Tag: Fantasy Fiction

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!

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4) by Samantha Shannon

Eight years ago I picked up this book with book with one of the most interesting premises I’d run across: a criminal who steals thoughts and information from peoples’ minds, and operates under an oppressive regime where people with her sorts of gifts are imprisoned and executed.

Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg for young Paige Mahoney. Over the next few years, books 2 and 3 were released with the tale of Paige’s exploits growing exponentially. After book 2, I was really convinced that Ms. Shannon didn’t like Paige very much, and book 3 pretty much cemented that.

Then came the gap. Paige Mahoney had just gotten out of an absolute horror of a situation, and book 4 was just “coming soon.”

Boy was the wait worth it. The Mask Falling opens with Paige and Arcturus (Warden), escaping England and ending up in a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris. Paige is in really rough shape, but has been taken in by the mysterious Domino Program; who want to use her abilities and skills to help subvert Scion control. While she has been told to stay put and heal, Paige also wants to leverage her position of Underqueen to gain audience with the Court of Miracles — the voyant syndicate of France — to continue her own flavor of assault on Scion, and, hopefully, learn the fates of many of her friends.

This one is a real rollercoaster, but I often found myself giving Paige the ol’ “What the hell are you doing?!?!?!?”

Paige’s stubbornness is definitely her biggest weakness. Sure, her bond with Arcturus definitely affects her judgement sometimes, but it is Paige’s unwillingness to accept compromise that really seems to put her in all the pickles in The Mask Falling. Especially when things get wacky, and, boy howdy, they get wacky.

One thing about this series that I greatly appreciate is Ms. Shannon’s boldness in worldbuilding. The Scion Citadel of Paris is absolutely nothing like the Scion Citadel of London, yet she could have used the uniformity of Scion to make them far similar. Details like this, and her amazing obsession with tweaking language (definitely read the afterword about how she tweaked Scion French) show a masterful attention to what makes each location, and subsequently culture, unique.

I dearly hope we don’t have to wait too long for book 5.

Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo

I guess the best way to describe this book is “attack of the Grishaverse all-stars!” Ms. Bardugo really went all out with this effort and really delivered on the setup she prepared with King of Scars two years ago (how has it been two years?!?!?!).

Basically stated, Ravka is in a pickle and Fjerda is getting ready to drop the hammer on young Nikolai Lantsov and his merry armies.

At the same time, deep in the heart of Fjerda, Nina Zenik remains very deep undercover in the home of her greatest enemy: Jarl Brum. Nina spends a lot of this tale battling between enacting revenge, providing valuable information for the salvation of Ravka, and tending to Jarl’s daughter, and Grisha in hiding, Hanne Brum.

Absolutely everyone from the Grishaverse makes an appearance, and Rule of Wolves was just a pure delight and awesome mix of amazing storylines and fan service.

This book really hits on the themes of obligation, responsibilities, and accepting or denying one’s personal emotions in the face of great adversity. There are so many twists and shock moments that really compels the reader to just hold on and motor through as quickly as possible.

The one thing I really love about this novel is the way it really pulls together the previous six efforts in the greater Grishaverse saga, yet also leaves the door open for an incredible expansion with future efforts. Ms. Bardugo really is a master of her craft, and, with the Grishaverse gaining greater exposure thanks to the Shadow and Bone television series, there are almost endless possibilities on where to go next.

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe (The Dryad’s Crown, #2) by David Hopkins

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe: Book Two of the Dryad's Crown by [David Hopkins, Daniel Decena, Francesca Baerald]

Mr. Hopkins has done it again. While the serialized releases of his Dryad’s Crown series are excruciating because of the waiting, A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe really made the wait worth it.

Previously we were introduced to the semi-mysterious Silbrey, her family, and her near-insane past. She, and her two children have settled down in a farmhouse next to a forest that seems to provide some comfort to Silbrey and her restlessness.

Gydan, Silbrey’s daughter begins to hear voices that beckon her to come into the woods and provide rescue. I’ll just leave the recap there, because it gets really really spicy after that.

A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe turns out to be the story of one wallop of an extended fight, and an opportunity of discovery.

