Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Review: THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlin Starling


Title: The Luminous Dead

Author: Caitlin Starling

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date: April 2, 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


I want to begin this review by pointing out the fact that I'm a sucker for books with this kind of theme.  The plot of THE LUMINOUS DEAD is one that takes place on a planet rich in mineral deposits and a "caver" is exploring one such location while also possibly being stalked deep within the bowels of said cave.  Anything that involves some sort of exploration on a distant planet or an archaeological angle and I'm usually all in.  So when I had the opportunity to receive an advance reader copy of the book from the publisher, I couldn't download it fast enough.  I hadn't previously heard of the author Caitlin Starling before and this is apparently her first novel, so I was excited to see how this story would unfold.  I had seen the comparisons to The Martian in that the story is told mainly through internal dialogue and conversation with only one other main character who serves as "mission control" of the expedition.  You don't see too many books use this type of narrative device, so I was intrigued to get started.  Now on to the book and my subsequent thoughts about it.

The main character in THE LUMINOUS DEAD is Gyre, a caver who signs a contract with a private mining company for what she believes is just another expedition to gather valuable ore deposits.  Gyre is not totally forthcoming about her background and motive when she signs on with the company, which is to score a quick payday so that she can keep looking for her mother who abandoned her years ago.  Gyre has been obsessed with finding out what happened to her mother and she sees this job as nothing more than a means to fund her continuing efforts going forward.  What Gyre doesn't know yet is that her contractor and only lifeline to the outside world Em has motivations of her own that aren't simply mining for ore.  Gyre and Em are connected via a communication device located inside Gyre's suit where Em can also monitor every aspect of Gyre's physical health.  Their relationship starts out as a combative one as Gyre suspects that Em may be hiding something from her and not being completely honest about the job that she has been asked to do.  It turns out that Gyre's suspicions are not entirely unfounded when she is able to access a video from her suit that shows a previous mining party who experience an incredible tragedy while exploring the same cave that Gyre is now embedded deep within.  When Gyre lashes out at Em and threatens to quit and turn back, Em is forced to reveal that her parents were the ones in the video along with a few others.  Something terrible happened to the party that Em has been struggling to discover the answer to.  It turns out that she has sent dozens of other cavers on the same mission as Gyre with most of them dying in the treacherous tunnels trying vainly to reach the area where Em's parents were last documented to be alive.  As Em continues to open up about what happened to her parents and their family business, her relationship with Gyre starts to change.  It begins to become one of mutual understanding as they both are in similar situations: trying to find answers to missing family members.  It also becomes a borderline romantic relationship of sorts.  Eventually things really start to change as Gyre both sees and hears signs that she may not be alone inside the cave.  Could it possibly be someone from the original doomed crew?  Em's mother?  Or could it be something far far worse that is now stalking Gyre as she tries to survive and find a way out of what could be her ultimate resting place?  

My first feeling about THE LUMINOUS DEAD was that the story is of a style that I like based on similar novels that I've previously read, one being The Descent by Jeff Long.  Admittedly that one didn't take place on another planet, but the feel of it was much the same initially and the cave exploration aspect was as well.  There were a few things that I really liked about this book.  One being the mystery behind what happened to Em's parents and also Gyre's mother.  I thought that was handled deftly as well as the additional mystery of whether what was also present in the cave was a person or a monster of some kind.  The suspense of these two questions kept me wanting to read further.  The characters of Gyre and Em were well done with both of them having their own demons driving them to find out what happened to lost loved ones.  I didn't mind the fact that there was only a two-person dialogue for the entire book either, but at times it did get a little draggy for long stretches as the dialogues were quite frequent and went off on some lengthy tangents.  This is ultimately where I found myself not being as into the book as I could have otherwise.  For me the book seemed to take a long time to develop and for about the first 70% of it all we really get are conversations that sometimes are relevant to the story and sometimes not.  I definitely enjoy when a story builds slowly to a crescendo, but I thought that this one took a little more time than most to get going.  When the climax happens, it does so with a bang and it is very satisfying, but unfortunately the journey to get there is fraught with long periods of not much happening.  So I have to say that I liked THE LUMINOUS DEAD, but fell just short of loving it.  That being said, others may have a vastly different opinion and you should give this one a try if you enjoy books with cave exploration and mysterious things that go bump in the dark.  In the end it was a solid book that I think offers a good enough amount for readers to enjoy.  But you'll have to wait until April of next year to purchase it as that is when it is slated for release in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

BLOGGER RECOGNITION AWARD!



