Indie Spotlight 2: SPFBO 2017

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Hello again. Another week, look at the competition. Er…I mean another batch of fantasy novels from the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off. A chance to take a peek at the wonderful, diverse world of Indie Publishing and Fantasy. This week: gods, thieves, superpowers, and haunted furniture…

Talent Storm Kindle Edition by Brian Terenna

 Hundreds of years after the Great World War, America is a distant memory. In the ashes, new civilizations have risen up from the Wilds. Locke’s Coalition and Liberty Kingdom, bitter enemies, have been at peace for seven years. War is never far from politicians’ minds, though, especially when one is the tyrant Archduke Goldwater. For all of human kinds’ positive traits, the character flaws of corruption, greed, anger, and revenge are etched into our DNA.
In the new world, little technology remains and advanced weapons are in short supply, but today’s soldiers fight with innate power. They fight with Talent… the psionic powers that develop in a random few.
A young Coalition citizen, Jaden Stone, dreams of graduating, having fun, and falling in love. As if his hard-nosed uncle, schoolyard bullies, and exams weren’t hard enough to handle, he discovers that he wields Talent. He’d now be forced to serve in the military, forced to train and fight, all for an organization that killed his parents.
Will Jaden work hard for his people or will his desire for leisure win over? He’s forced to decide when a tragedy shakes his core.

Joss the Seven (Guild of Sevens Book 1) J. Philip Horne

New powers. Big problems.

Joss Morgan loves joking around, but it’s no joke when he discovers he has superpowers. Those powers may get him killed. Heroes and villains want Joss to join them. Both will use him. Everyone has secrets. And his life isn’t the only one on the line. If Joss can’t figure out who to trust, his whole family could die.

Contemporary fantasy fans will love this action-packed adventure for all ages that get’s 4.8 stars on Amazon!

The Bed by Laura Perry

When she buys an antique bed, Liz gets more than she bargained for: not just the furniture but also the ghost of its former owner plus the nefarious beings who are out to get him, even in the afterlife. When those beings turn their gaze toward Liz, she has to rely on her own courage – plus the magical tools in an antique trunk – to dig her way out of trouble. Because she certainly can’t rely on her best friend, who thinks she’s going crazy, or her family, who all have problems of their own.

A God Among Thieves by Jackson Lear

For the first time in history, an empire of muskets and cannons is gaining ground in the war against living, breathing gods. Entire armies have been massacred in a conflict which, at times, seems to be absurdly worth it.

Thousands of miles away, the principality of Moqara lies on the verge of being crushed by every neighbor around them. At the center of the crisis are reports that the empire has set its sights on acquiring the oasis city at any cost, convinced that its trade lines may be the key to securing victory for the human race.

A former resident, Kes, stumbles through the Moqaran desert, barely alive, carrying a message no one wants to hear: one of the gods wants to defect to the human side. It is not known who the message is intended for, and the only person who can vouch for Kes, Lazden Dadario of the Prince’s Guard, doesn’t trust a word she says.

Red Season Rising by D.M. Murray

A feud between Gods.
A nation besieged by armies of man, and demon.
A man seeking redemption, and peace.

Kalfinar is a grieving addict. Once a decorated and respected soldier, he has been demoted and disgraced.
The relative peace of his half-life is shattered by the onset of chaos and war.
Tormented by visions, he is marked for possession, and hunted by demons.

Amidst the all-consuming ruin of a war between Gods, Kalfinar must lead the fight to defend a faith he has abandoned, and a nation that has disowned him.

Red Season Rising is the debut novel of D.M. Murray and marks the beginning of a new epic fantasy series.

Indie Spotlight 1: Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

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So, this is a slightly belated introduction/ post on the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2017, Mark Lawrence’s third annual self-publishing competition extravaganza. 300 fantasy novels are sent to 10 different bloggers who will, over the course of 2017, choose 1 winner. The one book to rule us all. Or something. As Mark Lawrence himself says:

“There’s no other prize. The winner will get the publicity of being the winner, plus the bonus of being reviewed on the blogs of 10 highly respected fantasy bloggers.

