Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Empire of Exiles is available now.

When an author combines extraordinary worldbuilding with a strong understanding of human nature, something magical happens. Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots. Author Erin M. Evans has created the sort of book that will be treasured for years to come. The description of the book, while making me desperate to read it, doesn’t begin to show the full scope of what waits inside its pages.

The book opens with an errand. Quill comes to the Archives with a request: he needs some artifacts. A simple job, and nothing spectacular. But, then there’s a grisly murder with Quill involved for the most upsetting of reasons, and each theory leads to more questions. The twists and turns were brilliant, weaving a surprising story with much larger implications than anyone realizes.

It became less of a “whodunnit” and more of a question of how bad the fallout would be. The danger grew even bigger with each page, threatening to swallow everyone in it. By the end of the book, my house could have been on fire and I would have been annoyed at the interruption to my reading.

The plot wove between the past and the present, showing that history does not exist in a vacuum. Everything past had a connection to the present. I loved that, despite everything being connected in some way, the world was nonetheless huge. The book focused on a small cast of characters but did not exclude the rest of the world or make the story small in any way.

And what a cast! I can’t pick a favorite. I loved Quill’s tenacity and his willingness to admit that he was way outside his depth. Then there was Yinni, devout and oh-so-lost, completely unaware that everyone feels alone sometimes. Her character growth was astounding. I loved prickly Tunuk, who made me smile. And Amadea, full of secrets and questions herself, trying to hide her insecurities by being the pillar of strength for everyone else. As incredible as the world was and as fascinating as the storyline was, it was the characters that made me fall in love.

Well, that and the way the magic system perfectly described what my anxiety disorder is like. I was in tears at parts and the self-deceptive litany of “I’m fine” that could be found throughout Empire of Exiles felt so incredibly familiar. I loved the way the magic worked, how it threatened to swallow the character when they “spiraled”. I read that the author’s magic system was created from her wondering what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would be like. I can say with confidence that she nailed it. I was in awe at the way she put words to the indescribable.

The history of the world was fantastic, with hints of more to come. I loved the Changelings and the layers to their mystery. I’m a fan of changelings in books anyway, and these were so creatively done. The questions of morality that were raised with their inclusion added an intriguing facet.

I’m desperate to continue the story and will be waiting impatiently for book two. Empire of Exiles is truly incredible, captivating, and thought-provoking. I loved every word.

Universal Monsters Book Tag: 2022

Happy almost-Halloween, for those who celebrate! I’m actually not that big on Halloween (I know, I’m weird), but I love the Universal Monsters. I created a book tag revolving around them a few years ago and I’m dusting if off again this year.

Feel free to do your own! Please tag me so I can see your answers. Enjoy!

Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:

Yes, Lord Soth is a death knight. Yes, he could have prevented a world-ending disaster (a Cataclysm, if you will) and instead mucked it up. Yes, he’s really not a good dude. But he is so much fun to read about! He’s to Dragonlance as Boba Fett was to the original Star Wars movies: a mysterious, hardcore character whose legend builds with time.

The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:

There are bands that sell out and then there are bands that sell…something. Trust Grady Hendrix to take the idea of an almost-made-it band and combine it with forces dark and sinister. I had to set aside all my preconceptions about We Sold Our Souls. There are twists upon turns and nothing is as it seems.

Wolfman- a complicated character:

Not only is this love letter to 80s fantasy movies absolutely genius, but Jack is also an incredibly complex character. He had a broken relationship with his dad, and both loves and resents the movie world that took up so much of his dad’s attention. He’s angry and grieving, uncertain and sad. His character growth throughout the book is through the roof. Basically, The Shadow Glass is amazing.

Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:

As with all mysteries, everyone has secrets in Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. There were a couple of characters in the book that were completely misunderstood by everyone else. Of course, I misunderstood certain motives and actions too, which is the point of a mystery. This was a fun one!

The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyed more than the first book:

I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the sequel more than Shadow of a Dead God, but Nectar for the God took all the (many) things that I loved about the first Mennik Thorn book and added new levels. The stakes were higher, the world became more fleshed out, and Mennik was…even more of a walking Murphy’s Law. Seriously, you need to read this series.

Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:

The Hero Interviews, aside from being uproariously funny, has an incredibly unique feature: footnotes. Elburn Barr, Loremaster and narrator extraordinaire, interviews heroes throughout the book. These interviews come complete with his tongue-in-cheek observations, given as footnotes that add an extra layer of hilarity to an already hysterical book. The Hero Interviews will be released December first, but you can preorder it now on Amazon.

The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):

Legends and Lattes was a sweet delight. The book was the print version of a nice, cozy blanket. It left me smiling and feeling a little bit better about life. The ending was perfect (in fact, I really can’t think of a single aspect of the book that wasn’t).

The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms 2) by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Now a thrice born priestess and an Elder of Ahiranya, she dreams of seeing her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And saving their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn will come at a terrible price. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Oleander Sword is available now. You can find my review for The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms book 1) here.

The Oleander Sword is beauty with teeth. It’s a gorgeously written, breathtaking tale of manipulation, revenge, cruelty, and the things sacrificed in the quest for power. As with book one, The Jasmine Throne, I was immediately sucked in and held in thrall.

Malini is so close to getting what she wants. She now has an army at her back, and she’s on her way to hopefully crush her brother Chandra’s forces under her feet. But war is rarely straightforward. Her followers would rather fight for someone else and when Chandra seemingly pulls a miracle out of nowhere, she realizes her grip on her vision is tenuous at best. Malini is willing to use every weapon she can to wrest power from her brother, and that includes Priya.

There’s something incredibly coldhearted and bloodthirsty about Malini. The face that she shows Priya and the one that her army sees are two very different sides to the same coin. I was left wondering if the manipulative mask was really the true face, with the affection she showed Priya the true mask. In some ways, she is just as dangerous as Chandra. They are both sure that they are the rightful ruler and that no one is better suited to the throne.

I love Malini so much! She’s scary, all sharp edges and secrets. We see a less calculated version of her only in her interactions with Priya. Priya has also grown more powerful, but also more vulnerable in some ways. She is in danger of losing herself, but to her power, or to Malini? With Priya, it might be one and the same. I love how multifaceted her character is.

Bhumika’s storyline diverges from Priya and Malini’s. While they are fighting a desperate battle with Chandra, Bhumika is experiencing an even bigger loss. The Yaksa, whom she has worshipped, have returned and they are not at all what everyone hoped they were. Instead, their coming signifies the beginning of a new and brutal war, one that doesn’t seem winnable. Poor Bhumika loses everything she cares about and then some.

The Oleander Sword introduces new points of view, although Priya, Malini, and Bhumika remain the three main POVs. Despite their paths diverging, the story still envelopes the three women, the threads of the narrative loosely weaving together to form a full tapestry. The world grows ever larger, the religion becomes more explained, and things are shown from a new- and terrifying-light.

The Yaksa full-blown freaked me out. The human resemblance that they wore like masks, their uncaring cruelty, and their absolute certainty in their power all combined to give me the shivers. As intimidating as Chandra was, he’s a petty minion in comparison with them. If they get their way, everyone will be crushed. They probably wouldn’t even notice.

The Oleander Sword ramped up to an astonishing conclusion. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Tasha Suri wields words like a sharp knife, using them with devastating and fascinating effect. I have no idea what will happen in the next book, but I can’t wait!

An Interview with Author CM Kerley

Today, I’m excited to be able to chat with C.M. Kerly, author of the Barclan series, epic fantasy at its finest. You can find my review for book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, here.

Thank you for joining me to talk about the Barclan series and epic fantasy! Will you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Caroline, I’m from London but grew up in South Africa. I’m from a small town surrounded by farms, and at night I used to think the noises I could hear were ghosts at war with each other and the lights in the sky might definitely maybe not be stars but somehow magic. I suppose the noises might have been sounds from the neighborhood, and the stars were just stars, but I still prefer to think it was magic.

Can you talk a little bit about the Barclan series?

Okay, just the opener because it’s too vast to summarize easily. The series is set in an imagined world, in the kingdom of Barlcan. It starts with the reign of a very inept and timid king in a time when magic has become something rare which is to be feared and there are very few people alive who remember or know enough about it to believe it even exists. There are omens and very real-world signs that something is starting to move against the kingdom, but the king chooses not to see it. So, it is left to the prince, who does believe, to pull together the people whom he believes will give him a chance to fight back this threat that only he can see, that others think he is imagining. 

