Category Archives: book review

Book Review: Transformation, by Carol Berg

I have been on a quest to find and read single point of view fantasy books. My own work in progress is written with a single POV, so yes, I have a vested interest — but I also wanted to take a step away from epic fantasy with a horde of characters.  Transformation (Book One of the Rai Kirah), by Carol Berg, came highly recommended on many sites and forums. The blurb intrigued me.

Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…

I was not disappointed.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Transformation, by Carol BergTransformation absorbed me completely—and that’s saying something. I read the preview chapters available on Amazon. I bought it and finished it, reading straight through. And then, of course, I had to do a book review…

Told in the first person, I loved that this was a novel about an adult—mature and experienced, stuck in a terrible situation and coping with it as best he can. Seyonne does not always succeed. It is *hard.* It is harder still when his beliefs put him in a situation that tests a faith he believes is nonexistent and test the apathy he has developed as his self-defense.

His owner, the spoiled and careless Prince Aleksander, also has his beliefs sorely tested. He learns that his quick temper and sharp-edged wit can be lethal in ways he cannot accept. Both of the characters grow from their interaction together, but that doesn’t come easily, either. There are no quick fixes, no automatic friendships. The emotions are raw and absolutely believable.

The magic is unusual and unfolds slowly, and after a little while I found myself nodding and appreciating the unique facets. The setting is artfully painted, providing a sense of the surroundings without weighing the passage down. The author’s writing smooth and eminently readable—except for a few sudden transitions that tripped me up like bumps in the road. The ending was beautiful and hopeful, and I sincerely recommend the tale.

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What are you reading?
Have you got any single-point-of-view fantasies to recommend?

A Drift of Quills

Books We Love (#4)

Welcome to the Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! We are back again with some book love to share with you!

ScarletSails210x320When I was a little girl, about ten years old, one of my book-loving big sisters (Hi, Diana!) gave me the book Scarlet Sails, by Alexander Green/Grin (Aleksandr Stepanovich Grinevskii in his native Russia). I knew nothing at all of his popularity in his country and would probably not have been impressed at such a tender age. Nothing about the book cover lured me to explore between the covers. But… it was a book. And, since I got it for my birthday, it must be a special book.

Naturally, I read it.

I fell in love with it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


“Sailing Ship Asole” was me in a dozen different ways, daydreaming, using her imagination, listening to stories told by her elders, never quite fitting in with the people around her. Written in 1923 during the turmoil of Russia’s early socialism, the tale is a simple but powerful love story, a story about dreams coming true. Asole is the daughter of an ostracized sailor, often ridiculed and often alone. An old storyteller tells her that one day a white ship with scarlet sails will come and take her away to live happily ever after. Far across the sea Arthur Gray, a noble and kind boy from from an aristocratic family, dreams of becoming the captain of a sailing ship. His parents don’t believe him and they certainly don’t support him.

The antagonist, if you can call it that, is the disbelief, the lack of hope, the dullness of people without dreams and imagination. We have all faced those obstacles and we know how difficult it can be to rise above them.

Told in the beautiful, descriptive language of the time (and country!), it is a delightful fairytale. I have read it several times, and always, always look forward to reading it again.

(Note: A ship with scarlet sails is a mascot for the Scarlet Sails celebrations in Saint Petersburg named after Alexander Grin’s novel. It is the most massive and famous public event during the White Nights Festival with an attendance of millions.)

(Note #2: The English translation of the book is sometimes known as “Crimson Sails.”)

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Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark
Kristie’s Blog

Kristie is taking some time to help her family out. She’s a good mom.

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Author of Oathtaker
Patricia’s website

I came from a very big family. That is not so unusual for someone in my age group, but when I say “big family,” I am laying claim to a rather exceptional one in that I have seven—yes, count them, seven—sisters.  If that wasn’t enough, the age span from oldest to youngest is only ten and a half years. We grew up in the middle of pretty much “nowhere,” and had to find ways to entertain ourselves. We’d take out our instruments and have parades, play “Harriet the Spy” and spy on one another—complete with our spy notebooks, and we acted out plays. We also we drew “moving picture” stories of books we knew. Essentially, this was to take a long roll of paper and draw the scenes end-to-end, then roll them out to show-and-tell the story. One of our favorites was Mio, My Son, by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, first published in 1954. That book got passed back and forth between us all—repeatedly. Curious  many years later about what it was that had so attracted our attention as children, I tracked down a copy and had another “look-see.”

… (Read more!)

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Okay, lay it on us: What’s YOUR favorite book?
Answer in the comments below, and be sure to share this page!

