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The Self-Published Fantast Blog-Off Post 2: Bloodrush & The Thief Who…

The Self-Published Fantast Blog-Off Post 2: Bloodrush & The Thief Who… published on No Comments on The Self-Published Fantast Blog-Off Post 2: Bloodrush & The Thief Who…

About the Contest

The Self-published Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO) is sponsored by Mark Lawrence and carried out by 10 hard-working blogs. You’ve probably heard of Mark Lawrence. He’s written a few books.

The contests itself is explained HERE.

And the final results of the contest are given HERE.

Galleywampus is not directly involved in this contest. However, I will read and review the ten finalists. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be invited to officially take part in the contest next year. I know I want a tower of independently published novels myself.

I’ve decided to write two reviews per post.

The first post can be found HERE, and featured Priest by Matthew Colville and Under a Colder Sun by Greg James.

This second post will feature Bloodrush by Ben Galley and The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung.

The books at the SPFBO are also being rated by the blogs, so I determined to add my own ratings to the mix. I gather that these ratings are on a 1-10 scale. I am comparing these books to my own general preferences, and these preferences tend toward the center. I don’t often assign a 9 or a 10, unless the book truly blows me away. I also don’t assign 1-3 ratings often, unless the book is really, truly something that I can’t find a good thing to say about it. Most of the books I review fall into that 4-8 range.

Reviews

 

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Bloodrush by Ben Galley is sort of like those old books about an old world teen coming to the American frontier. I’ve always wondered if I view these books differently because I am on the frontier end rather than the point of origin. But this isn’t quite By the Great Horn Spoon or “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.” The whole “feel” if this book is nostalgic.

This is a world similar to our own, but the tweaks are intriguing. America is a kingdom, at least in alternative 1867. Faeries are real and they’re not Tinkerbellesque. Spirits of the land, compiling bodies from railroad ties and rails and broken wood, destroy Railroads in America and eat people.

The magic (sorry, magick!) has been deeply considered, and I enjoyed that aspect. Bloodrushing is interesting, and it reminded me favorably of the magic system developed by Brandon Sanderson for Mistborn. Both involve ingesting a substance to obtain specific powers, and both are limited by what the person is capable of turning into a usable result.

Merion isn’t perfect. He’s a kid, thirteen, who has lost a great deal, and then shipped to another country to live with an aunt he didn’t know existed. I understand his perspective. Going from posh England to Middle-of-Nowhere Wyoming is tough to handle. He does whine a fair amount. But I’ve read a lot of YA and children’s fiction, and I don’t think it is more than I see in many of those works.

His aunt, Lilain, is fairly likable, in an eager frontier-woman sort of way. Rhin and Lurker are also somewhat stock, but I feel they overcome their humble origins and add something interesting to the tale. We see a few surprises through Rhin, and surprises always make me happy.

This is a coming of age story. We see a boy become a man here, and the sequel will likely follow the young man into adulthood.

I’m left with a wary feeling for this book in one area, and this is in regard to the native inhabitants to the Americas–the ones settlers forced into smaller and smaller areas while their land was taken away. You know, the Shohari. No, not the indigenous Americans, or “Indians” as some call them, or as they were often called in the 1800s. As far as I can tell, the Native American humans don’t exist here. Rather, there are humanoid inhuman, somewhat more animal than person, beings who take the place of the “majestic savage” here. Considering the amount of dehumanizing that happened to the Native Americans in the real world, it makes me awfully uncomfortable to see them erased and re-imagined for the sake of magical beings. I don’t think this was the intention of the author, but it kept popping into the back of my mind as I read the book.

Overall, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I enjoyed it enough that I picked up Bloodmoon already and will have a full review of that book up, er. Eventually.

Rating: 8.0

 

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The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by  Michael McClung.

This was an enjoyable tale. It felt sort of like a western, though it is obviously a fantasy work. The primary character, Amra Thetys, is a no-nonsense, frontier-woman feeling character who happens to be a hell of a thief. She tends to stay out of trouble, but she has a hard time keeping this philosophy when a good friend is murdered. She digs into the motivations and events that led to his death, and from there things get really weird. And dangerous. And fun–for the reader, anyway.

