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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe- Self-published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner credit: Anca Antoci
Five years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess. He never returned. Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess. If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity. The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back. (taken from Amazon)

This was a surprising read for me. Based on the description, I expected an entertaining, but relatively simple book. Instead, I got a creative, well thought out story. The book follows Corin as he attempts to traverse the Serpent Spire, a huge tower full of puzzles, traps, and monstrous creatures. However, that’s only part of the tale. The story turns into a school-like setting not too far in. I probably would not have read Sufficiently Advanced Magic if I had known that it would go in that direction, so I’m very glad that I didn’t know. I would have really missed out!

I liked Corin a lot. He was very methodical and highly intelligent. He was also a little shy, which I can relate to. He’s a very unique character and one I enjoyed following. Corin is also joined by a few other characters, which added brilliantly to the plot. I was a big fan of Professor Vellum’s in particular. I loved his snarktastic attitude!

The book throws you pretty much straight into a puzzle with very little in the way of introduction, which I found interesting, but the pacing was definitely a little odd. There were very detailed explanations which sometimes popped up at odd moments. While I found the information the author gave interesting, the amount of it was a bit daunting at times.

Sufficiently Advanced Magic had very advanced magic that was incredibly well defined and delineated. I know that’s not everyone’s thing, but I loved it. The amount of time and effort that was obviously put into its development more than paid off. This is where I feel like the book shone. Don’t get me wrong, the characters were great and the plot was enjoyable, but the magic system is what pushed this book above and beyond.

This would be a great book for those who like complex magic systems and intriguing situations.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat- Books Set In or Around Water (that I actually like)

I’ve never been a big fan of books that take place in or around water. Books such as Treasure Island, or even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have never appealed to me. It’s just not my thing. So when I read a book with a watery setting that I actually really enjoy, it sticks with me. Here are a few boatish books that I’ve really liked.

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker (The Tide Child Book One)

A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new series from British Fantasy Award winner, RJ Barker.

*British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, winner
 
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.
 
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.
 
The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.
 
Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory but the war. (taken from Amazon)

I think my concern with books involving ships is that they will feel small. The opposite is the case with this series. The setting allows for a greater view and understanding of author RJ Barker’s world, which is magnificently developed. Plus, the characters are awesome.

Review of The Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book One)

Review of Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child Book Two)

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.
But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.
If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. (taken from Amazon)

It’s been a while since I’ve read The Girl From Everywhere, but I remember being impressed by the writing. At what point do you let go of a past sorrow to embrace a present happiness? The choices that Nix has to make encompass themes of family, loss, grief, and acceptance. Oh, and the settings are both familiar and mysterious. It’s quite the balancing act between adventure and the heavier storyline, but author Heidi Heilig managed it beautifully.

The One Kingdom (The Swans’ War Book One) by Sean Russell

The cataclysm began more than a century earlier, when the King of Ayr died before naming an heir to the throne, and damned his realm to chaos. The cold-blooded conspiracies of the Renne and the Wills—each family desirous of the prize of rule—would sunder the one kingdom, and spawn generations of hatred and discord.
Now Toren Renne, leader of his great and troubled house, dreams of peace—a valiant desire that has spawned hostility among his kinsmen, and vicious internal plots against his life. In the opposing domain, Elise Wills’s desire for freedom is to be crushed, as an unwanted marriage to an ambitious and sinister lord looms large. As always, these machinations of nobles are affecting the everyday lives of the common folk—and feeding a bonfire of animosity that has now trapped an unsuspecting young Valeman Tam and two fortune-hunting friends from the North in its high, killing flames.
But the closer Toren comes to achieving his great goal of uniting two enemy houses, the more treachery flowers. Nobles and mystics alike conspire to keep the realm divided, knowing that only in times of strife can their power grow.
And perhaps the source of an unending misery lies before an old king’s passing, beyond the scope of history, somewhere lost in a fog of myth and magic roiling about an ancient enchanter named Wyrr—who bequeathed to his children terrible gifts that would poison their lives…and their deaths. It is a cursed past and malevolent sorcery that truly hold the land, its people, and its would-be rulers bound. And before the already savaged kingdom can become one again, all Ayr will drown in a sea of blood. (taken from Amazon)

