Origin Story

Professional Reader   Reviews Published

I have spent the last couple of years building up the 23rd Legion without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. The first thought was to pull together a collective of creatives and see where that went. That went pretty much nowhere.

Since I have a history of helping online communities get their feet, the second incarnation was sort of a “one-stop shop” for everything you might need to get your online presence established. That kinda flopped, too, as social media helped make those tools easy peasy for everyone to use. I applauded that and waited for the next pivot.

Then came Red Rising.
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Tomorrow’s End (The Path of a Savior #1) by G.M. Morris

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Oh how I wanted to DNF this thing. The start was riveting: all action, mystery, and a smattering of arcane magic, but then that ended. What came next was an attempt at a science fiction-oriented treatise on philosophy, religion, and free will. Sure it was coupled with demons, aliens, mysterious super powers and global threats, but, for me, it was just a slog.

Tomorrow’s End is not particularly hard to follow. There are two seemingly main stories once you get past the intro. Kevin Knight is an abused teenager who is afraid of the dark, and, surprisingly, being groomed to be the savior of Earth. On the other side there is the super-mysterious orphan Daren who has amazing powers, aged up incredibly quickly, and is squashed by more demonic masterminds (or maybe the same… you decide).

Their stories almost run in parallel, but are disjointed enough to have a “where is this going?” vibe.

The main focus is on Kevin, and his reluctance to take on the role he is destined for. Cue all the free will, moral philosophy and good versus evil lectures and diatribes. I get that the author was trying to hammer the idea home in several of the presented aspects and power dynamics, but, for me, it was much more of a distraction than anything else.

I’ll give Mr. Morris credit for the invasion and action scenes. They were fantastically choreographed, and rolled out a ton of alien tech and demonic gore. Again, they leaned heavily on the forced morality of the novel’s theme, but they were still stupid fun.

All-in-all, this one is a hard pass for me. Sure, the second book may clear up the bulk of the “WTF” moments I had towards the end of this one, but there weren’t any real firm hooks to get me to make the attempt. For me, the cover and blurb had me completely pulled in, but the text just didn’t deliver.

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance: Destinies #1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragonlance is back! Yes, after about a dozen years with no adventures in Krynn, the OG authors, Ms. Weis and Mr. Hickman are back at it with the original cast of characters that made so many fantasy fans fall in love with this massive series.

The book opens with young Destina Rosethorn living a spoiled existence lamenting the fact that she cannot become a knight, yet safe in the knowledge that, adored by her father, will inherit Rosethorn Castle and continue to live a life that she has become accustomed to .

Sadly, Destina’s father dies in the War of the Lance, and Destina’s world is turned upside down. She loses the castle due to a lack of a will, her wealthy fiance leaves her, and she is left basically destitute.

Undaunted, Destina decides that she will simply find the Device of Time Journeying, travel back to the War of the Lance, and make sure that her father does not die. That will fix everything that has gone horribly wrong.

So Destina sets out to find the last known holder of the Device of Time Journeying: a Hero of the Lance named Tasselhoff Burrfoot. Yep, the very same Tasselhoff Burrfoot who has been getting into fantastical scrapes for just about forty years.

As luck will have it, Destina finds Tas, as well as quite a few other Heroes of the Lance. Let’s just say the hijinks really take off from there.

I was overjoyed to be able to immerse myself back into the rich history of the Dragonlance universe. It has been far too long, but these beloved characters just slide right back into the normal swing of jabs, barbs, and general mirth like they have for most of my fantasy-reading life.

I’d address worldbuilding, but there’s really no need. To say that the Dragonlance universe is well fleshed out is an understatement. My real excitement in new novel material is the potential for new gaming materials. Having Dragonlance in proper Dungeons & Dragons 5e (or maybe One D&D) is a pretty nifty prospect.

My one complaint about Dragons of Deceit is Destina. I know, ultimately, that she is the driving plot device, but, boy howdy is she impetuous and annoying a lot of the time. Rather than be open about what she is trying to do, she skulks around, misleads, and even downright lies her way into situations that just didn’t need to happen that way. I am very much hoping, in book two or book three, that she has an epiphany allowing her to see that she can rely on others to help her. I have pretty strong feelings about her approach, so I guess the authors did something right in that regard.

At the end of the day, I’m still very very excited that there is new Dragonlance, and I really hope this new content is just the start of a whole slew of new novels. The subtle and very well-played re-working of the original timeline (especially since it is being done by the original authors) might just be the little tweak needed to introduce these amazing characters and worlds to a new generation of fantasy readers. We shall see.

The Witch Haven (The Witch Haven #1) by Sasha Peyton Smith

Apparently, I’ve been very drawn to witchy historical fiction over the past couple of years, and The Witch Haven has been an absolute treat to read. Set in 1911 New York City, this is the tale of Frances Hollowell; a young girl mourning the recent loss of her brother while trying to scrape by a meager existence as a seamstress.

