredibly popular and have already been added to many books. While there are some of those ubiquitous pieces in here, there are several that I haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in years. That’s quite the feat, what with how many dragon books I own.

The Art of the Dragon is a gorgeous book, perfect for anyone who loves dragons or appreciates fantasy art.

Credit: Michael Whelan

The Flaws of Gravity by Stephanie Caye

Faeries lie.
That’s what the Consilium told Jude when they recruited her into a supernatural cold war against the Court. It’s what her friend Aubrie said too, convincing her to search for illicit magic under their noses.
But he’s half-Faerie like her. And since honesty’s never exactly been Jude’s strong suit either, she probably should have listened. Might have saved her the pain of his betrayal, not to mention a trip to the ICU.
When a shady group of Faeries co-opts her to help them stop Aubrie from taking control of both the human and Faerie worlds, Jude’s tentatively game. Ruining the man who double-crossed her sounds good in theory. Problem is, joining up with these alleged otherworldly allies could condemn humanity to life under a curly-toed boot instead.
Everybody wants to rule the world. Jude just wants some premium tequila shots on a warm, sandy beach in the vicinity of “The Hell Away from This Mess.”
That’s a lie—she’d settle for the cheap stuff. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Flaws of Gravity is available now.

At the beginning of the book, Jude is stabbed in the back by one of her few friends. She already has trust issues, and things like that probably justify her paranoia a little bit. Despite her desire to drop off the grid and stay injury-free for a while, she finds herself joining a group of fairies in an attempt to stop her ex-friend from taking over the Faerie world (and the human one). Of course, now she has a new problem: are her new allies any more trustworthy?

The Flaws of Gravity starts off with a shocking (and rather violent) rush and keeps a fast pace all the way through. Far from giving a slower build-up, there is never more than a pause for breath before Jude finds herself in the next action-packed situation. A start like this is definitely attention-grabbing.

I was a little confused at times, especially toward the beginning, simply because information was doled out sparingly. While I loved the lack of the dreaded info dump, the world seemed so intriguing that I wanted to learn a little more about it early on. I also feel that Aubrie’s betrayal would have been even more emotionally impactful if there had been more background information (or possibly a flashback). That being said, I quickly became invested in the book and was able to infer what wasn’t explained.

The characters were interesting, each of them serving a different purpose and driving the plot forward in new and unexpected ways. Jude was fantastic; a little bit prickly and a large bit snarky. She was also morally ambiguous, a tough balancing act that I love to see written well. Author Stephanie Caye nailed it, making Jude a blast to read. She has quickly become one of my favorite main characters in urban fantasy.

The way the faeries’ powers were written was incredibly creative. I loved Jude’s ability to crawl on walls and ceilings, something I’ve never seen in a book involving fae. It was so cool to read about new and creative faerie abilities. It added to the fun and allowed for some seriously awesome situations.

This book is a blast. The Flaws of Gravity is a must-read for anyone looking for an action-packed adventure.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, muddle Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones—the most elusive of all faeries—lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all—her own heart. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Del Rey for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is available now.

This book is absolutely delightful! If the premise wasn’t enough to interest me (it was), the many glowing reviews I’ve come across would have done the trick. I find myself in the difficult position of trying to find new ways to describe the wonder of Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries. I don’t know how well I’ll do, but let me crack my knuckles and give it a go.

Emily is a headstrong, socially awkward introvert who is single-mindedly focused on her encyclopaedia. Hers is a little different from the usual book of knowledge: it focuses on faeries. She travels to the small close-knit town of Hrafnsvik in an effort to find information on the Hidden Ones, the last bit of her book. Unfortunately, her lack of people skills leaves her somewhat at odds with the villagers and she struggles to get the information she will need for her study. Equally unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, but she’d never admit it), Emily’s frustrating colleague Wendell Bambleby pops up to irritate- and possibly help- Emily. Soon, Emily’s scholarly distance from all things fae fails her, and she finds herself caught up in faerie mischief, Wendell joining in. Faerie mischief often turns dangerous and such is the case here. The ensuing adventure is enthralling.

Emily is my favorite kind of character! Her flaws are believable and understandable. Her stubbornness comes from a lifetime spent alone and the necessity of being self-sufficient. She isn’t used to friendship or even friendly acquaintances which shows in her awkward and uncomfortable interactions with the villagers. She truly wants to win their trust but it’s a struggle for her. As an introvert myself, I completely understood her tendency to come across as prickly or standoffish. This unintentional defense mechanism was also balanced by something that can happen with introverts: she is fiercely loyal and protective of those who let her in despite her social awkwardness.

