Tag: Fantasy Fiction

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!

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 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.

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

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

It may be a very simple stance, but, in my humblest of opinion, any book that prefaces with a map is bound to be interesting. Provide me multiple maps, and I’m liable to put on a helmet before tackling chapter one.

This is how I knew that The Knave of Secrets was going to be an absolute page-turner.

After a quick little study of the two map (yes, TWO!), we drop right into an excerpt from a fictional reference book. That’s just next-level world-building, and now I’m really excited about this tale.

The Knave of Secrets is about Valen Quinol, his wife Margo, and his two-person crew — Teneriève and Jacquemin, respectably — and the cardsharping shenanigans Valen drags the rest into on a constant basis.

This is a story about power, the perception of power, and the gaps where all the in-between slides around to bolster, or destroy this power. Mr. Livingston does a marvelous job of setting up a myriad of class and political systems to reinforce the gap between the haves and the have-nots, along with the larger undercurrent of the shadow powers as well as how “common” street gangs fit into the mix.

The politics in The Knave of Secrets are vitally important. Much as it is in many modern societies, the established gentry are quite loathe to welcome newcomers to the table, and many complex steps are taken to keep the “new” away.

Tying absolutely everything together at all levels of society are the games. In fact, Mr. Livingston was kind enough to offer a very in-depth “Catalogue of Games” in the appendices to help the reader appreciate just how ingrained in the culture these games are.

Here’s the gist. Valen, naturally, gets into a bit of a mess because of his insatiable need to be on top of any game of chance that might be going on around him. As it is, he is staked to take part in a prestigious tournament where secrets are the currency of choice. What Valen, Ten and Jac get pulled into could shake the foundations of society, and have much larger ramifications in regards to the larger political climate.

It’s a total mess, but it’s up to Valen to hold all the pieces together: quite literally.

As I mentioned previously, Mr. Livingston goes above and beyond in the world-building department. The attention to detail, and the meticulous building of history and lore is just astounding.

Then there is the banter. The repartee between our merry miscreants is so incredibly natural and indicative of a very well-established, and well-tested, relationship. It was such a joy to barrel through the ribbons of sharp and flowing interactions the characters have. The familiar interactions intertwine and test with witty jabs and history-tested considerations while the exchanges between oft suspicious strangers is wildly calculated and sharp. This flowing consideration of vocabulary and inflection is just a treat for the readers.

I dare not spill any of the beans on how this wonderful tale builds or resolves, but I can say that I really hope that Mr. Livingston is not done with this world. My appetite has been whetted, and I absolutely desire more.

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods #1) by Tara Sim

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

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods Book 1) by [Tara Sim]

Sometimes you stumble on a book that hits all the right buttons at just the right time. Boy howdy, The City of Dusk sure did.

Set in the realm of Nexus (a very telling name, no?) in the city of Vaega, The City of Dusk is the story of four noble houses: each with their own divine magic affiliation and abilities. Well, really it’s about the heirs of these houses and their interaction with each other, their deities, and with the impending doom they sense coming.

The gods these houses descended from have shut off the realm that contains Nexus from the other realms of magic. To add a special twist, the Holy King may announce one of the heirs the heir to the crown at any moment.

Yeah, all the makings of some serious grimdark tomfoolery.

Above all The City of Dusk massively excels at a pervasive inner conflict that roils through each and every one of the main characters. Attitudes, allegiances and even relationships sway back and forth, caroming off of every obstacle imaginable. Just when things begin to even out a little bit, some new bit of madness drops in out of the ether and everything is upended. As a plot device, however, it really really adds to the sense of uncertainty that is practically a character in its own right. Ms. Sims deftly weaves together impossible and improbable situations that each of the heirs has to traverse, and, in some cases, there doesn’t seem to be a plausible “right answer” that can be achieved. It’s absolutely delicious.

This is a series that is going to pain me greatly to have to wait for. This first book isn’t even officially “out in the wild,” and I’m craving the second. This book is definitely bound to be on several of the “best of” lists for 2022. On March 22, make sure you have your copy.

Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

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

Rosalind Featherstone is a badass. Yeah, she might not always make the best decisions; she’s a little impulsive, and she probably drinks too much, but, nonetheless, Roz is a badass. When we first meet her at The Skinned Cat — one of the few taverns she is still welcome in — Roz manages to get in a bit of a knock-down, drag-out scuffle whilst waiting for her partner, the humongous Lysander Tunning.

