God of Gnomes by Demi Harper is Released Today!

One of my favourite debuts in recent memory is now available for purchase over at Amazon! This isn’t an affiliate link or anything, I just really like the bookand think it deserves attention.

Now, if you want to know a little bit more about it, I put my review of it up over at booknest.eu last week. For an excerpt of the full review, you need only read on below:

God of Gnomes is special. A book that isn’t afraid to play with well-known fantasy tropes but nonetheless makes them feel fresh, God of Gnomes has a whole lot of heart, a solid portion of enjoyable, well-written action and a memorable protagonist with a huge personality and a tiny gem where a body ought to be.

Demi Harper’s debut at first borrows from and then further develops ideas that (if I’m not mistaken) were first introduced in Dungeon Keeper, the dungeon building video game series originally from the late 90’s. As someone who does a fair amount of gaming, I’m familiar with the gratification this subgenre offers – even if I wasn’t aware of the Dungeon Core subgenre in litRPGs before getting this review copy. Apparently, there’s a growing body of Dungeon Core books and while I can’t speak about any of the others, God of Gnomes captures the essence and gratification of the games.

Our protagonist’s name is Corey, and she’s a God Core. A newly discovered one too, exhumed from the depths of the earth by a tiny, ugly creature in the very first chapter of the novel. What the first quarter of the book deals with is much like the tutorial level to any strategy game – Corey has no clue what role she’s fallen into, how to take on her duties as a god to these disgusting, dumb creatures she’s supposed to care for, these gnomes. Thankfully, she’s got a helpful wisp by the name of Ket to show her the ropes! The interaction between Corey and Ket is fun and funny – the wisp is continuously enthusiastic, bright and eager to offer all the information Corey could ever need, and more; the God Core meanwhile is short-tempered and even frightened by this new responsibility she’s suddenly forced into taking on.

There’s a threat inherent to any opening that relies heavily on exposition, especially when that exposition takes on the form of explanation of a character’s abilities and limitations. Like a dungeon builder’s tutorial, there’s always the threat that it’ll drag on, even become tedious. How Demi Harper avoids this is not just through the interaction between Core and wisp; nor is it only because of the disgustingly adorable gnomes that fill these pages. It’s owed in largest part to the fact that Harper introduces a number of compelling mysteries. Our protagonist is entangled in mysteries: the mystery of who, of what Corey was before she awoke in the darkness – flashes of darkness, of cruelty, of a great subterranean city – all draw a fragmentary picture that fellow fantasy nerds might enjoy theorizing on as they read. I did, and I was proved correct! Another mystery has to do with a nasty antagonist lingering in the shadows, taunting our baby Core girl in an unholier-than-thou, third-person, garbage spewing manner. These are but a handful of the different plot threads that caught my attention and imagination both.

My score for God of Gnomes is a 9/10, or a 4.5/5 on Goodreads. There were a few moments – not many, just a few, that didn’t quite hold onto my attention as well as the vast majority of the novel did, which is why I’m not giving this a full 5/5 score. Nevertheless, this is a memorable read, a great debut and another solid entry into Portal Books’ growing catalogue of LitRPG/Dungeon Core publications. I’m looking forward to seeing what the publisher comes up with next…and I’m even more excited to find out where Corey’s story goes next!

The September Mini-Reviews! Jack Reacher x 2, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Thousand Thorns

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher’s a drug that I can’t stop using. I first got addicted to the gruff ex-MP (military police, not member of Parliament) at the age of 15, with the thirteenth novel penned by Lee Child, Gone Tomorrow – what a wild ride that was! I revisited him about two years ago, listening to the very first novel written by Child on audiobook — . I’ve listened to two others over the last ten days or so, and I’m close to finishing a third. Here’s what I thought about the ones I listened to completion.

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)

High-tension opening that immediately got me invested into reading further. Reacher comes in, guns blazing, and finds himself in one of the most tense, life-threatening situations he’s ever been in. Before long, Jack’s at the beck and call of a drug dealer, forced to play a dangerous game to survive.

I didn’t just like this one, I loved it. Jack is at his best when he’s cornered and working multiple angles, with a clock ticking down and spelling trouble for him; and the fact is, this is one of those first-person Reacher novels, which I love to death. Child does wonderful work whenever he shares in Reacher’s headspace completely – the prose, short, concise and brutal; the way Jack thinks, assaulting any and every problem without pause, dealing with his enemies with deadly efficiency.

