Tuesday, December 18, 2018

MY MOST ANTICIPATED SFF BOOK RELEASES OF 2019!

So last week I put together a list of my top reads of 2018 and that got me immediately thinking about the SFF books that I am most excited to read in the upcoming year.  These are some of the books that I am looking forward to, but by no means all of them.  Keep in mind that these are books that as of today have confirmed publication dates.  There were a few other books that I would have liked to include on this list, but alas they did not have publication dates set, even though I know that they are due out sometime next year.  So without further ado, here is a list of titles (in order of publication) that I am entirely stoked about and definitely plan to read and review in 2019:



THE GUTTER PRAYER (January 17, 2019, Orbit) by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Blurb: "A group of three young thieves are pulled into a centuries old magical war between ancient beings, mages, and humanity in this wildly original debut epic fantasy."

This is a book that is getting a ton of buzz right now and I am so excited to get my hands on it.  The description sounds amazing and that cover is just absolutely gorgeous!  Hanrahan's debut is right near the top of my TBR and should be one of my early reviews of 2019.



THE HOD KING (January 22, 2019, Orbit) by Josiah Bancroft

Blurb: "Thomas Senlin and his crew of outcasts have been separated, and now they must face the dangers of the labyrinthine tower on their own in this third book in the word-of-mouth phenomenon fantasy series."

What more can you say about Josiah Bancroft and this brilliantly imaginative series.  The Books of Babel has become one of the monumental series in fantasy and each book is an absolute "must-read" in my opinion.  Can't wait to see what happens next with Thomas Senlin and his crew.



THE RUIN OF KINGS (February 5, 2019, Tor Books) by Jenn Lyons

Blurb: "There are old stories. And then there's what actually happens."

This is another book that I've been hearing a considerable amount of good things about.  I just received a review copy a couple of weeks ago and I plan on giving this one a read in the coming months.  It looks like just the type of epic fantasy, complete with dragons and dire prophecies, that I usually enjoy.



THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE (February 26, 2019, Bloombury Publishing) by Samantha Shannon

Blurb: "A world divided.  A queendom without an heir.  An ancient enemy awakens."

I am such a huge fan of Samantha Shannon and her writing.  Her Bone Season series is one of the most original dystopian fantasy series I have ever come across.  When I saw that she had a new release coming out in 2019 that was outside of that series, I immediately had to have a review copy.  This is one that I have a feeling that I am going to be totally taken with.



A TIME OF BLOOD (April 16, 2019, Orbit) by John Gwynne

Blurb: "Acclaimed epic fantasy author John Gwynne's second book in his Of Blood and Bone trilogy, an epic fantasy perfect for fans of George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and David Gemmell."

This is one that I am most looking forward to reading and it is at the very top of my TBR.  In fact, my review copy is in transit as we speak and I have been checking my front step hourly in anticipation of holding this beauty in my hands.  John Gwynne is among my favorite authors and this series is one that has me captivated with every word.



THE WARSHIP (May 7, 2019, Night Shade Books) by Neal Asher

Blurb: "The dangers of ancient technology loom over the Polity in the sequel to The Soldier, Neal Asher's latest action-packed space opera series."

The Rise of the Jain is Neal Asher's latest series and the first book The Soldier was utterly brilliant.  With Iain M. Banks untimely passing, there are very few great space opera authors left these days.  Peter F. Hamilton is one, and for my money Neal Asher is probably the best of the lot.  I simply love his books and he always ramps up the action to a fever pitch.  This one will be a can't miss for me.  



CHILDREN OF RUIN (May 14, 2019, Pan MacMillan) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Blurb: "The astonishing sequel to Children of Time, the award-winning novel of humanity's battle for survival on a terraformed planet."

Adrian Tchaikovsky is aptly-named because his books are usually akin to symphonic masterpieces of the mind.  This is the sequel to his superb Children of Time, which is one of my favorite first-contact SF books ever.  I didn't realize that this book was coming out until a couple of weeks ago and I almost fell off my chair.  Cannot wait!



