An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring J.E. Hannaford

There are always books that have amazing creatures in them that I would love to see featured in TTRPs. This month, some awesome authors have kindly joined me to give their creatures the TTRPG treatment. I’m excited to have J.E. Hannaford, author of the Black Hind’s Wake series, share more about her Leathergill Siren, found in The Skin (Black Hind’s Wake book 1).

About the author:

J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own. She lives in Suffolk, UK, and pines for the coast and mountains of Wales. A love of nature and the ocean washes through the pages of J E Hannaford’s stories and pours out of the characters who live in it. Her debut series is The Black Hind’s Wake Duology.

You can find her here: https://linktr.ee/jehannaford

To purchase The Skin:
Amazon

An Author’s Monster Manual Featuring Andi Ewington

One of the great things about playing TTRPGs is that you never know what sort of unique creature might show up during a gaming session. Of course, we all enjoy the classics: dragons or ogres, but sometimes it’s fun to see something a little more…unique.

Author Andi Ewington is an expert at putting new, creative twists on fantasy. His soon-to-be-released book, The Hero Interviews, takes classic fantasy and shines a comedic light on it.

Here, he shares his STAT Block on the fantasy favorite, the Behol—wait, the Behearer???

Bewarned, brave adventurer, for there is a foe more dangerous than any found within these ancient pages, a monster so terrible that it strikes fear into the hearts of the bravest Paladins, the hardiest Barbarians and the most cowardly of Clerics. Whisper its name and pray the Behearer is not listening.

Behearers are notoriously grumpy creatures, a literal ‘ball’ of ears that has a gigantic central ear surrounded by smaller tentacled ears around it. As you can imagine, the Behearer can hear EVERYTHING, from the soft footfalls of a Rogue to the heavy clanks of an over-encumbered Fighter noisily crashing about. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a wandering Behearer to silently float up to an unsuspecting adventurer and ask them politely to keep the noise down a bit. More often than not, it’s this unexpected polite request that results in a full-blown noisy confrontation—with plenty of ‘shhhing’ added for good measure.

A legendary monster that surpasses all others, the Behearer is a monster that simply wants a bit of peace and quiet—which is exactly what an adventuring party is not!

To pre-order The Hero Interviews:
Amazon UK
Amazon U.S.

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

An Author’s Monster Manual

One of the fun things about table-top roleplaying games is the ability to stretch imaginations and have encounters with the most unique of creations. Dungeons and Dragons even has books dedicated specifically to the creatures that the unwary player can accidentally antagonize, the most well-known of these books being the Monster Manual.

As creative as the thingies found in the Monster Manual can be, they can’t hold a candle to the amazing creatures encountered in a myriad of novels written by extremely talented authors, some of them even inspired by TTRPGs played by the authors!

I somehow managed to convince an amazing group of authors and bloggers to help me discuss creatures in books and how they would transfer over to a TTRPG campaign setting. Keep your eyes open: the talent popping up on the blog over the next little bit is astonishing!

There are so many creatures in fantasy books that I would love to see in a TTRPG setting! When thinking about this series, two books in particular came to mind: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames and The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart. Both have amazing creatures that jump off the page.

I wouldn’t want to make the ink witch from Bloody Rose angry. Tattoos that can attack seem both brutal and pretty stinking clever. Can you imagine being in the middle of an honest tavern brawl, and all of the sudden your character finds themself facing a butt-kicking in the form of body art? That encounter would be the sort that players talk about for years.

And who wouldn’t love to have Mephi in a TTRPG? I’m still not entirely sure what he is, other than loyal, brutally protective, and absolutely adorable but seeing him pop up during a game session would be so much fun.

Honestly, though, having Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) in a TTRPG would absolutely make any campaign a delightful one, in my opinion. I took a stab at a Hobbes STAT Block. I owe a huge thank you to my amazing husband for helping me bring this to life!

Fan STAT Block made by Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

There are so many creatures brought to life by authors that would make for incredible additions to a late-night game session! Over the next several days, we will get to meet some of them, with introductions and STAT Blocks created by the authors. Grab your dice and let’s have an adventure!

