Story Reveal: The Underground

Coming in October, Strange Waters is an anthology collective published by the Phoenix Fiction Writers, of which yours truly is a member. This group of speculative fiction writers are truly some of the best writers, and people, that I know.

My story, The Underground, is a part of the anthology. Check out the cover and blurb:-)

TheUndergroundfinalcover

What if everything you believed was actually true?

His whole life, Kef has been told he is too idealistic. His older sister, Hiya, insists the Deep is a lost memory. It disappeared from the Raized Domains centuries ago.  Kef wants to believe the Domains haven’t been abandoned, but everything points to the contrary. Their parents mysteriously vanished. People keep turning up dead or missing. And then, Hiya is taken by the feared Dragons. 

Kef will stop at nothing to rescue her, including traversing to the Underground itself to take on the Dragons. What he finds there will change the whole sphere: but will he be too late to rescue Hiya? 

*This story can be read as a standalone. Fans of the Steward Saga will enjoy this tale which is set between part three,The Last Steward, and part four, Soulbound, set to release in 2020. 

Voyage of the Pequod by EB Dawson – Review

Voyage of the Pequod by E.B. Dawson

 

4/5 stars

Hello, beautiful cover! ❤

This short story delivers in typical Dawson fashion. I’m not usually fan of retellings, but the author manages to capture the essence of the original with new ideas and a fresh take that is both respectful of the older version yet adds a newness that is refreshing.

Similar to Moby Dick, there is a crew of sailor-talking men who have a sort of awe-inspiring view of Captain Ahab, and his obsession with a ship/alien/other entity (one thing I wish had been more clear) that supposedly rammed into him in space and made him lose his leg. This entity reminded me of a cross between Battlestar Galactica’s cylons (and even one of the characters in this story is called Starbuck. And I’m not even mad about it) and the ship from Alien.

I enjoyed the characters, Starbuck especially, and his loyalty to Ahab that doesn’t keep him from speaking up when he thinks Ahab is wrong. The Metal Worshipers were definitely interesting, and gave me a bigger picture of the world this story is set in. Like most short stories, worldbuilding and character development are very difficult, but I thought Dawson made a good crack at it.

My main complaint with the story was the distant narrative voice that *very nearly* head hopped. But it WAS reminiscent of the classics. Since this story was a retelling set in the far future, I thought maybe a closer POV could have been used, but that’s just personal preference. All in all, I’m definitely looking forward to the promised follow-up!

Grab it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: Red Sister

Red Sister by Mark  Lawrence

 

3.5/5 stars

I’d definitely classify this as dark fantasy. It starts off with the hanging of a child, the capturing and selling of children, and eventually children being sold for ring-fighting. So it’s not a book for those who hate stories about cruelty toward kids. Despite this, it’s a compelling story. Nona is an intriguing main character, with her story coming out in bits and pieces. I generally prefer stories that have more of a deep POV, where the reader knows everything the character does, so the fact that it’s a bit distant took some getting used to. Not a bad thing, but for readers who prefer deep POV, stick with it, because it’s worth it.

As mentioned above, Nona is captured and sold and eventually rescued by Abbess Glass (a fantastically-well done side character) who brings her to a convent to be trained as a warrior. It’s here were Nona learns more about her power and what it entails. I gotta be honest, there were parts of this that were a bit boring, and more than a few scenes that I feel were unnecessary and dragged the narrative a bit. I think what Lawrence was trying to do was let us get to know Nona in more of a normal-type of setting, having inane thoughts and every-day type of experiences. But I feel like there was too much of this. But that’s my preference. I don’t mind slow-building stories, but these scenes didn’t feel important to the plot. But I digress, because there were spurts of genius amid the drudgery.

When the action hits, it HITS, and you go from zero to a thousand miles an hour with barely a blink. The action was so well-written you feel like you are there, experiencing it with Nona as she does (and taking you into that deep POV I enjoy so much).

One interesting thing to note, and that I think Lawrence does very well, is that the word “said” is often left out of the narrative. It gives the story a very distinct feel, with more of a clipped writing style that I don’t think I’ve ever read before. I wonder what the author’s editor thought of that LOL. But it’s unique, and done quite well.