EMPIRE OF GRASS (May 28, 2019, Hodder & Stoughton) by Tad Williams

Blurb: "Set in Williams' New York Times bestselling fantasy world, the second book of The Last King of Osten Ard returns to the trials of King Simon and Queen Miriamele as threats to their kingdom loom...."

Those who know me also know that I am a complete Tad Williams fanboy.  His Osten Ard books are my absolute favorite of any books that I have ever read.  EMPIRE OF GRASS is the second book in his brand new Osten Ard series that began with The Witchwood Crown.  This is a book that I will be salivating over for months in advance of its release.  And just look at that stunning cover art by Michael Whelan!  Oh man I can't wait to continue with this series written by my all-time favorite author.



PRIEST OF LIES (July 2, 2019, Ace Books) by Peter McLean

Blurb: "Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster...and spy. As Tomas's power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series."

Peter McLean's War for The Rose Throne series started off with a bang with Priest of Bones continues with this summer of 2019 release.  I am so looking forward to following the further exploits of Tomas Piety and his band of miscreants.  This grimdark series should be one that every fan of the sub genre picks up and savors.  Fans of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence will also find much to like with McLean's books.  July can't come fast enough!



HOLLOW EMPIRE (December 10, 2019, Tor Books) by Sam Hawke

Blurb: "Moving from poison and treachery to war and witchcraft, Sam Hawke's Poison Wars continue with Hollow Empire, a fabulous epic fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch."

City of Lies was an absolute revelation within the fantasy genre this year.  The book really blew me away when I first read it, evoking subtle shades of Robin Hobb's Farseer books.  This is the second book in Sam Hawke's Poison War series and if it is anywhere near as fantastic as book one was, then I'm going to gobble it up.  My only regret is that I have to wait until next December to read it!  If you haven't checked out Sam's writing, you really need to.  She is a shining star in the genre.



THE LIGHT OF ALL THAT FALLS (December 10, 2019, Orbit) by James Islington

Blurb: "The Light of All that Falls concludes the epic adventure that began in The Shadow of What Was Lost, the acclaimed fantasy blockbuster from James Islington."

I love this series and I feel like it is too often overlooked.  The first two books in the trilogy were fabulous epic fantasy romps that really took my by surprise.  Unfortunately this book has been pushed back a couple of times already, but it looks like I will finally get to see how this series concludes come December of next year.  Oh and the covers of these books are absolutely beautiful.  I would love to get prints of them and display them in my reading room.


And that about wraps it up!  These are some of the SFF books that I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing in 2019.  If you are a reader looking for something new, I would suggest that any of these books and authors would be a great choice.  So look for reviews of these titles in the next year on my humble little blog.  As always, thanks so much for visiting Out of This World SFF Reviews and HAPPY READING! - Nick

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

MY TOP 10 SFF READS OF 2018!

After going back and forth about whether or not I should compile an end-of-the-year top 10 list of my favorite reads of 2018, I finally relented and decided to create said list. Partly because that's just what you do in the month of December isn't it?  And partly because I truly believe that these books should be recognized once again because they were that good and left quite a mark on me as a reader.  Another point of pride with this list is that it contains many self-published authors, which just goes to show that you don't have to be signed up with a big time publisher to put out work of the highest quality.  Hopefully in 2019 I can read even more self-published titles (I am definitely making a concerted effort to try and do so).  It was really difficult to pick just ten books when I read so many great titles this year, but I have tried to highlight the ten that I thought stood out just a tad more in my mind. So without further delay, and for what it's worth, here are MY TOP 10 SFF READS OF 2018:





10. THE BLIGHTED CITY by Scott Kaelen (Self-Published):  This book made it all the way to the semifinals in Mark Lawrence's hugely successful Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest.  And deservedly so in my opinion because it really is a captivating read.  Scott's creepy and atmospheric medieval fantasy with a heavy dose of the undead and supernatural really made this book an instant favorite.  For anyone looking for a different kind of fantasy that doesn't follow the usual farmboy turned hero tropes, look no further than this fantastic read!