This was easily one of my favorite works from the blog-off. There is enough history and weird powers and secrets to keep things grounded, with enough action and humor to keep the book moving along at a brisk pace. It’s short, but I think it was the right length for the book. And knowing there are more books in the series, I’ve already downloaded the second book from Amazon. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into The Thief Who… stories.

Rating: 8.0

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun published on No Comments on The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off Post 1: Priest & Under a Colder Sun

About the Contest

The Self-published Fantasy Blog-off (SPFBO) is sponsored by Mark Lawrence and carried out by 10 hard-working blogs. You’ve probably heard of Mark Lawrence. He’s written a few books.

The contests itself is explained HERE.

The ten finalists are listed HERE.

And these are the ratings given to the books so far HERE.

Galleywampus is not directly involved in this contest. However, I will read and review the ten finalists. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be invited to officially take part in the contest next year. I know I want a tower of independently published novels myself.

I’ve decided to write two reviews per post. This first post will feature Priest by Matthew Colville and Under a Colder Sun by Greg James.

The books at the SPFBO are also being rated by the blogs, so I determined to add my own ratings to the mix. I gather that these ratings are on a 1-10 scale. I am comparing these books to my own general preferences, and these preferences tend toward the center. I don’t often assign a 9 or a 10, unless the book truly blows me away. I also don’t assign 1-3 ratings often, unless the book is really, truly something that I can’t find a good thing to say about it. Most of the books I review fall into that 4-8 range.

Reviews

priest

Priest by Matthew Colville is an interesting work of fiction. I was often left uncertain about what would happen next. It is a bit like a work of noir, but that isn’t quite right. “A fantasy hard-boiled” is on the cover, and that’s partially what I experienced. It reminds me a bit of an episode of an old crime program, or a locked-room mystery. We know that something happened, and we know the end result. This is sort of a “whodoneit.” We don’t know who did it, or why, or even specifically how it was done. The protagonist isn’t given much to work with.

My biggest complaints, honestly, are that 1) Heden, the protagonist, was often needlessly cruel to the knights, in ways that felt slightly out of character based on some of his previous actions, and 2) he’s terribly obtuse. These areas work as both strengths and weaknesses of the work. I think the book would have been significantly shorter and we would have observed much less of interest if Heden had used this old adage by Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” He wants to swing in, get his answers, and go back to his self-inflicted hermitage. That’s not the job he was asked to do, it isn’t the job that would have simplified his and others’ lives, and it wasn’t what was in the best interest of the story.

The book is not a typical fantasy. It isn’t really a quest narrative, and it certainly isn’t a “coming of age” story. The protagonist isn’t a teen or twenty-something. In these areas, the book is a breath of fresh air. Fantasy isn’t a genre for endless Tolkien revisions.

I enjoyed the work. There are some interesting characters throughout, the mysteries within the forest are intriguing, and I’d really like to step down into that basement. There were parts that remained unwritten, which is fine; there are more books.

Rating: 6.5

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Under a Colder Sun by Greg James is a bit of grimdark (or dark fantasy, maybe sword and sorcery) fiction with a Conan-like protagonist in Khale the Wanderer. Not young Conan. Old Man Conan, if he also had sorcery at his disposal and immortality at hand. Khale is a badass. He is more complicated than first laid out for the reader, and I appreciated that complexity. Sure, he’s a “bad guy” but he has layers.

The protagonists are not particularly likable. These aren’t good guys trying to kill bad guys. These are mostly just bad guys. The motivations are realistic (to the story) and their actions fit their worldviews. I didn’t really have anyone to cheer for, with Khale being the most interesting.

There are some over-simplified characters that feel like they are the archetypes of, rather than depictions of, full-on characters.

The story is written well. While there are some areas that I feel like I’ve read before, there was some new as well. Ultimately, this book wasn’t really my taste. But it is worth a go if the basic concept catches your attention.