Then the whirlwind begins.

Fending off a drunken attack, Frances’ sewing scissors end up in the man’s neck, killing him. The thing is, Frances has no idea how those scissors got there.

In the midst of being interrogated by the police for murder, two mysterious women show up in an ambulance to announce that Frances is gravely ill and needs to be whisked away to the Haxahaven Sanitarium: a clever ruse concealing a school for witches.

Thrust into a shocking new life, Frances begins learning the basics of domestic magic, but also begins to learn that there are other magicks out there: even one that may allow her to bring back her murdered brother.

The rest I will leave to the reader because it moves quite quickly, and there are many surprises along the way.

Ms. Smith really knows how to set the tone of a story. I often find it hard, especially in the intro of a multi-book series, to get into a smooth rhythm of character introduction, world introduction, and character/story progression. The Witch Haven, however, flowed quite well into a steady beat of what was going on and where it was going. I think the manner in which Frances was learning what was happening around her at the same time as the reader really lent itself to this endeavor.

In fleshing out the world of The Witch Haven, Ms. Smith did a very nice job introducing a wide variety of girls from very different walks of life as Frances becomes more and more familiar with Haxahaven. In this, as well, Ms. Smith builds a very strong sisterhood that, to me, will become the foundation of the subsequent books. Frances’ strong-willed personality really helps push the story in directions that become more and more thrilling, and opportunities for her to really build her magical knowledge.

Book two is slated to release in October 2022, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how much more Frances develops as a young witch.

House of Bastiion (The Haidren Legacy #1) by K.L. Kolarich

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

When it comes to high fantasy, I find myself attracted to those with oodles and oodles of political intrigue, and that is exactly what House of Bastiion provides.

Here’s where we start. Bastiion is the ruling House in a kingdom recovering from the Forgotten Wars. To ensure peace, the three other Houses — Pilar, Darakai, and Boreal — forged and alliance to provide a single advisor from each House to help the King keep peace.

While there are many points of view in this novel, the one of primary import is that of the Boreal al’haidren: Luscia Tiergan. House Boreal is an outlier compared to the other three houses, and much mistrust abounds surrounding Luscia and her people.

Naturally, all manner of plot and scheme ensues, along with some unexpected alliance building and a lot more mystery.

Books like House of Bastiion have to be given some leeway. The first in a planned five book series, House of Bastiion ramps up slowly to ensure that proper due is given to good worldbuilding; and my what worldbuilding it is. It is very obvious that Ms. Kolarich understands the power of building a massive fantasy world. Her attention to detail just in the first few chapters allowed me to realize that, while the pacing started slow, a nice thick foundation was being laid that would allow for some “short-cutting” later in the story when the action really rolls in.

Unlike a lot of fantasy authors, Ms. Kolarich also doesn’t shy away from showing the flaws in all of her characters. There is inner struggle, pain, self-doubt, and odd confidence that comes out of each and every character germane to the plot lines. That is a downright Herculean task to keep organized and running smoothly, but the care and detail definitely show in the ease at which the reader can just fall into the tale.

I cannot wait to tackle book two!

The Twilight World by Werner Herzog

There is just something about Mr. Herzog that is just wildly appealing. I have watched his films, read his commentaries, and attended lectures where he talks about his process. His demeanor, poise, and language is uniquely him, and unmatched by anyone else out there.

When I read that Mr. Herzog was releasing a fictionalization of the story of famed Japanese soldier, Hiroo Onoda, my interest was piqued. When I found out that Mr. Herzog, himself, was narrating the audiobook, I knew it was destined for my TBR list.

The Twilight World isn’t a long novel. Weighing in at 144 pages, it is the perfect vignette of Mr. Herzog’s flavor of vocabulary and storytelling. It’s a quick read, but definitely takes time to build up each layer of descriptive scenery and the typical Herzog-ian level of minute detail.

OK, here’s the rundown. In late 1944, on Lubang Island in the Philippines, as the Japanese were withdrawing, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was given orders to basically hide out and hold the island until he was notified by superior officers to do otherwise. What happens from there is a crazy tale of guerilla warfare and survival that lasted 30 years until he was relieved by his commanding officer in 1974.

One of the things Mr. Herzog excelled at in this novel is also one of the things, to me, that became one of the most annoying elements of it: the concept of time becomes non-existent. Yes, Mr. Herzog uses very gorgeous language to describe how days become months become years become decades, but, again, to me, it minimizes the survival aspect of the situation. Via novel, Mr. Herzog had the opportunity to deep-dive into the mindset of Onoda and his companions, but, instead, there is very little emotion associated with the soldiers.