Wendell is a different story. He’s lazy yet ridiculously charismatic. He can talk people into all kinds of nonsense, although Emily has become immune (close proximity can do that, I suppose). He is the only one she feels at ease with since they have been colleagues for so long and they happily bicker. This relationship is what elevated the book from fun and unique to fantastic. As much as I love a good adventure, it’s the character dynamics that sell me on a story. Their relationship is never stagnant; instead, it shifts as they spend more time together and understand each other a little better.

The story itself is fantastic, of course. I’m always intrigued by books that contain faeries (I blame the artist Brian Froud for my fascination) and they are written incredibly well here. I would happily stand in line for the encyclopaedia that Emily works on throughout the book. Changelings, brownies, a faery high court, even the trees drip with magic and that lovely combination of real-life legend and fantasy book creation.

The danger of being drawn into a glittering faery world isn’t confined to the characters in the book. I was also sucked in. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries trapped me with otherworldly ease, leaving me desperate to see what happens next. This book is magic.

Two reviewers who made me rush to pick up the book:

The Irresponsible Reader

Tessa Talks Books

Cover Reveal: Mystic Reborn by Jeffrey Speight

I am thrilled to take part in a cover reveal for Mystic Reborn, book 2 in the Archives of Eveilum series, by Jeffrey Speight. I loved the first book, Paladin Unbound (review here) and Mystic Reborn looks equally amazing. Not only that, the cover is absolutely astounding!

Mystic Reborn is the continuation of Paladin Unbound, the award-winning start of the Archives of Evelium. After embracing his destiny as the last of the Paladins, Umhra the Peacebreaker is granted ancient powers by the gods. When he returns to the ruins of Antiikin to fulfill a promise, he embarks on a journey that will push the limits of his abilities. As the Grey Queen’s arrival heralds the fulfillment of a prophecy that could mean the end of humanity, the kingdom of Eveilum desperately needs a hero. Can Umhra once more rise to the challenge and save mankind from annihilation?

Check out this gorgeous cover!

Credit for this epic cover goes to Omer Burak Onal. I have been waiting impatiently to travel back into Evelium, and this cover has me almost salivating. Don’t forget to add Mystic Reborn to your “to be read” list and pick up Paladin Unbound if you haven’t already.

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

The Giant’s Echo (The Barclan series #2) by C.M. Kerley

Starvation has gripped the kingdom. The King is nowhere to be found. War has come to Barclan, and death is coming from the mountains. Using sword and sorcery, murder and the machine of war the King must find a way to fight back the evil that has infected his kingdom.
In Kraner, An’eris the druid queen must rule over a land already in ruins, forcing her people to survive the horrors of war before so much as a battle cry splits the quiet morning.
Brennan and Cotta are searching for answers, lying and cheating their way past everyone who would see them fail, looking for answers to questions hidden in dark corners.
And across the kingdom, to save the kingdom, Calem must face the truth of his magic and decide, for the fate of everyone, is he man or is he monster. (Taken from Amazon)

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

Reminiscent of “old school” fantasy, yet also treading into unfamiliar territory, The Giant’s Echo is a master class in storytelling. I was blown away by the creation myth in The Hummingbird’s Tear (book 1); the fantastic mythology and epic worldbuilding continue here as the stakes become higher.

In The Giant’s Echo, we have a small group trying to stem a darkness that is not only coming- it has already arrived on their doorstep. This book sees our characters fracture even more, with Brennan and Cotta looking for answers they don’t have. Their quest, for lack of a better word, shows their characters in a closer light and allows the reader to understand the desperation behind each decision. In fact, desperation and the things it can lead a person to do are overarching themes, lending an air of believability to everything. I love the way fantasy allows a skilled author to explore all facets of personality, and C.M. Kerly is an incredibly skilled author.

Calem, meanwhile, is on a different sort of quest: that of self-discovery. He needs to come to grips with who or what he is. Holy crow, his character development is amazing! I loved him so, so much. I’m zipping my lips so as not to give spoilers, but I could rave about him and his story arc pretty much all day.