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. The magic system is unique, although I wish we had a better understanding of how it works, but with fantasy, this is par for the course. I’m assuming this comes out more in the following books. And the fact that Nona’s “knives” are like Wolverine from X-men was slightly annoying, but didn’t spoil the story for me.

All in all, this is compelling enough for me to want to keep reading. I really like Nona, and the worldbuilding, and the unique writing-style. I”ll be grabbing book two in the near-future.

Get it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: The Black Prism

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

4.5/5 stars

This book took my by surprise, and in all good ways. I’d heard of Brent Weeks here and there, but hadn’t picked up anything by him. To my SHAME. This story was incredible.

First things first. Gavin Guile is one of those characters that makes you wonder what his ultimate motivation is. The pretty standard trope “is he a good guy or bad guy” initially had me rolling my eyes, but I stuck with the story since the magic system was so intriguing, and Kip was so dang lovable. Thankfully, the trope is turned on its head as things are revealed (don’t want to spoil anything) that make everything he is doing make sense.

And that’s about it with this story. Everything you think you know ends up being something completely different. It’s not just the standard plot twists and turns that are there just for the sake of being there. The plot is just, quite simply, genius. It makes me want to reprimand myself for not reading it sooner (or, actually, listening, since I did the audiobook).

Weeks weaves a tale so spellbinding you can’t put it down. That’s the genius of a good writer. The characters were phenomenal, the plot engrossing, and the worldbuilding masterful. My one minor critique is the overuse of describing women in physical terms. Weeks tended to be more descriptive of what women looked like as opposed to men, and it got a bit *eyeroll* after awhile. But other than that, this whole story was flawless in every respect.

Grab it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: Quelling

Quelling by Angie Grigaliunas

 

Quelling is a fine follow-up to Sowing, in the Purification Era series. What it lacks in worldbuilding and cohesive plot points it makes up for with character development.

Rab and Ri find themselves in the same position as they were in Sowing. Ri is still physically abused by her mother and longing for freedom, but held back from running because of circumstances outside of her control. Rab continues to grow entrenched in the rebel movement, protecting Ri from their mother, and sorting through the trauma of her own sexual assault. The themes are dark without being overdone, and you get a really good sense of the inner struggle in these main characters (one of the advantages of first person POV).

We get a good bit more of the itzalin in this book, which I liked. I still feel there is more info we need to really understand the reason behind WHY they are so feared, besides the reason given in the book(s). I still feel the world is just too small. All the action takes place within one city, mostly behind its walls, so it gives a very limited scope of what this world is really like. If we had a bit more scope, it would bump this up to a 5 star for me, because I absolutely adore the phenomenal characters in this story.

The plot rambles a bit, and lacks some cohesion. It’s more a moment by moment type of style, as opposed to the normal 5 act structure one would expect for dystopian novel. Not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what the author is going for. It SEEMS the author really wants to focus on character arc, and worldbuilding/plot falls secondary. So instead of a build-up to a climax, there are sparks of action and intrigue throughout, setting a good pace and yet not really leading anywhere concrete except to highlight the intrigue and relational aspects of the characters lives. Again, not a bad thing, just… different.

As mentioned before, where this story might lack in some aspects, it MORE than makes up for in incredibly well done, intriguing, complex characters. There are a few side characters that might need a bit more to them, but the main characters are fantastic.

Rab/Ri and their endearing love for and loyalty to each other is sooooo well done. They are becoming one of my favorite sister/friendship duo’s EVER. You don’t get this type of relationship THIS well done very often in literature, let alone YA. The author has a firm grasp on who they are as a character. Their voices are unique, consistent, and believable. Ariliah, the youngest, is timid and shy, yet undergoes a steady buildup to believable motivations and an understandable reason for being the way she is. Rabreah is fiery, often impulsive to the point of stupidity, yet has the heart and courage of a lion. Yet we get a glimpse of those walls coming down with Sorek, and it’s heart-meltingly, hits you right in the feels type of development.

Don’t get me started on Masrekah. The complexity of this character is so well-done it makes me sad he doesn’t actually exist. Sniff. I’ll just say this: one minute you’re convinced he’s a good guy at heart, and the next you are certain he’s an arrogant, narcissistic ass who needs to be taken down a peg or two. But that’s just it. He’s both, and the splendid weaving of his story only gets better with this book as it progresses.

