Today I’m delighted to spotlight The Exile of Zanzibar by Daniel Maidman. This book mixes fantasy and magic with history. The Exile of Zanzibar is an entrant in SPFBO 9, a yearly competition that features some of the best that self-published fantasy has to offer (let me tell you, I have found some incredible books through the SPFBO competitions). Check it out!
Claire built a device to fold space and time. It had a flaw…
When the smoke clears, she finds herself halfway across the world, thousands of years in the past, and no device in sight.
In bronze-age Florence, war has lasted for generations. All Claire wants to do is get home, but she’ll need help from the locals. She wins an ally in Marcus Diophantus, a pickpocket turned soldier turned general, who hopes to turn into something more than just her champion. Together, they broker peace between Florence and its enemy.
If Marcus is going to help Claire, he’ll have to survive. Peace has upset the balance of power in the capital city. The king stands increasingly alone against: the Constantines, a commercial enterprise as much as a clan, who aim to profit from peace as they have from war — the warrior nobles, descended from the founders of Florence and quick to turn against a weak throne – and Reburrus, the high priest of Florence, convinced Claire answers to hostile foreign gods. As the city comes to a boil, Claire and Marcus – and Marcus’s formidable army – will have to decide where their allegiance lies.
Claire becomes a reluctant participant in a savage campaign. While Marcus leads the battles, she tries to gain control of the unimaginably powerful Ctesiphôn – a ghost tower in the heart of Florence, shrouded in magic and myth. (Quoted from Amazon)
Daniel Maidman is an author and artist. His art is included in
the permanent collections of the Library of Congress Department of
Prints and Drawings and a number of American art museums. His art and writing on art have been featured in The Huffington Post, ARTnews, Forbes, W, and many others. The Exile of Zanzibar is his first novel.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild Court is available now.
One of the great things about fantasy, urban fantasy in particular, is how authors explore ideas such as empathy, humanity, mental health, and its effects, all while also including magic and monsters. Wild Court presents a remarkable dichotomy between reality and fantasy, guided by Matthew Samuels’ skillful hand.
The book has a few different points of view; one isn’t enough to contain the narrative. Each one moves the story or plot in a way that makes the novel more complete. While they are all great characters, my favorite is Ben. He’s an introverted bundle of anxiety who appreciates a quiet life. I can relate. At the same time, when an opportunity comes to help in the struggle against otherworldly dangers- which are becoming more present in this day and age- he is willing to do what he can. His friendship with the extremely flawed Matt adds a new layer to an already complicated character.
The plot is a lot to take in at first. There are historical artifacts, ancient societies, and violent spirits. Hang in there. As the book progresses, all is explained and it meshes together well into a creative whole. It is a book that requires trust and attention. Trust that the author is going to deliver a heck of a story (he nails it) and attention to the nuances of both the characters and narrative.
Wild Court begins with introductions to the main players, then moves on to explanations in the most fun of ways: a series of “tests” to decide if the characters are a good fit for the secret evil-battling group. It was a little reminiscent of the movie Men in Black, but just a little. During these tests and training scenes, more detail is given, both to the characters and the reader. It is a clever way to avoid an overload of information all at once.
The pace isn’t slow, but it does take the time it needs to introduce the world. It ramps up as the book continues, which makes sense with everything that ends up happening (no spoilers given, I promise). There’s a doozy of an ending, a major payoff for all that happens throughout.
I love that the characters didn’t immediately go from zero to hardcore, shedding their initial personalities. They remained who they were while also growing and developing throughout the book. Wild Court is a unique book, one of the rare ones which wonderfully combines great characters with creative prose.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is available now.
If you have read my blog for a while, you can probably guess what drew me to this book: I’m a sucker for books about books. The fact that it’s marketed as a mystery, as opposed to a slice of life, made me even more interested in reading The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Whew, that title is a mouthful!).
This book features Leisl, who has always been a quiet and experienced cog, taking care of rare books and leaving the prestige of the job to be gobbled up by others. When her boss has a stroke, she ends her sabbatical to take over in the interim, unexpectedly encountering both a theft and a disappearance which she winds up trying to solve.
Leisl is a slightly older main character, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Not that I have anything against younger main characters, but variety is the spice of life. Leisl’s more advanced age gave her a unique perspective not always found in books. She was also a bit of a doormat, which I went back and forth on. It gave an interesting dynamic, but there were a few times when I desperately wanted her to find a backbone. As a person who has been known to reach doormat status herself from time to time, I understand that this is often easier said than done.
While I expected a mystery, this book really is more of an exploration of character dynamics. There was quite a lot of time spent on relationships, how women are often viewed in the workplace, and a little bit on mental health. Normally, I appreciate mental health being talked about in books, but I felt that it was sort of thrown in and not done very well. That being said, while I didn’t expect the mystery aspect to take such a back seat, the time spent on other things wasn’t necessarily a waste. I personally would have just preferred the mystery to be a bit more of a mystery. I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more had it been marketed differently.