The Rules:
  • Thank the person who nominated you and include their link
  • Give a brief explanation of how your blog began
  • Give some advice to new bloggers
  • Name ten nominees and include their links
  • Tag your nominees on Twitter to let them know

Howdy everyone!  I was recently nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award by @TBibliovert who runs the amazing blog The Bibliovert. I would like to begin by thanking her for the nomination.  It means a great deal any time that a peer in the blogging community recognizes you and I definitely don't take that lightly, so thank you again.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate being included among so many other great nominees.

My blog came about as the result of a few different factors which led me to the ultimate decision of starting my own SFF book blog.  First and foremost, I have always loved fantasy and science fiction books.  I was a review contributor for many different SFF book review websites in the past, including Fantasy Book Review and Fresh Fiction.  After contributing to both of these websites as well as a couple of others, I just wasn't personally happy with having a set deadline and also with the limited pool of books that I got to choose from every month.  I had built up enough of a reputation that I was getting approved for pretty much every title that I requested on Netgalley and Edelweiss and also directly from publishers, so I figured what the hell let me start my own blog!  I have to say that it was the best decision that I ever made because I can read and review at my own pace (often my busy schedule and children don't allow me to read as quickly as I would like to) and I get to pick the books that I want to review.  Another added benefit is that I have been afforded the opportunity to review many more self-published authors than ever before which is very important to me.  Running my own blog has been a real blessing and I don't think that I could ever go back to doing reviews for someone else's website quite honestly.

My advice to new bloggers out there is to be patient because there will be times when you think that absolutely no one is reading your content and that nothing you do is "the right way" to do it.  Guess what I've come to learn - there is no RIGHT way, only YOUR way.  Something that you don't want to do is to follow exactly what most bloggers do because then you won't stand out in any way, you'll just be one face in a sea of a thousand other bloggers.  My advice is get creative, post diverse and substantive content that isn't solely reviews, hook up with other supportive bloggers through social media, and ALWAYS have faith that what you are doing is appreciated.  When blogging starts to become a job, then you may need to step away for a bit.  Blogging should be an extension of your love of reading and a way that you can share that love with others through your posts.  It should never be a hassle or something that constantly stresses you out.  If that starts to happen, take a break and walk away for a while until it becomes fun again.  These are the things that have served me well and that I would tell a new blogger who is just starting out. 


My Nominations Are:

Paul at PAUL'S PICKS  - Blog  Twitter

Jason at OFF THE TBR  - Blog  Twitter

Jee at HOOKED ON BOOKZ  - Blog  Twitter

Holly at THE GRIMDRAGON  - Blog  Twitter

Jacob at REDSTARREVIEWS  - Blog  Twitter

Charlie at A READING MACHINE - Blog  Twitter

Scarlett at READZ AND RUNZ - Blog  Twitter

David at FANFIADDICT - Blog  Twitter

Lizbie at LIZBIE'S NERDY WORLD - Blog  Twitter

Cody at A THIN SLICE OF ANXIETY - Blog  Twitter

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: BLOOD OF HEIRS by Alicia Wanstall-Burke


Title: Blood of Heirs

Author: Alicia Wanstall-Burke

Publisher: Self-Published 

Publication Date: October 27, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


There are certain books that you just know within the first 25 pages are going to be simply amazing.  I could tell right away just from Alicia Wanstall-Burke's writing style that I was going to enjoy BLOOD OF HEIRS.  Then I was introduced to two incredibly special characters, both with their own unique story line and I was absolutely hooked.  The action in BLOOD OF HEIRS, the first book of The Coraidic Sagas, mainly takes place in two countries. Hummel is the first, where Lidan is heir to be chief of her father's clan if only by default since his multiple wives have not been able to provide a male heir.  That could change very soon however.  Orthia is the other city where Ran is a commander stationed with his troops guarding the mountain pass that separates his homeland from their bitter enemy the Woaden Empire.  We join his story as the Woaden are making serious inroads in an attempted invasion that is taking all of the Orthian troops' efforts to hold back.  The book alternates between these two main stories and does so very effectively in my opinion.  They are also independent of each other but one has a sense that at some point in the future, they will eventually converge.  Lidan is a conflicted character as all she really wants to do is ride horses and become a Ranger protecting her clan and home like her father.  Her mother Sellan has other plans however, and goes to great lengths to see to it that Lidan is protected in order that she ascend to the position of power that is her birthright.  Sellan is often brutal with her daughter and their relationship is one that can only be described as turbulent at best.  Things are further thrown into flux when one of the wives of Lidan's father becomes pregnant.  If the child is a boy it could threaten Lidan's place as the next clan leader and complicate her position with the clan.  But before that can happen, something unthinkable occurs and Lidan is thrust at the forefront of a threat that neither she or her family could ever foresee.  

