Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE by Arkady Martine

Title: A Memory Called Empire

Author: Arkady Martine

Publisher: Tor

Publication Date: March 26, 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Over the past thousand years or so the Teixcalaanli Empire has been gradually swallowing up smaller planets and outposts to add to its vastly growing domain, often with no care with regard to the free people now being forced to bend the knee.  You see, The Empire considers itself to be the height of superior intellect, artistic achievement, ethics, and overall culture.  So when the small independent mining station Lsel is contacted by The Empire to supply another ambassador because the current one is missing, it raises a few eyebrows to say the least.

As more details arise, the current ambassador is no longer missing, but in fact dead.  The circumstances of his death are as yet unknown and newly-appointed ambassador Mahit Dzamare finds herself thrust directly into the heart of a mystery that some would kill to keep a secret.  She is not alone though, for she is accompanied by a special technology called an imago, a recording of someone else's thoughts and memories that can be fused with another.

In this case, the imago that is surgically implanted at the end of Mahit's brain stem is none other than that of the previous ambassador to THE EMPIRE, the recently deceased Yskander.  Yskander's memories can help Mahit only up to a certain point however, as he had not made a debriefing trip back to Lsel for a number of years, creating a gigantic hole in his memory recording between the time of his last reporting and his untimely death.

Upon her arrival to the capital city of The Empire, Mahit quickly discovers that it is much different than her humble little mining station and is also acutely aware that the officials greeting her treat her with a significant degree of condescension.  Officials with interesting and involved names like Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea.

Mahit knows that she must navigate the startlingly different customs and culture of The Empire while also carrying out the directive placed upon her by the council of Lsel, to prevent The Empire from annexing Lsel at all costs and also to uncover what really happened to the previous ambassador.  Along the way she must try to piece together the missing portion of time in Yskander's memory, for it could very well reveal whether he did die of natural causes as The Empire maintains, or something more sinister occurred that led to his death.

When I began reading A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE, it definitely called to mind a few of my favorite SF books and series.  There are definite hints of Peter F. Hamilton's Great North Road, as the heart of the story is a noir-style potential murder mystery.  But this is also an excellent space opera book as well that calls to mind the best of Alastair Reynolds and C.J. Cherryh.

Another thing that struck me as quite exceptional about this book was the world-building and neat technology applied by Arkady Martine.  The concept of an imago that contains the memories of one person and can be implanted into another, while not wholly original in itself, was done with enough variation as to make it feel unique.  It is also an effective device to utilize in this particular storyline because this imago belongs to the subject of a possible murder investigation.

The character of Mahit is one that really intrigued me as well.  She has a vulnerability about her simply due to the natural fact that she finds herself a stranger in a strange land (sorry, had to go there Heinlein fans).  But she is also an intensely strong character who doesn't take kindly to being treated as a lesser individual by The Empire's higher-ups, most of whom are male.  And believe me she lets them know that she sees herself as their equal and not someone to be trifled with in any way.  She definitely challenges the norms of those in The Empire who have been conditioned to think and behave in a certain way.

Ultimately, although there were a couple of moments where I thought the story stalled a bit, I really enjoyed A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE, and for the most part this was a really enjoyable SF book with a cool mystery that keeps you interested and engaged the entire time.  If you love SF noir books or space opera books involving alien cultures, then you should pick this book up and give it a read.  It's just the type of book that will capture your imagination while also treating you to a fun and entertaining story in the process.  Arkady Martine is an author to watch and I am looking forward to reading a lot more from her.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Book Review: THE FIRST OF SHADOWS by Deck Matthews

Title: The First of Shadows

Author: Deck Matthews

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I've had the pleasure of reading some excellent self-published books this year.  The amount of quality titles that have been coming out virtually every other week has been absolutely  staggering.  Lately I have made a conscious decision to consume a lot more independent and self-titled books and review them on the blog.  So much so in fact that I'm proud to say that my reading ratio has tipped dramatically in that direction.  The fantasy novella THE FIRST OF SHADOWS by Deck Matthews further continues that trend and I have to say that it stirred up some familiar sentimentality from my very earliest days of reading fantasy fiction.

This opening novella in the Riven Realm series is divided into three main character POVs and separate story lines (don't worry, they ultimately all tie into each other).  The first POV is a mysterious drifter named Shem.  We open the story with him battling some type of demon being and it is sort of hinted at that this is a battle that has taken place multiple times before and in multiple forms as well.

The second POV is a character named Caleb Rusk.  Caleb is a young man with a physical disability who works as a rigger on an airship.  Caleb is often bullied by some in his hometown yet you can sense an inner strength in him which transcends any type of affliction that may slow him down at times.  He eventually meets a badly injured Shem on the road to his home where the stranger tells him a story of a growing danger that could soon find its way into Caleb's humble small-town existence.

The last POV is a wizened blind sage named Tiberius.  Tiberius has been travelling the world of Varkas for decades upon decades in search of rare and very ancient forms of magic.  The purpose of this quest is to discover the most dangerous and deadly among them and to keep them safe from those who would use them for evil ends.  However, when a number of strange and sudden deaths begin to occur in the city of Taralius, Tiberius is recruited by the Ember Throne to assist an officer of the military guard named Avador to hopefully get to the bottom of it.