The writing was solid, although the pacing was slow. There weren’t any twists and by the end was I comfortably aware of where the book was going. The book kind of went back and forth between timelines, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. It jarred me out of the book on a few occasions, right when I was beginning to be invested.
It probably sounds like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It definitely wasn’t what I expected and I’m sure I would have liked the book much better had it matched the blurb, but it wasn’t poorly written. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections would be a good match for people not looking for an edge-of-your-seat mystery, who enjoy reading about workplace dynamics and the concerns of everyday life.
The Companions is the sixth book in the Meetings Sextet, a group of books that takes place prior to the Chronicles (although the Chronicles were written first and definitely should be read before the Meetings Sextet). It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one so I was curious how it would hold up.
The book starts with Sturm, Caramon, and Tas on an errand to collect a rare spell component for Raistlin. Their ship is overrun and they are captured by minotaurs who mistake Tas for an evil mage. An evil kender is a recipe for disaster of the funniest kind, and The Companions is worth reading to see that on its own.
It’s never been a favorite, so I was hoping mainly for an entertaining side trip into a fantasy world I love. The Companions has some issues with it, for sure. In fact, it ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. The reasoning behind Raistlin’s conclusions at the beginning is pretty weak sauce, but I could suspend disbelief. The thing that really bothered me were the number of inconsistencies between this book and the Chronicles. Each side novel is going to have some things that just don’t match. That happens when you have so many authors adding their stamp to a series. I do think that this book has a lot more than some of the other books, however. It was distracting and at least some of it should have been avoidable. For example, Raistlin already had his famous hourglass pupils despite not having taken the Test yet. Someone should have caught that rather egregious oversight.
The author’s writing is full of unbridled enthusiasm, though, which is infectious. The spirit behind the story is one of fun and adventure, and Tas is hilarious. I remember a conversation I had with some friends during which we mused on what an emo Tas would look like (black leggings with big buckles and spikes on all of his pouches are a must). This isn’t the same thing, but it’s still massively entertaining.
As for the rest of the book, I feel like it’s one of the weaker of the side novels. The dynamic between the characters isn’t quite there yet,and at times they look like nothing as much as caricatures of themselves, which is kind of a bummer. I remember liking another of Tina Daniel’s Dragonlance books, Marquesta Kar-Thon, much better. Maybe she felt more comfortable and confident writing a character that hadn’t already been so well developed by other authors, and that’s the difference.
There are some Dragonlance side books that work better than others and unfortunately this is a weaker offering. While I appreciated the author’s exuberance and commitment to adding to the story of the Heroes of the Lance, this just didn’t work for me. I don’t regret rereading it, but it isn’t one that I plan on revisiting again for a while.
The Companions is a good choice for those who plan to read every Dragonlance book or anyone who wants to chortle at Evil Tasselhoff. For the rest of you, put this one lower on your TBR.
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.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Magician and Fool is available now.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then I’ll read a book that leaves me a little bit confused. Magician and Fool was just such a book for me. I am left scratching my head a little at the description of the book vs the book that was written. The blurb seems to revolve the plot around a small aspect of the book, making it sound like a very different tale. I expected more of a fantastical tale with a small sprinkling of historical events or people. Instead, it is a fictional twist on historical characters and events with supernatural elements popping in.
Magician and Fool had a different cadence to its writing, and at times felt a little off-kilter. There was a lot of information to give, and, unfortunately, it led to some info dumping. It had a slow setup and at times I felt my attention wandering. The pacing was a victim of the author’s massive vision. I was surprised by how big her ideas were. There was a lot happening and things were implied that could have easily become separate books in their own right.
I also have zero experience with tarot decks, which means that things that would have emotional resonance for readers who understand that side of things just didn’t have the same effect on me. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Why on earth did you decide to read this book when you are obviously not the intended reader?”, which is a very valid question. I am not the right reader for this book.
Because of this, take my quibbles with a very large grain of salt.
The characters themselves were interesting and the book is definitely not like anything I’ve read before. Alas, this wasn’t a book I enjoyed reading.
A while ago, I was excited to discover a new series, one which drew me in from page one. The Barclan series is epic fantasy in every sense of the word with a story that builds, a world that is immersive (and huge!), and characters that are both flawed and utterly fascinating.
Well, book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, has gotten a makeover and the new cover is amazing! I thought I’d show it off, and encourage everyone to pick up this fantastic book. It’s perfect for fans of books featuring magic and monsters, meddling gods, prophecies that may or may not be realized, action aplenty, political maneuverings, and characters to become easily invested in.
That’s a lot for a cover to convey.
However, artist Danielle Jones manages it beautifully. Check it out!
“There once was a time when the world did not exist”.
