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.

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.

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

Walking the Labyrinth by Lisa Goldstein

Lisa Goldstein’s Walking the Labyrinth is an atmospheric fantasy that incorporates a wide-array of influences from vaudeville to spiritualism and secret societies to classical mythology and witchcraft. Molly Travers is one of the last living descendants of the Allalie family, once an infamous group of vaudeville magicians. Her life changes when she’s approached by John Stow, a private investigator, asking questions about her great-aunt and the family history.

Reluctant at first, Molly slowly realizes that everything her great-aunt told her about the family was half-truths and lies. Her search for answers takes her and Stow to London and the remnants of a Victorian secret society—the Order of the Labyrinth—and reveals a dark secret at the heart of her family tree.

Goldstein creates an intriguing world full of weight and history and sets up a number of intriguing mysteries. Apart from the secrets of the Allalie family and the labyrinth, there is the matter of John Stow. He is investigating the family for undisclosed reasons, his client’s identity confidential. Secrets build up, even as they begin to understand the nature of the Order and its relationship to Molly’s family.

As is often the case, at least for me, the mysteries prove more fascinating than the answers. The early parts of the novel were fascinating page-turners, hinting at the depths of magic and wonder to come. It slowed down slightly, once those answers started to appear, but remained engrossing.

Walking the Labyrinth is an intriguing mystery with ties to vaudeville and Victoriana. Lisa Goldstein crafts a determined heroine a labyrinth worthy of the name.


 

Walking the Labyrinth can be found here on Amazon

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber’s The Eterna Files is an alternate history fantasy set at the end of the 19th Century. Following her husband’s assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln created a secret branch of government tasked with finding immortality. Almost twenty years later, the eclectic group of scientists, spiritualists, and mediums made a breakthrough—the so-called ‘Eterna Compound,’ but then everything went horribly wrong. Their laboratory is destroyed in mysterious circumstances and someone escapes with the only known sample of the compound. Clara Templeton, one of the original members of the project is determined to recover it and make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Across the pond, Queen Victoria has also heard the rumors. She assigns Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police and Special Branch Division Omega to recover the Eterna Compound. Immortality is the greatest discovery of all time and it must be controlled by Her Majesty’s Government, not the Americans or anyone else. Spire and Omega’s chief researcher, Rose Everhart, race Clara to the compound as they all slowly become aware that there is a deeper game at work.

The Eterna Files is a fast-moving Victorian adventure story filled with period flourishes that are lovingly ridiculous and occasionally just ridiculous. I am found of this period, and Hieber clearly is as well. The supernatural cold war between England and the United States over immortality is a deliciously pulp idea and the attention to international relations is uncommon enough to feel fresh. Unfortunately the characters are less original. Clara Templeton and Rose Everhart are both introduced well. Clara is given a personal connection to the mystery and the deeper supernatural threads than any of the other characters, but she never quite comes off the page. This was a very light novel that gestured at different ideas, but never delve beneath the surface, partly because this is the first in a series and the novel ends on a definite cliffhanger and the sense that the interesting parts haven’t even started yet.


The Eterna Files can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry’s The After Me Comes the Flood is a lyrical dreamlike debut. An exercise in atmosphere and misdirection, it is short on incident yet mesmerizingly compelling. Nothing is ever quite as it seems and a sense of the uncanny hovers over events without ever becoming concrete. That is the source of the novel’s greatest strength and greatest frustrations.

John Cole is an awkward, mild mannered man. He is a bookstore owner like his father before him. He even has the same chair his father sat in behind the register. John is well suited to this life. There are hardly ever any customers and he is left largely to himself. In the middle of a heat wave, however, he takes it into his head to go and visit his brother. Closing the bookstore, he abandons London and sets out for cooler climes. Along the way, his car breaks down and he is forced to take shelter in a dilapidated old house. The residents there are a curious group. There are the siblings Alex and Claire, friendly but strangely childlike; Eve a beautiful piano player; Elijah, a former preacher with a store of understanding but no faith; Walker, a smoker and a drinker with hostile, watching eyes; and finally their hostess, Hester, controlling and plain. They greet John Cole by name. They have been expecting him.

Suffering from heatstroke and his own reticence, he cannot at first bring himself to correct their mistake. He cannot be the John Cole they were expecting. John finds himself drawn into their hazy world. He feels oddly at peace among them, and yet there are secrets all around, puzzles he cannot answer. Something binds these disparate people together, and the longer he stays; the more John feels bound himself.

After Me Comes the Flood has a number of familiar elements—the isolated setting, the old, dilapidated house, the mysterious set of characters. These are all common tropes. Sarah Perry does not bring any new elements, but rather imbues them with symbolic, atmospheric, and psychological weight. Perry admits that she was raised in a highly religious household “immersed in classic literature, Victorian hymns and the King James Bible.” It is easy, perhaps too easy, to see the effect this had on her novel. Any Biblical allusions are just one of many textures.

Every incident is imbued with a sense of history, of meaning and allusion. It is a simple story but there are layers of symbols in every incident. This creates an eerie, dreamlike atmosphere. Even as the mysteries of the plot are revealed and the characters’ relationships reach their conclusion, there is an underlying sense of the unknowable. It is a ghost story without ghosts, unless you chose there to be. It works on both levels. There are too many symbols, too many meanings. Perry explicitly states that this is the point. You don’t have to know what everything means; you just have to know it has meaning. There is power in that, although some readers might be more annoyed than intrigued. The After Me Comes the Flood was a psychological and atmospheric triumph, and personally I look forward to her next novel.

 


After Me Comes the Flood can be found here on Amazon.

Received a Copy From NetGalley For Review