A decent chunk of this epic fantasy involves travel on a mysterious river (yep, it’s a river that’s mysterious. It’s a thing, I promise). The things found both in and along the river tugged on my imagination, painting a vivid picture of a unique and creative world. The mythology behind the enchanter Wyrr is flat-out amazing. The Swans’ War is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, despite (or maybe because of) the water-travel.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634, and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Traveling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent. Among the other guests is Sara Wessel, a noblewoman with a secret.
But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock dies in the night.
And then the passengers hear a terrible voice, whispering to them in the darkness, promising three unholy miracles, followed by a slaughter. First an impossible pursuit. Second an impossible theft. And third an impossible murder.
Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?
With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

At this point, I’m pretty sure Stuart Turton could write a novel about cardboard boxes and I would love it. His writing is outstanding and the mystery of The Devil and the Dark Water kept me riveted from beginning to end.

Review of The Devil and the Dark Water

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people. (taken from Amazon)

I would have to admit that I am sort of cheating on this one, except that this is my post and my rules. So there. Jovis’ storyline, in particular, has a lot to do with ships and such whatnot and he was my favorite character, so it counts. Right? Either way, I’m looking forward to the next part in this interesting series.

Review of The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire Book One)

What about you? How do you feel about books that involve boats or water travel? What are some books that fit the bill that I should read?

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.

Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.

First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.

Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.

That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.

The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!

BBNYA Book Blog Tour: The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

In the last city on Earth,
death is just a step into the trees.

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.
 
Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.

But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.

Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.

One way or another, the walls of the Blue are going to come down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.(taken from Amazon)

I received The Gilded King to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition organized by @The_WriteReads. As always, all opinions are my own and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors.

If you are an indie author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (bbnya.com) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official, to learn more. If you would like to sign up to enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author Sign Up Form here. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions before entering.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (with the most gorgeous book editions that I’ve had the pleasure to drool over) and The Write Reads.

The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey did extremely well in BBNYA 2020, and I can see why! Vampires in a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies added in for spice? Definitely new and original.

The Gilded King is told from multiple points of view. Julia happens to be my favorite character. She’s clever, resilient, and doesn’t just accept the status quo. I also thought the way the characters’ relationships grew and developed was interesting.

The vampires were different than many I’ve read. I’m a bit on the fence about them, but I can’t deny the author’s creativity.

The Gilded King would be perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and readers who like a bit of romance along with their fantasy.

About the author:
Josie is the author of nine self-published novels plus short stories. She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA), for which she is seeking representation. Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

Find Josie here:
Josie Jaffrey | Author

Ranger’s Oath (Fall of Radiance Book 1) by Blake Arthur Peel- BBNYA Book Tour

The barrier between worlds is broken. Only he knows the truth…
Magic has protected Tarsynium for a thousand years, shielding its people from being ravaged by bloodthirsty demons. When a young ranger’s apprentice named Owyn Lund discovers that the Arc of Radiance has been breached, he tries to warn anybody who will listen.
But legends aren’t supposed to be real.
When a village is mysteriously destroyed, rangers, mages, and rebels all point the finger, blaming each other for the demons’ brutality. However, Zara Dennel, a mage’s ward, has heard Owyn’s tale—and she’s inclined to believe him.
Together, they must prove that friendship is greater than intolerance, unity is more important than division, and that even the most powerful magic can sometimes not be enough.
Failure means the end of all things. A second—and lasting—Doom.
Experience the beginning of a thrilling Epic Fantasy series suitable for all ages. It’s perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas, and Brandon Sanderson.

I received Ranger’s Oath to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition organized by @The_WriteReads. As always, all opinions are my own and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors.

If you are an indie author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (bbnya.com) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official, to learn more. If you would like to sign up to enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author Sign Up Form here. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions before entering.

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be a part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also, remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)!

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (with the most gorgeous book editions that I’ve had the pleasure to drool over) and The Write Reads.

I was fortunate enough to be able to read Ranger’s Oath for BBNYA 2020. I say fortunate because this book is a good one. Fast paced and a lot of fun, this was a good adventure to go on.