Yes the story is fantasy, but it isn’t about magic and creatures and spells or vampires and dragons and cackling villains or magical maps and destiny that comes to those who least expect it. 

My story, at its core, is about Control; do we really have control over ourselves, what are we willing to give it up for, and who are we willing to give it to. 

What were some obstacles to writing the Barclan series?

In part, one of the hardest things writing a series of books like this, with that 80s Epic Fantasy feel, was knowing that they aren’t very popular right now. Knowing that the fantasy scene is dominated by specific names and if you aren’t part of the echo chamber of the style or type, you’ll never ‘make it’.

Which can sound crazy, right, but if you’re like me and your dream of talking to people about the stories, not making all the folding money, it can be daunting and when you spend six years writing three books, keeping motivated can be an obstacle.

What are some successes?

The limitless art of fantasy is the landscape for the story I’ve crafted, and is full of unique characters that are believable, plausible, and face situations that the reader can empathise with, creating that real connection between the page and the person. The characters are not clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – there is more nuance within the characterisation. They are written so they each carry the overall theme of the story, but there are opportunities for the reader to themselves consider if what they are doing is good or bad. 

The use of magic is not the driving force of the story. It isn’t spelled out to the reader and doesn’t overly feel cumbersome to the narrative. It is a device used to enhance the characters, not a tool to explain wildly ridiculous events put there to make the story stand-out. There is romance, adventure, deep relationships, sadness, joy, and laughter all set out, with something to satisfy even the most critical fantasy fan, in a thoroughly good, and complete story.

In The Hummingbird’s Tear, we meet two siblings who have very different characteristics which lead to two very distinct story arcs. How did you go about weaving the two separate storylines together? 

It was a challenge. With Calem, who starts mute, I made the conscious decision to only give him two defining characteristics, the fire he can conjure and his silence. 

I then had to flesh out Brennan, his complexity took months to develop into a real persona. 

Then, it was using Brennan to tell Calem’s story at first, while doing it in such a way as to also give him his own spotlight. Using one character to tell the story of two, from the omnipotent writing perspective, is something I am quite proud of as it takes, in my opinion, quite a lot of craft.

One thing I did do was I kept detailed notes of each character, everything about them, even their habits, and I had personality charts drawn up and stuck to my wall in from of my machine of all the characters and I had their personal values listed out, their motivations, even a bit of origin stories for each of them. I had that on my wall for over six years, and that was to ensure I was always writing them truthfully, developing them and their arcs in believable ways that the reader could follow and empathize with, and making sure they were distinct.

The mythology and world history in The Hummingbird’s Tear is amazing. What came first in your series: the world or the characters? 

The characters. 

I still have the first drafts of all three books, partly to remind myself just how wildly different the stories were before I finally settled on what needed to be told and picked which parts of all the versions to pull into the final book to tell their stories.

I started with Calem, the idea of writing a book about a character with no voice; how do you tell someone’s story when they can’t tell it themselves? I sat down and started writing. I didn’t really dwell on too much more than that, I knew it would be a fantasy story because all my really good short stories up to that point had been fantasy and that is my favorite genre. I was expecting it to be one book, I had no intention of writing three, but by the time I was halfway through writing it I had lived the whole thing out in my head and knew that it was too big, too vast, and too complex to be a single book. I wanted to do justice to all the characters I had created and that meant giving them a story worth telling.

The Barclan series has been called epic fantasy. Can you explain what epic fantasy is?

It is Epic but perhaps more 80s Epic than today’s Epic. What I mean is, there is a style of Epic fantasy which is giving time to establishing the world in which the characters share their story. It’s a style which I love, and I write what I love to read so my books have a definite type of pacing.

I don’t borrow from real world mythology or start with frantic bloodthirsty battles to shock and hook the reader; for no reason other than those tools aren’t what I’ve chosen for my story. I know they are all the rage at the moment and very popular, so I’m maybe doing myself no service by going against that current, but the heart wants to write what the heart wants to read I suppose.

I’ve created my own world, my own creation mythology, the Gods, the magic system, the geography, all of it, it took all in, maybe two years to craft it all as I was writing and rewriting The Hummingbird’s Tear, and all that had to be woven through the series. I have about 1,000 pages of content I wrote and created as I was building the world, my own archive if you will.