Bewitching Book Tours Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Midnight on the Manatee by D.H. Willison

Today I’m excited to be joining Bewitching Books Tours in sharing the cover for D.H. Willison’s new book, Midnight on the Manatee. D.H. Willison’s new release will feature adventure, romance, and a whole lot of humor.

Book Description:

How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? What sacrifices do her grand profits demand? The only certainty, is that the Manatee casts a dark shadow everywhere she makes port.


Brianna, a tough, no-nonsense human, yearns to escape stifling big city rules and a troubled past. A quaint seaside town seems perfect to start a new life—until she wakes up aboard the Manatee. As cargo.


Shard, nekojin feline of the forest, dreams of sailing to distant lands—to the horror of his friends. When his intriguing new neighbor, Brianna, disappears and all signs point to the mysterious Manatee, he’s certain this is his moment for high seas adventure. Yet with skills tailored to the forest canopy, his rescue goes disastrously awry.


Their only chance of freedom is to work together, but can their budding relationship overcome ruthless smugglers, corrupt officials, and a slew of ravenous monsters? Or are they destined to take the secret of the Manatee to a watery grave?


Midnight on the Manatee blends life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!

Wow!


Genre: Fantasy adventure/fantasy romance
Date of Publication: October 28, 2022
ISBN: 9798823112536
Number of pages: 182
Word Count: 33K
Cover Artist: Papaya-style

Life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world blend with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Excerpt:

Brianna

I’ve always struggled picking out clothes. It doesn’t matter if it’s for travel, work, or a special event, I seem to hit a point where I regret my choices.

Like today.

Late afternoon sun glared in my eyes, the wide brim of my slouch hat unable to shield me. Mostly because it was on the ground a dozen paces distant. It was hot, and this close to the marsh, humid too. My linen blouse was drenched in sweat, though a breeze provided a modicum of relief from the heat—that part, I’d gotten right. The leather traveling vest was well-vented, my padded breeches also a good compromise between comfort and protection. But my boots were clearly wrong. Light beige leather with flexible soles prioritizing comfort over armor seemed a good idea for the long trek between Halamar and Barricayde.

But the bog toad with its jaws locked around my right ankle seemed intent on demonstrating the error of my ways.

It was half the size of a coach, with an underbite and stubby tusks thick as my legs. I kicked it with my free foot as it shambled backwards, dragging me toward the marsh. Vision blurry from sweat streaming into my eyes, I squinted, trying to sight along the barrel of my single shot pistol.

One shot. At this range I can’t miss.

I fired, the pistol belching gray smoke and a dull wumm.

The toad lurched back, blood oozing from an apparently non-critical wound. It blinked a pair of fist-sized ruby eyes, lunged at me again, this time snapping both legs up to my knees in a maw as broad as my arm span.

How did I let a minor predator ambush me? Along a marked path! Big city’s making me soft.

No! I will not die to an oversized frog. I shoved the pistol in its holster, unfolded my collapsible spear with a metallic klink, jabbed it at the creature’s head. A head which seemed to comprise half its mass. The third strike to its thick hide found a sensitive spot: it spat out my legs, sneezed a blob of mucus and blood on me, and shambled back into the marsh.

“Oww. Filthy beast. That hurt.”

I stood, yelped in pain, collapsing to my knees again.

Those critters might not have sharp teeth, but they bite hard.

First things first: I reloaded my pistol. It may have been as effective as poking a troll with a toothpick, but it was my toothpick, and it was gonna be loaded.

I pulled off boots caked with blood and saliva to reveal a souvenir of the encounter: bruises from ankle to mid thigh.

Should have worn armored boots. Blood or mucus colored armored boots would have been ideal. But on the bright side, none of the blood was mine.

“It’s a well-traveled path. You can wear comfortable traveling clothes, no need for armor.

Owww. You’re an idiot, Brianna,” I muttered, managing to stay up on the next attempt.

“Hope they have a decent healer in Barricayde. Not to mention a laundry.”

Shard

Murky water burned my eyes as my feet sank into the mud. The caprid in my arms flailed and kicked, I could feel its chest heave in panicked breaths. “Juro, a little help?” I called.

“I am helping. I’m watching out for predators.” Juro crouched atop a low branch of a live oak tree, gaze darting between trees and clumps of reeds. He grinned. “None here. You’re welcome.”