The world of the Riven Realm is quite an interesting one.  Many of the cities and towns are reminiscent of a traditional medieval fantasy setting, but Matthews has also introduced the idea of airships into this scenario, which gives the story a cool and unique blend of styles.  The characters are very well written and I couldn't help but compare them to the characters in David Eddings Belgariad series, and in particular, how they interacted with each other.

There is definitely a comfort feel to this story that reminds me a lot of those books.  There is often a tinge of humor injected into the dialogue which you could picture Belgarath the Sorcerer saying to Pol or Silk during one of their many journeys.  That being said, THE FIRST OF SHADOWS definitely has its own voice and it is an intriguing one with a marvelous mystery that powers the plot.  Who or what is killing people indiscriminately and how do the three main characters play a part in what will follow?  

I enjoyed THE FIRST OF SHADOWS a great deal.  It was a refreshing change of pace to the grimdark books that I have been reading lately.  It was also a very quick read that flowed very easily from one chapter to the next.  Deck Matthews has revealed that books 2 and 3 are soon on the horizon and I can't wait to see where this story goes and what new elements that Deck introduces to this world.  This novella is definitely a treat that you shouldn't pass up.  And it has a killer map. (Sorry, I'm a sucker for beautiful maps).  Filled with magic, interesting characters, and wonderful world-building, this is a fantasy tale not to be missed!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Book Review: PRIEST OF LIES by Peter McLean

Title: Priest of Lies

Author: Peter McLean

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication Date: July 2, 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

PRIEST OF LIES begins a few months or so after the events of book one Priest of Bones.  Crime boss, agitator, and military priest, Tomas Piety spends his days consolidating his power in Ellinburg, with the help of his crew of battle-hardened miscreants called The Pious Men.  With such colorful names as Fat Luka, Bloody Anne (my personal favorite), and Black Billy, the Pious Men are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the daily running of things in the nearly lawless streets of the city.

The opening chapters reveal a threat brewing from the west of Ellinburg in the form of a rival gang known as The Northern Sons.  There are whispers that the Sons may be being backed by the dreaded Skanians who attempted a bloody takeover of Tomas and the Pious Men's holdings in the city almost a year earlier.  

Things have changed a bit for Piety as he finds himself husband to a new wife Ailsa.  Ailsa doesn't exactly hold him in high esteem and the feeling is somewhat mutual on his end.  Despite that, she has deep connections to the Queen and Piety knows that to keep running his businesses without government interference he must keep his marriage on cordial terms.

As tensions grow in the city and small pockets of garrisons begin coming home from the war, it is increasingly clear that a potential power struggle is on the horizon and Tomas must recruit as many of the returning groups as he can to stave off any threat to his money-making enterprise.  Piety simply cannot abide losing what he has fought and bled so hard to build. Fattening up the membership numbers of The Pious Men seems to be the only viable solution.

As all of this is happening Tomas and Ailsa embark on a trip to her home town of Dannsburg to pay a visit to her affluent parents, among other things.  Dannsburg, unlike Ellinburg, is a prosperous and thriving city of some renown.  It is also the seat of power where nobles and politicians make many decisions that effect various parts of the realm, including Piety's troubled city of Ellinburg.

It doesn't take long for Tomas to realize that he is a fish out of water among the nobles and their political squabbling.  But when he soon finds himself caught in the middle of a serious incident that may just get him into trouble with the mayor of Ellinburg, Tomas must utilize every one of the weapons at his disposal, both natural and unnatural.   And he needs to do it quickly, for looming is the specter of his city becoming a bulging powder keg in his absence that may very well be about to explode.

PRIEST OF LIES is book number two of Peter McLean's War for the Rose Throne series and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot.  Where the first book was a cacophony of flying fists, thunderous battles, and violent bloodshed, this book is a slight departure in style, focusing more on political intrigue and deception.  

This isn't a bad thing though.  In fact, it was quite refreshing to get to slow down a bit after the breakneck pace of Priest of Bones.  I appreciated seeing McLean stretch his writing legs, creating some of the most superbly crisp dialogue between the many different characters.  I'm not saying it's a walk through the daisies by any means, but there's a definite stylistic change in PRIEST OF LIES, and it works brilliantly in my opinion.

What hasn't changed is Tomas Piety and his audaciousness, brashness, and sarcastically biting humor.  Piety is one of my favorite characters in any current Fantasy series.  I found myself cringing when someone stoked his violent natural instincts but also laughing out loud as he is fired off one of his classic quips to a hated enemy.  The guy can make you go through so many emotions at once as a reader, yet you always feel yourself hoping that he wins in the end.

I thoroughly devoured this book and was left a little deflated when I realized that I won't have another Pious Men book to read for at least another year.  Peter McLean has delivered a rousing tale of Grimdark Fantasy that puts him right up there in the same category as Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.  If you are looking for a book and series that will move you in much the same way as those giants of the genre, then Peter McLean has something wonderful in store for you with this series, and it's every bit as good if not better.

PRIEST OF LIES isn't available for purchase until July 2nd, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now.  I highly recommend doing so.  While you are waiting for this one, pick up the first book in the series Priest of Bones and get started on this amazing series as soon as possible.  You won't regret a minute of the wild ride you are about to take!