With a cast of compelling side characters and several looming antagonists, as well as a series of flashback sequences, Persuader is a fantastic read for newcomers and veteran readers of Child’s alike. Jeff Harding’s narration embodies the essence of the character perfectly, and he does fantastic job with the remainder of the cast, too. My score for this is a 5/5.

Without Fail (Jack Reacher #6)

I listened to this one after completing Persuader. The blurb caught my eye:

Skilled, cautious, and anonymous, Jack Reacher is perfect for the job: to assassinate the vice president of the United States. Theoretically, of course. A female Secret Service agent wants Reacher to find the holes in her system, and fast – because a covert group already has the vice president in their sights. They’ve planned well. There’s just one thing they didn’t plan on: Reacher.

And boy, is that a bad miscalculation. This one is a bit of a slow-burner, going more in-depth into Reacher’s relationship with his deceased brother Joe, Joe’s ex-girlfriend who is now in charge of the Vice-President’s security detail…Joe’s very capable Secret Service girlfriend M. Froelich, capable of finding Reacher in a single day, despite the fact he lives completely off the grid.

I loved this one in part because Reacher teamed up with an old Army buddy of his, a former Master Sergeant by the name of Neagley who is as tough as Reacher; hell, she makes him look like he’s in his tightie whities, time to time.

My only issue is that the climax towards the end of the book felt a little bit too lucky. Of course, Child set up a great explanation but it still felt a little more of a stretch than I’m used to. That said, Without Fail packs one hell of an emotional punch two-thirds the way in, and I can’t stay mad at Lee Child even if the last 15 minutes were a bit less mindblowing than I’d originally hoped. My score for this Reacher goodness is 4.5/5.

The Thousand Thorns by Suzannah Rowntree (A Fairy Tale Retold #5)

This one, I was surprised by. I purchased it as a part of the recent Asian-inspired Fantasy Sale. Took me a while to get used to the setting, the way the characters addressed one another but about 15-20% in, I was all in. Fun characterisation, a somewhat predictable plot twist (though no lesser for it), good action scenes, this is a great retelling of Sleeping Beauty.

A few things struck me about it: this is most definitely a great introduction to Chinese military epics, the genre known as wuxia. I’ve heard more and more of it of late, but until this, I hadn’t been properly introduced. I think it’s a good way to go about acquainting yourself with wuxia, on account of the familiar fairy-tale elements with the unique genre twist. Certainly, this is a love letter by someone who enjoys Chinese epics and knows them well enough to create an amalgamation that bleeds with respect towards its inspirations.

Iron Maiden was a really fun character to read about — I would read a whole novel with her as the lead, if I had the opportunity. Good antagonists, whose interactions between one another were filled with tension. Clouded Sky was a very flawed protagonist, crippled by self-doubt and loss, very much unwilling to go awaken some princess-y sort resting in a mountain.

Most of the twists and turns along the story (save one) were predictable – my suspicions as to the identities of both villains came true without any surprise. My biggest criticism here is, the revelations felt somewhat choreographed. Loved the play on the novella’s title, though (you guys who’ve read this know wot I mean!).

I found this an enjoyable enough read to add more of Suzannah Rowntree’s works to my To-Read list; my score for The Thousand Thorns is a very respectable 3.5 (scored up to 4 on Goodreads)! I’m really looking forward to finding out what else Rowntree has in store for her readers!

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

First time I’ve picked up something by Roald Dahl – this was a charming little children’s story which has ultimately been overshadowed by the brilliant movie by Wes Anderson. There’s just not that much here – the audiobook is a little over an hour long, and it consists of our fantastic mister, this fox fellow, being hunted by three farmers. The more they try to dig the foxes out, the deeper the foxes dig themselves in. Repeat ad nauseum. Some fantastic narration by Chris O’Dowd — made the experience more entertaining than it would’ve otherwise been.

My score? A very average 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Articles Worth Reading: 09 September – 16 September

I’ve read a fair amount of words on the Internet this past week, and thought to myself, ‘Hey, I know, I better share them with the rest of you, too!’ So without further ado, here they are:

Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books

Hint: It’s because big publishers, in this case Macmillian, are working hard on shafting them over:

In July, Macmillan announced that come November, the company will only allow libraries to purchase a single copy of its new titles for the first eight weeks of their release—and that’s one copy whether it’s the New York Public Library or a small-town operation that’s barely moved on from its card catalog. This has sparked an appropriately quiet revolt. Librarians and their allies quickly denounced the decision when it came down, and now the American Library Association is escalating the protest by enlisting the public to stand with libraries by signing an online petition with a populist call against such restrictive practices. (The association announced the petition Wednesday at Digital Book World, an industry conference in Nashville, Tennessee.) What’s unclear is whether the association can get the public to understand a byzantine-seeming dispute over electronic files and the right to download them.