“I meant, could you grab the other two trapped caprids.”

“Theoretically, I could.”

I waded ashore, set the waist-high, hoofed creature next to its flockmates, hoping the presence of the herd would calm it.

“At least keep the flock from panicking while I get the other two.”

Juro bounded from branch to branch, finally settling on the ground beside me. He had auburn fur, stood a tad shorter than me, his tail shorter as well, and lacking the white puffy tip he made fun of when we were growing up.

“If we leave them out here,” he said, “our neighbors might learn a valuable lesson about the merits of proper animal husbandry.”

“The creatures horns are blunted, they cannot defend themselves against predators and would most likely be devoured by bog toads before the humans were able to recover them all.”

“Which would certainly be a valuable lesson, Shard. Hurt what they value most.”

Juro didn’t need to complete the thought. We all knew what that was. “It would indeed hurt their coin purse, but caprids shouldn’t pay the price to do so. The creatures are innocent.”

“Didn’t you want to visit the bookseller this afternoon? New volume of that pirate series you’re always talking about.”

I dove back into the stagnant green-brown murk at the edge of the marsh, swam around the last two stragglers, managing to shoo them toward the herd without having to carry them.

I spat, trying to clear the taste of marsh water from my mouth. Mud, slimy strands of algae, and decaying vegetation plugged my nose, clung to my ears, obscured my normally keen senses. But I wasn’t worried, Juro was a rascal, but he’d have my back at the first hint of danger.

“Yes. It’s supposed to be out today. But after all that effort, we can’t leave the task unfinished.”

Juro shrugged, but helped guide the flock toward the shepherd’s day shed.

We encountered the herder’s daughter a few minutes later, sprinting toward us, a wooden crook in her hands, single shot rifle slung across her back.

“You’ve found them, thank you!” She huffed heavily, her armor and gear sized more for an adult human than an early teen.

“That’s the third time this month,” said Juro.

She mumbled, pointed at the creatures with an index finger as she counted. “All here. My stupid little brother needed help with…” She shook her head. “It’s not important. I’d like to thank you, but I don’t have my coin purse with me. Come with me to the day shed, maybe there’s something there.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m still hoping to make it to the bookseller today.”
Juro snorked. “Looking like that? The humans won’t even let you through the city gate! You’ll be lucky if they don’t mistake you for a swamp monster and hunt you.”

“Good point.” I turned to the girl. “How about a few buckets of fresh water, some rags, and a brush?”

She smiled. “Deal.” She moved to clap me on the shoulder, hesitated, backed off half a step. “Maybe after a bath.”

About the Author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.


He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.


Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog/

Newsletter signup: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/about/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhwillison
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DHWillison/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/d.h.willison/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19933553.D_H_Willison

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How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? Brianna and Shard find out, but will they take the secret to a watery grave? Life-and-death adventures on a creepy, monster infested world blend with wit, whimsy and romance. https://dhwillisoncreates.com/   

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…
The tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Woman in the Library is available now.

The thing that grabbed me and immediately interested me in reading this book was that it featured the word “library” in the title. That’s it. If there is an angle that features words, libraries, or bookstores, I’ll be almost immediately intrigued. The writing and storyline kept me reading, happily drawn into a fun mystery involving four new-found friends.

Author Sulari Gentill plays off the new-friend dynamic incredibly well. When people first hit it off, it’s easier to ignore (or not even notice) things about the other person which will either begin to annoy over time or, in the worst of cases, turn out to be major red flags. These four people met in a library reading room, brought together by a stressful event. That’s enough to form the beginnings of friendship right there, although of course someone is not who they seem.

The book’s storytelling tricks were my favorite thing about it. The Woman in the Library features an author named Hannah Tigone who is writing a novel that starts in a library. The novel is about a writer (named Freddie) who gets sucked into a murder while researching for her own book. It sounds a lot more confusing than it is. For the purpose of this review, I’ll refer to the character writing the book about the writer as the author, and the character who happens to be in the library at the time of a murder as the writer. It’s actually a ton of fun, despite my lousy attempt to explain it.