9. BLOOD OF HEIRS by Alicia Wanstall-Burke (Self-Published):  This was a book that totally appeared on my radar by accident, but I am so glad that it did.  I was on Twitter one day and Alicia had posted that she was giving out ARCs for any bloggers that wanted one.  Well, I read the synopsis and was all in.  BLOOD OF HEIRS is a brilliant dark fantasy that deals with warring clans, invading armies, and characters who are tested beyond measure as they attempt to discover their true selves.  I highly recommend this amazing book for anyone who likes their fantasy dark, brutal, and with lots of action and intrigue.



8. A GATHERING OF RAVENS by Scott Oden (Thomas Dunne Books):  Scott Oden's masterful fantasy book steeped in Norse Mythology came at a time when I was reading a lot of the same style of fantasy.  To say that it was a breath of fresh air would be an understatement.  If you like fantasy that includes folklore, mythology, gods, medieval locales, and characters who are unforgivingly menacing, then A GATHERING OF RAVENS is a book that you should pick up very soon.  Simply one of the more original fantasy reads I have ever encountered.



7. KINGSHOLD by D.P. Woolliscroft (Self-Published):  This book simply took my breath away when I had the pleasure of reading it earlier this year.  KINGSHOLD is a book that slowly builds to a magnificent crescendo and is to be savored with every page.  If you like your fantasy with a great deal of court intrigue and intelligence, then this book should be at the top of your reading list.  A wonderful medieval fantasy peppered with politics and skulduggery, I loved every paragraph of this superbly-written tome.  I plan on reading the follow-up very soon and can't wait to immerse myself in this world again.



6. PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean (Ace Books):  This book was a tremendous read and I enjoyed the grimdark setting.  The thing that separated this book from the usual grimdark fare however was its main character Tomas Piety.  A very complex character who vacillates between the brutality and coarseness of his past self and his newly transformed nature as a person of forgiveness and spirituality.  This was described by someone as 'grimdark with heart" and I couldn't agree more with that assessment.  Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year and one that I highly recommend to fans of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and Ed McDonald.



5. RAVENCRY by Ed McDonald (Gollancz):  Speaking of Ed McDonald, his book RAVENCRY comes in at number five on my list.  This fabulously stunning follow-up to his first book Blackwing really solidified him as an author who I must read every time a new book comes out.  This book is at once violent, emotional, action-packed, compelling, and absolutely an assault on the senses.  I described it in my review as "a blistering symphony replete with eruptions of woodwind, string, and timpani."  I think that pretty much sums up the feel of this book.  A true treasure that you should not miss.



4. PATERNUS: RISE OF GODS by Dyrk Ashton (Paternus Books Media):  This book is incredibly hard to describe to someone who asks what genre it is.  It incorporates so many styles: action adventure, urban fantasy, horror, mythology and folklore etc... Regardless of the fact that all of those genres play a part in this tale, Dyrk juggles them deftly and combines them into one seamlessly brilliant story that will have you on the edge of your seat from the opening page to the last.  This book is filled with twists and turns and it made me a huge fan of Dyrk's writing.  Just amazing!



3. FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown Publishing): I am a huge fan of Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy and when this first book in his new series became available, I requested it and then subsequently gobbled it up in a week's time.  FOUNDRYSIDE has the most original magic system that I have read in quite some time.  The setting is dark and atmospheric and the characters are at odds with an oppressive government that looks down upon those who they deem inferior.  There is so much that I loved about this book and I also really enjoyed the fact that it was a total departure in style and feel from his previous series.  I thought that it just served to show Bennett's versatility as an author, all the while delivering as good if not a better story than his previous work.  This is a must-read for any fantasy fan in my opinion.