Book Review: Warrior Mage, by Lindsay Buroker

Lindsay Buroker’s books are always good for a fast-paced, page-turning ride—and Warrior Mage is no exception. It’s the first in the author’s new Chains of Honor series and there is never a dull moment, from the beautiful cover to a closing scene that leaves the reader chomping at the bit for what happens next. I was delighted to take the author up on her offer of a free read in exchange for an honest review. So here it is!

Buroker takes seriously the instructions to “start in the middle of the action.”

Yanko stifled a groan, trying to blink away the sand in his eyes and spit out the dirt plastering his tongue. Pain shot from his hands to his neck as his arms were nearly twisted from their sockets.

Review: WarriorMage_LindsayBurokerThe main character, Yanko, starts the story with a bang, duking it out on the testing grounds of the elite Stargrind school of magic, chosen to redeem his family from disgrace because he’s the only one who can wield magic. Things don’t slow down after that, though there are a few places where you can at least catch your breath. Set in the same world as the Emperor’s Edge books, this tale offers a view from the continent of Nuria, but the author has promised some appearances from some old characters — indeed, one of them shows up in Warrior Mage. Not telling which. You’ll have to read and find out for yourself!

Yanko is eighteen. He’s still a kid—but he’s not. He’s got some growing up to do, and the Fates are seeing to it. I love how Buroker has made him smart (but not too smart), inexperienced, naïve in spite of himself, arrogant (in the way that only teens can be arrogant), and confused. I love the way that circumstances have pushed him along, and he goes without stopping to think about it the way an adult might. Another intriguing aspect of the story is how he deals with — and learns more about — magic. Without being formally schooled, he has the option of being creative, of exploring through participation. His specialty is the earth sciences, and they are not particularly popular in the rest of his world.

And his new bodyguard? Dak is Turgonian—the enemy. He’s also full of mystery and unexplained secrets and activities. In spite of the enmity between their countries (or perhaps because of it, we’ll have to read more to learn!), he takes a particular shine to his new charge. At least a dozen times I wondered out loud, “WHAT is going on in that man’s head?”

Besides the bodyguard, Yanko has a sidekick, too. Laeko may have Turgonian blood (also frowned upon in this neck of the woods), she’s an artist, she is curious and loyal—and drips sarcasm. Gotta love that gal.

The three of them embark on a secret quest that far too many people know about. From the outset they are dodging attacking armies, mage hunters, betrayal, explosions, confusion, secrets, plots within plots, suspicion and murder… And, without turning the story into a comedy, there is Buroker’s trademark humor. She knows exactly how to use it in just the way normal people would reacting to things out of their control or terrifying to the point of the ridiculous. I know that’s what I do, and that’s probably why Buroker’s stories work so well for me.

So. Question: When is the next book in the series coming?

You can pick up a copy here on Amazon: Warrior Mage, Chains of Honor Book 1

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Have you read it yet?
What did you think?
What’s your favorite book by Lindsay?

Review: In Siege of Daylight, by Gregory S. Close

Review: In Siege of Daylight, by Gregory S. CloseAre you a fan of traditional fantasy? In Seige of Daylight delivers a sweeping fantasy tale full of adventure, prophecy, and intrigue. Author Gregory S. Close translates many of the familiar tropes into his own breed of characters—characters with flavor and rich backgrounds in a setting that is comfortable, but not too familiar.

His pacing is spot-on, and his prose provides some lovely scenes. If there’s one thing that interrupted the read, it would be the naming conventions. Close veers from horrendous, unpronounceable, apostrophe-ridden monikers to French (what?) names without missing a beat. Many of the characters and creatures share names so similar that they confuse.

If you can ignore that, a compelling prologue catapults the reader into the first chapter, where the young protagonist makes his debut. I wanted to slap him several times, but that’s a good thing; a young apprentice who knows everything, can do everything, and doesn’t demonstrate his actual youth is difficult to believe. Calvraign may be a quick study, but he’s also victim to a mercurial temper and a teenage sense of invincibility.

The other figures introduced in this story are equally well developed — no cardboard cut-outs here. Aside from the names, the other races are introduced without the baggage of an info dump, yet they flow into the tale smoothly and still leave room for surprises.

The plot unwinds at a good pace, displaying contrasting cultures, veiled histories, and surprise reveals. While the territory is familiar, Close does a fine job of keeping it from being cliché. In spite of the number of character views, he’s kept them in balance and done it in a way that coaxes the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. He is clearly a storyteller worth watching.

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Have you read In Siege of Daylight
What did you like best about it?
What other books have you read that are similar?