Rating: 5.5

[Review] The Love of Danger by Jeremy Zimmerman

[Review] The Love of Danger by Jeremy Zimmerman published on No Comments on [Review] The Love of Danger by Jeremy Zimmerman

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Review

Jeremy Zimmerman’s Kensei is a tightly-plotted, dramatic-comedic YA superhero tale about a kick-ass bi-racial, teen, lesbian crime fighter named Jamie Hattori, who targets baddies in Cobalt City through her ability to communicate with the spirits of places and inanimate objects in the city. As if dealing with her own family, school, and relationship drama wasn’t enough, she has a massive deity problem to handle. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a shot. It’s a fun YA title with a nice crossover appeal.

The Kickstarted sequel, The Love of Danger, continues the adventures of Jamie Hattori. And now we’ve got undead, fascist villains and their robots, plenty of relationship (family, professional, and romance) drama, and Jamie’s new set of skills.

I love the backdrop, with Jamie working in a world already populated by well-known Cobalt City superheroes. Her experience is a bit like being a minor superhero in The Incredibles, but with less family togetherness and more getting smacked around by her racist grandfather. The shared world Zimmerman accesses gives him some interesting characters and events pre-fabricated, a history of conflicts and resolutions, of biases and trust issues that already populate the landscape. We also learn a great deal more about the conflicts and motivations of some of the awesome characters from the first go-round.

The first book gripped me more than the second, but The Love of Danger is an excellent follow-up and I am looking forward to where the series goes next.

 

Links:

Goodreads
Amazon

About the Author

Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. He is also the editor for Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel.

Review: Best Left in the Shadows by Gelineau and King

Review: Best Left in the Shadows by Gelineau and King published on No Comments on Review: Best Left in the Shadows by Gelineau and King

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About the Book

A Highside girl. Beaten. Murdered. Her body found on a Lowside dock. A magistrate comes looking for answers. For justice.

Alys trades and sells secrets among the gangs and factions of Lowside. She is a daughter of the underworld. Bold. Cunning. Free. When an old lover asks for help, she agrees. For a price.

Together, they travel into the dark heart of the underworld in search of a killer.

This is the third novella from Gelineau and King. In their ongoing, over-arching series, Echoes of the Ascended, there are four distinct series under the Echoes of the Ascended banner, all taking place in the same world. Each has a different feel. The first three series, those featuring Elinor, Ferran, and Alys take place somewhat around the same time. The fourth, which is a YA series that begins in December, jumps us back five years and follows Roan and Kay, along with the protagonists from the other three series.

It’s an unorthodox approach, but I applaud the audacity of the creators. And there is no reason that books with different influences shouldn’t take place in the same world. I would be interested in reading a grim, monster-hunting novel in the Harry Potter world, or the hard-boiled detective novel lurking in the streets of a city in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

We reviewed the second novella, Rend the Dark, HERE. It’s a monster-hunter driven book. It fits along the basic concept and feel of works like the movie Van Helsing, or Rick Yancey’s YA title The Monstrumologist, or heck, the video game Bloodborne.

The first novella, Reaper of Stone, which we reviewed HERE, had a high-fantasy face, and followed Elinor as she became a Reaper.

Review

This third novella, Best Left in the Shadows, is an interesting fantasy noir title; in some ways, it feels like a police procedural. Castle in Riften, maybe. It is, at heart, a detective novella. But it owns the setting and trappings of your typical urban city fantasy work. Don’t confuse that with “urban fantasy” because this is not UF. The setting shifts from the docks at night, to narrow alleyways, sewerscapes and waterways, and a seedy brothel.

Alys trades in information and favors. Due to a shared, complicated past, she assists a magistrate in the investigation of a murder on her local turf. She’s not usually the sort to help the authorities, and it isn’t good for her reputation. This provides some good conflict between the protagonists.

I do wish that the work was longer. Novellas fall into an interesting space between short stories and novels. Short stories, the good ones, make every word count. Novels have the ability to stretch out scenes, build atmosphere and tone, give us foils and time enough to live there. Novellas don’t provide the length to feel lived in, nor staccato precision. I want to live in these works long enough to fully understand the characters, setting, magic system, monsters and creatures and politics. I suppose that’s why it is good that these novellas continue on.