New characters are added and others get extra attention, expanding an already well-developed world even more. While I wouldn’t call The Giant’s Echo grimdark, it does take on a darker tone as things become direr. Having an extra sense of urgency and danger made the characters and their inability to give up stand out all the more. I also enjoyed seeing morally complicated characters take center stage. I’m a big fan of murky morality in books, so I was thrilled.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy books with excellent mythologies and engrossing characters. I was happily sucked into The Giant’s Echo.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice. (Taken from Amazon)

A Deadly Education is one of those books that’s been on my radar for ages, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I kept hearing great things about it, but I was a little burned out on the whole magic school thing. Well, I finally picked it up and am now a bit confused (although I got three and a half hours of sleep last night, so that’s just my state of being at the moment).

El Higgins goes to a strange school. There are no adults anywhere. The students learn from the school itself (I promise, it makes sense) while trying to live long enough to graduate. The magic of the school seems to actively hate them, with all sorts of magical ickiness constantly trying to kill them. The graduation rate is low: most students don’t survive. It’s in this hostile environment that we meet El and Co.

El isn’t popular; far from it. She is seen as odd, antisocial, and powerless. Only two of those things are true. She’s incredibly powerful, but her power isn’t the kind that people trust or want to be around. Because of this, she lets people think she has nothing to offer. Her few friends think the same thing but like her anyway.

Meanwhile, there’s Orion. He’s your stereotypical hero, with a penchant for saving people. He’s well-liked (aka “worshipped”), capable, and gives off major boyscout vibes. He bursts into El’s room to save her and that’s when their odd relationship is born. They end up needing to work together to make an already deadly situation a little bit more manageable.

This is what happens when I muse on a book for a while before writing a review: the “but’s” come out. I enjoyed A Deadly Education immensely. El is a fun character who made me laugh. Her complete cluelessness when it came to Orion’s crush on her was hilarious (and relatable. I could never pick up on the signs either). I liked that her power is so destructive. She wants a cleaning spell but somehow learns to conjure walls of flame instead. This is a common occurrence for her and there’s really no harmless or positive way to spin it. Her power is flat-out violent. I loved it.

Orion is a bit of a meathead but in an endearing way. I kept expecting him to say, “Aw, shucks”. I was kind of disappointed that he never did. His power is flashy and he has no problem throwing it around, he’s just not great at the whole strategy thing. The two of them together were loads of fun and the situations the author threw her characters into were creative and interesting.

So, what are my “but’s”? Well, I couldn’t get past the fact that no parent in their right mind would just chuck their kid into a teacherless school, especially if that school is actively trying to maim, kill, or eat their offspring. It was just strange. Also, in order to explain how things work, the main character would often go off on narrative tangents. It kept me from being lost but it also interrupted the flow of the book a little.

That being said, it wasn’t enough of an issue to keep me from having a great time reading A Deadly Education, especially since the next two books probably won’t have pockets of info dumping. The way the magic works has now been explained enough that the reader can just infer from here on out.

I’m curious to see where things go in the series and am definitely planning to continue it if only to see El and Orion continue to be entertainingly awkward around each other. I love socially awkward characters, and Naomi Novik more than delivered on that front. This is a fun, quick read.

Adjacent Monsters by Luke Tarzian

BOOK 1: THE WORLD MAKER PARABLE
Guilt will always call you back…
Rhona is a faithful servant of the country Jémoon and a woman in love. Everything changes when her beloved sets the ravenous Vulture goddess loose upon the land. Forced to execute the woman she loves for committing treason, Rhona discovers a profound correlation between morality and truth. A connection that might save her people or annihilate them all.

You are a lie…
Varésh Lúm-talé is many things, most of all a genocidal liar. A falsity searching for the Phoenix goddess whom he believes can help him rectify his atrocities. Such an undertaking is an arduous one for a man with missing memories and a conscience set on rending him from inside out. A man whose journey leads to Hang-Dead Forest and a meeting with a Vulture goddess who is not entirely as she seems.

BOOK 2: THE WORLD BREAKER REQUIEM
Prince of Woe…
Avaria Norrith is the adopted heir to the Ariathan throne. But that means little to a man who, for the better part of fifteen years, has sought and failed to earn his mother’s love. Fueled by pride and envy, Avaria seeks the means to prove himself and cast away his mental chains. When he’s tasked with the recreation of The Raven’s Rage he sees his chance, for with the infamous blade he can rewrite history and start anew.

Daughter of the Mountain…
Erath has not felt sunlight for a century. Not since Ariath condemned her people to a life of darkness with their misuse of The Raven’s Rage. But when an old friend comes seeking the remnants of the ancient sword, Erath cannot contain her curiosity and resolves to lend her aid. Is it true-can history be revised? Can her people be reclaimed?

Toll the Hounds…
They are hungry-and they are here.