Monday, April 29, 2019


Last week I was totally crushed by the news that legendary Fantasy author Gene Wolfe had passed away.  I feel a special connection with certain books and writers for a number of reasons (mostly because I read them during different stages or moments in my life).  In Gene's case, I read his Book of the New Sun series when I was a younger man and working as a bookseller at Borders.  I remember how much it affected me in a good way and also how mesmerized I was by the prose.  It served to further ignite my passion for reading Fantasy books.  At that time I hadn't read much Fantasy and I didn't think that Fantasy writing could be done with both intelligence and excitement in equal measure.  

I hope that doesn't sound too snobby, I was a stupid kid after all.  I've since learned better, having read oodles more Fantasy books over the past twenty five years or so of my life, but The Book of the New Sun has always remained one of my favorite series of all-time.  Naturally, I then began to ponder what a list of 10 series that I would put as my all-time favorites would look like.  Admittedly, there were some that were easy and jumped right out at me.  I just knew that they had to be included.  The rest were a little more difficult to pick, but I think that I have compiled a pretty accurate account of the ones that, for whatever reason, just sit on a higher shelf than all of the others I have consumed in my life.

And so with that, here are MY 10 FAVORITE FANTASY SERIES OF ALL TIME!  (In descending order, because I have to create some drama right?)

10. DEVERRY by Katharine Kerr - This series is not for those who are looking for a straightforward and cozy read.  I say this because it is a long series that is separated by three different arcs.  In addition to that, the characters in each of the books are different reincarnations of themselves at different time periods in the history of Deverry.  There is quite an involved grid at the front of each book showing who is who at any given time period.  Having said all of that, if you want to read a Fantasy series that will reward you like no other if you choose to put in a little work, this is the one to read.  It is a mythical Celtic Fantasy that has a very comfortable feel to it and should appeal to anyone who enjoys classic Fantasy done incredibly well.  So definitely check this one out if you have the time and patience to commit to it.

9. RAI-KIRAH by Carol Berg - Most people have never heard of this series and that is a real tragedy.  Carol Berg is one of the best Fantasy writers out there without question.  This series in particular showcases that fact so beautifully.  Centering on a young man from a conquered race who is enslaved and sold into servitude to an entitled and arrogant prince, this series tackles a number of sensitive issues such as racism, discrimination, and sexual identity at a time when this wasn't happening a lot in Fantasy.  That alone should make it essential reading.  Aside from the social issues, this is also a phenomenal Fantasy tale just teeming with magic, foul demons, court intrigue, and brutally bloody battles.  I highly recommend RAI-KIRAH and it will always be one of my favorites.

8. DIVINE CITIES by Robert Jackson Bennett - One of two fairly recent series on this list, DIVINE CITIES is world-building taken to a ludicrously high level.  I remember picking up an advance copy of City Of Stairs a few years ago and being so impressed by the history that Robert Jackson Bennett constructed and the mythical dead gods that are at the center of this amazing Dark Fantasy.  And boy is it ever dark!  But it is also a series that stands out in my opinion and is so engrossing that you need to keep turning the pages feverishly.  The fact that this is Bennett's debut series is all the more impressive because I believe it to be one of the best Fantasy series of the past 25 years and definitely ranks in my top 10 all-time.  I feel like more people should read it and I hope it eventually gets the proper accolades that it deserves.

7. WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW by Janny Wurts - I have been a huge fan of Janny Wurts ever since I read her collaboration with Raymond E. Feist on the Empire trilogy.  That series made me want to check out more of Janny's writing and so I was drawn to her stupendous WARS OF LIGHT AND SHADOW.  The first thing that I immediately noticed upon reading the first book The Curse of the Mistwraith was the writing and the characters.  The prose is so different from many other Fantasy books out there.  It is written in a classic Fantasy style very reminiscent of Tolkien.  Some have said that the writing is too dense but I could not disagree more.  The writing lends a charm and beauty to the story that carries through the entire series.  And then there are the fabulous characters.  The story centers around two brothers who could not be any more different and who both possess magical powers beyond imagining.  At times you don't know whether they are friends or enemies and their paths take some interesting and unexpected turns as they attempt to fulfill their individual destinies.  There is also an interesting timeline that alternates and keeps you paying attention to every detail and every chapter.  Just a phenomenal series.

6. THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN by John Gwynne - This is the other fairly recent series that I felt without a doubt had to be included in my 10 all-time favorites.  This series captivated me from the opening scene in the first book Malice.  I'm a sucker for a deep and interesting history as part of my Fantasy reads.  This series has exactly the type of rich history that is the backbone of any great Fantasy story.  And the battles are so incredibly intense, so much so that you can feel every blow and spear thrust.  The series gets better with each book and when you finally get to the last page of Wrath, you will come to the realization that you have just read a monumental series the likes of which do not come around very often.  I'm happy to say that the utter goodness continues in John's brand new series set in the same world titled Of Blood and Bone.  If you have never read anything by John Gwynne I would recommend that you do so.  He's one of the best writers out there and just continues to churn out five-star book after five-star book.  You are really missing out of you don't pick up THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN as soon as possible and read it.

