Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Kyle Lockhaven

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy. Today, I’m privileged to be able to feature Kyle Lockhaven, author of The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse.

Comedic fantasy is kind of niche, and we kind of like it that way. Of course we comedic fantasy authors wouldn’t exactly scoff at the idea of writing best-sellers or buying luxurious beach houses with the money from our book sales, but I think most of us are resigned to the idea that such things are not to be seen in the crystal balls of this world. And now I’ve invoked the idea of the world having balls, and it’s only the first paragraph. Oops.

My path to writing humorous fantasy is a strange one. Not many people know this, but I started out my writing “career” many years ago. My first book was a serious story that fell somewhere in between Middle Grade and Young Adult. My second was an historical fiction, and my third was a crime drama type thing. I kept trying to find “my thing,” and although I loved each of my books, they all lacked…something.

My editor, and the few beta readers I had (my mom, brother, and one friend) all told me the same things. The best parts of my books were the moments of levity and humor. Also, I wrote a fantasy element into the crime story, and they said that part was really good. I had loved fantasy growing up, but, for some stupid reason, I was reluctant to write in the genre.

When not writing, I work as a firefighter at a nuclear site, and I always wanted to satirize the ridiculous governmental bureaucracy there, but I could never find the right angle. Then one day, I thought, “What if this site was here to conjure a dragon from another world?” The silliness of it really took me, and the ideas began to flow. I dropped the idiotic pretense and embraced the silliness of it all, and all of the fun fantasy elements, too.

I had been trying way too hard to be cool, when the best thing I could do was to just be the goofball that I was.

The thing is, I always loved comedic fantasy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was and is the funniest thing ever, in my opinion. I love the silly social commentary, as well as the complete nonsense. And when I discovered Terry Pratchett, I realized that sort of thing could be consumed in book form, too. But the Discworld books were imbued with deeper meaning, and even more biting social commentary.

All (or at least the vast majority) of us comedic fantasy authors look up to Sir Terry Pratchett, the godfather of the genre. But we have branched off from him in so many different ways. I was heavily inspired by The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which manifested its humor through the snark of the titular (huh, huh) character. Most of the humor in my books comes from the interaction between characters who are being a bit snarky to each other. Other authors, like Sean Gibson, are kings of puns and clever wordplay, while others, like Bjørn Larssen, are able to somehow bind deep, philosophical topics together with the silliness, and others, like Quenby Olson, use subtle snark, societal observations, and fourth wall breaking to hilarious effect.

I am in the middle of posting a series of interviews about humor in books on my little blog. One of the questions I have asked everyone is, “On a scale from 1 to 10, what level of humor do you usually like to read?” The answers have varied, but I would say the average is right around a 4. That has made me wonder, what level does a book have to be at to be considered Comedic Fantasy?

Many people site Joe Abercrombie when talking about humor in fantasy. His books are the definition of Grimdark, but they’re infused with a lot of humor. I’ve heard people say the humor level is a 3 or 4.

If I had to be honest, I would rank my last book (The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex) at a 7 or 8. And I fully realize that it is WAY too much for a lot of people. That’s one thing I’ve come to learn about writing humorous fantasy; it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay, because it makes me feel a strong bond with the readers who do like my humor.

It’s tough to “break out” as an author of comedic fantasy. One of the biggest success stories was Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, which won SPFBO in 2018. Another was Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames, which currently has 3,697 reviews on Amazon. But those kinds of books are few and far between.

Personally, I’m happy to have any kind of following, and I hope to thoroughly entertain the readers I have found and have yet to find. I want to make them laugh, and think, and even feel while turning the pages of my books. I might not ever grab the world by the crystal balls, but I’ll have a lot of fun reaching for them. Er, let me try that again. I may never reach Mr. Eames’ level of success, but I will have a lot of fun reaching for it!