Thank you to the author for providing me with these books in exchange for my honest opinion. The Adjacent Monsters duology is available now.

Some authors guide you into their book, gently holding your hand and providing a safe space from which to explore their world. That is far from the case with Luke Tarzian. Readers will instead find themselves lost in a twisted landscape of beautiful, raw writing, so full of emotion and truth that it sometimes hurts. It’s glorious.

Adjacent Monsters takes trust. Trust on the part of the author, who bared his soul to strangers, writing honestly and unflinchingly about themes that are obviously very personal to him. And trust from the reader, to follow dark and winding paths, believing that it will pay off. And wow, does it pay off!

I first fell in love with Luke Tarzian’s writing when reading Vultures. I can honestly say that I have never read anything similar to the absolute distortion of reality that I experience in his writing. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll end up completely lost. His writing is easy to pay attention to, though. It’s pulling yourself out of the story that you’ll find difficult.

Themes of grief, guilt, and regret lace through this duology and the characters make difficult choices while questioning the very decisions they must make. It is sad and rather relatable (although I have yet to be in the position of leading a loved one to their own execution). Who hasn’t felt guilt or regret? A word of warning: Don’t read Adjacent Monsters if you are in a difficult headspace: Luke Tarzian’s writing is superb, but it is also difficult to read if you are struggling emotionally.

It’s hard to have a “favorite character” in books such as these. I was drawn to the inner torment of each character and the way it is explored in their actions. It’s almost as though you’re watching them go through the stages of grief that we’re always told about. Rhona and Varésh sucked me into The World Maker Parable (the first in the duology). Despite being very different characters with separate motivations, they were linked in the deep feeling they provoked in me.

As much as I loved The World Maker Parable, The World Breaker Requiem left me stunned. It’s gorgeous in a heartbreaking, surreal way. The characters seem so much more than what they are: questers looking for a legendary sword. At times they are in fact overshadowed by the writing itself which is both stark and beautiful.

Reading Adjacent Monsters is like being in a fever dream: uncomfortable, disorienting, and utterly engrossing. I loved it.

The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry

In the early 1900s, a young woman is caught between two worlds in H. G. Parry’s spellbinding tale of miracles, magic, and the adventure of a lifetime.
Off the coast of Ireland sits a legendary island hidden by magic. A place of ruins and ancient trees, sea salt air, and fairy lore, Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known. Washed up on its shore as a baby, Biddy lives a quiet life with her guardian, the mercurial magician Rowan. A life she finds increasingly stifling.
 
One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies—forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets.
 
Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself. (Taken from Amazon)

 

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Magician’s Daughter will be available on February 28, 2023.

The Magician’s Daughter invited me into a world of magic and mysteries, holding me captive until I finished the last word. It was gorgeously written, each word meticulously placed to build an engrossing narrative. The story of Biddy’s desperate venture was a breathtaking one.

Biddy grew up on Hy-Brasil with her magic-wielding caretaker, Rowan, and his familiar. Hy-Brasil is a place of magic, only visible every ten years. Even then, it’s only visible to a select few. Biddy has love, attention, and freedom across the island, but has been asked never to leave. Rowan leaves some nights, flying as a raven on secret errands. He is always back before dawn- until one day, he isn’t. Suddenly, Biddy is included in the reasons for his flights, told why she can’t leave, and is warned of the danger hunting them. From resenting being left out, Biddy is thrust into something darker and wilder than she could have ever imagined. Soon, she must choose between what is safe and what is right.

I loved the way the plot moved! Time was given to establishing the rules of the world so that when those rules were shattered, it meant something. The motivations of the characters made perfect sense (even when they made less-than-savory choices), and there were twists and turns that I didn’t see coming which left me desperate to see what happened next.

The Magician’s Daughter has a smaller cast of characters, but each one is given the attention it deserves. Every one of them was fascinating and well-written, adding new layers to the story. Hutchinson, Rowan’s rabbit familiar, burrowed his way into my heart with his combination of protectiveness and a rather cranky attitude. Morgaine was a compelling conundrum and it took until the end of the book for me to decide whose side she was really on. Even the (very evil) villain was complex enough to be more than an “I’m evil just because” sort of character. And wow, he gave me the shivers!

The narrative flows like a river. First, it is calm with slight ripples under the surface, but by the end of the book, a roaring narrative has taken over, rushing the reader along at a breathtaking pace. I raced through The Magician’s Daughter and, even though the ending was perfect, I was sad to see my time with the characters and world come to an end. If that isn’t the sign of an amazing book, I don’t know what is.