While the writer in the book builds new friendships, the author begins to be disturbed by the unhealthy relationship forming with her Beta reader. Now, that was a character that was easy to hate. Holy cow, everything he “wrote” in his letters to Hannah was absolutely awful. That it degenerated in nature from horrible to dangerous was an unexpected progression that made a sick sort of sense. The continuation of the story wavered from distracting to adding an extra layer of suspense. I’m still not sure how I feel about that whole thing, although I can’t deny that it ratcheted up the tension level of The Woman in the Library.

There were four main characters in the author’s book: the writer, Freddie, in the U.S. from Australia with the purpose of working on her own book; Whit, the laze-about whose aspirations don’t match those of his overbearing mother; Marigold, a tattooed free spirit who is also something of a genius (according to her); and Cain, an enigma who has written a bestselling book of his own. One of them is also a coldblooded killer, of course. It’s up to Freddie to figure out who.

I will admit that I figured out the whodunnit before it was revealed, although the motive escaped me. The characters were all fun to read, although I had a soft spot for nosy, stalkerish Marigold. The book raised the stakes as it went along and by the end it was hurtling at breakneck speed toward its conclusion. I liked the way the book’s pacing sped up as the mystery got closer to being solved.

There was some brief mention of attempted sexual assault, which I feel I should warn readers about. It was not detailed, but it’s always best (in my opinion) to be aware if something like that will pop up. I’m sensitive to that subject and it was vague and short enough that I was able to skip over the paragraph or so mentioning it without any issue. So, there’s that.

The Woman in the Library was a highly entertaining mystery filled with twists and unexpected reveals. I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it to people who want a fun suspense-ridden novel.

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst

Brent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.

Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.

Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life. (Taken from Amazon)

I’m not a Trekkie or a huge Brent Spiner fan, although I’ve seen a decent chunk of multiple versions of the show and a previous tenant left an Ol’ Yellow Eyes cd in the garage of my apartment (possibly my favorite odd moving-in gift that I’ve found over the years). The premise of Fan Fiction appealed to me, though, and I went into it curious and hopeful.

Alas, this didn’t connect with me, although there were some positive points. The book follows Brent Spiner as he navigates death threats, twin crushes (or is it the same person?), and a mystery that needs to be solved as soon as yesterday. It also adds in a generous dose of Hollywood anecdotes and self-deprecating humor.

Brent’s narration is intriguing in that he does not hesitate to put the best and worst of himself on display. He is naive in so many ways, but also disgustingly piggish in others (really? You can’t tell the sisters you’re crushing on apart? Yuck). His inner dialogue was interesting, and his memories of his stepdad gave him an added level and explained some of who he is later on.

His personal experience and the zany things he shares are the best part of the book. Brent’s meeting with poor Gregory Peck had me laughing out loud while cringing. You can’t make that stuff up. Unless he did. Either way, it was wildly entertaining. I guess even actors get starstruck and trip over themselves sometimes.

The book gives a fun look at the other actors in Star Trek: The Next Generation through their interactions with Brent. Some of the things they said were flat-out hilarious. Each of them had such big personalities that they became almost caricatures; but that was the point, of course. I particularly enjoyed reading about Levar Burton (I’m a big fan, thanks to that butterfly in the sky).

But…there were too many things that I really didn’t like. The mystery ended up being a little unsatisfactory, with the reveal leaving much to be desired both in motive and pacing. In fact, the pacing was a little off throughout Fan Fiction in general. There was too little time spent on big plot points, and after a while the dreams and flashbacks became redundant.

I feel like I’m being much harsher than I generally am, but I suppose I’m ticked off about a certain part of the book and it’s affected my overall opinion. Big breath–now to touch on my biggest complaint.

I absolutely loathe insensitive remarks about mental health, doubly so when they’re couched in terms of “praise” as was the case here. I could try to sum up my issue with a certain part, but I’ll just quote some of it here instead.

“You know, I have been said to suffer from Asperger’s myself, but I think that overstates it. I’d say I’m an honorary Asperger. I’m also an honorary Tourette because I tend to jerk and occasionally I suddenly say something loud. And I’m an honorary bipolar. I suspect we all have a bit of everything inside of us.”

This is only the tail end of about a page and a half of offensiveness. Now, I fully admit that I may be sensitive regarding mentions of mental illness seeing as I have bipolar myself, so take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt. But it really upset me. In fact, I’m getting frustrated all over again just writing about it, so I’ll just warn you that this lovely tidbit is in the book and move on.