“Frankly you can’t buy better publicity than that.”

I missed the deadline last year by a matter of days, which was disappointing, but this time I was ready. I submitted Irons in the Fire a few months ago and am eagerly awaiting the results of Round One. The blogger my book was assigned to already posted the caveat that: “I’m not a particularly warm and fuzzy reviewer, but that’s not because I’m a dick.”

Which is, of course, encouraging.

I will admit that for about a split second, I did consider reading and review all or even most of my fellow SPFBO authors, but well there are 300 of us and not nearly enough hours in the day. So instead I thought I would take this opportunity to at the very least share them with anyone who is interested, starting with those who are in my group/ bracket. Maybe you’ll find something interesting.

 

The Devil’s Library: The Windhaven Chronicles by Watson Davis

A Rogue, A Renegade, and a Treasure Beyond Belief

Gartan finds a map to a treasure across the sea, and he decides he must have it. He plots and plans and refuses to be denied the greatest raid in history, even if he has to face down two of the greatest empires in the world.

And then the dragon arrives.

In this action-packed sword and sorcery novel of The Windhaven Chronicles, Watson Davis tells a tale of pride and greed, of magic beyond comprehension, and creatures beyond belief.

Life In The Fastlane: Brave New World by Philip Norris

An Empire past its prime struggles to hold onto what it has hoping to regain past glories.

A scientist trying to build on his father’s creation in the hope he can further mankind and bring an end to conflict.

A country torn by war that set brother against brother and nation against nation.

All three separate threads weave together to become one and result in ushering a new form of warfare that threatens to set the world on a path for all out war.

Reign of Blood by Alexia Purdy

In a post-apocalyptic world, a viral epidemic has wiped out most of the earth’s population, leaving behind few humans but untold numbers of mutated vampires. April is a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in the remains of Las Vegas one year after the outbreak. She has become a ferocious vampire killer and after her family is abducted, she goes searching for them. What she finds is a new breed of vampire, unlike any she has seen before. Unsure of whom she can trust, she discovers that her view of the world is not as black and white as she once thought, and she’s willing to bend the rules to rescue her family. But in trying to save them, she may only succeed in bringing her fragile world crashing down around her.

The Road To Cordia (A Cancordian Adventure Book 1) by Jess Allison

As far as her village elders are concerned, Ja’Nil, an orphan and of little consequence, is the perfect person to send on a dangerous mission. But the country is becoming more lawless by the day, how is a young girl from an isolated Fisherfolk village to know who is friend or who is foe? Only the mysterious golden haired Ee’Rick seems trustworthy, but what if she is wrong about him?

The Road to Cordia is the first book in the Cancordian series.

Wayfarers Highway by Peter Petrack

A camper travels the back roads of America, but it is not what it seems. Pursued by powerful forces: a mastermind, a maniac, and a terrorist, its crew wonders if they’ll ever reach Journey’s end.

When Eloise Corwin – a longtime patient in her desert hometown’s infirmary – finds a wounded young traveler sharing her sick room; she insists that he tell her about his adventures. The young man, Orson Gregory, tells her how he found and stole a glowing gemstone, hidden for decades beneath the government-built factory beside his family farm. He tells her how he’s been chased ever since – by mercenaries, by terrorists, and by other, stranger enemies. He tells her how he threw in his lot with a real adventurer, a mythology professor, an innkeeper, and a duo of hired guns on a cross-country journey to clear his name and return home – something he’s currently failing to do. To reach safety, the motley travelers will first have to deal with each other, evade the foes that follow their every move, and tangle with other forces both strange and powerful, their fellow travelers on the Wayfarers Highway.

Into the Heart of Talis (Chronicles of Talis Prequel) Available: Read Chapter 1 Here

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Into the Heart of Talis is out today! Sound the drums!  Witches and spies, magic and explosions!

It is now available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Two hundred years have passed since the Witches were driven from Talis. Two hundred years of bitterness and exile, but at last their time has come.

