The Common Tongue: A Dark Fantasy Literary Magazine

Thank you to the editor for providing me with the first issue of The Common Tongue magazine in exchange for my honest opinion. Issue number one will be available on March 31st. Please be aware, readers, that while my review is appropriate for everyone, this is a horror and dark fantasy magazine. As such, younger readers might not be suited to its content.

Wow, this is a strong first issue! The tone of the magazine was well established from the first story, and it continued in a consistently creepy vein throughout. Every story brought its own brand of chilling (up until I got to the nonfiction pieces). I was very impressed at the variety of entries. Not only was there fiction; poetry and nonfiction opinion pieces also made an appearance.

While I thought every piece was very well written, there were three that stood out to me. Deeper Into Darkness by J. Porteous was incredible. It had an eerie vibe to it, and a tension that made me almost hold my breath. It followed a Beastman, a monster hunter, who was sent to a small town to catch and kill a vampyre. The story was told with enough detail to paint a vivid picture of a small place peopled with terrified folk demanding an answer, while equally scared of the one sent to provide it. I loved the way the ending cut off after giving just enough information for the reader to know what happened next. It was skillfully told.

“Everdeath” by Qril was brilliant! A poem that basically describes a total party kill from the perspective of the demon that did the deed, it was phenomenally told. I loved that it rhymed without feeling forced. Each member of the deceased fantasy party (cleric, minstrel, wizard, etc) had their own stanza. It was witty, dark, and altogether a great read. Absolutely genius.

Last, but most certainly not least, I was fascinated by the editorial piece “Differences in Dark Fantasy Subgenres”, written by Kade Draven. I was actually discussing dark fantasy, grimdark, and horror with a friend the other day and how the lines between them can get a little blurred. I really liked reading Kade Draven’s knowledgeable and well researched take on it. It was also a really smart addition to a magazine that will feature a little bit of each subgenre. I’ll be gnawing on this piece for quite a while.

The Common Tongue will be a great magazine for those who enjoy a macabre read, who appreciate that darker area and the things that often lurk in it.

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.

Fantasy: A Plethora of Choices

Every now and again, I’ll hear someone say “I don’t like fantasy,” even though they’ve never read any. Of course, everyone has their own preferences in literature, which is totally fine, but I sometimes think that what people mean is that they don’t like a certain type of fantasy. There’s much more than just swords and magic when it comes to fantasy (although I happen to love books that have swords and magic).

Here are a few sub-genres, with explanations, as well as examples of books that fit into each category. Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and some of these books can fit quite comfortably in multiple sub-genres. Talk to me! Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed completely. Here goes nothing!

High Fantasy: High fantasy is probably what comes to mind first when people hear “fantasy.” There are some characteristics that separate high fantasy from other kinds of fantasy. First of all, it’s very character-focused. The choices made by a single character, or a few, are most important. High fantasy is set in its own world with its own defined rules of magic. A common theme is good vs. evil.

Examples: The Swans’ War trilogy by Sean Russell; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Epic Fantasy: Epic fantasy is, well…epic. It usually consists of a threat to the entire world and has a large cast of characters, as opposed to the few that characterize high fantasy. While The Hobbit, for example, is high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings is what I would classify as epic fantasy. There’s a larger cast of characters, and a danger to the entire world.
Examples: Game of Thrones; Wheel of Time; Lord of the Rings

Low Fantasy: Low fantasy is characterized by magical events that intrude on daily life in a normal world.
Examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sword and Sorcery: Well, aside from the obvious (swords and magic), think romance, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery is a bit on the pulpy side (nothing wrong with that). I always picture 80’s era Sylvester Stallone as the movie equivalent of a Sword and Sorcery hero.
Examples: Conan the Barbarian; Legend by David Gemmell. Honestly, I’m on the fence about including Legend here, as it doesn’t seem as pulpy as other Sword and Sorcery books, but I’m drawing a blank on other examples. What would you add to this category?

Military Fantasy: This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically military life in a fantasy setting, often following one solider, or a small company.
Examples: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher; The Black Company by Glen Cook

Grimdark Fantasy: Don’t expect happily ever after’s or the archetypal heroes. Grimdark is marked with violence, morally gray as well as completely amoral characters. It also doesn’t shy away from violence.
Examples: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff; The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark Fantasy/ Gothic Fantasy: This sub-genre incorporates themes of death, fear, and romance. It has a darker tone, and elements of horror. Think Edgar Allen Poe- goes fantasy, and you’ve got the general idea.
Examples: Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman; Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Urban Fantasy: This is interesting in that there are a few different routes urban fantasy is known to take: either a separate fantasy world with rules that are similar to ours or, conversely, our world with fantasy elements mixed in. Go figure.
Examples: Jackaby by William Ritter; City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Arthurian Fantasy: This is fantasy based directly on the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Examples: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Superhero Fantasy: This is fantasy based on the character of a superhero. Easily defined.
Examples: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson; Vicious by V.E. Schwab

RPG Lit: Combining fantasy with role playing games, the main character is generally aware that they are in a game-type world. Stats. are very much a part of the book, and the characters interact and progress through the book as they would an rpg.
Examples: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (at least part of the book follows the rules of rpglit.)

Fairy Tales: Starting as children’s stories, lately there have been many re-imaginings of these books that are marked by fantastical elements and magic.
Examples of fairy tale retellings: Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Portal Fantasy: I argue that this is a sub-genre in its own right! This would be books in which the characters leave their own world through a portal/door/etc, and travel to a world with different rules than their own. Often, fantasy elements such as magic are present.
Examples: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Well, there you have it. There are so many different types of fantasy that I beg readers to at least give some a go before writing off the entire genre. However, to each their own. This list is in no way comprehensive. I’ll be adding to it over time, and possibly editing based on comments made by you all. So…what do you think? Did I get it right? Or completely mess it up?