In the conflict that breaks out, you can definitely see the framework of Mr. Hopkins’ tabletop role playing game experience. The staging and posturing was perfect, and, unlike other authors who try to choreograph combat, there was always a clear vision of how the fight was positioned. This is a difficult skill to execute without muddying the scene with “lost” combatants or just general chaos.

Now that we have a second book in The Dryad’s Crown, a grander story is slowly starting to unfold. I cannot wait to see where it takes us.

As I said in my previous review, the worldbuilding that Mr. Hopkins has melded together is one of wonder. To make things even more amazing, this tale occurs in a world of his design, Efre Ousel, which he has amazingly created as “open content” in the hopes of fostering a collaborative community of storytellers with the goal of building on each others’ work. The potential gives me shivers.

There is already a wiki and a D&D 5e compatible campaign setting. I just can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.

Heroes Die (The Acts of Caine #1) by Michael Woodring Stover

For many years this book has been put in front of me as a “You loved ‘X,’ have you read Heroes Die?” In typical me fashion, I avoided it because there was just an aspect to this book that didn’t appeal to me. This past month, I sucked it up and forced myself to overlook the things that seemed “annoying” about this book and just motor through it.

Heroes Die is the story of the renowned killer of many things in the land of Ankhana: Caine. Caine is a swashbuckling anti-hero who is best known for pretty much destroying the line of succession in Ankhana and sending the land into political chaos.

In reality, Caine is Hari Michaelson from Earth and a mega-superstar who draws massive audiences to his wild adventures via experience-share technology and broadcasts streamed from the unknowing parallel Overworld.

In this story, Hari/Caine must go into Overworld to rescue his estranged wife Shanna/Pallas Rill. Pallas Rill has gone somewhat off-grid in Ankhana (a very very bad thing), and Caine, trying to get her back in his life, dives into the mystery with violent zeal.

Arching over all of the swordplay is the weird meta-story of what is going on in the “real” world. In a 1984 meets Brave New World, society is ruled by a very strict caste system, and there is a whole heap of drama that Hari/Caine has generated/discovered, and this plays out in tandem with what is going on in Overworld.

For me, this book was a very slow starter. I almost put it aside twice while grinding into it just from lack of anything in the story that really grabbed me.

Once I started to see where the story intended to go, I became far more engaged, but I feel like entire storylines, such as Berne’s, could have been vastly shortened or even eliminated. Yes, Ma’elKoth is a ruthless and super-powerful Emperor, but do we really care about his Master Work, or is it even really relevant to how things eventually play out?

I will Give Mr. Stover this: he’s pretty masterful at world-building. I have enjoyed his Star Wars novels in the past, so I was prepared for his style of writing and how his visualizations are.

Will I read the other Acts of Caine novels? At this point, I’m just not sure.

In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

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

It’s no secret that I have a severe love for YA Fantasy novels. I was already excited about taking on In the Ravenous Dark just from the synopsis, and, let me tell you, it is pure gold. Hell, this book brought me to actual tears a couple of times; I was that dialed into it.

The story opens up introducing young Rovan. Rovan and her father hold a very deep secret that could destroy their family if the knowledge slipped out: they can wield blood magic.

In a slip-up, Rovan’s father ends up dying to protect her from the ruling class of Thanopolis and that is really where the story takes off.

Twelve-ish years later a very mischievous Rovan ends up slipping and using her magic in public to save a friend/lover, and she is dragged into the royal court to adhere to their rule of being paired with a spirit guardian. This is where it gets really wacky. It turns out her father did not perish, and was forced to marry into the royal family to protect and propagate his bloodline: the source of his magical history and power.

Because of her proclivity to the power, Rovan is plopped right into a society she doesn’t understand, and really doesn’t like. She does, however, pair up with a couple of the other royal bloodmages: Lydea and Japha. Rovan takes on the full power of her bloodline which results in her father’s death, and she stays at odds with her mysterious guardian: Ivrilos.

At this point, there is a massive plot twist that I would feel disingenuous sharing, so I’m just going to say pick up this book.