5. THE DAGGER AND THE COIN by Daniel Abraham - Known primarily for being one-half of the writing duo behind the tremendous Expanse series, Daniel Abraham has written one of my favorite and unique Fantasy series of all-time.  This series is so under the radar and frankly it is criminal that it doesn't get more recognition.  Unlike most Fantasy series that focus on battles, quests, or some sort of coming of age trope, Abraham centers his series around the economics behind the warring empires and how the economy can be manipulated to defeat the enemy.  That's not to say that there isn't plenty of action and battles, oh there are!  But this is a thinking-person's Fantasy first and foremost and really hits on a theme that not a lot of Fantasy books dare to explore.  The conspiracies and behind-the-scenes sabotage that goes on just make this such a different story than what I had ever read before or after honestly.  I am constantly recommending THE DAGGER AND THE COIN to people who ask me for something that is a really good Fantasy but with a different twist.  The writing is top notch and I think that everyone should read this while they are waiting for the next George RR Martin book.  It's quite similar in tone and feel.  What a wonderful series.

4. THE LIVESHIP TRADERS by Robin Hobb - When most people are asked the question what is their favorite Robin Hobb series, the response is usually The Farseer trilogy.  My favorite series by Hobb though has always been this one.  I feel like Robin Hobb really came into her own as a writer with this series.  The plot is way more complex than Farseer and the characters have a lot more depth to them.  The story centers around a seafaring family who owns a sentient ship that can communicate with its captain and also can self-navigate by use of magic.  There is an internal struggle within the family when the head of the household dies, and we get to see the struggle for ownership of the liveship that ensues between the captain's daughter and his son in-law.  There are also a number of political conflicts going on within the town itself as the economy falters and other families begin to utilize their liveships to engage in the lucrative slave trade to survive. This series is so perfectly constructed, written, and realized and I believe it to be the best series Robin Hobb has ever written.  I just love it and reread it every two or three years, it's that good.  So pick it up and read it, you won't be sorry!

3. THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN by Gene Wolfe - As I mentioned earlier, this particular series is the one that motivated me to create this list.  Gene Wolfe's passing recently made me immediately think of THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and how much I absolutely adore every aspect of it.  I read this series pretty early on in my Fantasy reading life and have read very few books that are its match in darkness and beauty.  Set on a dystopian planet Earth where the sun is slowly dying, main character Severian is a torturer who is charged with carrying out incredible pain and death on the criminals who are sent to The Citadel of the Autarch.  Then he does the unthinkable by showing mercy to one of his subjects and is banished to journey across a desolate wasteland alone armed only with his awesomely-named sword Terminus Est (translation: this is the end).  This is one of those series that I hold very close to my heart and feel like anyone who claims to be a fan of Fantasy should read at some point in their life.  It is a work of sheer brilliance and genius, with world-building that should be the standard by which every author aspires.  

2. THE FIRST LAW by Joe Abercrombie - This series came so close to being my favorite of all-time but fell just short.  Such an amazing blend of Grimdark and traditional Fantasy.  What I love most about this series though are the vivid characters and the top-notch dialogue.  Nobody writes better dialogue than Joe Abercrombie.  Nobody.  When the characters in this series speak to each other, you feel like you are standing right there with them.  They speak like human beings who are enmeshed in the environment and situations that they find themselves in would speak.  Irreverent, yes.  Snarky and sarcastic, uh-huh.  Downright rude and un-PC, yep!   Yet it is all done masterfully and completely within the flow of an astoundingly great story.  If you love bloody battles, biting humor, dark settings, and flat-out dazzling writing, then you really need to grab all three books in this series and start reading.  It's damn-near perfect and will keep you on the edge of your seat for three meaty volumes.

1. MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN by Tad Williams - I'm always shocked when people tell me that they've never read this series.  Partly because it is my favorite Fantasy series ever and partly because it's just so freaking fantastic in every way.  Not to mention that it contains my most-despised villain of all-time, Pryrates the evil priest.  For my money there is no better antagonist in not just Fantasy Fiction, but Fiction in general.  I've reread this series about 7 or 8 times and every time I read it I feel like I'm coming home to characters that are familiar companions on a treasured literary journey.  You can have Tolkien, George RR Martin, C.S. Lewis, Robert Jordan, and all of the other well-known Fantasists in the genre, I'll take Tad Williams and MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN any day of the week.  This series is simply the greatest of High Fantasies on the grandest of scales.  Just do me a favor and experience this series for yourself.  I'm sure after reading it that that you will agree it deserves to be ranked right at the top of every single Fantasy list now and in the future.  It's definitely at the top of mine and has been for a long time.

And there you have it!  My 10 Favorite Fantasy Series of All-Time.  Please feel free to comment if you've read any of them or would like to mention a few that you would put on your own list!  I always welcome a discussion about favorite books.  I also hope that reading something about these series may spark a desire for you to read some of them yourselves for the very first time.  As always, thanks so much for visiting and spending some time on the blog.  HAPPY READING!!! - Nick

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Book Review: SIN EATER by Mike Shel

Title: Sin Eater

Author: Mike Shel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 20, 2019

Rating:  🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Mike Shel is an author who is really making quite a name for himself in the self-published Fantasy stratosphere.  Mike's first book in his Iconoclasts series, Aching God, was one of my favorite reads from last year and is currently among the top 10 finalists in Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #4.  That right there should give you just some indication of the quality of storytelling that Shel brings to the table.  I have been impatiently waiting for the next book in this series for what seemed like an eternity on the heels of the amazing finish of Aching God.  So when Mike offered me the opportunity to read an advance copy of his second installment SIN EATER, well I think I just about jumped out of my skin with excitement.  Shortly thereafter I pulled up a couch, popped open a hoppy adult beverage, and settled down for what I hoped was going to be another mesmerizing read.