The Four Gods of All, in contests of ageless vanity, brought the world into existence with song; their voices manifest as powers that shaped seas, lands, light, and life. And like the echo of a song heard on the edges of a storm, some of their power was left behind, seeping into the men and women shaped, and abandoned, by their creators.
In the high towers of Castle Kraner, the King has chosen to hide away, leaving the kingdom undefended, open to attack from men, monsters, and magic users. Watching the slow destruction of his kingdom from a court riddled with traitors, Prince Orren, despairing of his father’s wilful ignorance, must gather the men and women he believes will help him avert the war before it starts, to save his land before it needs saving. (Taken from Amazon)
It’s time for something new! I am familiar with author Dan Fitzgerald’s fantasy series: the Maer Cycle is unique and wonderfully written and Dan shows that the joy is in the journey with his beautiful and thoughtful prose.
Well, Dan is tackling a new type of book: fantasy romance. While I am inexperienced in this subgenre, I know that those of you who like your books on the steamy side are in for a treat! Unpainted is a standalone romance that takes place in the universe of the Weirdwater Confluence. While there are cameos from previous books, you don’t need to have read them to dive right into Unpainted.
Would you like to see the amazing cover, also created by the author (seriously, what can’t he do)?
In the hermetic society of the Painted Faces, pale, unblemished skin is rewarded with station, wealth, and power.
Tera would almost rather go unpainted than enter into an arranged marriage with a total stranger, but that would mean giving up the only life she’s ever known. Not to mention her share of her family’s Pureline fortune.
She’d always thought love was a fairy tale and sex a joyless chore, but the alternative might be worse.
Enter Aven, a soft buttercup of a man, the kindest and most considerate person she’s ever met. A tropical honeymoon awaits, and with the help of her intimacy consultant, Tera is determined to make the best of this awkward ritual. Amid the island breezes, she and her new spouse form a bond neither of them knew they were capable of.
But trouble stirs beneath the polite veneer of the Painted Faces’ society, threatening to tear them—and their entire world—apart.
Unpainted is a queer arranged marriage fantasy romance, a standalone in the Weirdwater Confluence universe. It features a dual POV, magical currency shenanigans, and inordinate amounts of steamy, fluffy goodness with a soft femdom dynamic. Coming June 30, 2023.
About the author:
About the author
I am a fantasy and romance author living in Washington, DC with my wife, twin boys, and two cats. When I am not writing, I might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.
I write fantasy in part because the state of the world demands an escape, but also because fantasy provides another lens through which to view what we are living now. Part mirror, part magnifying glass, part prism.
I write romance because we need more love in the world, and sometimes we need to know things will work out in the end.
What you will find in my books: Mystery. Darkness. Wonder. Action. Romance. Otherness examined and deconstructed. Queer and straight characters living and fighting side by side. Imaginary creatures and magic with a realistic touch.
What you won’t find: Pointless violence. Sexual assault. Unquestioned sexism or discrimination. Evil races. Irredeemable villains. Predestined heroes. An ancient darkness that threatens to overspread the land.
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.
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).
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A NecromancerCalled Gam Gam will be available on May 30th.
I can honestly say that I’ve never had a favorite necromancer character. It’s not like necromancers are dead to me or anything (I’ll stop with the ill-advised jokes from here on out), I’ve just never felt strongly about one before. That has changed with A Necromancer CalledGam Gam. I now have a favorite necromancer. A necromancer who not only raises the dead but makes sure they’re bundled up in the warmest of knitted goods can’t help but endear herself to me.
This novella starts with a desperate race through the woods. Mina, a twelve-year-old girl, finds herself being pursued by a sergeant and his men. She has an ability that he wants-I’ll leave it to the reader to discover what it is. When Mina stumbles across Gam Gam’s camping spot, we are introduced to an indomitable grandmotherly type. The sergeant gets more than he bargained for in Gam Gam and Mina.
A Necromancer Called Gam Gam is fabulous. The characters are all wonderful, well-written, and utterly unique. Mina is the anchor of the story, driving the emotion and plot forward. She develops quickly, a nuanced character experiencing loss and uncertainty, flavored by strong feelings of guilt. Through her eyes, the reader will experience a journey from regret and grief to sorrow tempered by gratitude and peace.
Gam Gam is flat-out fantastic! Yes, she raises the dead and her carriage is pulled by a pair of very dead horses, but she also bakes delicious cookies and knits colorful scarves and hats for each shambling corpse (even though they really don’t need them). It almost made me want to attempt knitting again, despite my disastrous last attempt. She could have become a caricature, underdeveloped and there solely for smiles. However, she is so much more. Her story arc is touching and elevates this novella from good to great.
Add in some memorable side characters, including an undead cat named Nugget, and you’ve got a wildly entertaining tale. The ending was perfect, satisfying, and a bit of a tear-jerker. I’m looking forward to reading more from author Adam Holcombe.
A Necromancer Called Gam Gam will take you a short amount of time to read, but it’ll stay with you for much longer. This isn’t one to miss.