In a July memo addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents, the company’s CEO John Sargent cited the “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales” as a reason for embargoing libraries from purchasing more than one copy of new books during their first eight weeks on sale. “It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” he claimed.

I cannot begin to describe how much I loathe this short-sighted, bottom line, profits first-inspired way of thinking. Libraries are a pillar of free education and an immensely important source of “equitable access to information for everybody”, in the words of Alan Inouye, the senior director for public policy and government relations at the ALA. How this plays out, I cannot say — but I’m happy to spread the word for something that seems intended to hurt libraries’ standing with library-goers.

Grimdark Magazine’s Review of “Wraith Knight” by C. T. Phipps

This one sounds like a fun read:

Wraith Knight, by C.T. Phipps, asks a Tolkien-inspired what-if: After Sauron fell, what would an out-of-work Nazgul do with the rest of its eternal lifespan? In this book, readers follow Jacob Riverson, an undead warrior in similar straits coping with his recent emancipation and newfound free will after the downfall of his own dark lord, the King Below.

I know C. T. Phipps from booknest.eu, where he’s a fellow reviewer — but I have yet to read one of his works. This one might just persuade me to carve out a few hours and give Charles’ writing chops a chance!

Members of TheWriteReads Did a Blog Tour of “A Different Time”

I was part of it, but my review is one of dozens upon dozens of excellent reviews that present very different takes from my own! A personal favourite of mine is the review posted by “An Angry Old Man Reviews Books”. His short, concise reviews always force a chuckle out of me.

Rob J. Hayes reviewed “The Sword of Kaigen”

…And he came to some of the same conclusions that I did!

We’ll start this review proper with a little comparison. The Sword of Kaigen is Avatar the Last Airbender meets Robin Hobb. Sounds a bit strange on the surface, but it really does fit. The world ML Wang has created is a place where there are nations around the world each with their own affinity for an element, and their own powers to control those elements. Delving a bit deeper, certain families within each nation have specific and powerful bloodline powers. As an example, the Matsuda family are water theonites and their bloodline ability is the power to create a whispering blade; a blade of ice that can cut through anything. For those of you who like a bit of anime, you can likely already see a few similarities to a certain ninja story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you owe it to yourself to read this standalone. Almost everyone I know has unreservedly loved The Sword of Kaigen, and for good reason. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it!

Thanks for joining me this week! I loved reading all of these, and I hope you will, too!

Star Wars: Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray – Book Review (Excerpt)

Welcome back, Reader! Today’s review is of one of 2019’s best Star Wars novels, Master and Apprentice. The full review you can find over at booknest.eu.

The Cover is courtesy of the ridiculously talented Alice X. Zhang

At last, the one question that has been bugging me since I was 9 years old receives an answer! The question? Why the heck does Obi-Wan Kenobi hate flying so much? Now I know, and if you read this book, you will too!

Master and Apprentice deconstructs first and foremost the relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, portrayed by Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in what was the best part of The Phantom Menace. The novel’s opening sees this relationship burdened with issues because of what both master and padawan consider to be   The myriad differences between Kenobi and Jinn have made Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship difficult ever since its beginning. Qui-Gon is among the most unorthodox knights in the Jedi Order, all too happy to break procedure if it will bring him closer to his goals; he is, though the word has never been used in Master and Apprentice, a radical, willing to cross borders other Jedi knights wouldn’t even come near – which makes the fact that he gets offered a spot to the Jedi Council at the very beginning of the novel all the more interesting a hook.

Obi-Wan, meanwhile, is very firm on following the rules at this point in his training. He has his own set of problems – feeling like he is a bad apprentice, unable to live up to what is required of him is but one of them. The fact that he has difficulty finding peace in the Force during combat, his battle meditation easy to shatter, is another. What is evident early on is that both he and Qui-Gonn blame their own shortcomings but never one another. That’s a very Jedi thing to do, but it also speaks to how much they care about each other.

