Sacaran Nights by Rachel Emma Shaw

SACARA IS DECAYING. THE DEAD WALK THE STREETS, FUNGI LIGHT THE NIGHT, AND DAGNER MUST FIGHT TO KEEP THE ROT AT BAY.
Legacy is everything in Sacara. Those few who inherit live only to keep theirs alive, protecting the ghosts of their ancestors from the corruption seeping into every corner of the city.
Dagner longs to leave – to create a legacy for himself and see the world beyond – but he is trapped by an inheritance that was never meant to be his. When a figure from his past returns to claim the legacy Dagner has sworn to protect, he must decide if he will forge his own path, or stay and make the sacrifices needed to save the city of the dead.

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sacaran Nights will be available for purchase on October 28th.

Rachel Emma Shaw is the author of Last Memoria, an incredibly unique book which has stayed with me since I first read it (review here). I am delighted but not at all surprised that Sacaran Nights continues in this vein with multiple layers begging to be peeled back and examined.

The book follows Dagner, a contradiction in sorts. Dagner is a figure at odds with himself. He struggles with his desire to be an upstanding member of a community that only sees him as worthy of their attention because of the inheritance he wasn’t supposed to have. Part of him longs to live up to their expectations and succeed them. In a city where death is everywhere and the dead are celebrated and revered, he wants to make his ancestors proud. He wants to be the perfect match for his fiancé, whom he loves in the worshipful way that might eventually prove to be unhealthy. Another part of him, however, loathes Sacara and all that it is. He hates the dark, the fungus rot, the society that would normally never accept him. That part of him wants desperately to leave.

I loved how Dagner’s warring desires were played out in his relationships. His fiancé, Revana, represented what he saw as the good and pure part of himself. He seemed to always see himself as not quite good enough for her, just as he felt like he was lying about who he was. His friend Merany allowed him the freedom to be himself, question, and show anger at the society that discards those they deem not important. Dagner is easily one of the most complex and believable characters I’ve read recently. He was often plagued by self-doubt and indecision, regret, and bitterness at the hand life dealt him, but at the same time his actions showed a person who has not given up or given in. Dagner was wonderful.

The world itself was a fascinating one, dark and alien. There were descriptions of different fungi at the beginning of each chapter which I thought was interesting, especially since the names and descriptions changed based on the area. I also thought the variety of fungi was pretty cool. It seemed like the sort of dangerous that is really pretty. It lent an atmosphere of lurking sadness to the book.

The author’s writing style won’t be for everyone. Instead of giving a detailed background of what everything is and why it functions the way it does, the reader is put right in the middle of the world and given information as the book progresses. I personally love this sort of writing, as I am not at all a fan of info dumping. It does demand attention, though, or you will get lost. The first bit of the book is slower, but it is far from boring. It gave me time to become fully immersed in both the characters’ lives and their struggles.

As much as I enjoyed Last Memoria, I thought Sacaran Nights was even better. It brilliantly utilized the fantasy genre to explore grief, loss, and regret in ways both beautiful and raw. I highly recommend it.

When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards 2) by Janella Angeles

The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is front-page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now missing and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means unearthing secrets that lead him on a treacherous journey, risking more than his life and with no promise of return.

After falling through the mirror, Kallia has never felt more lost, mourning everything she left behind and the boy she can’t seem to forget. Only Jack, the magician who has all the answers but can’t be trusted, remains at her side. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, ruled by a powerful showman who’s been waiting for Kallia to finally cross his stage. But beneath the glamour of dueling headliners and never-ending revelry, a sinister force falls like night over everyone, with the dark promise of more―more power beyond Kallia’s wildest imagination, and at a devastating cost.

The truth will come out, a kingdom must fall, hearts will collide.

And the show must finally come to an end. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. When Night Breaks is available now. This is the second book in the duology. You can find my review for book one, Where Dreams Descend, here.