The opening pages of SIN EATER return us to the world of the Hanifaxan Imperium, at the center of which is all powerful ruler Queen Geneviva, "long may she reign".  The Queen still rules her empire with an unquestioned iron fist and still has a penchant for human blood and flesh from time to time due to a sorcery-enhanced healing that went horribly wrong years ago.  Following the tumultuous events at the end of Aching God, we find the main character from that book, Auric Manteo significantly the worse for wear.  Battling with an evil god will do that to you and what is left of Auric is a hardened, troubled, and aged shell of the man he once was.  

Auric's only reward from that encounter, if you could call it that, is an ancient Djao civilization relic in the form of a sentient sword called Szaa'da'shaela.  The sword speaks to him and often guides him in times of trouble.  It can also be a bit rude and overbearing at times, so Auric picks and chooses the times he wants to communicate or ask for the sword's help very carefully.  It does have its uses though and Auric struggles with trying to harness its power for his benefit.  

Auric's daughter Agnes is now a respected member of the Syraeic League who constantly worries about her father's mental well-being and general state of physical health.  Calloused by the traumatic effects of the devastating plague that almost took her life, she has come out on the other side a much stronger person.  Her main concern is making sure that her father is protected and that he recovers fully from the awful encounter with the Aching God.  She will have other concerns very quickly however, as she and her father are summoned in a strangely cryptic letter to appear at The Citadel before the Third Lictor of the Syraeic League, Pallas Rae.

Upon their arrival, Pallas Rae reveals that a significant threat is about to envelope the kingdom and the only way that this can be averted is by travelling to the distant labyrinths of Gnexes to carry out a secret mission for the Queen. Matters soon come to a head as the Citadel of the Syraeic League comes under violent attack by an angry mob who seem to be under the influence of an enchantment of some kind.  It is now obvious that Auric, Agnes, and a few select Syraeic associates embark immediately on a pilgrimage through questionable towns, hazardous terrain, and freezing cold temperatures to infiltrate Gnexes and carry out their arduous task.  But can they get there in time to avoid the growing revolution that is brewing outside The Citadel's gates?  

I was absolutely blown away by SIN EATER in a way that I haven't been by a book in a long time.  The story raises the stakes from the first book by a number of degrees.  Each character has been changed in different ways by the events that transpired in Aching God.  Auric is much more vulnerable and traumatized both mentally and physically.  His appearance depicting the tremendous amount of pain and stress that he was put through in that desperate battle in the Barrowlands.  The gray hair and stooped countenance hint at a man who has been put through the ringer and is now trying to reclaim some semblance of the warrior he used to be.

Agnes on the other hand has grown immeasurably in the other direction.  She has taken up the mantle of the Syraeic League and run with it.  The fact that she was the primary point of view character in SIN EATER made this book even more enjoyable than Aching God in my opinion.  Another aspect that I just can't get enough of is the creepiness of Queen Geneviva and her feral outbursts.  Not since Pryrates from Tad Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn have I encountered a villain with such unpredictability and evil oozing from every pore.  I literally despised her character and yet I kept hoping that the next chapter would center on her.  If you like evil antagonists, this series has one of the best you'll find anywhere.

On top of all of the amazing characters, you have the excellent world-building of a seasoned pro.  Mike Shel's descriptions are vivid and captivating with even more dark and magical locales than in book one.  The pilgrimage to the labyrinths of Gnexes was such an incredible setting and really built up the tension for the conclusion of the book.  And what a conclusion it was!  So many times the second book in a series is simply used to set up the following book.  Shel does not take his foot off the gas pedal though and the ending was so good that I forgot there was more to come.  The ending is one that left me utterly breathless.  

If you are in the mood for an entertaining read brimming with dark sorcery,  labyrinthine twists and turns, villains who are creepy as hell, and a story that will keep you transfixed well into the early morning hours, then Mike Shel's Iconoclasts is the series that you should be reading.  The official release date for SIN EATER is May 20th, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Cover Reveal!!! - VULTURES by Luke Tarzian

Out of This World SFF Reviews is pleased and delighted to be hosting the official Cover Reveal for Luke Tarzian's upcoming new book VULTURES!  Luke is a self-published author who resides in Pasadena, California where he has been diligently hard at work writing and getting book one of the Shadow Twins trilogy, VULTURES ready for the masses. Luke is also an incredibly talented graphic designer and actually designed and created the beautiful cover for his new book (which you will get to see very soon).  

                                     Author Luke Tarzian & Friendo

The official release date for VULTURES is June 11th and is available for preorder now on Amazon by clicking (here).  Make sure you get in early and have it delivered to your preferred device on release day so that you can start reading immediately!  

You can also read Chapter 1 of the book on Luke Tarzian's website by clicking (here)

And now for the moment you've all been waiting for and what my wife proclaimed to be one of the coolest book covers she's ever seen.....Here is the fantastically dark and gorgeous cover for Luke Tarzian's upcoming book VULTURES!!!!


In Ariath, this is more than a simple adage.  For Theailys An, they are words to live by, especially in the city of Helveden, where he and his demon brethren, the dissident, are looked upon with scorn.  Viewed as cohorts of the dead progenitor of Ariathan suffering, they are outcasts.