So, Epic because all the kingdoms are created and unique and have their own beliefs and customs and cultures and that finds its way into the story to enrich it. I move my characters across the kingdoms so I can bring the world to life. I have them comment on and have the Gods and mythology impact their lives, so it brings context to everything I’ve decided to include form the prologue all the way through. And I start each prologue with a little more of the mythology and world building, so the timeframe for the story is literally, since the world was created, so even the timescales are epic.

I’ve heard the terms “epic fantasy” and “high fantasy” used interchangeably. Do you see them as two separate subgenres?

They are different, but it’s an almost irrelevant difference and one that doesn’t, I think, give or take anything away from the genre and a distinction that doesn’t’ mean much to a reader or would have a large impact on their book choice. That sounds like a bit of a pretentious assumption on my part, but what I mean is, the differences are fairly limited, and fantasy readers tend to be open minded so the difference I don’t think is important and the two can work together.

If so, how is epic fantasy different from high fantasy? 

High Fantasy is set in an imaginary place, and Low Fantasy, is an alternate version of a real place. So, because Barclan isn’t real, it fits into High Fantasy. I think that is the basic difference but while that’d be my answer on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, google probably knows more than me.

As for the Epic part, that falls to the scale. Epic fantasy in my understanding is on a grand scale, the story is set across multiple geographies and characters must travel or are set in distinct locations doing ‘things’ that advance the plot. Think questing stories.

I tend to think of the Barclan books as Epic High Fantasy because you start in one part of the kingdom, but you’ll go to towns, cities, a mine in the mountains, the bottom of the ocean, high mountains, and a desert to name but a few.

What drew you to writing epic fantasy?

I’ve always lived ‘somewhere else’ in my mind in part thanks to my dad who was a sailor and would tell me the most amazing made-up stories when he would come back from being at sea. He is an amazing storyteller and was never tight with his sea monsters, his outlandish characters, or his embellishments. But what used to keep me hooked, was how believable it all was. 

As a child I was surrounded by books of all types at home and was never told whether a book is for adults or children, so as young as seven I can remember trying to read Lord of the Rings because our copy had the most amazing book cover and so I was curious, but it was too much for me at the time but I knew I’d come back to it. I was also reading things like The Faraway Tree, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Worst Witch, and the Narnia books so I’ve always gravitated toward the ‘other’ places, that feel comfortable.

We used to have a rickety old typewriter in the house, you know the type that you break your fingers hitting the hold metal letters that strike a ribbon and barely print the word? Well, that was what I started on, aged about eight, thinking that although I loved reading these stories, I had some pretty good ones of my own in my head and so it started.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am embarrassed to admit I had to google pantser.

I am neither, or am I both? Put it this way, I try to be a plotter, and I plot, but when I sit down to write the plot, it’s as if the very act itself of plotting means I can’t use those ideas anymore and I just write.

I try to take a planned and methodical approach to it, but it’s a waste of time for me honestly. I do it in the hopes it means I will finish a book quicker, but no. A story takes as long to write as it wants, I have little control.

I sit, start writing, and entirely zone out and when I am finished have no concrete memory of the process of writing, and have written something completely unplanned.

The last third of The Hunchback’s Sigh was written in one night. I sat down about 7pm, looked up just after 5am the next morning, realized I had finished writing the book, and the series, and then had something to eat and got ready for a day at work.

That’s a lot of words to say, pantser.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the Dragonlance books are fantastic and Raistlin is one of the most well developed characters I’ve ever loved. The books are so cleverly written to be effortlessly accessible and enjoyable to anyone.

David Eddings, his Belgariad books are some of the best I’ve ever read and I reread to this day.

Melanie Rawn, I adore her pacing and her style of writing captivates my imagination.

Janny Wurts, because everything.

And Raymond Feist, for writing the books I have been reading and coming back to my whole life.

What/who inspired you to start writing fantasy?

This sounds so bad but, I don’t think anyone truly inspired me.  I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a writer because that’s how I wanted to tell stories.

But if there was one person who really pushed me, believed in me, and told me every day that I can do it, it’s my best friend Maddy who has read every piece of writing I’ve ever done and to this day never skips a chance to talk about the books. 

Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to share?

I am working on a collection of short stories set in Barclan, but not centered on any of the main characters from the three books. They pop up but as peripheral characters and only for a second.

For example, in the second book I write about a place called Phenly, and there are a few stories set there.