This is one of those stories that left me thinking, “I want to play this video game.” I enjoyed the overall tone, setting and character sketches. Conceptually, this is the best fit for me as a reader. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve enjoyed Reaper of Stone the most of the first three entries. But the first three novellas have combined into an intriguing patchwork quilt of story. And I’m excited to finish the short edge of the quilt with book four in December.

Best Left in the Shadows was released on 11/15/2015, and is available in E-book HERE.

The series

About the Authors

Mark and Joe have been writing and telling stories together for the last 25 years. They share a love for the classic fantasy tales of their childhood. Their Echoes of the Ascended series brings those old epic characters and worlds to new life.

Author Links

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman

Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman published on No Comments on Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman

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About the Book

Jamie Hattori’s alter ego, the masked hero Kensei, has been doing pretty well protecting her neighborhood from petty villains with her martial arts skills, her father’s katana, and a little help from the local spirits. But things get rough when the spirits start flaking out, the Goddess of Discord throws a few cursed apples, and an online gossip site sics an angry football player on her. Then there’s her slipping grades, the vampire owls, and the cute roller derby chick looking for romance. And even worse, Jamie’s hero-hating mom is starting to get suspicious. Can Jamie defeat her mysterious nemesis without tearing her family apart? And more importantly, will she score her first kiss?

Review

I really enjoyed this novel. Zimmerman starts off with an action scene and keeps the energy flowing throughout the book. It clocks in at a seems-slightly-longer-than-advertised, taut 188 pages. I think these pages might be packed with a greater than average number of words. It feels like a 220-250 page book to me.

Jamie Hattori, alter-ego Kensei, is a teen in transition. She is living a secret life, keeping her superpowers and night outings from her mother. Her dad knows all about it. He’s a pretty laid-back, reasonable guy. Mom lost her parents in the middle of a superhero battle, and hasn’t been able to let it go since. She watches one of those channels that rile people up against specific groups, spouting bile and anger, and she lets herself seethe in it. She’s, admittedly, tightly-wound and not willing to see shades of gray when it comes to vigilante activities. Jamie’s extra-curricular activities are hurting her grades and social life. But what can she do? She has the power to help others, and doesn’t take that lightly.

Jamie Hattori resides in the portion of Cobalt City known as Karlsburg, and the supernatural dangers are pretty light there. Usually, it’s just enough to keep her busy at night. She takes on muggers and robbers and physical abusers. But things change suddenly, and she’s in over her inexperienced head. Someone is running a gossip blog called 2thefairest, and it is putting out some ugly envy magic. Golden apples are turning up around town, sowing seeds of discord. And Jamie has been targeted. This might also be connected to Roman vampires, Greek deities, and a bunch of missing students from Jamie’s high school.

Cobalt City exists in a world where superheroes are fairly common. A flaming hero might chase an ice-chucking villain across the street as you’re waiting on a red light. The Traffic Enforcer might fly past, being dragged by the back of a car. Heroes and villains are everywhere, like erectile dysfunction ads, or internet trolls.

The problem is that a group of big-time superheroes, the Protectorate, was infiltrated a few years back, and achieved a lot of destruction and created mistrust among the citizens of Cobalt City. Even the big-time heroes, The A-Listers, like Star Dust, the Worm Queen, Wild Kat, Libertine, Velvet, and the Huntsman, need to remain secretive. Except Star Dust, because he’s one of the richest people in the world, and he isn’t really touchable.

Then there are small-timers, maybe the C-and-D-listers, like Kensei and the Traffic Enforcer, (who spends most of his time beating people up for using their cellphones while driving, or misusing roundabouts). These sorts need to remain cautious. Anybody could be a danger.

Zimmerman captures the teen experience pretty well. We view a lot of Jamie’s firsts: first date, first kiss, first arch-nemesis, first fight with god, first battle with a superhero. Each character comes pre-loaded with motivations and reasons for his/her/their actions. The characters have histories and goals. The characters are dynamic and drive the novel, even if Jamie doesn’t have a license.

I love Jamie’s powers. She can interact with the spirits of places and things. Pretty much every place and every thing has one or more spirits, and being able to see them and talk to them is actually very helpful. Especially when they are feeling cooperative; sometimes they aren’t, which can be quite funny.