There are two points of view in this book. First there’s Owyn, a young ranger’s apprentice. I quite liked him. From the first, he’s an interesting character. He sees something that shouldn’t be possible: some sort of red-eyed demon. This happens pretty much right at the beginning of the book, setting the stage and showing the stakes. He was determined and serious, a no-nonsense sort of character.

Zara is a mage-in-training. She’s skilled. She’s smart. She’s a bit annoying. Taken alone, her personality would have soured me to the book a bit. However, as she and Owyn interact, it makes for a really cool dynamic and one that kept me reading. They balance each other out.

Owyn’s sighting of the demon at the beginning of the book is the first sign of a bigger problem: the Arc of Radiance has been breached and the magic that has shielded Tarsynium is no longer keeping anyone safe. It’s up to Zara and Owyn to save the day, if they can manage to work together.

Ranger’s Oath was very well written. The pacing was a bit slower at first, but it was simply to set up the rest of the tale. Once things get going, there isn’t a dull moment. Magic, high stakes, and rangers (how I love a good ranger!) make for a fun take on the classic fantasy tale.

I think the storyline is pretty straightforward, but that is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes a tale of good vs. evil is exactly what is needed. Author Blake Arthur Peel wrote a fantasy that is both entertaining and incredibly accessible to fantasy fans and fans of young adult novels in general.

About the author:


Blake Arthur Peel has been coming up with stories ever since he was a kid. He inflicted his scribblings on family members and friends throughout his youth, always drawing maps in the back of notebooks and daydreaming when he probably should have been paying attention. It wasn’t until he was out of college that he finally decided to get serious about pursuing his career as a fantasy author.

His favorite stories have always been about good conquering evil, about fantastic worlds and wondrous magic systems. The works that have most inspired him are The Lord of the Rings, The Dragonlance Chronicles, The Riftwar Saga, The Stormlight Archive, and The Wheel of Time, among many others. Blake was born and raised in Hemet, California. Nowadays, he lives in Tennessee with his wife and two sons.

Blake’s links: Facebook – InstagramWebsite

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books – Bards and Magic Users

I thought it would be fun to talk about “classes” in Dungeons and Dragons (and other roleplaying games) and their counterparts in books. A “class” is kind of a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class”-boiled down- consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I put out a call for contributions from the writing community. Both book bloggers and authors answered in a huge way! This post is one of a series because everyone’s contributions were so detailed and genius. You can also check out the posts on fighters and barbarians; paladins, clerics, and druids; and rangers and rogues. Today, I’m digging into the subject of bards and magic users!

Bard: Bards use music and song to either help or hinder. They are often puckish. While they tend to stay more on the sidelines, they are more than capable of holding their own in battle. They do sometimes have some magic spells, but they tend to be illusory as opposed to destructive, and the main focus is on their art.

The Cyberbard shares his thoughts on bards: “Why be the best at everything when you can simply make everyone THINK you are? That seems to be the core of Kvothe, the protagonist of Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles”. A story wrapped in legend, then bespeckled in enigma and mystery… yes, I do believe we have entered Bard country. Kvothe, as a narrator, has been established to be somewhat… unreliable. He embellishes and diminishes in equal parts, all to maximize the artistic value of his tale to the reader. Why let facts get in the way of a ripping tale? The art of story-telling is most certainly the purview of a Bard, and Kvothe is no exception: he is the architect of his own legend. What else defines a classic Bard? Music, for one thing, and Rothfuss (as expressed through Kvothe and other characters) repeatedly reminds the reader that Kvothe is considered one of the great performers/songwriters of his time. Just like a D&D Bard, Kvothe can do just about anything: he can integrate himself convincingly into politics, charm a lock, create masterful artifice, expertly forge documents, and gain mastery over the very elements by speaking their True Names. Importantly, while he can do all these things, there is often someone else who surpasses him in talent for each individual skill. He is a jack of all trades! Did I mention he is also a Monk?
-record skips-
Yes, Kvothe is a MULTICLASS character! At one point in his career, Kvothe The Arcane sought the teachings of the Adem and earned his place among them (albeit as an outsider). There, he became versed in the way of the Lethani, the path of correct action. While his wild nature clashed with their teachings, he learned much from their disciplined way and became a passable combatant (both open-handed and with a sword). If you are a reader looking to play as Kvothe in your first D&D game, start as a (Variant) Human Bard, and take “Alert” as the feat you have for your race. Max out your Charisma and Dexterity scores, and keep average scores for your Strength and Constitution. Keep your Wisdom on the lower side, no more than average… Kvothe is not known for his decision-making skills. Your intelligence should also be fairly high for his various Knowledge skills! Later, as you gain levels, I suggest taking no more than 2 levels of Monk; Kvothe was an initiate, at best. For those veteran D&D players out there: if you’re a fan of Bards and their shenanigans, give the “Kingkiller Chronicles” a try (starting with “The Name of the Wind”). They’re big books, but you’ll want to take your time with them anyhow to appreciate the beautiful prose.”