At the Orthian front, Ran's forces are being pummeled into a retreat by the invading Woaden horde.  The arrows that rain down onto the attacking army are being dissolved in midair before they can even reach their targets, and the battle seems to be tilting in the direction of the enemy.  It soon becomes evident that the Woaden have enlisted the aid of a powerful mage who cuts a violent path through the Orthian troops and directly toward Ran himself.  In his attempt to fight back the mage's advances, Ran conjures a magic of his own that he did not know he possessed and kills the Woaden mage in an explosion of sorcery.  When he returns to his home his father questions him on how he could kill such a powerful mage by himself and he is forced to reveal that he indeed did use magic to do so.  As the Orthians are extremely superstitious of magic and it is strictly against their laws to practice, Ran's own father imprisons him in a dungeon.  There he awaits the swift and decisive judgment that are sure to result from his actions.  Ran's only hope is to escape somehow and flee before he can be executed.  Could his newly-found magic be a tool to help him achieve this?  What future lies ahead for Orthia if the Woaden invade again, this time with even more mages leading the charge and ones armed with even more devastating powers?  Ran is torn between his loyalty to his homeland and protecting his own neck as he faces certain death for his unspeakable crime of performing forbidden magic.   

BLOOD OF HEIRS is a book that just floored me from the start and then had me obsessively burying my face into every free reading moment that I had.  These are the types of books that make me thankful to be a reviewer because I get to be exposed to new independent authors who write amazing stories like this one.  For one thing, the battles are extremely bloody and merciless.  Alicia Wanstall-Burke goes into great detail with every arrow launched, every sword thrusted, and every fireball conjured.  I was really impressed with the way in which she makes you feel as if you are directly in the middle of the action, reflexively ducking to dodge that incoming enemy hammer smash.  The world-building was so unique in that the two main locations where the story takes place couldn't be more different and yet the characters faced very similar personal issues.  Hummel, where Lidan's clan lives, is a very late Stone Age and pre-Bronze Age type of society where weapons are quite crude and basic.  Ran's country of Orthia on the other hand, employs much more advanced weapons and is more of a medieval type of society as far as technology and social structure goes.  Yet as I said, both characters face issues within their respective families that force them to make incredibly difficult choices.  So both in a way are very similar even though they come from totally different backgrounds and places in the world.  This is where I thought the true brilliance of this book came through.  Virtually anyone can relate to the theme of two people who appear very different at first glance, but in reality are much more similar when you get right down to it.

I really loved this book on so many levels and the characters just served to raise this story to another level as we see them put in terrible situation after terrible situation.  Yet I always felt like they would persevere no matter what the odds were.  One thing I will say is this is a very dark book and by no means a light read.  Be prepared for violence aplenty, crude language, and some villainous characters who literally have no redeeming qualities at all.  That being said, it is a book that I absolutely devoured in a short period of time and felt sad when I came to the final page.  The only consolation I can take away is that I know that we are not done with this story and that Alicia Wanstall-Burke has much more to tell in future books.  This is a series that has so many more questions that I need answered and I cannot wait until the next book comes out.  In closing I just want to say that if you are looking for a really action-packed fantasy book with incredible magic and world building, then look no further than BLOOD OF HEIRS.  You will find much to enjoy in this beautifully-written story.  Alicia Wanstall-Burke is definitely a new author to watch.  Get this debut book now, because it's a cracking good read!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book List: 10 BEST SFF SERIES YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF

Once again I find myself between book reviews and thinking about all things Science-Fiction and Fantasy.  More specifically I have been pondering my favorite SFF series that not a lot of people may be familiar with.  This doesn't mean they are any less impactful or high in quality, it just means that for whatever reason, these series don't get the notoriety that I think they so richly deserve.  I came up with a top 10 list of my all-time favorite lesser-known SFF series and ranked them in descending order from 10 to 1.  I hope that if you haven't had a chance to read any of these, that you will give them a shot because every one of them is a tremendous read in my opinion.  And if you have read some of these or have heard about them, great!  You are already ahead of the curve.  Anyway, here they are:




10.  EMPYRION (1985 -1986) by Stephen Lawhead:  Stephen Lawhead is known primarily for his fantasy writing, mostly steeped in Celtic folklore and Arthurian themes.  But what many people don't know is that he did write some really good science-fiction.  One of those SF series is Empyrion and it is one of my favorites by him.  Empyrion tells the story of a man named Orion Treet who is charged with a mission to discover what happened to a group of colonists sent from Earth to a distant planet centuries earlier.  All communication with the colony was suddenly terminated (on their end) and Treet must discover whether a tragedy has befallen them or if the colony simply desires to be free of the ties to their former home planet.  What Treet finds when he eventually gets there is astounding and just serves as a reminder that the desire for a grand Utopia has many pitfalls and hurdles that may not be overcome so easily.  Great science-fiction that I really recommend checking out. (Books in this series: The Search for Fierra, The Siege of Dome)




9. THE GODLESS WORLD (2006-2009) by Brian Ruckley:  Winter is coming.  Or in the case of Brian Ruckley's Godless World series, winter is already here and it ain't leaving anytime soon!  Numerous clans battle for supremacy in this harsh and gritty series that is very reminiscent of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.  Thrown into the chaos of the clan wars is the awakening of the long dead gods who are hungry for blood and aren't especially interested in choosing sides.  Set against an icy and desolate backdrop, this is one of the more bloody and gruesome fantasies that you will come across.  But the writing really carries the day and lends a depth that mere grimdark bloodbaths can only dream about.  One warning, there are many clans and characters to keep track of, so being able to disseminate who is who is vitally important to your understanding of the overall story.  Great stuff though!  (Books in this series: Winterbirth, Bloodheir, Fall of Thanes)




8. ARTHURIAN SAGA (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart:  Mary Stewart's beautiful retelling of the Arthurian legend is definitely one of my favorites along with The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Stewart's series is much more comprehensive and covers Merlin as a child all the way to adulthood and his relationship with King Arthur.  The writing is simply on another level and I feel like this series is off many people's radar for some reason.  It may be because the books keep going in and out of print but should you be able to get your hands on this series, you should read it in its totality.  Such an amazing retelling filled with vivid descriptions and wonderful characters.  (Books in this series: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day)




7.  INITIATE BROTHER (1991-1992) by Sean Russell:  Sean Russell is one of those authors who I never understood why wasn't more popular than he is.  The Canadian author writes unbelievable fantasy books and series and he's always been among my favorite "must-read" writers.  The Initiate Brother series is his first and very best in my opinion.  The series has a heavy Asian influence which I think gives it a uniqueness in a genre chock-full of medieval European themed tomes.  Talk about gorgeous writing, this series is especially for those who love their prose rich and complex.  There are no wasted words here.  Monks who are gifted with magic must find an answer to a horrible plague that is devastating the kingdom of Wa.  A young monk who shows amazing promise may be the answer to everyone's prayers, but barbarian invaders seek to take advantage of the weakened kingdom for their own benefit before this can happen.  This is one series not to be missed.  (Books in this series: The Initiate Brother, Gatherer of Clouds)




6.  WINDS OF THE FORELANDS (2002-2007) by David B. Coe:  This is a series that you should love if you enjoy traditional epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.  Why this series never took hold and became a huge hit is beyond me.  The magical Qirsi race was almost completely eradicated in the Qirsi wars.  Now the few who remain serve as advisors to the various kings and queens of the numerous countries located within the Forelands.  When the king of one of the more prominent countries is assassinated in cold blood, suspicion quickly turns toward the Qirsi who many think may be plotting in secret to overthrow the kingdoms and avenge their brutal defeat and forced subservience those many years ago.  The Qirsi maintain their innocence but could a small sect of rebel Qirsi be hellbent on restoring their former glory?  Just an amazing series that gets better with every book.  Run out and read it as soon as you can because it is one of the best fantasy series I have ever read.  (Books in this series:  Rules of Ascension, Seeds of Betrayal, Bonds of Vengeance, Shapers of Darkness, Weavers of War)




5.  TYRANTS AND KINGS (1999-2001) by John Marco:  File this series under military fantasy the way it should be done.  Sadly John Marco has stopped writing in recent years due to the fact that his publisher just dropped him out of the blue.  It's disheartening really because Marco is a phenomenal writer and this series totally blew me away when I first read it back in the late 90's.  Since then I have reread it about five times, it's that good.  The series follows Richius Vantran, a humble prince who is forced into battle against the forces of the mysterious city of Nar.  Nar is a city that has had an industrial revolution in a land where the remaining continent is still struggling in a medieval horse-drawn society.  There are also whispers that the leaders of Nar have discovered an elixir that grants those who drink it virtual immortality.  Will Nar succeed in dominating the lesser kingdoms and eventually enslaving the entire populace, or can one modest prince stand up to the forces of the behemoth Nar and see his people through the coming darkness?  Awesome series, I highly recommend this one!  (Books in this series:  The Jackal of Nar, The Grand Design, The Saints of the Sword)