A story about what happens in a silver mine which weaves into the back story of the man who raised Calem and Brennan.

And I’m introducing some new places and new characters as a tie in to the next book in the series which I am writing at the same time which will take place about a year after the events that end The Hunchback’s Sigh but is not a direct continuation of the story. So I am branching out in the Barclan world and will be moving into stories set in the other kingdoms, specifically Vaden to the north.

And when I am not in the mood to work on either of those, Cotta’s backstory is a self-indulgent story I am writing just for me.

Purchase Links:
The Hummingbird’s Tear
The Giant’s Echo
The Hunchback’s Sigh

Strange Cargo by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Mennik (Nik) is back and in even bigger trouble than usual, in the third installment in the Mennik Thorn series. Strange Cargo was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. It was awesome, unsurprisingly.

I am a sucker for books featuring down-on-their luck rapscallions who can’t seem to stay out of danger. Whether it’s a smart mouth at the wrong time, or a penchant for chasing trouble, these kinds of characters keep me smiling and guessing. Mennik Thorn is high on my list of favorite trouble-finders and each book in the series makes me like him more.

After the events of Nectar for the God, book two in the series, Mennik is on the outs with his best (and some would argue, only) friend. He’s also unfortunately on the outs with a group of smugglers. Seeing as they’d happily see him dead, they choose the next best thing and pressure Mennik into a job protecting an item they plan to smuggle into Agatos. Of course, if he ends up dead in the process, that’s just a perk for them, right?

Not only does this “job” not pay, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Once Mennik learns what it is he’s helping smuggle in, things go from sideways to dangerous. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s a doozy. The stakes keep going up from book to book, keeping me interested and wondering what fresh hell Mennik will find himself in next.

I love that Mennik always has another side problem that he’s trying to solve while the main story arc takes up most of the attention. In this instance, Mennik’s less-than-enthusiastic client is none other than the cranky owner of the crap bar Mennik frequents. Their passive-aggressive conversations entertained me to no end.

Mennik is a brilliant character, a study in contradictions. He tries to do the right thing, but he rarely knows what the “right thing” is. He’s smart-mouthed and mocks pretty much everyone but he is equally mocking of himself. He would probably have a longer life expectancy if he didn’t feel the urge to help people (even when they serve him subpar alcohol), but he can’t seem to stop helping anyway. Oh, and he might as well write Killed by Curiosity on his headstone now and get it over with.

Of course, his character does not exist in stasis. He has grown and changed since book one (Shadow of a Dead God), although he remains delightfully disaster prone. Strange Cargo doesn’t highlight that character growth quite as much because it is shorter (more of a novella than a full-fledged novel). In some ways it shouted “side quest” but it still managed to pack in revelations and world development aplenty.

As always, the writing is phenomenal. Everything is brilliantly described, painting vivid pictures of both Agatos and its inhabitants. The dialogue is witty, and things move at a quick pace. Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more. Book four in the Mennik Thorn series can’t come soon enough!

*Review originally appeared in Grimdark Magazine

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Charlie Ovid, despite surviving a brutal childhood in Mississippi, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When Alice Quicke, a jaded detective with her own troubled past, is recruited to escort them to safety, all three begin a journey into the nature of difference and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a story of wonder and betrayal, from the gaslit streets of London, and the wooden theaters of Meiji-era Tokyo, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh where other children with gifts―like Komako, a witch-child and twister of dust, and Ribs, a girl who cloaks herself in invisibility―are forced to combat the forces that threaten their safety. There, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. With this new found family, Komako, Marlowe, Charlie, Ribs, and the rest of the Talents discover the truth about their abilities. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, a new question arises: What truly defines a monster? (Taken from Amazon)

With a premise that is reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with a hint of X-Men thrown in for good measure, Ordinary Monsters could have easily gotten lost in a crowd of similar books. Instead, its evocative writing sets it apart from so many other “extraordinary children” storylines, while author J.M. Miro confidently subverts expectations.

The plotline seems simple enough: there are two kids with special abilities referred to as Talents, being hunted by a mysterious being. At the same time, there is a duo of detectives (ish) who have been given the task of finding these children and taking them to a special school for those like them (seems pretty similar to Professor X’s school, right?).