About the author:

KRR (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven writes fun, humorous fantasy with ever-increasing infusions of heart. His first book, The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse, can be found here https://www.amazon.com/Conjuring-Zoth-Avarex-Self-Proclaimed-Greatest-Multiverse/dp/1098351509/  He recently signed a three-book deal with Shadow Spark Publishing, and his page can be found here: https://shadowsparkpub.com/krr-lockhaven

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more. (taken from Amazon)

Featuring one of the most delightfully messed-up main characters I’ve read in a while, Book of Night is both wickedly clever and dangerously entertaining.

In a world where “quickened” shadows can be shifted according to the wearer’s mood, Charlie Hall’s shadow is disappointingly ordinary. It does not grow, act of its own accord, or shift on its own. That’s a good thing, since she has enough on her plate as it is. The thing is, Charlie Hall has never seen a bad decision that she isn’t willing to make. Con artist, thief, barista, and certified disaster, trouble has a habit of finding Charlie. To be fair, she doesn’t do all that much to avoid it. Ostensibly done with conning and stealing, Charlie nonetheless works in a bar that crime likes to frequent, she dates a man whose day job is cleaning up the messes left by violence, and she has a knack for upsetting the wrong people.

In a world such as that, it is inevitable that Charlie would be sucked back into a life of conning and stealing. This time the stakes are much higher: Charlie has to find a way to hopefully con her way out of a situation where every solution seems to spell death. The entirety of Book of Night is planned pandemonium, and I was hooked.

This is Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, having garnered a huge fanbase in Young Adult fantasy. While Black’s signature twists and turns are present, the relationships are much more established, allowing me to enjoy the nuances of the characters without being distracted by relationship woes. Don’t get me wrong; as with everything else in her life, Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince follows the path of most resistance. However, the complications lie in the characters themselves, as opposed to their relationship status. In fact, seeing how Charlie interacted with the people around her was an excellent mirror into the morass of her rather messed-up psyche.

The story is sprinkled with scenes from the characters’ pasts, better developing both their personalities and the world. And it is such a cool world! Manipulators of shadows, known as gloamists, use their shadows to grasp at power, some legally and some otherwise. The wielders of power are fantastical, but the way the power is used to manipulate and control is completely familiar and believable.

There is always something going on, but never at the cost of the plot. The twists seemed to come out of nowhere, yet when I traced back the scenes in the book, the clues were right in front of me. The ending is fantastic, perfectly messy, instead of being tied into an overly neat little bow. While there could be a sequel, which I would gladly read, I almost hope that it is a standalone because the ending hit so well. Book of Night is an exciting urban fantasy from an author who can easily conquer any genre she chooses to write in.

*This review was originally posted in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

We Cry for Blood by Devin Madson

Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. She’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. We Cry for Blood is available now.

The machinations! The backstabbing! The violence! The wit! Author Devin Madson has mastered it all in the latest installment in The Reborn Empire series. There is a lot going on in this book (and I mean a lot), yet it was never disorganized. Instead, I felt that everything is leading toward the sort of conclusion that blows the mind.

We Cry for Blood continues to follow the four characters from previous novels:  Dishiva e’Jaroven and Rah e’Torin, Empress Miko Ts’ai, and Cassandra Marius. Each character has their own story arc, which could be confusing in lesser hands than Madson’s, but somehow never is. That is saying something, because I often struggle with keeping larger plotlines straight. In this case, the sheer amount of detail serves to broaden the world and make the story even more compelling. Everything happens on an epic scale, while at the same time feeling incredibly personal.

This is one of those great series where my favorite character seems to change book by book. In We Cry for Blood, Dishiva stood out to me. Her point of view reminded me that, while so much is happening on a grand scale, things are also incredibly important on a smaller, yet no-less-important level. Her challenges seem nearly insurmountable, but the fighting spirit exists all the same. Usually in books with multiple viewpoints, there’s that one that just isn’t interesting to me, but I didn’t have that problem here. Each character was compelling in their own way.

This series continues to completely ignore the usual expectations in a fantasy novel, and I love it! As much as I love the classic fantasy feel, I also really appreciate how broad the spectrum of fantasy is, and seeing it stretched into new and exciting directions is beyond exciting. The Reborn Empire is well on its way to being the sort of fantasy series that readers of the genre “must” read. In fact, I would argue that it is already there.