Leonora has been training for this moment all her life, desperate to prove herself worthy. Magic and vengeance flow through her veins, but when her cabin is ransacked and she finds signs of sorcery, Leonora quickly realizes that someone onboard is not what they seem.

There’s the old riverboat captain who watches her, full of unasked questions, the gnome whose bitterness matches her own, and the unrepentant conman who follows her everywhere with greed in his eyes.

One of them knows her secret. One of them is hunting her. But when you hunt a witch, it is far more likely that she is hunting you.

Into the Heart of Talis is a 20,000-word novella that takes place directly before Irons in the Fire.

 

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, the first book, Irons in the Fire, is currently available for free only $0.99 in most stores.

Happy reading!

 

 

Book Review: The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child is a dark, earthy reimagining of the fairy and changeling mythology. Taking its name from W.B. Yeats poem, the novel follows the parallel narratives of Henry Day, a boy stolen away from his family, and the changeling that takes his place in the human world.

Henry Day is renamed Aniday and takes his place among the ancient children of the forest, his old life largely forgotten. He learns their ways and becomes, like them, stuck in time filled with strange powers and knowledge, but at the same time adrift, his sense of self distant and vague. The changelings all yearn to return to the human world, but there are rules and each must wait their turn. They can only return by replacing another stolen child who in turn replaces them. Aniday is the youngest and he has many years to wait.

Meanwhile, the changeling echo has taken his place and his name attempts with varying degrees of success and occasionally tragic consequences to fit in with the Days. His sense of self is no more certain than Aniday’s, and as he struggles to reconnect with humanity and make connections, he is haunted by who he was before the changelings took him centuries before. Aniday and Henry’s twin quests for identity play out across several decades before ultimately colliding.

Donohue is not interested in changeling magic, per se. There are hints of powers and deeper mysteries on the edges of the narrative. The Stolen Child is far more concerned with atmosphere and people, changeling and otherwise. There is an aching melancholy to the novel and sense of hope. Donohue is a gifted and confident storyteller. Highly recommended.


The Stolen Child can be found here on Amazon.

Book Review: The Postmortal by Drew Magary

Drew Magary’s The Postmortal is an intriguing pre-apocalyptic at a world where science has finally provided the ‘cure’ for old age and near immortality requires only a relatively inexpensive gene therapy. Diseases are still fatal. There are still accidents and murder, but eternal life is suddenly a very real possibility. The novel takes the form of blog posts and diaries written over the 60 years immediately following the discovery of the ‘cure.’

John Farrell is a lawyer with well-connected friends who manages to find a doctor willing to give him the cure while it is still illegal. He doesn’t think through the consequences. He just knows that he wants to live forever. Farrell chronicles the subsequent debate over legalization, the rise of religious cults both for and against, the political battles and the smaller cultural and personal shifts. As a lawyer in the post-cure world, Farrell finds himself dealing with a rise in lucrative divorce cases, as rich couples find that an eternity of marriage is far longer than they had bargained for. Farrell himself proves unable to commit to eternity resulting in a string of personal tragedies.

Magary constructs a compelling world out of these smaller personal consequences. Another character remarks to Farrell that eternal life, frozen at a young age forever, far from freedom may instead mean stasis, working forever with no retirement, nothing. As the novel progresses, the world tips closer and closer to dystopia and apocalypse and the consequences become increasingly dire: Farrell’s sister loses her marriage and his father, having taken the cure and been left in permanent old age, ultimately welcomes death with open arms.

The Postmortal is a dark satire that attempts to extrapolate a world without aging and the ultimately chaotic upheaval that would follow. As a picture of a slow motion apocalypse, the novel is well paced and thoughtful. It is strongest and most original in its smaller moments where this new world is painted in personal moments. John Farrell’s story eventually heads into more clichéd territory and the novel’s climax is more conventional and sudden than the slow build up that precedes it. The result is a thought-provoking novel filled with imagination and ideas that could have been more.

 


 

The Postmortal can be found here on Amazon.