Still, Theailys has a job to do: destroy the Heart of Mirkur and end the war for good.  Though Te Mirkyahil is dead, its progeny leak endlessly from the Heart, sowing death with their passage.  With The Keepers' Wrath. a power focus of his own design, Theailys believes there is hope to restore peace to Ariath once again.

But ending a war is easier said than done, especially for a man haunted by past tragedies and occasionally possessed by a murderous presence keen to take his body for its own.  As Theailys works to forge The Keepers' Wrath, amid a creeping shadow over Helveden, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear:


Monday, April 15, 2019

Cover Reveal!!! - RIVER OF THIEVES by Clayton Snyder

Out of This World SFF Reviews is honored and privileged to be hosting the official Cover Reveal for Clayton Snyder's upcoming new release RIVER OF THIEVES.  Clayton is an amazingly talented author who resides in North Dakota where he writes edgy fantasy tinged with a bit of horror and mayhem.  His The Balance series has been very well-received by both reviewers and fellow authors alike, and was described by Fantasy author Dyrk Ashton as "Extremely well-written, thoughtful, and engaging."  

                                            Author Clayton Snyder
Also as a quick aside, the official publication date for RIVER OF THIEVES is April 30th and can be preordered on Amazon by clicking (here)

And now without further ado, let's get to what you've all come here to see: 

The official Cover Reveal for Clayton Snyder's RIVER OF THIEVES!!!!

Cursed thief Cord relies on his partner Nenn to recover his body, stash the money, and convince the authorities that there are no leads left to follow.  They spend their days hitting low-tier lenders and banks, but after a botched robbery, Cord begins to think they need something bigger, something that will set them up for life.

When that thing happens to be a heist no one else in the kingdom has the stones to pull off, he gathers a group of rogues with a particular set of talents: Nenn, handy with a knife and a cool head; Rek, cat fancier and strongman; and Lux, undead wizard.  Together, they converge on the city of Midian to steal the heart of a saint and punish a tyrant.

What comes out of the carnage is so much more - a conflict between gods that could decide the fate of every thief in the worlds.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Blog Tour Book Review! - AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED by Kristin Ward

Title: After The Green Withered

Author: Kristin Ward

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 13, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 1/2

I'm extremely pleased to be a part of #UltimateBlogTours hosted by Dave and the gang over at the amazing website The Write Reads!  Today is Day #9 of the tour and the book that I will be reviewing is AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED by author Kristin Ward.  It's important to mention that the book won a Best Indie Book Award in 2018.  Further biographical info about Kristin will be included at the end of my review as well as a link to purchase the book on Amazon.  And now without further delay, my review of AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED.

AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED takes place in a dystopian United States where the land has become a barren wasteland and water is the new global currency.  It is wielded as a weapon by corrupt government leaders and it is very apparent that if you aren't part of the elite ruling class, you are going to have an extremely difficult time just making it from day to day.  All of what has occurred has been due to the effects of climate change that has long been ignored by past political regimes.  Enter main character 17 year-old Enora Byrnes, who takes a job with a government controlled entity that itself is one of the biggest offenders of the new strangulating water-rationing laws.  The philosophy is quite simple, conform and fall in line with what we want or be crushed under our boot and die of thirst/starvation.  

At first Enora goes along with what she has been charged to do because she like everyone else is just looking for a lifeline of survival in this new and destitute reality.  However, as the horrors of the agency that she works for begin to slowly get revealed and Enora digs deeper and deeper, she becomes disgusted with what she discovers.  At the same time, she is still very much a teenager and is struggling with her desire to do what is right while still doubting whether one person alone can make a difference.  Can Enora gather up enough courage to expose what she has uncovered and maybe bring about a positive change?  Or will her employer get to her before any of that can happen?  Just a couple of the questions raised in this entertaining YA dystopian story.

AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED is definitely a book with a relevant political and social message.  Author Kristin Ward does not pull any punches in this regard and the reader absolutely gets a taste of what the world could possibly be like if we continue down our current path with regard to how we are addressing environmental issues.  I'm a fan of dystopian SF like this one, and I thought that by and large the author did a solid job of creating an atmosphere that delved into the hopelessness that living under these conditions would obviously engender.  I also thought that the character of Enora Byrnes was very well done, and even though she is seventeen, she still possessed a strength and resolve that most teenagers simply do not possess.  

My only minor stumbling points were that I wanted to know a bit more about the conditions that caused the current situation and water crisis.  I know that climate change was alluded to as the culprit, but more back story would have really gotten me more invested in the plight of the characters.  Also I thought there were a few slow points where some info-dumping occurred, but those were few and far between, so I was able to get past it for the most part.  I definitely recommend this book to fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian SF, because it is an entertaining read.  It is also a great read for younger readers who enjoyed Veronica Roth's Divergent series and the Gone series by Michael Grant.  All in all I liked this book quite a bit and am looking forward to revisiting this world again very soon.