Fan Fiction had potential. It did. But at the end of the day, I set my phasers to “nope”, knowing that I’m not the right reader for this book. I am sure that many readers will enjoy what didn’t work out for me.

Small Angels by Lauren Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

Small Angels is engrossing, a haunting tale that gave me shivers. The shivers were half because of the eeriness that drips from every page, and half because of the beautiful writing. The past and the present melded into a single story, one that kept me glued to my seat.

There once were four girls growing up at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods in a small town. No one went into the woods- except for them. These four knew the rules of the Woods and they knew what would happen if they didn’t follow them. There was something angry residing in Mockbeggar, something that only played nicely if they followed the rules.

The four girls helped their mother keep the history of Mockbeggar at bay, protecting the town (even though the people living there looked down on the family and avoided them). But when four becomes five, Mockbeggar takes notice. The history of Mockebeggar is a circle, and what goes around comes around.

That is one narrative. The story of the girls and their life, how everything revolves around the mysteries of the Wood and how it affects their characters and relationships. The second narrative takes place in present-day when a bride decides to have her picture-perfect wedding in a church that belongs to the Woods (at least, to the thing residing in the Woods). There is no way I can be vague enough to avoid spoilers for that part of the storyline, and it’s best to go in unknowing. Suffice it to say, it’s creepy as all get-out. Which is, of course, the point.

Usually, I can pick out one aspect of a book that I enjoyed most: the setting, the characters, etc. With Small Angels, though, it was a perfect marriage of characters, setting, tone, and plot development. The story behind Mockbeggar Woods, and the way it developed slowly throughout the book, lent an aura of uncertainty and a sense of paranoia that the best horror writers would envy.

The setting was perfect: eerie but believable. It’s easy to picture a quiet, wooded area hiding something less than benign. The descriptions were beautifully done and given in a way that felt like the sort of story told in the dark on a gloomy night. I loved how one character saw a quaint beauty to the church (known as Small Angels), but their viewpoint changed throughout the book until Small Angels resembled something threatening to them.

And the characters! They each added something to the book, although the four daughters reminded me in some ways of the sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so cut off from anything resembling a normal life that they almost seemed unreal (for those wondering, there is no suicide in Small Angels). My favorite character was Lucia the Bad. She was headstrong yet fearful and was inadvertently the catalyst for the events in the book.

The book, while never slow in pace, ramped up at the end, giving a sense of urgency that was breathtaking in a way. I loved how it ended. Small Angels never quite crossed into horror territory, instead remaining an eerie ghost story, the sort I love to read toward the latter half of the year (I have no idea why Fall becomes the creepy read season for me; it doesn’t get cooler where I live, just goes from “hot” to “hot with a chance of hurricane”).

Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read. Grab a hot drink and give it a go.

Dragonlance Side Quest: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porath

When Flint Fireforge, dwarf and metalsmith, receives a wondrous summons from the Speaker of the Sun, he journeys to the fabled elven city of Qualinost. There he meets Tanis, a thoughtful youth born of a tragic union between elf and man. Tanis and Flint, each a misfit in his own way, find themselves unlikely friends.
But a pompous elf lord is mysteriously slain, and another elf soon meets the same fate. Tanis stands accused, and if his innocence cannot be proven, the half-elf will be banished forever. Solving the mystery will be a perilous task. Time is on the murderer’s side, and he is not finished yet. (Taken from Amazon)

I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. I cycle back and forth between them, usually switching it up a couple times a day (I know, I’m strange). While I’m vastly enjoying my first-time books, I thought it would also be fun to go back and reread some of the many Dragonlance side novels.

“It’s like folks are, my mother used to say,” he explained to his shop at large, which was as familiar to him by now as a close friend. “Some folks are like this metal, she’d say,” and he displayed a metal flower brooch to the deserted room. “They can be forced into line. They’ll adapt. Other folks are like this wood,” and he held up a tiny squirrel, carved from softwood. “If you force them, they’ll break. You have to work slowly, carefully, to see what’s within.” “The key, my mother said,” he intoned gravely to a stone bench near the door, “is to know which is which.”