A lot of great elements collide to create a politically-charged, morally complex story that has a lot going for it – great leads, interesting worldbuilding that both adds new elements to the cannon and reintroduces certain old ones for the first time after ye grand old Disney Legacy purge. I’m impressed with Claudia Gray and will be reading her ‘Bloodlines’ at some future point, no doubt about it now. My score for Master and Apprentice is a 4.5/5; I thought this was a tremendous read, as fun as Thrawn: Treason (reviewed here) in its own way.

Oh, and lest I forget about it, Jonathan Davis is as spectacular as ever in the narrator’s booth. His Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are eerily true to the originals, and he breathes a lot of life into  Even his young Christopher Lee captures the essence of the character, even if he’s not on the level of Corey Burton, who voices Dooku on both Clone Wars animated series, and almost does the late, great Lee justice. As usual, the sound effects are also present – lightsabers, blaster fire, engines and plenty of mileage from those godly John Williams soundtracks. Del Rey doesn’t cut corners when it comes to the production budget of their Star Wars audiobooks, and us audiophiles are all the better for it.

One last name demands attention: The ridiculously talented Alice X. Zhang is to blame for the wonderful cover. Having looked her up only recently, I can already tell that I love her style so very much.

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill – Book Review (Blog Tour Edition!)

I enjoyed this piece of time-displaced romance.

Keith falls in love with Lindsey, a girl thirty years in the past. It all begins when he picks up a VHS cassette at a flea market, while looking to expand his X-Men collection (which, by the way, definitely made him initially likable — true X-Men nerdhood is something to bond over!). The cassette is the video diary of a girl Keith’s age at the time of recording, back in 1989; what shocks Keith is that, as soon as he speaks aloud, the girl hears him…and responds. So begins this short back-and-forth through time, as Lindsey and Keith fall in love within the span of…15-30-45 minutes.

Lindsey is the star of the book — her dialogue in particular, had something special about it, a spark, something that would glisten under the sun. She’s a creative in a nasty situation, living with a mother who doesn’t understand her and a creep for a stepfather, far away from the Hawaiian home she’s known for most of her life, lost and terribly alone. But she’s well-read, and a talented artist – reading and drawing are two activities that are a haven from the trouble of the real world.

Keith’s behaviour is somewhat more troubling — this sudden connection with Lindsey has some pretty adverse effects on him as the novel goes on. He borders on the obsessive a little bit too much for my liking; don’t get me wrong, I had a good time hitching a ride in his noggin’. He’s a likable guy, he’s a nice kid, but he’s even more lost than Lindsey.

The prose is crisp, clear and serviceable. It could’ve benefitted from a few extra descriptions, I thought; there was an element of bareness to it that would’ve been well-served by Michael K. Hill adding a few lines here and there. That might be preference, though; ultimately, Hill offers an acceptable replica of our world as a backdrop to the story he chose to tell. The cover is lovely, too!

It didn’t surprise me, however — most of the small twists were foreshadowed without subtlety and and I wasn’t surprised to come across most of the ‘revelations’ by book’s end. Maybe there didn’t need to be — this is a romance, after all. But I’d have liked some little surprise to have gone past me.

My score? 6.5/10. 3 stars on Goodreads – I enjoyed it. But it lacked an extra little something to get it to the 3.5 I’d need to give it that half star extra and round it up to 4/5 on ye olde Goodreads site.

My recommendation? If you like an nonstandard love story that’s cute and has some interesting, well-realised ideas, this is something you might want to look at. It’s a very simple book, and I mean that in the best sense – clarity, straightforward plot, a pair of characters it’s easy to root for — these make for a quick, pleasant read.

The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review (Excerpt)

Hullo again! This weekend was nice and lazy and full of…actually, a lot of studying, one week into this new year of uni. I wanted to share my review of Sapkowski’s second Witcher novel, The Sword of Destiny before this first week of September is truly and forever gone!

The full review, as usual, you can find over at booknest.eu. Below, you’ll find the reviews of my two favourite stories in this latest anthology:

Eternal Flame

Hands down the funniest story of the lot. In a case of stolen identities, mimicked halflings and an economic boom, Geralt is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s ridiculous. He’s just an observer, a visitor in Novigrad, one of the biggest cities in the North. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think, time and again, Gods, it sure would suck to have your identity stolen by a doppler, to only see that doppler do better at all you’ve worked your life towards, in a matter of three days. And that’s much of what the plot is about. But in this case, it’s not about plot as much as interactions, dialogue and showing how being seen as an evil monster does not necessarily correspond to the reality of a creature’s nature.