You can purchase AFTER THE GREEN WITHERED on Amazon by clicking this link:

About the author:

Kristin Ward has loved writing since middle school but took thirty years to do something serious about it.  The result is her Best Indie Book Award-winning novel, After the Green Withered, followed by the sequel, Burden of Truth.  She lives in a small town in Connecticut with her husband, three sons, and many furry and feathered friends.  A SciFi geek to the core, she is fueled by dark chocolate and coffee and can be heard quoting 80's movies on a regular basis.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Book Review: KINGS OF PARADISE by Richard Nell

Title: Kings of Paradise

Author: Richard Nell

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 8, 2017

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

I feel like I've been giving a lot of five-star ratings so far this year and I always kind of balk at that because I don't want to be seen as a reviewer who just arbitrarily gives out perfect scores for everything he reads.  At the same time I legitimately believe that the books I've read have all been five-star books and I don't want to short-change them simply due to my own self-consciousness.  KINGS OF PARADISE by Richard Nell is a book that is absolutely beloved by all of my favorite bloggers, so it is a book that I have understandably been dying to read.  It was also entered into Mark Lawrence's SPFBO4 and made some significant waves before eventually being eliminated (for what reasons I'm not entirely sure after having read it).  So when it finally came up next on my TBR, I happily jumped into this highly-touted first book in the Ash and Sand series.

KINGS OF PARADISE is equally divided between two separate lands with two separate storyline POVs.  Ruka was born with a deformity which resulted in him being seen as a demon by the local priestesses of the frigid wasteland of Ascom.  A barbarian living along the outskirts of the city, the only reason why he hasn't been killed already by the superstitious and very influential matriarchy is because his mother Beyla is a child of the gods who still carries with her an impressive reputation of her own.  So much so that the priestesses are hesitant to act against her and her tainted son.  

However, when Beyla succumbs to a mysterious illness that Ruka suspects may have been brought about by one of the priestesses, all bets are off and Ruka is now unprotected and left to fend for himself as he is hunted across the frozen tundra.  Ruka soon embarks on a journey far away from his homeland to try to evolve into the man he is supposed to become and maybe in the process uncover some small part of his past as well.  This shy unassuming boy must learn to be a hardened man and warrior if he hopes to wreak vengeance on those who have taken everything from him.  The only question is can he learn fast enough before he is captured by his pursuers.  

Kale on the other hand, could not be more different from the aforementioned Ruka.  Around the same age as Ruka, Kale is born into a royal family of privilege.  The problem is that he is a huge disappointment to his father the King of the sandy paradise island empire of Pyu.  The reason for this disappointment resides in the fact that Kale is a bit of a slacker who doesn't really fancy his role as the fourth prince in the inheritance line.  He and his father are like oil and water and they never seem to agree on anything.  This lands him a place in the lowest regiment in the Pyu Navy, an open slap in the face to his youngest son and a public shaming above all else.  

Kale has had everything in his life come easy to him until now and his current situation leaves him both defiant and also bewildered.  If he fails to prove himself in this rugged marine corps, he may eventually be cast aside and disowned by his father.  This is a real problem since Kale is in love with a young woman who he can never even hope to marry if he remains a lowly military grunt.  It's at this point that Kale needs to make a decision about what is really important to him and who he is as a maturing man of means.  Will he accept the challenge or wallow in his misery to the point where he just gives up?

What a glorious experience this book was to read.  At first it took me some time to get acclimated to the settings and both characters' individual conflicts.  But as the story unfolded I found myself reading in larger and larger chunks.  I actually read the last 250 pages in one sitting, which is unheard of for me because of the distractions that having two small children and a busy schedule bring.  That is a true testament to how great this story is though and I did not want to put it down for fear of having to wait to find out how it all wrapped up.  The first thing I will say is that the world-building is flat out second-to-none.  The two settings of Ascom and the Pyu Islands couldn't be more different in climate and economy.  Yet each was brilliantly rendered to the point that you could feel the sand between your toes and the frostbite stinging your fingers.  

Just as the settings were disparate, so were the main characters.  Each born from different backgrounds and upbringings, but each with their own trials and tribulations to attempt to overcome.  Ruka is one of my favorite characters of any fantasy book as his unwavering determination propels him forward at all times even when everything seems to be standing in his way.  His emotional allegiance to his mother is also unflinching and gives him a courage that makes him almost superhuman at times.  Kale is one of those characters in the mold of a Jaime Lannister.  You want to punch him in the mouth most of the time he is speaking, but there's also this subtle and underlying charm that makes you almost root for him against your better judgment.  That's a really difficult trick to pull off and Richard Nell should be praised for the depth that he brings to both Kale and Ruka.  

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this book even when it got very dark, brutal, and violent.  And believe me, it does go there and Nell doesn't sugarcoat anything in this regard.  But the writing is just so absolutely beautiful that you can't help but continue to follow along on each characters' separate journeys of discovery and coming of age.  If you want to read one of the very best fantasy books of the new millennium, then pick up KINGS OF PARADISE immediately and enjoy the amazing ride you will undertake.  It will be well worth your time and effort, I promise.  Book two, Kings of Ash was just released a couple of months ago and I definitely plan on reading that one as well.  I can't wait to see where this story goes from the terrific finish of this first book.  Richard Nell has most certainly brought us a phenomenal new series to savor, we should all rejoice and embrace it.  Very highly recommended by yours truly.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Cover Reveal!!! - ALTERLIFE II by Matt Moss

Out of This World SFF Reviews is extremely honored to present the official cover for ALTERLIFE II, the brand new book in the Alterlife series by self-published author Matt Moss!  ALTERLIFE II is scheduled for release on June 4, 2019.