Lincoln’s Bodyguard by T.J. Turner

T.J. Turner’s Lincoln’s Bodyguard is an alternate history adventure story set in an antebellum world where Lincoln survived John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt and has presided over a restive South engaging in guerrilla warfare. By an accident of scheduling, I find myself reading and reviewing two alternate history novels in a row. Turner is playing in one of the more common alternate history sandboxes—the US Civil War. It is a period of history that I have read about extensively, in many ways it is the period I know the best. Turner’s setting speculates and extrapolates what the Reconstruction South would have looked like if Lincoln had survived. It is a thought-provoking what-if, and it is one that I, myself, have had conversations about. This makes Lincoln’s Bodyguard a difficult novel for me to see straight.

On the one hand, my knowledge of the period, interest in the premise (and I’ll admit, the cover), made me very excited to read this novel. On the other hand, I have my own, often deeply entrenched, ideas of many of the historical figures that inhabit the novel, and my own vague sense of how I believe events would have gone and Turner’s interpretations and extrapolations occasionally run against mine in a direct and distracting way, usually with regards to small things. His occupied South in the midst of occupation and guerrilla warfare is well realized and feels real. Likewise, his North run by Gilded Age business interests is plausible. Neither tallies with my own ideas, but they are both perfectly reasonable with a firm basis both in history and in current events. Turner, however, is far kinder to Allan Pinkerton than I am. This feels like historical (or alternate historical) nitpicking, which I admit it is, but my more cynical view of Pinkerton ultimately has a larger effect than I initially expected.

The titular bodyguard, Joseph Foster, is half-white and half-Indian, and is Pinkerton’s man through and through. After saving Lincoln’s life, Foster becomes a target for Southern retribution and leaves Washington for many years before being recalled to perform a secret and delicate mission for Lincoln, a mission that could save the country or doom it and their families.

For all my historical nitpicks, Lincoln’s Bodyguard is a fast paced adventure story through a well-researched and grounded historical setting. Foster is an engaging character whose loyalty to Lincoln and to his own broken family makes for a suspenseful drama. Turner had a deft hand at action and deliberately raises the stakes and the tension throughout. There is also a delightful use of real history as a subtext for events—most clearly in the parallels between the climax and John Wilkes Booth’s escape and chase from Ford’s Theater.

There is a great deal to enjoy here for fans of alternate history. Turner has a good grasp of facts, of pacing, and of character. Lincoln’s Bodyguard is an impressive debut. However, I was never quite able to see through my own knowledge of the period, which colored my enjoyment.

 


Lincoln’s Bodyguard can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove’s Joe Steele is an alternate history of the United States stretching from the Great Depression to the 1950s in which a version of Stalin who had immigrated to the United States becomes President instead of FDR. Turtledove is the prolific master of alternate history having written over fifty novels in the genre in numerous series. I’ve only read a few myself, but Joe Steele is firmly within his established formula.

Turtledove maps actual history onto alternate events. Steele’s American Rise follows Stalin’s Soviet rise fairly closely. Familiar historical figures are placed in similar yet occasionally revealing situations. J. Edgar Hoover as Steele/Stalin’s strong-arm man is particularly compelling and damningly plausible. Unlike in his masterwork, however, where he extrapolated an entire altered 20th Century out of the South winning the US Civil War, Joe Steele remains unexpectedly close to real world events.

The specter of a United States run by a version of Stalin is an intriguing concept, and like many of Turtledove’s best works stems from a plausible change. Turtledove never quite made the most of his scenario, and as with many of his novels, the characters fell a little flat. Joe Steele, nevertheless, is a fast paced alternate history thriller filled with interesting ideas written by the master of the genre. Turtledove knows how to write these kinds of books and that familiarity and ease is both the novel’s great strength and it’s weakness.

 


Joe Steele can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Whispering Swarm by Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock’s The Whispering Swarm is part autobiography and part sprawling literary fantasy. Moorcock is a giant of the genre whose contributions stretch, like his fictional counter part, from the pulp science fiction of the 1950s to the New Wave and beyond. His concept of the Eternal Champion has inspired generations of imitators and his writing style has legions of ardent admirers. Despite being aware of him, and having a vague secondhand knowledge of his more famous works and concepts, I had never read any of his novels until now.