When Night Breaks was not the exciting ending to the Kingdom of Cards duology that I was hoping for. It continues on right where book one leaves off, which should have made the story easy to fall into, but instead it felt a little lackluster. There was more magic, more twists, more glitter…but there didn’t seem to really be purpose or reason to it.

Kallia finds herself in a situation that is dangerous and darker than we see in book one, which should have led to some character development. I’ll be honest: I didn’t love her in Where Dreams Descend, but she was prickly in an interesting way. Unfortunately, she seemed to have lost her self-confidence, instead retreating into herself in a way that wasn’t just counter to who she was in the previous installment, but also a little uninteresting. I appreciated her independent nature in book one and was a little bummed to see less of that. However, there was more of Jack who continued to be fascinating and dynamic. I’m a big fan of morally complex characters and he definitely fit the bill.

The other characters that I enjoyed in Where Dreams Descend didn’t really keep me enthralled this time around. It could be that they all worked better when they were able to interact with each other. Or maybe the situations they were in didn’t play to their flaws or strengths in a way that kept them interesting. I am not sure, but something just didn’t click for me. That being said, there were a couple of additions that I really enjoyed.

The world was cool, and I enjoyed seeing more of its hazy debauchery. Everything was overtly glamorous, with a hint of something off underneath, which was fantastic. I loved the feelings and images that were brought out in the world descriptions. That was the strength of this book. Sometimes a book’s worldbuilding suffers in the second installment, but here it continued to grow and amaze. At the end of the day, though, When Night Breaks felt a little disorganized. The author is obviously talented, but this book just didn’t quite pan out for me.

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. (taken from Amazon)

The Hawthorne Legacy is a sequel to The Inheritance Games ( you can find my review of that book here) and there are some unavoidable spoilers to book one below. You have been warned!

Ah, where to start with this book? After finding The Inheritance Games to be a rollicking good treasure hunt complete with riddles and double-crossing, The Hawthorne Legacy was left with some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me.

While the spirit of the series was alive and kicking, a good chunk of the book seemed a little disorganized. After solving the riddles and thwarting the plots in book one, Avery is left trying to navigate the newfound “responsibilities” that come with her fortune, while at the same time trying to find Tobias Hawthorne. He seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving very little in the way of how to find him. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery involving Avery’s mom, and then Avery’s dad shows up…see what I mean about it being a little disorganized? Some of the threads end up tying together while others seem to fade into the background without there ever really being a resolution.

The mystery was not particularly compelling to me, simply because the reveals were often found in letters etc, as opposed to being cleverly puzzled out. The reader wasn’t given all the clues needed to solve the puzzles along with the characters, which was a bummer for me. I love getting the solution and having a “Why didn’t I see that?” moment. I didn’t really get the chance for that here.

That’s not to say The Hawthorne Legacy didn’t have its fun moments. It most definitely did. Avery’s best friend became a larger part of the storyline, which I loved. Her spunk and individuality were a breath of lighthearted fresh air and her interactions with Xander in particular were a lot of fun. She also gave us a window into the thoughts of the other characters, as she would demand details that wouldn’t otherwise have been given. She pushed the story along when it seemed to start to falter.

The relationship complications became more of an issue, which is most definitely not my jam. The love triangle might actually appeal to a lot of readers because it was done in a pretty classy way, considering. It’s just not my thing.

So, what did I think of the mystery? I felt that, while it was creative and led to lots of tense moments, the way it was done changed this book from a mysterious puzzler to a thriller. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it was unexpected. The Inheritance Games had a bit of a Knives Out vibe in my opinion. The Hawthorne Legacy went in a much different direction.

While it ended up not quite being my thing, the book is still well written and the characters are still interesting enigmas. Avery’s best friend Max stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments with the other characters too. We are shown more of the relationship dynamic between the brothers, particularly between Jameson and Grayson, which I thought was fantastic. Even though they are extremely competitive and often work at cross purposes, it was clear they care about each other.