Ms. Strickland powerfully built a complex world with all manners of details that really warrant more exploration. Rovan is the perfect little pain in the ass hero, and her interactions with Ivrilos, Lydea and Japha are downright legendary. This book was an extremely fun read, and the attention to picturesque detail is downright stunning. I really really really hope this is a first book in a series, because I can’t stand the thought that the motley band of bloodmages is at the end of their tale.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf by William Schlichter

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

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe and The Dark-Elf

I am a D&D nerd. I also am a big fan of urban fantasy, and appreciate a little bit of the gumshoe schlock of the classic Raymond Chandler school of pulp fiction.

Sirgrus Blackmane Demihuman Gumshoe & The Dark-Elf really nails it in all of those genres and was an absolute delight to discover.

The story opens up with us meeting Sirgrus Blackmane, a Dwarf who, after the Great War in Europa against the Orcs, opened up a detective agency with his war buddy, Craig Mason. It turns out, though, that Mason had a whole lot going on regarding the rum-running organized crime bosses in town that Sirgrus just wasn’t privy to.

The story opens with Sirgrus being escorted by the cops to a busted illegal whiskey barrelhouse. Of interest to Sirgrus is one dead Craig Mason. On top of all that, Sirgrus finds himself investigating the death of a singer from The Dark-Elf that seems to have some very interesting ties to Mason’s death.

Oh, all the while, he’s also trying to figure out what Mason promised these mob bosses, and how he can fix the situation without getting killed. Yeah, it’s not a fun situation for our hero.

Mr. Schlichter sets up this story masterfully. It has all the hallmarks of great pulp fiction, with the added twist of the Demihuman slant. The world-building is wonderfully on-point, and I really wanted to know a lot more about the Great War and the aftermath. One sign of a really well thought fictional world is the ability of the reader to see that it really could expand well beyond the pages of the book they are reading. So much was hinted and teased that I really hope we have more Sirgrus Blackmane adventures in the future. There are definitely a few loose ends that need to be addressed.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

I’ve been hearing about this novella through various outlets for a few months, and it sat on my stack longer than I would have preferred for a “short” piece of fiction.

Normally, I take breaks from “big” story undertakings to cleanse my palette with something easy to consume. Ring Shout is far from easy to consume.

Set in 1922 Macon, Georgia, the story opens with our main character, Maryse Boudreaux sitting atop a cotton warehouse in downtown with her two comrades-in-arms and best friends, Chef and Sadie. The trio is watching a Fourth of July Klan march proceed below them whilst planning out a special surprise for a pack of Klu Kluxes.

In this particular tale of alt-history and horror, Klu Kluxes are fantastic beasts of immense strength and hate who hunt down black citizens with animalistic fervor. Sadie and her friends hunt them.

As Ring Shout progresses, we learn that — as in many tales of good versus evil — there is a new resurgence in Klan evil that is rising up surrounding a new showing of G.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation that is getting ready to be shown at Stone Mountain, and Sadie’s group aims to disrupt and stop it.

Diving deep into the mystical, it appears that Griffith created the film to entrance a nation of white people into spreading more and more Klan hate, but Sadie has her own brand of mystical support to help stop it.

As social commentary, Ring Shout is pretty damn powerful. Rather than make light of the highly overt racism that was paraded around in the early to mid 20th century, the situations and stories help create a more rational picture of the mistrust and animosity that existed between the races.

As a horror story, the novella hits all the suspenseful highlights. There are mysterious monsters, Lovecraftian otherworldly overlords, and a whole lot of cultural lore and tradition. The monsters are made all that more terrifying by the ideologies they represent, and the “big bad” is about as terrifying as it gets.

I was often reminded of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country as I was making my way through this one. While there is a lot of the same themes and tone, there are decided differences, in my mind, that make Ring Shout a more raw experience.

Whether you are a fan of horror or not, Ring Shout should definitely be on your reading list.

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club by Doug Henderson

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

I’ve been thinking a bit about how to approach reviewing this novel. Let me be very clear, I absolutely loved it, and I really enjoyed the very raw and emotional struggles and triumphs Mr. Henderson very smoothly navigates in it.