The Whispering Swarm with its part factual, part exaggerated, part fictional autobiographical plot line is, perhaps, not the most obvious entry point. However, even on that level I found it fascinating. Growing up in post-World War II London and working his way up through the science-fiction and fantasy publishing community, Moorcock looks back blurring the lines of fact and fiction to create an interesting look at a world, a time, a genre, and the development of a writer, which is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy. Obviously, however, this is not for everyone. There is dryness to these passages, that even Moorcock’s practiced prose cannot always overcome.

The narrative also has more overtly fantastical elements, namely the timeless realm of Alsacia—an alternate world of literary adventures and romance, where heroes and characters from all ages live together untouched by the constraints and concerns of the mundane world. The fictional Michael finds himself torn between the worlds, between a career and family on one hand, and adventures and fantasy on the other.

The Whispering Swarm is a superb technical achievement. Moorcock glides between different genres, and skillfully blends multiple layers of fantasy and reality with deceptive and enviable ease. There is not, however, a great deal of plot. The main character spends much of the novel meandering, and the autobiographical passages were occasionally overlong, even for me. Perhaps a committed fan might have gotten more out of it, or even seen connections with Moorcock’s earlier works. As it stands, I enjoyed the novel, but wanted more.

 


The Whispering Swarm can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Simon Kurt Unsworth’s The Devil’s Detective is, as the title suggests, a hard-boiled detective novel set in Hell. Unsworth has crafted a tightly plotted noir mystery filled with a number of twists and turns, but the real strength of the novel is in its intricately realized depiction of Hell.

Thomas Fool is an Information Man in Hell. His job is to investigate, catalogue, and file reports on the endless stream of violence and death. He dutifully makes his reports to the Bureaucracy, but there is no justice, no arrests, and no punishment. His job is to fruitlessly gather information. That is the punishment for his unknown sins, but like everyone else, he has no recollection of his previous life. He only knows that he must atone. When a delegation from Heaven arrives to negotiate with Hell’s Bureaucracy, a human body is discovered with its soul completely devoured. The worst thing you can do in Hell is attract attention, and as the murders escalate, Fool suddenly finds himself in the middle of a vast conspiracy. Hell is in the midst of a revolution and Fool has a role to play whether he wants to or not.

Unsworth’s Hell is a place of uncertainty and random violence. Demons resent the humans moving in, and attack them without warning and without punishment. Once a place of absolute burning Hell has changed into something more subtle. The tortures are deeper and more psychological. It is a place of metaphysical horror, where hope is the greatest cruelty of all.

The Devil’s Detective is a marvelous debut—a page-turning mystery, an exploration of human nature, and a darkly absurdist take on Hell itself. Unsworth’s imagination is fertile and his prose is lyrical. Highly recommended. My favorite book of the year so far.


The Devil’s Detective can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Suicide Exhibition by Justin Richards

Justin Richards’s The Suicide Exhibition is the first novel in an alternate WWII, sci-fi romp. Richards is no stranger to science fiction, having edited the BBC Doctor Who line for many years and written a number of Doctor Who books as well, one of which involved aliens and the Third Reich. The Suicide Exhibition is, therefore, familiar and comfortable ground.

Hitler and Himmler’s obsession with the occult has fueled an entire subgenre, and Richards is well versed in the tropes and the history. The usual suspects are all present and he adds ingredients from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1871 novel The Coming Race, as well as British occult figures into the mix. The result is pulp fiction at its most confidently pulpy.

Major Guy Pentecross and pilot Sarah Diamond are lightly sketched, and essentially wander into the plot out of curiosity. British spy, Leo Davenport, and Miss Manners, a secretary with friends in dark places, are more interesting but secondary and the aliens themselves are suitably menacing.

The Suicide Exhibition is a fun and interesting combination of ideas and set pieces placed against a familiar WWII backdrop. The first in a series it is mostly concerned with setting up its characters and moving the pieces on the board. Justin Richards has a practiced hand and gets everyone into position, while telling a fast-paced adventure. Pure silly fun.


 

The Suicide Exhibition can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review