This is not a series that can be understood if you start in book three. However, I guarantee you’ll want to read the entire series. It is truly excellent.

Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed by Maleleine Roux

Welcome to Dungeon Academy, where monsters and creatures train for the dark world that awaits just beyond the dungeon walls! But Zellidora “Zelli” Stormclash is a bit—different. She’s the one thing monsters and creatures of the Forgotten Realms fear the most: Zelli is a human!
Knowing she’ll never be accepted, Zelli’s parents disguise her as a minotaur in hopes she’ll blend with the academy’s monstrous surroundings. Zelli does her work, keeps to herself, and becomes “invisible” to everyone. 
While in History of Horrible Humans class, Zelli learns of the great human adventurer, Allidora Steelstrike, who oddly resembles her. Could Zelli also be a Steelstrike? Seeking answers to her true lineage, Zelli embarks on a dangerous adventure.
But she won’t be alone. A vegan owlbear, a cowardly kobold, and a shapeshifting mimic will join Zelli on her quest for truth in a world that holds no place for them. And who knows? Perhaps these monstrous misfits may discover some truths of their own . . . (taken from Amazon)

Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).

The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!

Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.

The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.

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.

Tomes, Scones and Crones by Colleen Gleason

At forty-eight, Jacqueline Finch has a nice, easy life with few responsibilities: she’s been a librarian in Chicago for twenty-five years, she doesn’t have a husband, children, or pets, and she’s just coasting along, enjoying her books and a small flower garden now that she’s over the hill.
That is, until the Universe (helped by three old crones) has other ideas.
All at once, Jacqueline’s staid (and boring) life is upended, and the next thing she knows, she’s heading off to Button Cove to start a new life as the owner of Three Tomes Bookshop.
The bookstore is a darling place, and Jacqueline is almost ready to be excited about this new opportunity…until Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Danvers show up. Somehow, the literary characters of Sherlock Holmes’s landlady and Rebecca deWinter’s creepy and sardonic housekeeper are living persons who work at the bookshop (when they aren’t bickering with each other). Not only does Jacqueline have to contend with them—and the idea that people regularly eat pastries while reading books in her store!—but the morning after she arrives, the body of a dead man is found on her property.
Things start to get even more strange after that: Jacqueline is befriended by three old women who bear a startling resemblance to the Witches Three from Macbeth, an actual witch shows up at her bookshop and accuses Jacqueline of killing her brother, and the two women who own businesses across the street seem determined to befriend Jacqueline.
And then there’s the police detective with the very definite hot-Viking vibe who shows up to investigate the dead body…
The next thing Jacqueline knows, her staid and simple life is no longer quiet and unassuming, and she’s got crones, curses, and crocodiles to deal with.
And when a new literary character appears on the scene…things start to get even more hairy and Jacqueline is suddenly faced with a horrible life and death situation that will totally push her out of her comfort zone…if she’s brave enough to let it.
After all, isn’t forty-eight too late for an old dog to learn new tricks? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Tomes, Scones and Crones is available now.

This is a cozy mystery with a supernatural twist. What drew me in, of course, was the bookstore setting. Unfortunately, while I did find parts of the book entertaining, it didn’t quite keep my attention throughout.

While I thought Jacqueline was a good main character, I really didn’t care for the way her character was introduced. Instead of showing the reader who she is we are told, unfortunately, with a quick “about the character” sort of introduction at the beginning, I wasn’t given the chance to really appreciate who she was before being given her history and as a result I was not overly invested. However, once things got going, that eased up a little and I was able to just get to know an interesting character. I did like that she was a little older, instead of being a twenty-something. It allowed her character to develop in ways that are outside what I have seen in many books recently.

The kitties were snarktastic (as most cats are), but the other characters seemed a little disjointed to me. My favorite part of the book was the bookstore. In fact, I really could take or leave the rest of the book. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t for me. It felt a little too fluffy, if that makes sense. I think a nice, cozy mystery has a ton of potential (especially in a year like this one), but something just seemed to be missing. I can’t put my finger on what. Perhaps I wanted a little bit more substance to my fluff.