My quandary comes from approaching this book without discounting the very heartfelt issues presented within. Yes, this is a LGBTQ+ focused story, but, while the viewpoint is presented from and about largely homosexual characters, the core story presents situations and feelings that are far more inclusive.

Plus, its about the amazing glue that a game of Dungeons & Dragons sticks people together with.

Ben is a young man of twenty-five who lives in his parents basement with his cat — Onigiri — and spends his time thrifting and selling old toys and collectables online. Ben is openly gay, but has never really had a real relationship. Ben is also a member of a gay gaming group at a Cleveland-area local comic book and gaming shop along with the other primary characters of this story.

This is the annoying part of any of my reviews where I tell you that I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story, but, in this case, I think that it is particularly important not to. The primary charm for me, aside from the amazing role play that happens during the gaming sessions, is how each character, and their story, unfolds in the context of where everything opens.

The Cleveland Heights LGBTQ Sci-Fi and Fantasy Role Playing Club (a title that I absolutely love and is an utter mouthful) is about how each of these individuals set up their personal orbits: how each of the characters sees themselves, and the whos and whats they surround themselves with.

Everything in this book seems so incredibly personal to me, and, while I started out trying to identify with it as a gamer, I realized very quickly that the identification really came from being a normal human with human doubts, fears and desires. This story loops way out into the day-to-day hopes and angst of just being a member of society in a harsh reality, and then circles right back in to the semi-controlled comfort of the Thursday night gaming session. There is even a little jab at discrimination that doesn’t exactly land where the reader thinks it might land.

This was a hidden gem for me. I really thought there might be more “in-world” parts of the book, but I found myself turning more from that aspect being the core of the story to seeing as the neutral ground each of the characters could work out their inter-personal issues with. Kudos to Mr. Henderson for presenting probably the most realistic — to my experience — gaming session presentation I have ever read about in a work of fiction.

This one is a real winner.

The Psychic’s Memoirs (Terrafide #2) by Ryan Hyatt

*** This book was provided to me by the author for a fair and honest review ***

I’ll tell you one thing, The Psychic’s Memoirs jumps right into it as a detective drama. Above all, I think that’s what it is at it’s genre-jumping core.

Ted Kaza and Lydia Jackson are LAPD detectives who are investing the disappearance of a girl who just happened to very accurately predict the earthquake that hit Los Angeles six months ago and basically destroyed the city. The “powers that be” want a word with Miss Alice Walker, and she’s nowhere to be found.

The next genres come tumbling into play quickly thereafter: superhumans, multi-verse theory, global espionage, political uprising and last, but not least, alien invasion and mecha (major bonus for that).

I’m not going to share too much about this story because if you aren’t hooked by chapter seven, then you probably won’t finish it. I was a tad worried as each new outrageous situation unfolded, but it really works for and with Mr. Hyatt’s style.

This is a dystopian future book that seems somewhat less dystopian and a tad more scary at the same time. I find it quite realistic that there could be violent clashes in the street with ragtag gangs up against police and military forces while the average Angeleno is just going about their normal day-to-day.

Mr. Hyatt’s writing style is very well thought out, in my opinion. Scenes are very well set and the attention to situational details really enhances the personality quirks of the primary characters. Above all, you really get to understand what bothers each of them. That’s not something I think I’ve seen in many other books, but it’s incredibly humanizing.

Another thing I really appreciated was the way that interpersonal relationships were portrayed. Not every potential conflict had to be that way, and there were a couple of very interesting surprises on that front that threw me for a slight loop. Again, very humanizing.

I will say, The Psychic’s Memoirs does go “meta” at a certain point. At first I thought it was a nice little easter egg, but it turns out to be pretty core to the story. I haven’t decided if the device is hilarous, genius, or lazy. I’m not sure I’ll ever decide.

Regardless, The Psychic’s Memoirs is a solid read. It’s fast-paced, and really pushes the reader along with a lot of action and intrigue. This is obviously just the first part (or second, actually) of a broader story involving Kaza, Jackson, Walker, and others, so I hope I get to read more of it soon.