Where the book differs from other stories in this vein is its execution. Ordinary Monsters is darkly beautiful, grimy, and gothic with an ugly underbelly that rears its head when least expected. It’s unsettling and thought provoking. I was engrossed and almost repulsed, in equal measure. There’s an undercurrent of hope, even among the bleakest parts of the book.

Ordinary Monsters uses multiple points of view, but it is never confusing or distracting. There are Marlowe and Charlie, two children with Talents. Charlie can glow. Marlowe can heal himself of any physical hurt. Unfortunately for him, the emotional pain isn’t also healed. His introduction was heartbreaking, to say the least. Then there are several other characters who play roles of varying importance. What I loved about this was how even the smallest of interactions could have a profound impact on the personality or choices of a main character.

I definitely had some niggles. The plot could be a little convoluted at times, and there were subjects touched upon that I prefer to avoid (description of rape being the main one that most bothered me). If there was a content warning section in the book, I missed it. However, these unsavory topics were not used for “shock value”, and they weren’t dwelled upon. Take from that what you will.

As in life, things were complex and messy. There was no absolute good or absolute bad. Each character had their own drive and motivation, and many characters were morally conflicted at best. The story went far past surface level, examining what makes people tick.

While the book wasn’t perfect, it was a fascinating read. It impresses with its immersive, gothic atmosphere and its nuanced characters. Ordinary Monsters will worm its way into your head and keep you thinking. Pick this one up if you like exploring the dark corners of the human psyche and are drawn to the mysterious and unknown.

Dragonlance Reading Order 2022

Logo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credit: Larry Elmore
Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

The Dragonlance world is one I happily revisit every year. Rich in detail and huge in scope, the series itself boasts over one hundred novels, and the first book in a new trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, titled Dragons of Deceit, has just released.

If you’ve never read the series before, you might be wondering where to start. I’ll admit, it can be pretty daunting. Here is my own reading order suggestion. Keep in mind, it is my opinion only, and I haven’t listed every single book, rather sticking to the “main storyline” with side suggestions along the way.

First things first: The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of Spring Dawning


These are the basis of the entire world. Without these books, you won’t understand much of what happens after. You won’t be able to fully appreciate the books that take place before (that were nonetheless written later on). This is where you’ll meet some of the best characters ever written. Yup, I mean ever.

Continuing on: The Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Time of the Twins
War of the Twins
Test of the Twins

The Legends trilogy is meant to be read right after the Chronicles, despite later books being published that take place in-between the original Chronicles. Trust me, do not sandwich those books (the Lost Chronicles) in the middle of the original Chronicles trilogy! I promise, there’s a place for them later on.

Connecting the old to the new:

The Second Generation 
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Now, at this point, after being emotionally devastated, you have a few choices: you can continue on with the “main storyline”, OR you can explore the world a little bit. There’s so much to see, after all! Keep reading the post to see where I would suggest going next in the main storyline. I’ll add some book suggestions at the bottom of this post for those who want to wander around Krynn a bit.

Fleshing out the original books: The Lost Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths

Dragons of the Highlord Skies

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage

These technically don’t further the storyline, as they are meant to take place in-between events covered in the earliest books. They make the original story much bigger, though, and we get to see more of my favorite characters, which is always a plus.

Time to see what happens next: Dragons of a New Age trilogy by Jean Rabe

The Dawning of a New Age

The Day of the Tempest

The Eve of the Maelstrom

To be honest, the Jean Rabe books are probably the Dragonlance books that I’ve read the fewest amount of times. However, they do connect what came before with what comes next.

The Dhamon Saga by Jean Rabe:

Downfall

Betrayal

Redemption

Carrying on: The War of Souls trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of a Fallen Sun

Dragons of a Lost Star

Dragons of a Vanished Moon

Now, it’s on to: The Dark Disciple trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Amber and Ashes

Amber and Iron

Amber and Blood

The first book in a new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman has just released!

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies book 1)

You could technically start reading Dragonlance here as the authors have given important information and history throughout the book, while avoiding the dreaded info dump (that they were able to do this speaks of their excellent writing abilities). In order to truly appreciate everything that happens, though, I would suggest at least reading the Chronicles and The War of Souls. But that’s just me.