The Inheritance Games is a blast to read and I still recommend it. The Hawthorne Legacy was a bit of a letdown, but I might be in the minority in my final takeaway. I suggest you give it a go yourself and tell me why my opinion is wrong.

Have you read it? What did you think?

The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child Trilogy book 3) by R.J. Barker


Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lay shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge. Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child, he takes every opportunity to hurt the Hundred Isles he is given. But his time is limited.

His fleet is shrinking, the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body, and he hiding from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer will end the entire world.

But the Sea Dragons have returned, a miracle in itself, and who is to say that if you can have one miracle, there cannot be another? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Bone Ship’s Wake is available for purchase now.

Every now and again a series comes along that completely wrecks me, in the very best way. The Bone Ship’s Wake perfectly ended a series that surprised, touched, thrilled, and saddened me (the author is not nice to his characters). It was an emotional roller coaster, one that was so well written that I was constantly astonished.

It is difficult to review the final book in a series without accidentally giving spoilers. I’ll be as vague as possible, but warning: There be spoilers ahead!

The Bone Ship’s Wake wraps up the story started in Call of the Bones Ships (book one) magnificently. Joron is doing everything he can, and then some, to rescue Meas. He is now the leader of the entire black fleet. He is called the Black Pirate and has gained quite the reputation for being a bloodthirsty murderer. Joron is desperate. He is violent. He is fantastic. I loved his character development. He is scared, angry, and lonely. He is incredibly human. He feels the weight of everything that has happened and everything he fears will happen and- despite this- he somehow keeps going.

As always, each character was well written and a great addition to the story. I love found families, and that’s exactly what we have here. A ragtag group, to be sure, but that made the relationships and the characters’ interactions even better.

I would love to say that Barker’s writing is “even better in this book”, but how can you improve upon magnificence? There is not a single misstep and Barker happily took my feelings and stomped all over them. How dare you, sir (and thank you for devastating me with your storyline)!

The pacing was fantastic, each word placed with care. There’s violence galore, but there are also introspective moments that I found to be even more riveting. The story moved at a great pace, not too slow, but not so quickly that details or important plot points were discarded.

If you’re looking for a books with happily ever afters for each character, keep looking. This series will not be for you. However, The Bone Ship’s Wake brilliantly ended a series that was both brutal and beautiful. Yes, that seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I promise it makes sense. Go into the final book expecting to cry.

I highly recommend this series.

Remnants edited by Stephen Coghlan

Strange clouds on the horizon herald the coming of the swarm. The undulating masses of the hoard cannot be stopped. Terrifying creatures roam the Earth, seemingly with no aim but to devour all that stands before them. Experience the end of the world as we know it with these fourteen tales of horror, survival, and hope. The world ends in a frenzy of death and miasma of terror, but what will become of the remnants of humanity?
Fourteen tales of post-apocalyptic survival horror! (taken from Amazon)

Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.

The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.

I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.

Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.

There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.

“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.

Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.

Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.

The Love-Haight Case Files book 2 by Jean Rabe and Donald J. Bingle- Book Tour

Supernatural beings are willing to fight for their legal rights!

Since the Summer of Love, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco has been known for attracting weird and unconventional souls, but things got even stranger when the monsters moved in. 

Magic has returned to the world and with it a host of supernatural creatures—not just vampires and ghosts, but sentient gargoyles, ghouls, sprites, faeries, and more. The frightened citizenry, holier-than-thou bigots, headline-seeking reporters, and harried police refer to them as OTs (Other-Than-Humans), but Thomas Brock and Evelyn Love believe even supernatural creatures have legal rights. 

Delve into their case files for a genre-bending mix of mystery, horror, suspense, thrills, courtroom drama, and romance. The city’s OT element is sometimes malevolent, sometimes misunderstood, and often discriminated against. Brock and Love represent them all, dead, undead, or alive—whatever the case, whatever the species. 
**Winner of three prestigious Silver Falchion Awards **

for mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels: Best Fantasy, Best Urban Fantasy, and Best Multi-Genre Novel. 