2. SENLIN ASCENDS by Josiah Bancroft (Orbit):  One of the best success stories in the book industry, SENLIN ASCENDS went from a self-published first novel to a best-selling sensation after being discovered years after its initial release.  This isn't just one of my favorite reads of 2018, it is among the best books I have ever read in my life.  A wonderful fantasy adventure story that tells the tale of Thomas Senlin and his desire to scale and explore the legendary Tower of Babel with his wife on his honeymoon.  When they are separated in the swarming masses visiting the tower, Thomas must find her inside the mysterious and bizarre levels that make up the structure.  Thomas soon finds that he may have gotten a little more than he bargained for as the mysteries of the Tower begin to be revealed in a series of events that may or may not lead to his eventual demise.  Definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys a great overall story, let alone a great fantasy story.



1. A TIME OF DREAD by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan):  For those who are unaware, John Gwynne's The Faithful and The Fallen series is in my top 10 fantasy series of all-time.  So John was already a favorite author of mine before this first book in his new series was released.  A TIME OF DREAD takes place in the same world as that previous masterpiece of a series and the story is taken to another level altogether in this entry.  This was clearly my favorite read of 2018 and I knew that it probably would be even though I read this one way back in April.  If you are looking for a fantasy read that has it all, I mean all of the check boxes checked, then A TIME OF DREAD should be tops on your priority list.  The second book in the series A Time of Blood is due out in early 2019, so I'm already gearing up to acquire an advance copy of that one.  But definitely read A TIME OF DREAD if you haven't already.  This one ranks right up there with the absolute best books in the genre.


And there you have it, My Top 10 SFF Reads of 2018.  If you are looking for something new to read, maybe you will find something on this list to tickle your fancy.  You really can't go wrong by choosing any one of these fine stories. For those who would like a more detailed review of any of these books, you can find the full reviews in my blog's review archive. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to read so many great books this year and am looking forward to reading even more come 2019.  Hope you liked the list and as always, thanks for taking the time to visit Out of This World SFF Reviews.  Happy reading!  - Nick

Friday, December 7, 2018

Book Review: ALTERLIFE by Matt Moss


Title: Alterlife

Author: Matt Moss

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: Early 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


I'm a huge fan of books where the characters are somehow injected into a video game or virtual reality situation.  It all started with the Otherland series by my favorite author of all-time Tad Williams.  I was simply blown away when I first read that series because I had never read a plot that incorporated that type of virtual reality storyline before.  The fact that Tad did it so brilliantly didn't hurt.  Recently books like Ready Player One have also served to reinforce my appreciation for this kind of theme.  So when I first came across ALTERLIFE by Matt Moss and saw a blurb describing it as Breaking Bad meets Ready Player One, well let's just say that I absolutely had to read it.  It was upon reading it though that I found out that it was much much more than that sensational description could ever do justice.  Yes, this is a fantasy book with some incredibly fun and break-neck action, but at its heart it is a book about a man who loves his wife and kids so much that he would do absolutely anything for them.  Before I give away too much though, let me talk a little bit more about the plot of ALTERLIFE.