Now, you’re technically more or less caught up on the main storyline. However, here’s where it gets interesting: you’ll notice that this is less than 100+ books. That means you get to pick and choose any side novels that catch your eye. I personally am a huge fan of the Meetings Sextet (which explain how our original companions met), the Preludes, and the Raistlin Chronicles. Honestly, anything written by Margaret Weis or Tracy Hickman is going to be gold. I’m also a big fan of the books written by Douglas Niles and Richard A. Knaak.

Time to gather up your maps, grab your hoopak, and head off for adventures!

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

Burn Red Skies as well as its sequel, Rise Red Kingdom, are available for purchase now.

It starts with a rift that burns a thousand scars into the sky. It makes the winds stop. It makes the stars go dark. It awakens an ancient beast. And with it, a new reign of blood. It is the Summoning. And at the heart of it is fire.

When the Summoner’s army blasts through her village, Dove is forced into hiding. Torn from everything she knows, she begins training in the elements with only one goal in mind: to find her brother. She just needs to get past the Summoner’s army—but how can she slay a dragon that is already dead?

What happens when you mix dragons, politics, airships, fascinating characters, and high stakes? You get the well written adventure, Burn Red Skies!

The first thing I noticed about Burn Red Skies is the regard it has for its readers. The author doesn’t condescend to the reader and give long, over-the-top explanations for everything. Instead, it is assumed that the reader will pick things up as the story moves along. I loathe info dumps, so this approach worked well for me. It might cause some readers a bit of confusion at first, but I liked the way the information was given organically as the story progressed.

The main character is Dove who is separated from her brother and whose only goal is to find him. The magic in this world is elemental (more on that later) and she begins training in it as a means to an end. Dove is mute, which is something I don’t usually encounter in main characters. It was so wonderful to see fantasy being more inclusive as far as different abilities. I enjoyed her determination and her strength.

While there are many characters, and the book is told from several points of view, I have to say that I looked forward to reading about Dicker and Merc the most (sky pirates! How cool!). They were just so much fun! Generally, in a book with multiple viewpoints, there’s a character that just doesn’t interest me, but that didn’t happen in Burn Red Skies. Each character brought something to the story. Another thing to note is that I never found it difficult to keep the characters straight. The author gave each one such an original personality and voice that switching back and forth worked just fine. The characters’ story arcs start out completely separate, with characters in separate areas which of course left me curious to know if and how they would finally meet. It’s an ambitious way to tackle storytelling and the author manages it beautifully.

Burn Red Skies features elemental magic, which gave me pause at first because I (incorrectly) thought there was nothing to be done with it that hasn’t been done before. I really love that I was wrong! The magic did more than just give a person a “point your finger and lightning pops out” sort of skill set. Instead, it was nuanced and affected everything from what a person can do to how they heal, or how they handle the sun.

I only have one small quibble which is that the pacing was choppy in parts. Some things that could have used a little more time or focus seemed sped up, and other parts seemed oddly stretched out. This didn’t happen too often and only in a few places throughout the book.

I enjoyed this highly imaginative fantasy and am excited to see the story continue in Rise Red Kingdom.  

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

I was fortunate to read The Hand of Fire by Roland O’Leary as a member of team Before We Go Blog during SPFBO8.

Dangerous magic. A realm under siege. Can a mother and son defeat a rising evil?
Danalar Halyas isn’t ready to grow up. Torn between boyhood desire and adult responsibility, the sixteen-year-old heir is devastated after his father goes missing in battle. And when a powerful ally suspected of treachery closes in on their lands, the untried youth worries he won’t be able to protect his territory from war.
Charymylle Halyas stands strong within a storm of chaos and grief. As the fate of her beloved husband remains unknown, she directs the clan while shaping her teenage sons into men mighty enough to lead. But with demonic forces disrupting crucial spells and an emissary arriving with an unwelcome invitation, the troubled regent is terrified she’ll lose all that she loves.
Defying his mother’s commands, Danalar sneaks out with friends to warn a nearby village… only to run into sinister threats. And with the consequences of her decisions raining fire on her people, Charymylle fears she may have led her nation to its doom.
Will the Halyas family fall to darkness, or can they beat back a formidable foe?
The Hand of Fire is the gripping first book in The Essence of Tyranny epic fantasy series. If you like complex characters, vivid imagery, and visionary world-building, then you’ll adore Roland J O’Leary’s soulful adventure.