                                               Author Matt Moss

Matt's first book in this action-packed and intelligent SF series Alterlife (due to be released this coming Tuesday, April 9th) was one of my favorite reads of 2018 and has been accurately described as "A cross between Ready Player One and Breaking Bad".  For those who would like to know more about book one, please click on my review of it here.  If it sounds like your kind of read, you can preorder Alterlife now on Amazon by clicking on this link.

But now let's get to what you've all come here to see!

Here is the MAGNIFICENT new cover for Matt Moss's ALTERLIFE II❗❗❗

John Crussel has established himself as one of the most powerful players in the game, known in Alterlife as Ace The Great.  But his quest for freedom came at a price.  By unleashing the virus, thousands of lives were lost, and their blood is on his hands.

Time has passed and with it, the deaths seemed to have stopped - the virus is no more.  Prosperity has returned to Alterlife and to john's life.

But the Gamemasters haven't forgotten about Ace the Great and what he has done.  They lie in wait patient and calculating.  They seek to avenge their brother, and are willing to use every tool in their arsenal to deliver justice - even unleashing the gods themselves upon Alterlife.

John Crussel thinks everything is back to normal.  But there is a war coming to his doorstep.

And he doesn't even see it coming...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION by Tade Thompson

Title: The Rosewater Insurrection

Author: Tade Thompson

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: March 12, 2019

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I've had the good fortune of reading some incredible books so far this year, one of them being Rosewater by Tade Thompson.  The book was a fantastic Science-Fiction story that takes place in the very unique setting of Nigeria some forty years in the future.  I was so immersed in the book that I blew through it in about two weeks.  Considering my busy schedule, that is truly saying something.  So when I was also given the opportunity of reading and reviewing the sequel THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION, I simply had to jump right back into this story as soon as possible.  I would like to thank the good people at Orbit again for being so gracious in providing me a review copy.  Now without further delay, on to a brief description and my subsequent thoughts.

The story picks up not too long after the events of the first book.  This time however, instead of Kaaro being the main POV character, it is his girlfriend and government agent Aminat.  The makeshift town of Rosewater continues to grow in population as pilgrims from every corner of the world come to be healed of their ailments.  The problem is the biodome at Rosewater's center seems to be dying ever so slowly, leaving their hopes of a reversal of their maladies very much in doubt.  Added to the disorder of the growing masses and the decaying biodome is the specter of Rosewater's charismatic mayor Jack Jacques and his movement to declare independence for Rosewater.  This understandably doesn't sit very well with the President of Nigeria, and a violent conflict is almost certain to arise between the two political forces.  Meanwhile, a local woman named Alyssa awakens to find that she has no recollection of her husband and daughter.  As a matter of fact she can't really remember much of anything at all.  Why she can't remember her past is a mystery that she spends the majority of the story attempting to discover, eventually finding herself on the radar of the government's secret agency S45 and Aminat in particular.  Could she somehow be connected with the strange alien Wormwood and the extra-terrestrial forces that reside within Rosewater's biodome?  As that scenario plays out we are introduced to Eric, an unwilling minor employee of S45 who is basically ordered to assassinate the mayor of Rosewater Jack Jacques to put an end to his ambitious plans to break free from Nigerian government control.  Eric really has no choice as his only other option is death at the hands of his employers.  All of these various storylines alternate between chapters.  Unlike Rosewater where the story was told almost exclusively through the eyes of Kaaro, THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION tells the tale through numerous POV switching.  As the story progresses, we definitely get a bigger background behind the alien entity at the heart of Rosewater and Wormwood has more of a center-stage role than in the previous book.  The mystery of Wormwood's origin is hinted at, definitely tantalizing us for a potential huge reveal in the final book.  As for Aminat and Kaaro, they are still very much in love, very much a powerful couple, and very much determined to get answers to what the aliens' plans are for Nigeria and the entirety of Earth.  

I've been living in Tade Thompson's Rosewater for the better part of a month and I have to say that I'm a little depressed that I don't have book three to pick up immediately.  Oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait for that one a little while longer, but meanwhile, let me opine on the many virtues of THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION.  This book was almost night and day in style compared to the first one.  I think I was a bit thrown off at first by the multiple POVs just because I was so used to Kaaro being the main character.  After I became acclimated with it though, I just settled in and let the story take hold of me.  There was so much going on in this story and it really served to clear up some nagging questions from the first book that were lingering in my mind.  Jack Jacques and his independence movement is much more of a player in this one, as intimated by the INSURRECTION part of the title.  I enjoyed reading the flashbacks in the story that showed how he essentially charmed his way from a small-time figure to a major political leader by connecting with the people of Rosewater on a very personal level.  With regard to the characters, Aminat is one of the strongest female characters in any SF story that I have read.  I was happy to see her get the majority of the spotlight in THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION because I think that she is a very compelling and interesting character.  It was gratifying to get to see some more of what she is all about.  My only minor beef with this book was that the switching of POVs was a little distracting in the beginning and it took me a while to adjust from the first book.  I think part of that had to do with the fact that I began this book the day after I finished the first one and I was used to that story structure.  But other than that I believe that this was more than a solid follow up to Rosewater and it set up the last book in the series quite nicely.  I really recommend this series to anyone who is looking for a unique, thought-provoking SF read that has deep, complex characters and an alien mystery that makes you keep turning the pages feverishly.  A great second installment in the Wormwood Trilogy that makes me eager to get my hands on the final book.  Read it now, you won't regret it.