In the opening chapter of ALTERLIFE we meet John Crussel.  John appears to be a man at the end of his rope as he sits in his car outside of a bank holding a gun and deliberating with himself whether he should go in and rob it or not.  John is a decent man who is trying to do right by his family, but just always seems to run into financial bad luck at every turn.  He wants more than anything to provide a better life for his wife and two small children than they currently have.  His family is barely getting by living paycheck to paycheck (which isn't very much) and John has finally had enough.  As he's waiting in line at the bank to commit his illegal deed, he overhears two men talking about a video game and how the one man made an easy $5,000 playing it the previous night.  The game is called ALTERLIFE and there is quick money to be made if you are a good enough player to earn it.  John has a change of heart at the last minute and decides to explore this whole potentially lucrative scenario, after all, John was a pretty good gamer back in the day before adulthood forced him to focus on a more serious path in life.  John immediately borrows some money to purchase the game and the necessary VR equipment he needs, takes a week off from his current meager-paying job, and settles down at a friend's house to start trying to make the fast cash that he hopes will turn his family's fortunes around.  As he logs into the game, he is immediately approached by a few shady characters who may or may not be on the up and up.  ALTERLIFE is basically an epic fantasy-like setting and there are taverns, keeps, and various guilds that battle for prominence.  If you defeat a character or a monster from the game, you earn skill points and virtual money, which can be transferred into your actual real life bank account.  John (who goes by the name Ace in the game) experiences instant success and is even appointed the battle leader of one of the most famous guilds in ALTERLIFE, the Black Knights.  Things all seem to finally be coming together for John and he truly believes that this is the answer to his prayers and financial woes.  At long last he will be the provider that he has always wanted to be for his children and a husband that his wife can be proud of.  John absolutely expects to be able to quit his job and make big money playing ALTERLIFE full time.  But someone in the game doesn't especially care for this cocky newcomer's absurdly quick stardom and in an act of treachery, John is poisoned awakening to find all of the monetary gains he made in the game have been wiped clean.  A devastated John is now left with two choices, give up and go back to his daily mundane struggle to make ends meet, or start all over, find out who sabotaged him and climb the ladder again in his attempt to be the master of not just the game but his own destiny.  It won't be easy though because whoever wants him dead is still somewhere inside ALTERLIFE waiting should he decide to venture back into its dark and ruthless environs.

We all know someone like John Crussel.  In fact, some of us may even BE John Crussel.  A person who feels like a failure in life, wants to do the right thing, but consistently makes misguided or rash choices in doing so that just seem to dig the hole deeper.  John's character was one that I felt such sympathy for immediately because he is a perpetually conflicted soul.  He loves his family above all else and is at heart a good guy, but he also feels the need to lie to those same beloved family members in an effort to conquer the game of ALTERLIFE and make enough money to give them the life that they deserve.  So he's almost a self-loathing person who at once both hates the situation he is in and blames his own inadequacies for putting he and his family there.  There is one scene in the book where he and his wife are looking at their children asleep in their beds and John's wife says, "Look at those miracles. We made those, you and I."  Being the father of two little miracles myself, this particular quote really moved me and it is also the perfect encapsulation of the type of person that John Crussel is at his core.  It's this dichotomy of the loving family man who often pushes the envelope to give his family a better life that really drives the story.  This is where my earlier statement in the beginning of this review comes from.  To call this book simply a fantasy story or a story about a video game is not at all sufficient.  The emotional struggles of John are present throughout the entire story and motivate every single one of his actions.  Oh and by the way, the action and fantasy parts are great too don't get me wrong.  The only thing that kept me from giving ALTERLIFE five stars is that I wish the setting of the game was fleshed out a little more.  And that is coming from a place of me yearning for more of ALTERLIFE the world-building part.  It's actually a compliment because I thought that the brief descriptions that we did get of the setting itself were amazing and I wanted to know much more than what was provided.  So in closing I would just like to make the point that Matt Moss has done something here that should really make people stand up and take notice.  He's written a magical fantasy story that is also deeply rooted in real life humanity.  If you want to know how I feel about ALTERLIFE all you really need to know is that I read the entire book in only four days.  That's how damn good it was.  So preorder this one as soon as you can because it has a planned release date of early 2019.  Books like these don't come around very often, so make sure that you check out ALTERLIFE.  It's a ride that will thrill you and move you at the same time. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Book Review: THE WINTER ROAD by Adrian Selby