Seeing Novigrad in written form for the first time was also pretty great, I won’t lie – I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would look outside of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. If there’s anything I can say for sure about Eternal Flame, it’s that this is my favourite Witcher feel-good story; with its light mood, and a sense of humour that keeps on giving, this was a great place to switch gears after two emotionally heavy stories, and as a result, it worked out quite well.

Oh, and Dandelion is here. Starving artist and whatnot, wot, wot.   5/5

A Little Sacrifice

This is it. This is The Story. The one that affected me the most, one of the emotionally heaviest tales I’ve read in recent memory, a heart-tearing, gut-wrenching punch in the teeth that left me wiping away a single, manly tear from my eye.

It started off funny – but oh, Andrzej, this is the last time you bamboozle me, I can promise you that. The funny bits have to do with riffing on The Little Mermaid, with a duke and a mermaid obviously in love with one another but neither of them willing to compromise, to make a little sacrifice in order to be with the one they love. It’s all played for laughs until the duke refuses to pay Geralt on grounds of expecting results; results which Geralt has failed to deliver. Penniless, Geralt and Dandelion are forced to move on, despite their empty stomachs. As luck would have it, a rich villager runs across them and recognizes Dandelion and invites him to a wedding. The invitation is accepted, of course, and our Witcher is all too happy to tag along, if it’ll mean a belly filled with food and a night’s rest spent in-doors. In the wedding, the pair of travellers come across Essi.

A newly introduced character, the troubadour Essi, also known as Little Eye, is the catalyst of this story. Her relationship with Geralt is fascinating and not only this but it also kicks open the doors for the witcher to reflect on his relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. To say anymore would be to take away from this excellent story, which hit especially close to home.

This one also shows the depth of Dandelion’s character. Dandelion, to you lot that do not remember wot’s wot, is Geralt’s closest friend and frequent travel companion. This one is the first story I’d recommend to anyone who doubts that the Witcher might not be packing a heavy enough emotional punch. A full 10/10, 5/5, and so on and so forth.

Saturday Night Gaming Returns: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Legacy of the First Blade: Hunted (#01)

It’s been a good while since I’ve written anything about video games, hasn’t it? Here they are, then, my thoughts on the first episode of the 12-15 hour-long first paid DLC for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey! Some Spoilers for Hunted from this point onwards.

Makedonia, one of the fourty or so regions in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, played a nominal part in the game’s main story campaign, a rather large zone for the thirty to fourty-five minutes spent in a single conquest battle and several dramatic cutscenes. Strange, I thought – but I needn’t have worried. Legacy of the First Blade uses one of Odyssey’s largest territories to excellent effect, infesting Makedonia with a whole lot of different quests, a fresh new cult to dispose of, and plenty of side-activities.

The character focus in this DLC is Darius, the eponymous First Blade, called so because he’s the very first person in history to use the assassins’ Hidden Blade. You know the one if you’ve so much as seen an Assassin’s Creed trailer from the last twelve years – springs up, very sharp, used to stab people. Darius is an old Persian, uh, assassin, responsible for the murder of king Xerxes; well past his prime, he and his son Natakes are struggling to survive and evade the Order of the Ancients, the Persians’ own version of the Cult of Cosmos, now safely dismantled by Kassandra – at least in my first playthrough. Darius’ skills are the equal of or even surpass those of Kassandra; while the two first cross blades when they meet and Kassandra certainly seems to be winning by the time Natakes puts an end to the fight, Darius is no joke; he also displays the Batman-like ability to disappear in the middle of conversation, leaving his ill-humoured lackey Kassandra with all the heavy-lifting.

Darius is a cypher – though he reveals bits and pieces of his history throughout this first episode, there’s always a hint of something left unspoken, an element of hidden knowledge. The revelations keep coming as the conflict between Darius, Kassie and Natakes on one side, and the Order of the Ancients on the other, intensifies. It works because it’s tried and tested, and also because the leader of this branch of the Ancients, the Hunter, has a legitimately daunting presence, which is more than I can say about every single member of the Cult of Kosmos. The mental games he plays with Kassandra lead to one of the more memorable scenes in the hundred hours I’ve spent playing this game – Kassandra, staring at a tree from which victims of her blade are hanging. They’re one and all no-name soldiers, Athenians and Spartans alike; it’s a moment of forced reflection, which questions her humanity. The obvious coarseness of this scene only serves to make the conversation options, “I am a monster/I’m not a monster” deliver an even stronger gut-punch.