I’m excited to be joining a book tour for The Love-Haight Case Files book 2, an urban fantasy like no other.

Smart and fast-moving, The Love-Haight Case Files (#2) was loads of fun! Book two follows Evelyn Love and co. as they try to solve a case with pieces missing (quite literally, as zombies are involved). The tongue-in-cheek humor combined with just the right amount of action to create a book that drew me in and kept me highly entertained.

The reader is treated to a world where humans and OTs (other-than humans) exists more or less symbiotically. While OTs have their own sets of obstacles to overcome, they aren’t actively hunted- at least not normally. So when a group of zombies is kidnapped (body-snatched?) while leading what can best be described as an interactive tourist walk, lawyer Thomas Brock and Evelyn Love take on the case.

One thing that really stood out to me while reading The Love-Haight Case Files is the creativity the authors put into both their world and the characters in it. The way the OTs interact both with humans and society is incredibly clever. Take the missing zombies, for example. Before being snatched up, they ran what could best be described as a tour walk- meets haunted house, where they “chased” human tourists who pay for the experience of running from the shuffling, brain-eating undead. That idea just made me smile.

And the characters! They are so much fun. From the corporeally challenged Thomas Brock, to Pete the World of Warcraft-loving gargoyle, each character was a blast to read about. I loved how Pete contributed to breaking the case open. It was both hilarious and nasty. In fact, he might have been my favorite character, although I was also a fan of the werewolf P.I.

The mystery itself was well-thought out, and it was fun watching the characters solve the who and the why. While I enjoyed the villains, the core group of characters were so much fun that the whodunnit part of things was just icing on the cake.

In one way, The Love-Haight Case Files is very much a mystery thriller. In another, it’s a delightful urban fantasy. Either way you look at it, it’s a highly entertaining book.

About the book:

ASIN: B098K6SG49
Publisher: Craig Martelle, Inc (September 20, 2021)
Publication date: September 20, 2021
Language: English
Genre: Paranormal Mystery Thriller
Check it Out on Amazon:http://mybook.to/LoveHaightBk2

About the authors:

Jean Rabe:

USA Today best-seller, Jean Rabe’s impressive writing career spans decades, starting as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief.
From there she went on to become the director of RPGA, a co-editor with Martin H. Greenberg for DAW books, and, most notably, Rabe is an award-winning author of more than forty science fiction/fantasy and murder mystery thrillers.
She writes mysteries and fantasies, because life is too short to be limited to one genre–and she does it with dogs tangled at her feet, because life is too short not to be covered in fur.
Find out more about her at http://www.jeanrabe.com, on social media, or sign-up for her newsletter here: https://jeanrabe.com/sign-up-for-my-newsletter/

Donald J. Bingle

Donald J. Bingle is the author of eight books and more than sixty shorter works in the horror, thriller, science fiction, mystery, fantasy, steampunk, romance, comedy, and memoir genres, including the Dick Thornby Thriller series (Net Impact; Wet Work; Flash Drive), Frame Shop, a murder mystery set in a suburban writers’ group, Forced Conversion, a near future scifi thriller, GREENSWORD, a darkly comedic eco-thriller and (with Jean Rabe) The Love-Haight Case Files, Books 1 & 2, a paranormal urban fantasy series about two lawyers who represent the legal rights of supernatural creatures in a magic-filled San Francisco. He also edited Familiar Spirits, an anthology of ghost stories. More on Don and his writing can be found at www.donaldjbingle.com and on social media. Sign-up for his newsletter here: https://www.donaldjbingle.com/newsletter-sign-up

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. (taken from Amazon)

If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.

The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.

The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?

The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If We Were Villains.

There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.

It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.

I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.

If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?

The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.

Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.

The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.

I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.