The nostalgia is strong with Kindred Spirits. This was the first side Dragonlance side novel that I ever read, and I’ve read it a fair number of times since (in fact, one memorable Christmas when I was a teen, the lovely tree in my living room slowly toppled over, encasing me- and this book- in a cage of pine needles). This will be an odd review, with a mix of nostalgia-colored lenses and my recent impression.

First, the good. Kindred Spirits takes us to the genesis of Flint’s relationship with Tanis, one which will forge the bedrock of the Companions during the War of the Lance. I’d suggest reading the Chronicles before reading this book. After all, this is meant to be an add-on to the original storyline, not a starting point.

I really love seeing Flint’s heart and what led a grumpy old dwarf to befriend an angst-ridden half-elf. His friendship/mentor role with Tanis has always been interesting to me and it’s cool to see how much he helped shape Tanis into a (still moody) thoughtful leader. Watching his friendship with Tanis grow is always fun. There’s also an explanation to how a certain “betrothal” came about, and it really cracks me up.

The characters match what you see in the Chronicles, which is important to me. I can’t stand it when an already established character acts completely differently in a separate novel. Character growth is great, changing a character’s core nature is annoying. The authors know the difference and manage it beautifully.

The description of both Qualinesti and its customs is well done, interesting and detailed. The political side of things is also rather intriguing and there’s not enough of it to become tedious. However, someone experienced with the lore of Dragonlance will notice discrepancies between books and events. For example, there’s a certain magical item that makes an appearance, despite it not being possible, according to events in Krynn’s timeline. These are small niggles, which can be ignored in the enjoyment of the novel. It is clear, though, that this is a secondary book meant only to add to a character’s background.

There is a sort-of mystery to Kindred Spirits. Tanis is accused of murdering multiple people, and it is up to Flint to prove Tanis’ innocence. It’s entertaining, especially since it’s obvious that Flint is way outside his skill set. Of course, the “mystery” is far from mysterious so don’t expect any big twists or shocking revelations. The motive is also flimsy at best. So, there’s that.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy this book immensely simply because I love seeing Flint and Tanis grow from strangers to family. Also, any book in which Flint calls someone a “doorknob” is going to be one I enjoy. There are some side-splitting moments as well as some heartwarming ones. If you’re looking for more about how the Companions met, Kindred Spirits is a book to pick up.

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!

The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson

When there is something you can’t or won’t do yourself, you get a bastard to do it for you. They are thieves, cheats, and murderers, loyal to nothing but the coin. Everyone knows that.
Yet in war, payment in blood is more likely than payment in coin.
Staegrim knows coins better than he knows people, and he isn’t giving his life away for free. Not to the rebels, not for the lords, and not for all the bloody coins in Rengas.
But then…everyone has a price.



Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Battle that was Lost is a novella that takes place in the world of the Ringlander series.

Novellas are an intriguing medium. Sometimes I find them to be too short, choppy in their attempts to fit more within their pages than the length can hold. Other times, they can feel superfluous. In the case of The Battle that was Lost, however, the length was perfect. The writing was skillful, each word placed to further a story that packed a punch.

Brutal and smart, The Battle that was Lost wasted no time in establishing an atmosphere that pulsed with desperation. The line between life and death could be crossed at any moment, and the characters knew it. The stakes were high, and tension dripped from each word. This isn’t a happy-ending sort of book. In fact, the ending is more of a beginning, the novella serving as a cutthroat introduction.

Qor and Staegrim are mercenaries, doing anything they can to survive and hopefully somehow come out ahead. Their relationship is a brilliant one. It’s the sort of complicated mix of annoyance and something akin to affection that is fascinating to read. Of course, the book is about higher stakes than the fates of two thugs, although they are the pieces that make The Battle that was Lost so compelling.

I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to tactical decisions in fantasy books, but I was able to follow along well here. When you have two armies going at each other, knowing that the entire fate of the continent hangs in the balance, I like to see a personal aspect. It gives me a reason to be invested in the outcome. The judicious use of flashbacks provided this personal aspect, fleshing out characters and backstories and expanding the world even more.

I’m gob smacked at how much was packed into such a short novella. The Battle that was Lost was fantastic. I highly recommend picking it up.