In many ways, Hunted was a condensation of what worked well in the main storyline of Odyssey – family drama, the search-and-destroy so familiar from the time spent hunting the Cult of Kosmos, the requisite ship combat quest, a pair of boring treasure hunts, and a lot of animal life slaughter. Bears, wolves, eels, nothing on four legs is safe, whether due to Kassie’s desire to have a romantic dinner with Natakes or because the Hunter is an animal lover, it doesn’t matter.

I thought it was good – good enough, fresh enough to continue playing well past the point I’d usually leave an open-world game like this one. And I’ve played on since – next up, I’ll talk about Episode 02 – Shadow Heritage.

Thanks for reading! How about you, Reader? What have you been playing lately?

A Great Asian-Themed Fantasy Sale Is On For The Next Week! (September 6-13)

I love Asian-themed fantasy, especially when it’s ON SALE! Whether it’s inspired by historical events like R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War or it dissects the warrior culture of an analogue of Japan like M. L. Wang’s The Sword of Kaigen, whether it mythologises heroes like Rob J. Hayes’s Never Die or it offers a meeting point between western fantasy tropes and Chinese culture like J. C. Kang’s Thorn of the Night Blossoms, Asian-themed fantasy never ceases to capture my imagination; which is why I’ve decided to not only offer you my recommendations for these three latter books but also to share with you which of the twenty other novels are after my own heart!

Thorn of the Night Blossoms by J. C. Kang

Fantastic action, an intriguing main character, ninety pages I lost myself in, in the span of two hour. I spoke about it at length here, but if you don’t want to read an entire review, I’ve also put in an excerpt below:

Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

I’ve spoken about this book a whole lot — I even did a fair amount of work trying to deconstruct its characters and the relationships between them, all of which can be found here. The most important thing you can gather from that long, long review above, is this: The Sword of Kaigen is one of the finest novels I’ve read, and my favourite standalone of 2019.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Rob J. Hayes is a swell guy! He works hard every month to make his lists of upcoming Self-Published fantasy novels, he looks real great in a gambeson and…oh, yeah, he writes really damn well! Here’s what I had to say for Never Die when I read it at the dawn of 2019:

The band of heroes and anti-heroes in Rob’s latest novel… I love them to life! A statement strange enough, I confess, until you read Never Die’s blurb:Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight-year-old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die. Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from storybooks read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them…

In that sense, my love for these heroes is strong enough to bring them back to life. But I am getting ahead of myself. Never Die’s heroes are as different from one another as you might expect from Hayes, if you’ve experienced his previous work. First among these heroes is Itami Cho, known far and wide through the land of Wuxia as Whispering Blade. Itami is an honour-bound warrior of great prowess, whose great fault stems from ever-present guilt — no matter the oaths she swears, Itami lives to see them turn to dust. She has only ever managed to keep one of her vows; to keep the second of her blades sheathed, no matter what comes. The mystery of that sword is one the author takes his sweet time building up, and its pay-off is…well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the revelations coming your way.

What I’m picking up from the Sale

My First Pick

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Now that’s a tough one.

*Glances at the covers. Eyes glue to one cover in particular.*

Heavy breathing intensifies.

Okay. Breathe. Right, this is Rebirth of the Undead King and I’ve never seen its cover, nor have I ever heard of it before. Let’s see the synopsis!

No one can escape death forever.

When Zaros finds the remains of a fallen god, he seizes upon the opportunity to exact revenge on the monarchy of his kingdom.

However, having a former god as his teacher will force him to confront the dark nature of not only society, but himself.

Struggling against his inner-demons, Zaros must make a choice.

To uphold his ideals or embrace the legacy of his benefactor.

Rebirth of the Undead King is a grimdark fantasy novel with cultivation elements following the tradition of novels like Overlord, Dungeon Defense, and Will Wight’s Cradle series. Join the legend. 

Okay. Fallen gods, a reference to Will Wight’s Cradle series which I know of and have on my Kindle but have yet to read, as well as of Overlord. Alright, I think we’ve found my first pick! I’m sold!

Now, let’s take another look at the remaining 19, eh?

My Second Pick

Oi! There’s a many-tailed fox!

Sold.

Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I absolutely love foxes. The intersection they’re placed at in Japanese culture – that’s completely fascinating to me, and I’ve watched dozens of anime with fox spirit protagonists, antagonists, side characters and so on. I’ve read some of the legends, I even own a game or three. Foxes are awesome. No regrets in picking this up!