There was magic in the plot, but it also dripped from every word. The writing was absolutely phenomenal. The Magician’s Daughter is a book to get lost in, one that you’ll find yourself thinking of long after you’ve finished the last page.

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.

The Monsters We Feed by Thomas Howard Riley

The morning before he found the dead body, Jathan Algevin thought he had his whole life just the way he wanted it.
He knows his city inside and out, and doesn’t bother carrying a sword, trusting his wits and his fists well enough to get by, hustling extra coin by ratting out loathsome magi to the law for execution.
He and his sister, Lyra, have watched out for each other ever since the day they were orphaned by a bloodthirsty rogue sorcerer, and now they finally have steady work, good friends, and the freedom to spend every night laughing at the bottom of a bottle.
But nothing lasts forever.
When he stumbles across a brutal murder, Jathan discovers a strange crystal lens that opens his eyes to an invisible world of magick and terror lurking just beneath the surface of his own, making him question everything he thought he knew.
But will gazing into this new arcane realm lead Jathan to save lives, or help destroy them?
With dangerous people hunting for the lens, monstrous lies unraveling his life, and a hidden underworld calling to him, it is only a matter of time before his whole world comes crashing down.
Will he find the answers he is looking for, or will he only find a monster needing to be fed?
Rated-R Dark Fantasy Noir in a city of hope, lust, and brutality, where swords are banned, and magick is just as likely to get you killed as it is to save your life.
There are always things about ourselves that we don’t want to see.
There are always things we can’t stop doing no matter how hard we try.
We all lie. We all have secrets.
We are all feeding monsters. (Taken from Amazon)

The Monsters We Feed by Thomas Howard Riley has a heartbeat. It beats with anger, desperation, and something in between love and hate. The pages pulse with life in all its gritty messiness. The book is visceral and brutal, and utterly compelling.

Taking place in the same world as We Break Immortals (although you can absolutely read The Monsters We Feed as a standalone), the book starts with a bang. Well, actually it starts with the mention of a dead body, setting the tone from the first eleven words. This is not a happily ever after sort of fantasy. Rather, it is an R-rated look into the complexities of human nature. It’s full of sex (lots and lots of it) and violence (lots and lots of it), as well as characters that bypass “morally gray” and waltz right into “evil” territory.

Jathan, our main character, is an incredibly messed up person. He’s a bundle of anger wrapped in hard edges and lies told to himself and to others. His parents were killed when he was a child, leaving him with a loathing for magick. Years later, he lives with his sister Lyra in his family home (which she is desperate to leave). She is his rock, but he is her anchor, weighing her down and holding her back. Jathan happily uses her as an excuse for his less-than-savory actions, which include selling out any users of magick he comes across in exchange for money. His sweet sister deserves better, to be honest. So does her friend who inexplicably finds him attractive.

Jathan makes yet another in a string of bad decisions when he loots a dead body, finding a Jecker Monocle. This device allows him to see “traces” of magick, making it a heck of a lot easier to track down and sell out magick users. Of course, this brings a new brand of trouble as Jathan soon finds himself suspecting his sister of having a liaison with a hated magick user.

The magick in both The Monsters We Feed and We Break Immortals is incredible. It’s extremely complex but Riley describes it in a way that explains it without adding to confusion or making it boring. So much rides on Jathan’s feelings about magick and the way the Jecker Monocle is used that it was imperative to have a fully developed magic system. A vague idea or underdeveloped magic would not have worked. Luckily, Riley doesn’t do anything by halves. The magic- like the rest of the book- is fully formed, a living, breathing thing.

The fact that The Monsters We Feed is told solely from the point of view of such an unlikable character makes it even more interesting. Where Jathan lacks in charisma, he makes up for in layers upon layers of fear and grief masquerading as anger and sometimes even as love. His self-destruction is engrossing, although sometimes painful to read. I really felt sad for him at times.

Once you start reading a book like this, there’s no stopping or putting it down until you’ve turned the last page. The writing is excellent, the world is immersive, and the characters are fascinating. I’m not big on sex scenes in books (I know it’s odd that I am fine with fantasy violence, but book sex makes me uncomfortable; I never claimed to be normal), but everything else was awesome.

If you like fantasy that blurs the line between right and wrong, that has flawed characters with questionable morality and drags secrets usually hidden away into glaring light, The Monsters We Feed is for you.

*My review originally appeared on Before We Go Blog.