At the end of the day, The Twilight World isn’t a world-changing presentation of historical fiction, but it is a nice little snapshot of a very unique and fantastical story that is deftly executed by Mr. Herzog. I would definitely recommend the audiobook to get the full experience.

Claiming de Wayke by Colm O’Shea

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Claiming de Wayke by [Colm O'Shea]

Claiming de Wayke is not a normal science fiction novel. There, I got that out of the way. A hodge-podge of Fight Club, The Matrix, Neuromancer and Trainspotting; Mr. O’Shea has created a marvelous semi-dystopian world where the divide between those who immerse their lives into the Scape, and those who despise those who spend their time in the Scape is very very real. Our protagonist, Mr. Tayto, just wants to spend his days doing the least amount of work necessary to stay jacked into his halo as much as possible.

Then someone approaches Tayto in the Scape: someone searching for Tayto’s brother and the amazing technology he supposedly has invented and liberated.

From there, our adventure begins.

The thing I loved the most about this book was the world and culture building. Mr. O’Shea, very smartly, starts the book out with a note about how the voice and language of the book is going to progress. One narrator, the one in the Waykean world, is in the first-person voice of Tayto: a mish-mash of Southern Irish slang with a lot of invective. The other narrator is the voice inside the Scape, Tayto’s voice (in proper English) in second-person. I found the difference very refreshing and definitely set the sterility of the Scape apart from the gritty reality of the Wayke.

Claiming de Wayke is a book you have to pay attention to. It is not a casual read, nor something you can merely skim to work through. This, however, is a benefit and not a detriment to the novel. The rich details, and wide variety of life experiences Tayto runs into in his weird journey really elevate his humanity: despite him trying to always escape it. I, as a reader, really felt for Tayto and the really really outlandish situations he has the misfortune of falling into.

Though mostly in the “real” world, I’d definitely have to put Claiming de Wayke on my quintessential cyberpunk reading list if nothing else than for being a fresh approach.

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy #2) by James Maxwell

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy Book 2) by [James Maxwell]

Oh Mr. Maxwell, I really really tried to get into this one. A Girl From Nowhere had such great potential, and the battle scenes were masterfully choreographed, but what we got in A World of Secrets is the story-bridge equivalent of Back to the Future Part II.

Yes, we did get to see a bit more of the relationship between Taimin and Selena grow, and a pretty big character roadblock was “fixed” in a cheeky way that, in my opinion, was an insult to the character.

I will say, I did enjoy the last quarter of the book, but the first three-quarters felt, to me, like a bit of a drudge. There was some slight character development, and the story slightly pushed along, but much as in Back to the Future Part II, this was just a platform to bridge book one to book three without really adding much to the bigger story other than a pivotal twist at the end.

Yes, the pivot was practically genre-jumping, and a real game-changer in what is going on, but we had to get through a lot of what basically gets flashed into irrelevancy in the final pages of the book.

I do understand that there was a bigger journey that was important to what was built up in book one, but the transition to the “big reveal” came across, again, in my opinion, as mildly insulting.

Sadly, I just don’t have the motivation right now to continue on to book three.

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

Murder and the multiverse. Yeah, that just about boils it down. This seems like a pretty simple premise, but the elegant word- and world-smithing of Mr. Barry are what make The 22 Murders of Madison May such an enjoyable read.

The novel opens with New York real estate agent Madison May getting brutally murdered by a client she is showing a house to, and the details, ludicrously, don’t make any sense.

Enter reporter Felicity Staples. Felicity is gathering the details on the senseless murder and seeing more and more that nothing is making sense, and the killing seems pretty random. Then she spots the killer on the subway and watches as he vanishes.

This is where things get really weird. Felicity seems to have slid into a different New York City. There’s been no murder of Madison May and details in Felicity’s life are just a little bit off. Then, this universe’s Madison May, an actress, is murdered.

From here, Felicity takes it upon herself to find the killer, and she runs into a few individuals who understand what is going on and are hunting the killer as well. Now, Felicity is jumping from universe to universe uncovering more and more clues and trying to reach a point at which she can stop the killer and Madison May can live.

This wasn’t my favorite of Mr. Barry’s work. Perhaps by design, I found it a tad disjointed compared to some of his other efforts. The worldbuilding is very well done, but I just didn’t find the world all that compelling. There are certain details that seem to have been watered down in editing, and that kinda bugged me. Don’t get me wrong, The 22 Murders of Madison May is a suspenseful read, I just wanted more out of it.

The Kaiju Preservation Society (by John Scalzi)

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’m just going to put it out there right off the bat that I’m a total sucker for anything remotely related to kaiju. For those of you not in the know, the easiest way to approach the phenomenon/sub-culture is, simply, Godzilla. If you can imagine giant, city-crushing, monsters on a tear, that’s kaiju.