One last pick, I think, is in order? I’ve read three of the novels on sale — there’s some symmetry in picking up three more!

My Third Pick

…is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

What if Sleeping Beauty was a martial artist?

For a hundred years, Princess Morning Light has meditated in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Could her long-lost sword skill be the key to stopping the Vastly Martial Emperor?

Rebel leader Clouded Sky doesn’t believe in the old legends of Ten Thousand Thorns Temple. But as bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, the martial princess may be Clouded Sky’s last hope.

Who can he trust – and who is planning to betray him?

Yup, that sounds right up my alley.

These are my picks for the sale! How about you? Anything pique your curiosity yet? Once again, the full sale you can find here. Tell me about which of these novels sounds best to you in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter! Thanks for reading!

August in Review: Sharp Ends, Blunted Keyboard Keys and Loads of Reviews!

Another month has passed, and with it I’ve grown a year older! Gasp, Filips age! I was shocked when I found out and I bet you are, too! At any rate, I had

I reviewed some fantastic books!

I read and reviewed a number of wonderful books. Let’s run down the list:

Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder #2) by Brian McClellan

I missed my train station.
Brian McClellan’s Sins of Empire was among the finest novels published in 2017. I came to it blind, not having read Brian’s first Powder Mage trilogy, unfamiliar with a world that, soon enough would come to be one of the most treasured fictional realms I’ve ever resided in. I recall opening Sins of Empire up for the first time, on a train from Milano to Monza where I was living in March 2017. I’d bought the book on something of a whim, after glancing through a review on the r/fantasy subreddit. It’s a short trip, from Milano to Monza, barely twenty minutes.
And I missed my train station.
That’s the sort of magic Brian McClellan works into his writing. You forget everything but the page you’re on, and then there’s the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. His Powder Mage work is escapism at its finest, and it’s enchanting and addictive.

This was a wild read, and I wrote a review I was very happy with. Adding to that, to my utter amazement, the thread I made on reddit blew up! Even author Brian McClellan took notice and stopped by! One of the blogging highlights of August, even this whole year.

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski

I had a lot of fun with this anthology. It’s a retelling of some of my favourite fairy tales with one of my favourite gaming protagonists in recent times:

Ah, Geralt of Rivia, how I love thee. With the CDProjekt Red games behind us and the Netflix show soon to come, now is the best time to finally acquaint myself with Andrzej Sapkowski’s signature works.
 The Last Wish is an anthology chronicling six of the Witcher’s adventures, a seventh one interspersed between them. These are good stories, one and all – though a few are not without issues. Most of them are based on familiar fairy tales – “A Grain of Truth” incorporates many of the elements of Beauty and the Beast, while “The Lesser Evil” borrows from Snow White – offering a few different interpretations of that tale, in fact, each one darker than the last. Even those not directly based on existing material borrow from folklore; so, for example, the eponymous story, “The Last Wish” begins with the discovery of a djinn. That is, with the sole exception of “The Voice of Reason,” which, as the connecting tissue between all these other stories, is wholly the author’s own.

The full review is over on booknest.eu.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn. Man, that’s probably the first author whose work got me into sci-fi, however tangential Star Wars is to proper science fiction! For the full review, click here; and if you want a taste, read on:

This novel is a return to form for Zahn after last year’s Alliances. Not that I didn’t enjoy that – but where that book suffered over a few issues, the chief of which were underwhelming (for the most parts) sections during the Clone Wars. Treason works because it goes back to the basics element that make the Grand Admiral so compelling – he’s a brilliant tactician who studies his enemies through a variety of methods and then dismantles them one piece at a time, using not brute force but their own weaknesses against them. We never see the Chiss Admiral’s inner thoughts – even when we spend some time in his head, what we get is how he perceives the world, as an observer; impartial, almost. Analytical, disciplined and entirely too alien.

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie 

I love Abercrombie. So much, in fact, that I wrote a 2250 word review of this brilliant anthology! Here’s a review of one of the short stories within:

The Fool Jobs

Curnden Craw is among the last straight arrows in all the North. This, I learned reading The Heroes. However, you don’t actually need to have read that novel to have a grand old time with this. It’d work well enough as an introduction to Craw’s crew, even if you haven’t had the pleasure; this, for example, is the first time Craw himself sees Whirrun of Bligh in action. To those unfamiliar with Whirrun, think, ‘barbarian, possibly insane, with the father of all two-handed swords in his hands, crazy funny’. Craw’s Dozen is chock-full of memorable characters, several of whom different from those familiar from The Heroes.