At the end of the day, Tomes, Scones and Crones was rather forgettable. While it wasn’t for me, it was cute and would be a good rainy day read for readers who like a very sweet, lighthearted book.

Operation 2021: Success! (or Favorite Books from this Year)

This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.

*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)

“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. 

“The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.”

Review

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

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

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

“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”

Review

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

 “This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
 
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
 
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
 
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
 
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”

Review

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 no idiot, despite 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)

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”

Review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

“…insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

Review

Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt

Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.

Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi

What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)

“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “

Review

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

” The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.”

Review

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)

” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”

Review

Blood Stew by Todd Sullivan

In a world of swords and sorcery, illusionist Kim Nam-Gi has a dream: to become a hero.
Born in the land of South Hanguk, cursed with a malformed spine, Nam-Gi longs to prove his worth against dragons and monsters. Instead, he toils in his family’s restaurant while studying advanced spells under the tutelage of a Dark Elf.
When his father, Kim Joo-Won, goes deep into debt in an attempt to attract new customers to their struggling restaurant, Nam-Gi is once again denied permission to put his name forward on the governor’s registry. Joo-Won needs him for the restaurant, and a greedy money lender hovers over them with the aim to keep the Kim family in perpetual debt.
Desperate to solve their financial woes, Nam-Gi uses magic to trick customers into believing that the restaurant’s meager bottom feeders are actually carp and abalone. If he can keep up the deception, his family might prosper enough to escape the lender. Then his father may grant him permission to abandon his post at the restaurant and take the challenge of a quest.
A perfect opportunity soon arrives. On the other side of South Hanguk, two fishermen discover a corpse with strange leathery wings drifting in the sea. They haul the body back to the village. Tragedy ensues when their unexpected catch proves to be more terrifying than anything they could have imagined.
The governors of South Hanguk seek out adventurers who can slay the monster that now terrorizes the besieged fisherfolk. Will Nam-Gi be allowed to roam across wild lands and wander through dark forests to vanquish this threat? Can he push his crippled body beyond the limits that have plagued him since birth?

Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Blood Stew is available now.

This is book three in the Windshine Chronicles. However, it feels very different compared to the first two, with more time spent on setup and development. It could probably be read as a standalone, but I would suggest reading the other books in the series simply because they’re good.

Blood Stew follows Nam-Gi, who dreams of swords instead of ladles. He was born with a twisted spine and, instead of embarking on the adventure he desires, he works in his family’s restaurant. Eventually, Nami-Gi is thrust into the adventure he dreams of, although it is far different than what he expected.

This book had a slower start with more of a buildup than the previous two books in the series. However, that gave me time to appreciate the worldbuilding and the details that author Todd Sullivan uses to bring everything to life. It also made Nam-Gi an extremely well-developed character, which I appreciate.

Blood Stew ramps up to an exciting conclusion, while at the same time fleshing out a creative and beautiful world. Todd Sullivan’s writing continues to evolve and grow, bringing new and fascinating layers to his Windshine Chronicles.

The Isle of a Thousand Worlds Cover Reveal: Storytellers on Tour

Today I’m pleased to be able to join Storytellers on Tour in revealing the, frankly amazing, cover of The Isle of a Thousand Worlds by Dan Fitzgerald. Dan Fitzgerald has also written the Maer Cycle and The Living Waters, all available for purchase now.

Before showing off this beautiful book, what’s it about?

An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart. 

A meditation acolyte travels the mystical social media known as the Caravan and finds that the Thousand Worlds lie just below the surface, if she can only learn to see the space between the stars. 

This steamy romantic fantasy explores the confluence of the physical and the metaphysical through the commingling of bodies and minds.

So, are you ready for this? Here it is:

Wow!

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), both from Shadow Spark Publishing. 

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

Website: https://www.danfitzwrites.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/ Book Purchase Link: https://shadowsparkpub.com/dan-fitzgerald