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”– Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub has words of her own: I was fortunate to recently read a book with an excellent bard who also so happens to be the narrator of the story. I’m talking about Heloise from The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson. She is in the middle of things (which makes her the perfect one to tell the tale, right?), full of sass, and has a rather high opinion of herself. She’s also a blast to read about and is a perfect example of a bard in a more lighthearted setting.

[Referring to Heloise] “…if not the most well-known bard in Erithea (yet), arguably the most talented, and unarguably the cleverest”– Sean Gibson, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

There are a few different types of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons (warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards). While there are distinctions, they can be a little hard to explain. So I’ve decided to refer to magic users here as “traditional” and “non-traditional”. Any annoyance that causes is my fault, and not the fault of any of the contributors. Sorry in advance.

Traditional Magic User: This would be where magic schools, patrons, and spell books lay. Time, effort, and a fair amount of patience are what set traditional magic users apart. These would generally fall in the wizard category. The study and acquisition of magic is constant and demanding, but the payoff can be huge. Think fireballs and lightning bolts.

Behind the Pages has excellent examples of a traditional magic user: “Weak and bullied as a child, Raistlin Majere [from the Dragonlance series] risked his life to claim magic as his own. He spends countless hours memorizing spells from his books, and thirsts for power. Magic is everything to him. Even his own brother’s life does not compare to the need to discover new spells. His body is frail, but his mind is sharp. With a few simple gestures and a handful of components, he can obliterate his foes.”

“I can kill with a single word. I can hurl a ball of fire into the midst of my enemies. I rule a squadron of skeletal warriors, who can destroy by touch alone. I can raise a wall of ice to protect those I serve. The invisible is discernible to my eyes. Ordinary magic spells crumble in my presence.” – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Time of the Twins

“Camellia Beauregard from The Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton. As a Belle Camellia can use her magic to manipulate and form a person into the most beautiful being. The limits of power stem from what her clients can endure, and if she pushes too far she will break them. Trained from birth Camellia knows her limits. But then she begins to dig into the past of the Belles. Where the knowledge of dark deeds lays hidden. And with that knowledge comes power and sacrifice.”

“Don’t be fools. You can’t have both. Who wants love when one can be powerful?”-Dhonielle Clayton, The Belles

Ricardo Victoria weighs in: ” I think that for a modern take on Wizards, Harry Dresden would be the best option. He is smart, resourceful, not a squishy wizard but neither a physical fighter (that’s what Murphy or the Knights of the Cross are for). He would have a wide array of spells, ranging from fireballs to necromancy (remember the T-Rex). He also possesses a large collection of items to store or channel magic, from his staff to his ring, passing by his duster and his blasting rod. As A White Knight of the Sidhe, his Con [constitution] stats get a boost. Due to his high Int [intelligence] and Char [charisma] stats, he has managed to accrued a series of allies, and deal with supernatural beings to help deal with those difficult high-level quests. He also has pickpocketing and lock picking skills, proper of an illusionist as part of his cover.

“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”-Jim Butcher, Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub’s thoughts on the matter: I had two examples, but thanks to Behind the Pages’ excellent paragraph on Raistlin, I am left without one (grr!). However, my second example is also a marvelous wizard. I’m talking about Aravia from The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart. Technically, she is a wizard’s apprentice, not a full-blown wizard, but one wouldn’t know it from her skill level. She’s intelligent, dedicated to her magic, and a talented magic user. She gets Horn’s Company out of many a scrape (and into a few of them too).