Lysander has lined up a cherry of a job for him and Roz: rescuing the kidnapped infant of the highly respected Lord Edmund which was kidnapped by the relatively new and notorious Alath Mages Guild.

That’s how this marvelous tale kicks off. From there we drop right into hardboiled noir, magic, spirits, deception and a little bit of sexy time. J.S. Kelley has absolutely nailed the banter between our two primary protagonists. Roz and Lye and old friends and the relationship is just so beautifully executed. In fantasy fiction such as this, you usually expect the big lunk to be the hot-headed one, but it is just absolutely refreshing for Lye to be the voice of reason while Roz will pretty much take on anything regardless of risk. That being said, though, Roz has a real intuitive noggin on her shoulders. The mystery aspect of Gutter Mage is what really sets it apart from much of the fantasy fiction that is out there. I would think I had a certain twist sorted, and be absolutely wrong: an incredibly enjoyable feeling when navigating a new book.

Rolling this all up in Roz’s semi-mysterious history is just the icing on the cake. J.S. Kelley definitely has some serious talent at character development, and the worldbuilding in Gutter Mage is also incredibly top notch. Do yourself a favor and put this one in your TBR stack. I honestly can’t think of a more enjoyable mystery novel that I have read in the past year. I feel like a night out drinking with Roz would lead to some serious mirth.

I do hope that this is not the last that we see of this world. I feel like there were enough unanswered questions to warrant another book (or ten), and, honestly, I just can’t wait for more.

Vampire Brother by Steve Stephenson

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

Vampire Brother

Elves and vampires; what a fantastic combination! I never like to fault an author for releasing their works out into the world because it is horribly stressful, and, for some, quite traumatic. That being said, I just couldn’t get into this book. It had all of the hallmarks of being right up my alley, but it just falls flat on so many fronts.

First of all, there is a massive amount of lore that is just gently glossed over. The way certain things are addressed in Vampire Brother, it is as if this is a middle book in a series. History and mythology are hinted at, but not expounded upon. There seems to be a literal cast of thousands, and the story switches perspective very often. At points I just felt like I was reading my notes from previous sessions of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The action was there, but very little flavor.

If developed, this could have been a very good multi-book series, but just too much was tackled, and in a semi-haphazard way for my liking. I really detest being harsh, but I have to be honest.

A Red Moon Over Rhyll (The Dryad’s Crown, #3) by David Hopkins

A Red Moon Over Rhyll: Book Three of the Dryad's Crown by [David Hopkins, Daniel Decena, Francesca Baerald]

There is something completely magical, and utterly frustrating about serialized short fiction. That being said, Mr. Hopkins has been quite adept at tapping into the cliff-hanger aspect of it that I seriously admire.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Gydan and Yurig, children of the mysterious Silbrey, had just escaped certain doom from what can only be described as a sleeper attack near their farmhouse. An attack that gained Gydan a dragon, Yurig a spellbook, and Silbrey a sense that not all was well in the tiny corner of the world they inhabited. To make matters worse, the trio was headed into uncomfortable territory to “do their duty” to Bren Caius, the high general of the land: with whom Silbrey has a very distinct history.

The maddening thing about reviewing short fiction is trying to put a certain point across without giving away the meat of the story. As I am not deft at dodging and feinting around anything, I will just tell you, this book is where it starts to get deeply spicy.

As is his forte, Mr. Hopkins presents a situation that amplifies itself into a white-knuckled area of “What the hell happens next?!?!?!?” in a very gentle manner. New epic heroes enter the scene, and we are introduced to the most imposing of epic villains. A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe was just a taste of the action that was to proceed. We tasted some blood, and Mr. Hopkins was happy to oblige us with a tad more.

Shifting gears, I do have to give even more kudos to the world building that is going on with this series. There is a new level of politicking that goes on in A Red Moon Over Rhyll that is just absolutely sublime. One thing I found very welcome was an expansion of existing character development on top of these new twists. This started out a Silbrey series, but I’d be willing to bet that Gydan and Yurig will be polished into the sheen of the deepest heartwood during this progression. I’m elated and a little afraid.

Bring on book four!