I digress, though. The kaiju are just a portion of what Mr. Scalzi sets out to tackle in The Kaiju Preservation Society. Written, appropriately enough, in the middle of our little COVID-19 pandemic, the novel is a lovely pastiche of social commentary, science, adventure, and corporate fuckery.

This isn’t heavy reading, but it is hella entertaining reading. Our intrepid protagonist, Jamie Gray, has fallen from corporate idea guy to food delivery driver thanks to COVID and a bit of horrible circumstance. Luckily for Jamie, he runs into an old acquaintance who has a spot open on his team with “an animal rights organization.” Jaime takes the chance, and the adventure begins.

Much as the title describes, the Kaiju Preservation Society is charged with maintaining the “health” of a kaiju population in what can best be described as an “adjacent” Earth that can be accessed due to what can best be described as dimensional thinning due to nuclear activity.

The Kaiju of this realm can best be described as living, breathing — and sometimes flying — nuclear reactors (as all good kaiju are somewhere rooted in). The kaiju it turns out, are more of an ecosystem than just individual organisms, and the KPS tends to all of their needs.

There is other spoilery stuff that I would rather not reveal because this is just one hell of a fun read that deserves to be unfolded by whomever has it in their grubby little hands.

Mr. Scalzi has a proven track-record of getting all of the proper bits together for compelling storytelling and worldbuilding, and The Kaiju Preservation Society demonstrates this handily. The banter is very natural, the story progresses as one would expect a sci-fi flick script to do, and the pop culture references are just downright witty.

I know this is 85-90% a one-shot novel, but it would be interesting to see some expansion on some of the ideas, characters and technologies introduced. I’m not going to hold my breath, but a nerd can hope.

If you need me, I’ll be watching Rebirth of Mothra for the seventieth time.

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston

When the synopsis for this novel came across my field of vision, it was damn near love at first sight. Here is a story that deals in very familiar tropes, pivoting the usual angles on their proverbial ears and taking a swipe at the entire concept of good vs bad, right vs wrong, and holy vs evil. To say the least, The Maleficent Seven definitely caught my attention.

I’m going to get a tad more spoiler-y than I usually do in my reviews, so you have been warned.

Very basically stated, The Maleficent Seven is the story of an evil demonologist general, Black Herran, who disappeared forty years previous to our story, right on the cusp of bringing the entire continent of Essoran to its knees before her along with her band of six merciless warrior generals.

With her abandonment, the royal families of Essoran prevailed, and the generals all went their separate ways.

Fast forwarding to our tale, a new force is wending it’s way through Essoran, and it’s threat is far different than what the citizenry faced with Black Herran: the army of the Bright One.

Headed up by the Falcon Prince, the army of the Bright One is charging through Essoran destroying every town and village who follow the ways of the Elder Gods: basically killing a majority of the populace in the process.

Here’s where the twist comes in (and where I get a bit spoiler-y): Black Herran has been hiding in one of these small towns as a “normal” citizen for these past forty years!

It turns out the Falcon Prince’s holy knights are making their way towards the town of Tarnbrooke: where Black Herran has been in hiding, and she is now forced to give up her simple life to, once again, become the terrible threat she was notorious for. Also, she’s decided to convince her dreaded six generals to help her in the effort.

If you weren’t already in on this stunner of a tale, let me give you a rundown of the generals.

There is a necromancer, a vampire lord, a demigod, an orcish warleader, a pirate queen, and a very mentally unstable alchemist. Almost all of these folks hate Black Herran with burning passions, as well as being not to fond of each other. It’s an absolute dream for the reader.

There are, naturally, some parallels with the nigh-homophonic title inspiration The Magnificent Seven[1], but it is the originality of The Maleficent Seven that really hit it home for me. Everyone loves a good villain, and there are seven that have been so meticulously constructed that I would absolutely love some off-shoot novels regarding their forty-year stories (hint, hint, Mr. Johnston).

Yes, the Falcon Prince is the real “baddie” of the story, and masterfully neglected by Mr. Johnston in his character development. That is one-hundred percent not a slight. Aside from the pressing threat, the Falcon Prince, for me, is only as useful as the mega-fight that is promised in the buildup of the rest of the story. It takes some serious dedication to stay that path, and Mr. Johnston delivers.

The Maleficent Seven is not the most profound novel I will read this year, but it will, absolutely, be on my favorites list. It’s mirthful, gory, drunken and gritty, and I absolutely loved it. It’s not often I gleefully giggle through battlefield dismemberment (oh, who’s kidding, it happens a lot), but there is a lot of that in this one.

[1] I prefer the 1960 John Sturges version over the 2016 Antoine Fuqua version, but both have their merits. It is also probably considered criminal to not to consider the original, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), since it is widely considered an epic masterpiece of cinema.