I am also a huge fan of the fact that Jamie received martial arts training from the age of three. Her powers aren’t specifically physical, and therefore knowing how to use her body as a weapon is very important.

Among my favorite characters are Jamie’s father, Charles Hattori; Agyo, the Cobalt City Buddhist Church guardian; and the manic-pixie-girl-esque Parker. Jamie is multi-faceted: she’s gay, she’s biracial, she’s a Buddhist, she’s in high school; she is hiding things from her mom, her dad, her classmates, her potential girlfriend; she can talk to the spirits of cars and buildings and light bulbs. She has to deal with how these things affect other parts of her life. Zimmerman navigates these muddy waters expertly.

The second book in the series, Love of Danger, recently went through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is expected to be released soon. I will certainly be reading and reviewing it here sometimes after that.

About the Author

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Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. He is also the editor for Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel.

Author’s Links

Website
Mad Scientist Journal
Amazon Author’s Page
Goodreads
Twitter

Review: Paragon Dracus by M.R. Mathias

Review: Paragon Dracus by M.R. Mathias published on No Comments on Review: Paragon Dracus by M.R. Mathias

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M.R. Mathias’ series The Legend of Vanx Malic continues with a sixth book, Paragon Dracus.

About this book:

Vanx, his full blooded Zythian friend Zeezle Croyle, Gallarael, and Chelda Flar, set out for Dragon Isle, to hunt down the terrible force who calls himself Paragon Dracus, but they soon find they’ve underestimated its power.

Meanwhile, King Russet Oakarm, his small group of Zythian wizards, and his hand-picked soldiers, begin rounding up stray Parydonians and spreading the word across the kingdom lands that his father has been dazed by the evil, shape-shifting creature’s entrancing trident, and is no longer the true king. In fact Russet’s father wants nothing more than to kill him, just as the Paragon ordered.

When the unthinkable happens, and Vanx Malic is taken by the Trigon Daze, his crew, and all those who love him, will be forced to attempt the impossible to save him.

Odds are, they don’t stand a chance against something as ancient and powerful as this foe, but sometimes a common threat can cause a lifelong enemy to become an ally. Sometimes to win the day you have to make a deal with a devil. Don’t miss this one. Vanx Malic Book Six will blow you away.

Review

The fantasy genre has had many authors come and go, some good and some not so good. Over the years, I have had the pleasure to read some of the good ones. I have also had the misfortune to read some of the bad ones, and believe me, there have been some bad ones. But I digress. I am not here to pitch out venom or bile toward the ones that I didn’t like, the ones that pushed my eyes and brain to the brink of painful bleeding with their badly written stories and badly thought out plot lines.

What I’m here to do is give you a small account of what I believe is a very well written and plotted out fantasy story. And, for some, that is a marvel among itself.

I started reading fantasy many years ago after my mother purchased for me a copy of–yes, before you think the idea is a cliche, let me tell you, back then it was NOT a cliche, and in this case, it was the love of a parent instilling the love of reading to her child…now where was I?

Oh yes, she bought me a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. When I started to read the story of Bilbo on his adventure, I was completely hooked. I’ve read many books since, and not many have gripped me as that one did.

Until this series fell into my lap. The Vanx Malic series by M.R. Mathias.

The Vanx Malic series, though not already well known, has done the things that other good fantasy series have done. And that is, it has given us a complex character with an intriguing story line that keeps you asking for more. Mathias’s rich depictions of landscapes and battles will keep you turning the page until the end, until there are no more pages to turn. For some writers, the art of story telling is a chore, and for some it’s something that flows with ease. Mathias is one of the few that, when you read his work, you’ll see that it just flows for him.

This is the sixth book in The Vance Malic. The journey that you embark upon when you open the latest chapter of the series is one filled with a grand adventure, a journey that will make you want to go back to the beginning where it all started. It is for this reason that I chose to review this story. To invite you to begin a quest: a grand quest of adventure, loyalty, friendship, and above all, the art of battle. It is difficult to explain the story to you without giving anything away. I highly recommend this novel, as well as the previous installments of The Vance Malic. They will take you down the path of imagination and adventure.
So go and pick up a copy, I’m sure you’ll not be disappointed, I know I wasn’t.

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