Sistersong by Lucy Holland

In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, there is old magic to be found in the whisper of the wind, the roots of the trees, the curl of the grass. King Cador knew this once, but now the land has turned from him, calling instead to his three children. Riva can cure others, but can’t seem to heal her own deep scars. Keyne battles to be accepted for who he truly is—the king’s son. And Sinne dreams of seeing the world, of finding adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky. It brings with it Myrdhin, meddler and magician. And Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne—three siblings entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, who must fight to forge their own paths. 

Their story will shape the destiny of Britain. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sistersong will be available on October fifth.

Sistersong is a study in contradictions. Beautiful but brutal. Sad but hopeful. Large but intensely personal. I suppose that it only makes sense that my impressions would be rather contradictory as well.

The book tells a tale of change, of the way a single choice can turn a world on its head. Riva, Keyne, and Sinne are three siblings, each with their own struggles and desires. Keyne wants to be accepted for who he is, but is struggling against the preconceptions of others. Riva considers herself “broken” after a childhood accident and it colors her choices. Sinne longs for something more than her daily routine. Together, these three might either lose- or save- their people and themselves.

The tone was set from the get-go. The reader is introduced to a land and time that is divided, with older traditions being assimilated into the newer ones started by the arrival of Christianity. There was an interesting give and take between the old and the new, with the struggle being represented by two very different and distinct characters: Mrydhin, magician of legend; and Gildas, the Christian priest. While I found the struggle between the old and the new interesting, I was also a little disappointed. The changing of religions and cultures can be fascinating, but instead of a nuanced exploration of the meaning behind the changes and the possible ramifications, Gildas was reduced to a typical villain. I would have liked to see a more complex range of motivations for his actions, instead of seeing the old magic as “good” and the new religion as “bad”. That being said, Mrydhin was written brilliantly. I loved his world-weary wisdom and the way he put people and things into position before letting everything play out as it willed. He manipulated those around him like he was playing a game of chess and I was completely on board with it.

The book was told from the points of view of the three siblings. First, there was Sinne. Sinne was beautiful, stubborn, and capricious. She also had the ability to see bits and pieces of the future. I wanted to shake her ninety percent of the time. I believe that is the reaction the author was going for, and she succeeded magnificently. I refrained from yelling at a fictional character, but it was touch and go there for a bit. Her storyline ended up being incredibly important, and she was a catalyst for some of the biggest moments in the book, so I can’t resent her too much.

Keyne wanted to be seen and accepted. His storyline was one I really enjoyed, as he grew in confidence and knowledge. His was the most fantasy-esque part of the book, with battles, sieges, and magic. He added immensely to the feel to Sistersong, showing magic always lurking just under the surface and around corners.

Then, there was Riva. Riva was horribly burned in an accident as a child. As a result, she only had the use of one hand. She grew up accepting the lie that she was lesser than, a broken thing to be pitied. All of her choices revolve around this belief. I felt sad for her, while at the same time being frustrated at the way her insecurities were easily exploited.

Taken separately, none of these characters would be able to carry a story of this magnitude. After all, the fate of a kingdom lies in the balance. Together, a tale is told that is captivating. I have read that it is a loose retelling of an old ballad called ‘The Twa Sisters’. I’ve never heard the ballad before, but Sistersong does have a songlike quality to it. It flowed well and ended in a way that was both satisfying and a little sad.

The book moved along at a good pace, starting slowly and building up to a breathtaking climax. I had a “holy whoa” moment when the reason behind the title was explained. I did not see that coming. While I didn’t love Sistersong (mainly because of the way the struggle between older beliefs and new was simplified), I did find myself eagerly picking it up whenever I had the chance. It was enthralling and utterly unique.

I recommend Sistersong to readers who have grown up on Arthurian myths or who like hints of magic shining in-between the struggle to survive.

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, 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?


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, 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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review was originally part of a Storytellers on Tour book blog tour.