Something else I loved was the irreverent take on sorcery – it’s signature Abercrombie and like the rest of the story, it’s chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments.

Wonderful, Craw’s Second-in-Command, is as wonderful as her name implies – and damn quotable, too:
‘…Don’t get too comfortable, though, eh? If the rest of us come to grief these Fox fuckers’ll track you down before our blood’s dry and more’n likely cut your fruits off.’
Raubin’s sigh rattled to a quick stop.
‘Cut your head off,’ whispered Never, eyes all scary-wide.
‘Pull your guts out and cook ‘em,’ growled Jolly Yon.
‘Skin your face off and wear it as a mask,’ rumbled Brack.
‘Use your cock for a spoon,’ said Wonderful.
They all thought about that for a moment.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just crude as sin but this exchange between the band of bloodied warriors and the cowardly courier bringing them their orders had me cracking.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

A really fun Discworld novel, even if I didn’t enjoy this particular B-plot as much as some of the others in previous novels. For my full verdict, click here:

The star of this book is Susan sto Hellit, the granndaughter of ol’ bonebag himself. Susan, an orphaned girl in an all-girls school, is called to the greatest Duty ever — to fulfill the shoes of her grandfather, of whom she remembers next to nothing. Susan is sixteen, and taught to trust the ways of logic — a ludicrous enough preposition in the Discworld, but what can you do, education ruins young people nowadays, wrote the 23-year old. When she’s forced to take on her grandfather’s mantle as the personification of Death, Susan who is now mid-way between an abstract concept and a human being (difficult preposition, as I well know, being on the crossroads myself), she rebels at the unfairness of it all, the terrible cruelty of senseless death.
Meanwhile, in good old Ankh-Morpork, Imp y Celyn is a lute player from Quirm, a young lad come to search for the greatest city on the Discworld. Pity him, finding Ankh-Morpork instead but what can you do — sometimes, the trouble finds you. What trouble is, in this case, is a guitar with music in it. And not just any music, but music with rocks in which is to say, rock music. And the Discworld is far, far away from ready for such a thing. Music is a rhythm, the rhythm of life, of all the universe — and an overwhelming one, at that, the sort of force that’s bound to stir up human hearts and minds. And it does, oh how it does.

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

…Which apparently has more than 16 THOUSAND hits! What?! Here it is!

I’ve found my favourite standalone fantasy novel of 2019.
I always have difficulty speaking about the fantasy books that win me over as completely as The Sword of Kaigen has. When you come across greatness, your first instinct is to fall silent.  But damn it all if I’m a slave to my instincts! I’ll talk about M. L. Wang’s latest novel, hell, I’ll scream about it from the rooftops if that’ll get anyone to listen!
Before the screaming begins, here’s what you need to know: this is a fantasy novel inspired by Japanese warrior culture with modern-day elements which are more often talked about than seen – satellites, planes, info-com devices and broadcasting towers, to name a few. The magic system is elemental, reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender but with the added benefit of being aimed at adults and not constrained by a PG rating*.

I read some great articles, essays and blog posts

I spoke at length about these here and here, and you should, too! I regret not having the time to write more posts like these over the last few weeks — I haven’t really read too many articles, I’ve prioritised indies and audiobooks lately.

And still more reviews, these ones tiny, tiny, tiny!

I spoke about The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Of Mice and Men, and Marx the Humanist, all in one succinct post. I really enjoy writing tinier reviews sometimes — the big ones demand hours of concentration and in-depth study and mini-reviews allow me to speak about books with frank brevity, which is a different kind of fun altogether.

What’s Next?

I’ve got quite a few really fun reads ahead of me — Red Country and A Little Hatred by Abercrombie, The Dragon Republic by the brilliant Rebecca F. Kuang, as well as the excellent Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray ; God of Gnomes , Wrath of Storms by Steven McKinnon, and eventually, as soon as I’m done with Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun in full, I’ll talk plenty about that, most likely in October. There are yet more indies I would like to cover — time will tell when I’ll get to Banebringer‘s prequel, Sweetblade by the wonderfully talented Carol A. Park. And many, many more.

On the graphic novel front, I finished Monstress Vol. 03: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, as well as Wic/Div: Year Three by Kieron and McKelvie and will eventually talk about them too, right over here on the Reliquary.

Oh, and lest I forget, I’m part of a book tour on September 11! Looking forward to telling you all about this month’s victim A Different Time!