Title: The Winter Road

Author: Adrian Selby

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: November 13, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Adrian Selby's name has been on the tongues of many readers lately and it's mostly glowing in nature.  THE WINTER ROAD is the Welsh author's second full-length novel (the first being Snakewood, set in the same world as this one).  It was with a great deal of excitement that I was able to procure an advance copy of his latest novel just as the aforementioned buzz was reaching its pinnacle.  The story of THE WINTER ROAD takes place in an area of land known as "The Circle".  The Circle is structured just as it sounds, with various clan territories laid out in a circular arrangement on the map surrounding a dense forest patch in the middle called The Almet.  The story is told in the form of a dual timeline of then and now, which lends a nice flow to the narrative in that we get to see how things progressed to their current situation through alternating chapters.  I enjoy reading books that use this technique a lot so I was encouraged right from the start that I would probably be sucked into this story.  Main character Teyr Amondsen was once a mercenary but is now a merchant trying to build a life for herself with her husband and young son.  She also has another important desire though, and that is to unite the fractured clans of The Circle by building a trade road that cuts straight through from one end to the other.  Teyr believes by constructing this road that it will not only open up trade among the clans, but also open communication that will be vital to bringing peace to the land once and for all.  The problem is that the road will have to cut through the volatile area of The Almet where a ruthless warlord named Khiese has staked his claim.  Khiese and his warrior Whiteboys (named for the white chalk that they use to paint their face and bodies) have been extending their attacks beyond the central Almet to the outer clan villages, which proves more than problematic for Teyr's plans.  Khiese's goal is to bring everyone under his heel and for the clans to swear fealty to him as the supreme leader of the region.

So it is against this tumultuous background that Teyr and her caravan must set out to begin making plans for the road.  It doesn't take long however for Teyr and her cohorts to stumble upon the first ravaged clan settlement, and it becomes quickly evident that she must deal with the immediate threat posed by the barbarous Khiese before any hope of uniting the clans in peace can take place.  What follows are some incredibly intense battles, both physical and emotional, which test Teyr's will to its absolute fullest.  Teyr is put through the ringer and tested mightily as she struggles with her desire to fulfill her dream plus keep her family together, against merely surviving the relentless and brutal attacks of the Whiteboys.  As she travels from clan settlement to clan settlement she comes across a mostly beaten populace, many of whom have been forced to follow Khiese and his twisted campaign of annihilation.  There is hope though as Teyr is armed with both the knowledge and instincts that she acquired in her past life as a mercenary and also the medicinal/magical properties of special plants which can be brewed to bestow certain strengths and attributes.  Will that be enough to repel the growing menace of Khiese and the Whiteboys, or will Teyr, her family, and her people also eventually bow to the oppressive tyranny that is taking hold across The Circle?   One thing is certain: it won't be easy, not by a long shot.  

THE WINTER ROAD had me hooked from the very first pages.  My initial impression was that this was going to be an incredibly violent and brutal book.  Oh and that it is!  In fact there are sections that are extremely difficult to get through because of the savage violence.  Having said that, it never made me want to stop reading because the violence is a product of the setting and the characters.  The Circle ain't a very nice place and these characters have been hardened by it to the point where the only way to survive in this harshest of environments is to kill first and ask questions later.  The weak do not survive very long in The Circle to be sure.  I was also quite fascinated and connected to the main character Teyr in a way that I haven't been to any character in some of my recent reads.  Teyr is one of the strongest female characters you will ever come across and this was incredibly refreshing and a joy to experience.  There's no Mary Sue in Teyr Amondsen, that's for darn sure.  Strong female characters should be celebrated and Selby has given us one here in Teyr.  Read this book if only for that reason, but luckily for us there are many more reasons than that.  The dual timeline storyline worked amazingly well for me as I had a feeling that it would.  Selby makes effective use of this technique and throughout the book as we go back in time, we get snippets and hints of the eventual conflict to come which is handled beautifully.  Then there's the world-building which I thought was some of the best I've ever encountered.  The Circle is a complex and mysterious place and the central forest holds even further mysteries, which really gives the story a sense of foreboding and suspense that just raises it far above your ordinary fantasy book.  I thoroughly enjoyed THE WINTER ROAD by Adrian Selby and recommend it to anyone who loves their fantasy with a lot of Grimdark but also with a lot of emotion.  I heard someone else describe this book as "Grimdark with heart" and I think that is a very accurate description in many ways.  My advice is to try not to be put off by the violence in the beginning of the book because if you stick with it, you will be so richly rewarded with a tremendous story that checks off all the required boxes.  Pick it up and read it soon, you won't regret it.

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