The Hand of Fire is an ambitious book, with a complex storyline and a vast world. The very beginning of the book started with a lone rider escaping a doomed battle. Based on that, I expected a fast-moving story. Such is not the case. The Hand of Fire is a book that takes its time, getting each detail correct and crafting a well-executed story. While it does pick up toward the end, I struggled to concentrate at the beginning. I think that stemmed in part from the memories that were described. They were there to explain Lady Charymylle’s relationship with her husband, and to highlight her involvement with how things were run. However, they did interrupt the pacing a bit. The last half of the book definitely moved faster, setting up the rest of the series wonderfully.

Danalar’s father, lord of the Halyas, is either dead or taken captive, a casualty of battle. His storyline is a bit of a coming-of-age tale, as he learns to cope with this loss and become a leader. He was very a very believable character and managed to never bore or annoy me. I really enjoyed watching his character grow. My very favorite character, though, was Lady Charymylle. While dealing with her own emotions regarding the disappearance of her husband, she was also the competent and clever leader the people needed. She was never on the sidelines and was a strong character, something I very much appreciated.

The Hand of Fire reminded me a bit of the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Willliams’ first book, The Dragonbone Chair, also has a slower pace. In fact, I would argue that the entire book is just setup for the rest of the series. Because the series is so amazing, The Dragonbone Chair is great. But it has to be taken with the rest of the series. On its own, it doesn’t feel like a full story. The Hand of Fire seemed like that to me. If the rest of the series is as well written as the first book is (and I have no reason to think it won’t be), the payoff will be huge, and the series will be a must-read for fans of sweeping fantasy.

I truly hope that I made sense with my wandering explanation there. Roland O’Leary is crafting something with massive potential that I think is going to pay off in a big way. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

The Hummingbird’s Tear by C.M. Kerley

In the high towers of Castle Kraner the King has chosen to hide away, leaving his kingdom undefended, open to attack from men, monsters and magic users.His loyal son Prince Orren, despairing of his father’s wilful ignorance, is doing all he can to gather the men and women he believes can help him avert the war before it starts, to save his land before it needs saving. Brennan and his young brother Calem find themselves drawn to Kraner; as their innate powers begin to manifest and they are woven into the mad schemes of rulers and invaders they must decide what to believe, who to trust, and how far they’re willing to go to fight an enemy they can’t see. (Taken from Amazon)

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

Prophecies, meddling deities, intrigue, and magic battles, this novel has it all! The Hummingbird’s Tear is a gem of a book and one that all fantasy readers should pick up.

I knew I would love The Hummingbird’s Tear as soon as I opened it and started reading the world’s origin myth. Rarely has a creation myth held my attention so completely. It was creative and beautifully told. From the creation story, the book went straight into a well-crafted storyline written with confidence and skill.

The book follows Brennan and his brother Callum. As children, they were a part of something big, though they only remember it vaguely. Through that event, a prophecy was set into motion and an old enemy was given a new opportunity. Since that night, Brennan has been his brother’s caretaker. Neither of them is quite like other people and Brennan knows it.

Brennan and Callum both have odd gifts. Brennan can sort of hear the thoughts or intentions of others and Callum has an unfortunate tendency to accidentally set things on fire. These talents are hidden because having them is dangerous. Orren, the king’s son, sees the signs of an old prophecy coming together and becomes convinced that Brennan and Callum are part of it. He tries to recruit the now-adult brothers to stop a gathering evil before it is too late.

While the characters (possibly) fulfill parts of an old prophecy, the book is very character led, which I appreciate. The focus is less on the prophecy itself and more on the different relationships between the characters, the choices they make, and what they choose to believe regarding fate and free will.

Brennan and Callum end up going in very different directions, which added another facet to their characters. While Brennan opened up the political storyline, allowing for suspense and intrigue to build, Callum added a mystical aspect. His interactions with Orren were unexpected and really cool. I loved his character and how it developed.

The Hummingbird’s Tear is technically all setup for the beginning of a quest and the prelude to a war, all of which it seems subsequent books will explore. However, it didn’t feel like only setup, and it was definitely not lacking in action. Brennan and Callum both find themselves changing and growing rapidly, while being thrust into situations they would never have imagined happening.

This book had so many things that I love to see in fantasy! I loved the new twists on “classic fantasy”, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The Hummingbird’s Tear is an excellent addition to the fantasy genre. I highly recommend it.