Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

We Lie With Death (The Reborn Empire book 2) by Devin Madson

There is no calm after the storm.
 
In Kisia’s conquered north, former empress Miko Ts’ai is more determined than ever to save her empire. Yet, as her hunt for allies grows increasingly desperate, she may learn too late that power lies not in names but in people.
 
Dishiva e’Jaroven is fiercely loyal to the new Levanti emperor. Only he can lead them, but his next choice will challenge everything she wants to believe about her people’s future.
 
Abandoned by his Second Swords, Rah e’Torin must learn to survive without a herd. But honor dictates he bring his warriors home-a path that could be his salvation or lead to his destruction.
 
And sold to the Witchdoctor, Cassandra Marius’ desperate search for a cure ties her fate inextricably to Empress Hana and her true nature could condemn them both. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Both We Lie With Death, and We Ride the Storm (book one) are available now. You can find my review of We Ride the Storm here.

After reading and loving We Ride the Storm, I had ridiculously high expectations for We Lie With Death. I thought, “How can the follow up be as good as the first book?”. Devin Madson is a phenomenal writer, that’s how. This book is freaking incredible.

We Lie With Death picks up right after We Ride the Storm and doesn’t pause for a minute. While the pacing is different, there is never a dull moment. There are revelations, new points of view, and plenty of the intrigue that I so love to read. While having multiple points of view in books can sometimes be problematic, Madson handled each one skillfully and kept the characters’ personalities from meshing into each other.

The world building was incredible, of course, with even more being shown and developed. But where I thought We Lie With Death shines is in the relationships between the characters. There were dynamics being shown and explored that had me completely sucked in. It changed how I viewed the characters and showed off just how nuanced they all are.

Rah was my favorite in We Ride the Storm, but he slipped a little in this book. His stubbornness kind of annoyed me. Instead, it was Cassandra that kept me riveted throughout. Her relationship with Hanna was interesting to say the least. They are opposite in many ways and it just…worked.

I’m not going to say too much about the plot, for fear of giving something away. Suffice to say, it was layered and fascinating. The reader was given some answers (and a few more questions). As with book one, I will say that this is on the harsher side of fantasy.

There really isn’t a thing that I would change about the book. We Lie With Death is a fantastic book and a worthy follow-up to one of my favorite reads from last year.

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire

Entertaining, and full of snark, Shadow of a Dead God perfectly combines fantasy and mystery to create a book that’s nearly impossible to put down. It has all the ingredients for a great fantasy: a self-deprecating main character, a well-developed magic system, and a “small” job that rapidly gets out of control.

The book follows Nik, a less-than-brilliant mage who gets roped into helping his only friend, Benny.It’s always best not to owe anyone anything: Benny takes major advantage of an “I owe you” and drags Nik into a tangled mess. What starts as a theft goes badly wrong, of course, and things snowball from there, turning into a murder-mystery and becoming far less straightforward than I expected things to be.

The world was fully realized. The dreaded info dump was missing, with things being explained organically as the story continues. The magic system was pretty stinking amazing. I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book where magic comes from the cadavers of gods. It was bizarre and brilliant. I would like to see that explored more in subsequent books simply because it was so unique.

In fact, where Shadow of a Dead God shines is in its ability to take common fantasy elements and make them wholly original. Nik is one of many mediocre mages in fantasy-but his lack of self-confidence, and complete unwillingness to be decisive adds a new twist. His relationship with Benny, the instigator of the trouble, is so much fun to watch. Nik is fully aware that his friendship with Benny is problematic, but there is that familial obligation mixed in with love and it makes for a fascinating dynamic.

Added to the mix is Benny’s daughter, Sereh. Now, I have kids and they can be scary, but the amount of terror she inspires in adults is next-level. I would love to see more of her story. There are so many aspects of this book that I want to see more of! I became so invested in the story that I wasn’t ready for it to end.

Shadow of a Dead God has a slower build, which I liked. It gave me time to appreciate the writing. And what writing! Samphire’s descriptions were fantastic. There is never a simple, “he looked grizzled.” No, the reader is treated to descriptions such as, “I had seen corpses dragged out of buried temples that had aged better.” It is a joy to read such a great narrative voice.

Pick this book up. You’ll thank me.