4.  RAI-KIRAH (2000-2002) by Carol Berg:  Demons, demons, demons.  If you like demons in your fantasy, this series is right up your alley.  Carol Berg is absolutely one of the most talented writers in the genre who most people don't even know about.  She deserves so much more recognition and praise and her books are some of the best that I've read, quite frankly.   The Rai-Kirah books tell the story of an arrogant prince who has been spoiled since childhood.  As a gift he gets a slave who was once a majestic member of an ancient race, but was sold into enslavement after they were crushed by the ruling class.  The prince is ruthless and abusive to his new toy at first, but when the slave saves his life, a slow transformation begins to happen within the young prince (hence the title of the first book).  And when the demons arrive, the same oppressed race who are now spat upon and enslaved could be the only ones to help the rulers of the kingdom escape certain death.  A truly complex story that tackles a lot of tough and sensitive issues that are prevalent in our own real world today.  This is a series that everyone should read.  (Books in this series:  Transformation, Revelation, Restoration)




3.  THE COLDFIRE TRILOGY (1991-1995) by C.S. Friedman:  Tremendous series about the colonizers of a new planet called Erna that is infused with a natural force element called The Fae.  The Fae controls everything, including people's mental state, so many construct complicated wards to protect themselves from the all-powerful Fae.  Damien Vrice, the main character is a warrior priest who is on a quest to discover the true origins of the Fae. Along the way, Vrice encounters evidence that vampire-like creatures who have been hiding in seclusion on the distant planet for centuries may have emerged from the craggy mountains of the north to potenially prey on the helpless citizens.  One of the more inventive and original series in the genre that many have overlooked.  I really enjoyed this series and Celia Friedman's other works are just as good.  Give them a try!  (Books in this series:  Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows)




2.  DARWATH (1982-1983) by Barbara Hambly:  This series is my absolute favorite portal fantasy ever.  A woman named Gil is having a dream while asleep in her modern-day apartment.  In this dream she sees chaos and crowds of people running in all directions from an unseen evil.  The people in this dream are all dressed in medieval clothing and the building that they are inside of looks like something out of ancient times as well.  As the dream continues, Gil notices that an old man with a long beard seems to be looking directly at her through the mass of people.  He then begins to slowly walk toward her as if he wants to say something to her.  How can it be that among the chaos, he appears to be able to see her and is the only one to be able to?  Gil wakes up to find the old man in her apartment where he tells her that he needs her help and that she must come with him to battle the demons who are attacking his land.  For she is the chosen one who they have been waiting for he says.  Just a great series that holds up to this day even though it was written in the early 80's.  (Books in this series:  The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight)




1.  CHUNG KUO (1989-1997) by David Wingrove:  If you ask me what my favorite science-fiction series of all-time is, this is the one I'm going to respond with every single time, and yet I feel like nobody has ever heard of it.  The tragedy of this series is that it is unbelievably brilliant but because of publisher issues, David Wingrove has struggled to keep it in print.  He has even had to resort to rereleasing the series on his own because a new publisher recently flaked out and abandoned a planned relaunch after only five books.  I really hope the entire series does eventually get released at some point because it is a truly wonderful story that so many readers are missing out on.  The idea is a future Earth that is completely taken over by China.  The seven continents are now under Chinese control and ruled by seven emperors or T'angs.  The Chinese empire has even begun to build tiered cities on top of poorer areas so that the aristocracy does not have to see the dregs of humanity below.  A band of revolutionaries however is plotting to undermine and sabotage the T'angs one by one with the ultimate goal of gaining their freedom and escaping to another planet where they can live in freedom.  What an amazing series.  You can find the books of the original series in various used bookstores or used online marketplaces and I highly recommend making the effort if you can.  Meanwhile, I still wait for the eventual rerelease that seems to be proceeding at a glacial pace.  But I'm keeping the faith!  (Books in this series:  The Middle Kingdom, The Broken Wheel, The White Mountain, The Stone Within, Beneath the Tree of Heaven, White Moon Red Dragon, Days of Bitter Strength, The Marriage of the Living Dark)



And there you have it, 10 series that I love but feel are fairly underappreciated in the genre.  I really hope that you give some if not all of these books a try because you will be rewarded if you do.  As always, happy reading!!!
Nick