“Knowledge and its accumulation were the most important things in her life. Knowing that she shared a house with seventy-nine spellbooks that she was forbidden to read was like working in a bakery and being denied the bread.”– Dorian Hart, The Ventifact Colossus

Non-traditional Magic Users: These would be the magic users that literally have magic in the blood. Dragonborn, half-demons, etc. fall smack into this category. So, too, do characters who have made a bargain of some sort to receive their powers. Think: magic users who take shortcuts.

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: “Magnus Bane, the delightful self-styled High Warlock of Brooklyn from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, is the perfect example of a warlock. He comes by his power through his blood-he’s a half demon. He also has a snarky attitude, and has somehow found himself surrounded by a gaggle of demon-hunting teenagers. Awkward.

“’There’s no need to clarify my finger snap,” said Magnus. “The implication was clear in the snap itself.’”– Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

Meet the Contributors:

The Cyberbard is a talented blogger who reviews beer and books with equal skill and authority. Check out his blog for the latest on good reads, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Behind the Pages is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow…

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still only human, and no matter how strong or good they are, the threat of danger always looms.

Because the queen’s position is so precarious, young women are specially chosen to train as her heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Meanwhile, the disgraced champion Ven has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. When Daleina and Ven join forces, they embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land…before it’s bathed in blood. (taken from Amazon)

I have a problem with The Queen of Blood: it was so good that I couldn’t put it down (okay, technically I could, but I really didn’t want to). I was immediately drawn into this world where every living thing has a spirit, and every spirit hates humans. The spirits have two goals: Create. Kill. The only thing that stands between humans and bloodshed in Renthia is the Queen. She has the power to command the spirits, and they have to obey. Except, suddenly they aren’t obeying. And it falls to Daleina, a woman learning to use her own power, to find out why. Accompanying her is a healer named Hamon, and Ven, a disgraced champion of the queen.

I knew from the very first page that I was going to love Dalein. Any character who is introduced as wanting to kick fate in the face is going to be one I enjoy. I loved that she was intelligent, hardworking, and made difficult choices, even when they went against what she wanted or hoped for. She didn’t have the whole “chosen one” thing going for her, which was an enormous breath of fresh air. She really wasn’t all that great at controlling her abilities the way she was expected to, but watching her play to her own strengths was so much better. I love characters who learn from their shortcomings or overcome them, as opposed to having those shortcomings either not exist or not be an issue.

I also really liked Ven, a former champion of the queen. He had experiences and knowledge that made him act very differently than any of the other characters, which I liked. Ven’s perspectives were often at odds with others around him, and the stakes were much more personal for him.

The first bit of the book takes place at an academy where women with inherent talent to control spirits are taught to develop and use that power, in the hope of becoming heirs to the current queen. When the queen dies, one of them will be given her power and will be responsible for the safekeeping of Renthia. Basically, an entire education is based around the fact that the queen is going to kick it one day. She (understandably) doesn’t love the constant reminders that she’s not getting any younger. At the same time, she knows much more about why the spirits are suddenly disobeying and wantonly killing than she lets on. Her part of the storyline is absolutely engrossing.

I loved the world the author created so very much! The spirits which inhabit everything from rock to tree to air are more like the fae of Scottish lore, changeable and dangerous. Their motives weren’t those of humans and they couldn’t be appealed to or reasoned with. I loved how wild they were and how “compromise” was not something they understood at all. It presented an interesting and unique set of challenges. The author used them so creatively, and I can’t wait to see what she does with them in the next book in the series.

The story did not go where I expected it to at all, which was awesome. The body count is much higher than I expected as well. This isn’t an overly gruesome book, but it’s not all flowers and skipping either. There’s danger in the book, and not everyone comes out in one piece.

I enjoyed The Queen of Blood so much that I bought the next two books in the series before I’d even finished it. This was a fantasy world that I loved visiting and I’m dying to see what happens next! I recommend this to fantasy readers who love kick butt characters, and creative world building.