This article was originally published in Grimdark Magazine, which you can find here.

Vultures by Luke Tarzian- The Write Reads Blog Tour

An enemy slain is not a conflict won…

After decades of war the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears–but the weapon first must be reforged.

War spares no one…

Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.

From patience, hope…

For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key–soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.

Truth from madness…

As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear–these events have played out many times before. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads and the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Vultures is a dark fantasy, told in shades of gray. Dark and brooding, it is definitely not a happy story, but it is engrossing. To me, it felt like most of what happened was really a device used to explore or explain inner torment, as opposed to the inner torment being just a byproduct of the situation, if that makes sense. Luke Tarzian himself described Vultures as being “very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes.”* There’s no way I could possibly describe the atmosphere of the book better than that. I very much love seeing real issues like mental illness or grief explored in fantasy settings, and I was impressed with the rawness of the book.

The story was told through several points of view, and it was interesting to see how/if the characters’ storylines crossed or what the connections were. My favorite character was Theailys An. He would have blackouts and he would remember nothing of what happened during them (although, violence was generally involved). It made for fascinating character development.

The world itself was incredibly well-developed. There is a ton to this world, and this is a book that very much needs the reader’s full attention. The writing was evocative and made my imagination work overtime. At times, it felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare. It was an uncomfortable but engrossing feeling.

If you like harsher fantasy- I mean really harsh- give this book a read. Luke Tarzian is a writer with vision and a great deal of skill.

*If you want to read my interview with Luke Tarzian, it can be found here.

Five Dark Fates by Kendare Blake (Spoiler Free)

Image result for five dark fates

It’s incredibly difficult for me to do a quality review of a final book in a series without spoilers, but I’ll do my absolute best. Here we go!

It was amazing. I could honestly stop writing after that sentence, but I don’t have a mic to drop and I’m a bit wordy anyway. For those of you who haven’t read any of Kendare Blake’s books, I suggest you remedy that horrible problem immediately. Quit your job, stop paying bills, don’t bother making dinner. Just immerse yourself in Kendare Blake’s fantastic writing and let everything else take a back seat. Okay, maybe don’t go that far, but seriously put her on the list of authors that need to be read.

I was originally introduced to Kendare Blake’s writing by a book called Anna Dressed in Blood. How cool is that title? It was creeptastic, and drew me to check out the Three Dark Crowns books. I’ve already written about the others in the series ( you can find that post here), so I won’t go into the plot of the books again in this post. Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed in the culmination of all that came before.

The book did not end the way I originally wanted it to, but it ended the way it should, which is even better. I love how different each character is. There are no superfluous red shirts, written in simply to kick the bucket. Each death (and there is definitely death and violence in this book) meant something. Each political move, each twist in the story, was obviously thought out long before it was written.

Raves can be so difficult for me to write, because it’s less than helpful to just write “happy screams” on a blog post. I loved every moment of this series. I can’t wait to see what Kendare Blake comes up with next. She has secured her spot as one of my favorite authors.

Have you read this series? What did you think?

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke


Oscar winning writer-director Guillermo del Toro and bestselling author Cornelia Funke have come together to transform del Toro’s hit movie Pan’s Labyrinth into an epic and dark fantasy novel for readers of all ages, complete with haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that flesh out the folklore of this fascinating world.

This spellbinding tale takes readers to a sinister, magical, and war-torn world filled with richly drawn characters like trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family.

A brilliant collaboration between masterful storytellers that’s not to be missed. (taken from Amazon)

Admission: I haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth all the way through. I started it and didn’t finish, so that right there might be the reason I didn’t love this book. Because I really, really didn’t.

See, here’s the thing: I expected more from two such experienced authors. The book didn’t flow well, and some things felt like they were shoved down my throat. Vidal is a very bad guy. But, seriously, how many times does that need to be reiterated in almost the exact same wording? I was very disappointed by the lack of character development in general.

The little fairy tales interspersed throughout the book were different and broke up the monotony of the rest of the tale nicely. The fantasy creatures were unique and disturbing in a beautiful way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to draw me into the book. I will probably forget that I’ve even read this one in a few months. It just wasn’t memorable.

I would suggest skipping this one.

If you’ve read this, what did you think? Did I miss something that made this book awesome?