All in all, 4/5 for me, and I look forward to book 3. Get it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.

Book Review: The Gods of Men

The Gods of Men by [Kloss, Barbara]

4.5/5 stars

This was (almost) everything I wanted it to be. A solid, rip-roaring epic fantasy, with all the beloved elements of the genre. Usually when I pick up such a story, I rate it on four (albeit completely arbitrary and unique to myself) elements: magic, monsters, (wo)+men, and mayhem. All four of these things were *very* nearly there, and made my fantasy-loving heart oh so happy.

First, magic (and the only category with a docked half-point). The magic system was solid, but didn’t completely do it for me. I don’t mind unclarity (is that a word? If not, I declare it so) with magic. In fact, I prefer a little mystery to accompany the system, but this had a little TOO much fogginess with how it worked. I’m assuming it will become more concrete with the next installment of the series. But I would have preferred a little more clear lines with what it is and how it works. I feel like with certain POV’s, it could have been fleshed out more, particularly Rasmin’s. But generally, I enjoyed the unique element of music being a part of it, and the Shah was certainly an interesting concept. It will be cool to see how it (hopefully) becomes more defined in book 2.

Second, monsters. I love some good scary beasts adding unpredictability to a narrative. This book had it in spades. The shades were super scary and unique, and the chakran was downright terrifying. They kicked the intensity up a notch, and raised the stakes at times, so it had this element that I really enjoy and typically judge an epic fantasy by.

Third, (wo)+men, which is just a dumb way of talking about the characters while having everything start with an “m”. I thoroughly enjoyed ALL the characters, which is unusual for me. Usually there are one or two that I have complaints about, be it their character arc or motivations. But every single actor in this story was well-written, had believable motivations, and flowed well with what the author seemed to be trying to accomplish. Even the Maker, the god in this story, wasn’t typical. I love how the characters each interacted with him differently, had various ways they believed or didn’t believe, and how that affected each of their stories. Sable was a compelling main character, and the Wolf, while somewhat typical (at least, IMO) had elements to him that made him a bit different, too. I really loved the “is he a good guy or bad guy?” question throughout the whole book, and how it made him unique. There were snippets here and there throughout the book of fun, believable relationships. Wolf/Braddok and their friendship, the complicated Wolf/Sable thing going on, and even the sibling relationships the author delved into were awesome. My only complaint (very, very minor) was what happened with Astrid’s character arc. It was heartbreaking, in a way, but also made me both angry and unsatisfied. However, I think this is probably what the author was going for, and it in no way detracts from the story.

Lastly, mayhem. This book delivers on complicated plots, battles, fight scenes, and general madness that makes epic fantasy so fun and engaging to read. The author has a knack for pacing that is pretty unusual with epic fantasy, too. Most authors (usually unique to epic fantasy writers) can’t quite strike a good balance between worldbuilding and pacing the plot forward, but the author has mastered this. There wasn’t ever a point where I was bored by the descriptions of the world, because it was so masterfully woven into the narrative. Yet there wasn’t ever a time I was confused, either, by parts of the world because there wasn’t an explanation of it. YOU GUYS. This is so hard to do. I write epic fantasy, and this is the hardest part of writing it, hands down. It seems like this author literally had no issue with mastering this, and it makes me jealous. It seemed so effortless, so immersive, and kept the pacing of the book flawless. Major kudos.

All in all, this ties with one of my favorite epic fantasy reads this year. I’m really looking forward to book 2, and following this author’s career.

Grab it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads

Book Review: Unwanted Legacy

Unwanted Legacy (Dancing with Fate Book 1)

4/5 stars

This was an enjoyable historical fiction read. Unwanted Legacy follows the story of Mithra, born to opposing sides, and destined for greatness. The story delves into the question, are we only the sum of our birth, or can we change fate?

All in all, it was well written. I had some trouble following it at times (perhaps the book was translated?). So there were parts that didn’t flow very well. But otherwise, it was fun, enjoyable, and full of adventure. I really like historical fiction, and this book is no exception.

Get it on Amazon or add it on Goodreads.