Book Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Whim struck, and I went with it. Author James Islington is being compared to the likes of Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss—and while I can see that influence on his writing, don’t  let it fool you into thinking he can’t “do his own thang.” He did, and pretty well, too!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs – once thought of almost as gods – were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

I am still—after so many books that I’ve lost count—puzzling over the general aversion to prologues. I can’t remember one that actually turned me away from a book, or even one that made me wonder how much further I’d read. James Islington’s “The Shadow Of What Was Lost” begins with a highly intriguing prologue, and the first chapter piqued my interest even more. I really wanted to see how they were connected. I sped through the first several preview chapters available on Amazon, gasped in indignation at the interruption, and promptly bought the novel.

I very rarely do that. If I have to think about whether or not I really want to purchase a book, I am inevitably reminded of the others already waiting on my copious To-Be-Read list and choose to pass. Not this time.

While Davian, the main character, does things that make you wish he could hear you shouting at him to stop! stop!, he is also clever and quick. We’re uncertain of his exact age as the book begins; he’s young, but he isn’t completely overflowing with immaturity and age-associated stupidity, either. The balance makes him believable. His associate, Wirr, drew my suspicions early on, but I liked that. Is he friend or foe? Must read to discover the truth!

I did struggle with the names; too many of them were too similar to make for easy remembering. Still, the character roster is not difficult to follow. Rather than a legion of main characters, we’re limited to three, and the secondary characters are handled skillfully and given personalities and realities of their own. The main characters are believable and enjoyable. Much to my delight the female lead, Asha, is plucky and smart. She can do things on her own—and does—without coming across as “too” anything. (Too tough, too strong, too well-trained for her age/circumstances…) I loved that the characters continued to develop and grow throughout the story, and the end of the first book is clearly not the end of that progression.

The world this takes place in is easy to envision. It is detailed without overburdening the reader, and the magic is well-crafted, and discovering through Davian’s eyes how it really works seems natural. I am curious about the creation of the Tenets; how does this work to handily tattoo anyone who uses the Essence for the first time?

There are some unpolished places in the novel, like far too many chapters that end with the characters sleeping (far too easy to put the book down there. I mean really, what’s happening to hold my interest?). Some of the scene breaks suffer the same invitation for the reader to set the book aside. I am also amused at the number of times invisible surprise guests show up in one’s bedchambers. The word “okay” perpetually distracts me. Modern slang rarely fits into the pseudo-medieval setting of most epic fantasy. There are several other word misuses—annoying, but not enough to turn me away from what is really a good tale. Less of the passive voice would make the book even stronger.

There are some wonderfully humorous lines: “It’s not like they can execute us more,” says Davian to Wirr when Desrialite soldiers are killed. And speaking of people being killed, the characters seem to accept the deaths of their friends and acquaintance and move on—within days if not hours. There are a *lot* of deaths, and while a few scenes qualified as “bloody,” I didn’t find them gratuitously so. With one exception—which seems a shame, because it didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the book (and was just icky enough for me to leave it off my list of Flinch-Free Fantasy. Bummer!).

My nit-picking aside, Mr. Islington has provided a fun, fast-moving read with great characters and interesting twists. I’m looking forward to Book Two.

You can find The Shadow of What Was Lost HERE on Amazon.

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Have you read this book? What did you think?
What’s the last great book you read?

Books We Love

Welcome to the Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! We Quills get together once a month to chat up aspects of reading and writing. We’re returning to the topic of books we love best—and this will be something we revisit from time to time, because hello! we’re readers *and* writers. Being a writer (or an editor) changes the way one reads things. It’s not strictly for entertainment anymore, but how cool is it to do your favorite thing for work? Still, the quality of a book obviously affects enjoyment. For me to forget about the occupational details (evil passive voice, plot, character development, voice, et cetera), the book pretty much has to carry me away. Read on to see what’s carrying the Quills away!

A Drift of Quills


Lindsay Buroker is a wonderful talent in the Indie Author world. If you haven’t read her stuff, you’re missing out. She’s a fantasy writer and has works in the steampunk and urban categories. Either way, she’s good at what she does, which is writing fast-paced novels with intriguing characters, clever dialogue, wry humor, well-developed settings, and sparks flying—romantic, rhetoric, and magic. Hers was the first steampunk I ever read, and while the notion sounded interesting, I was a little dubious. Magic and Victorian-style technology? Hmm…

Buroker convinced me the genre was a worthwhile investment of my time. In addition to her fiction, she writes a blog geared both to her readers and to indie authors. She’s bright and funny, supportive, informative, entertaining… When I grow up I want to be like her. (Though there’s no WAY I’d want to live in Arizona. Uh-uh.)

Here’s a peek at a review I did for her book Emperor’s Edge:

What a fun romp—I love the hare-brained schemes and the irreverent humor. The characters are really engaging. Of course Sicarius, with his sense of distance and mystery, begs following just to catch another glimpse of what lies beneath that unreadable façade, but I also found Books and Akstyr intriguing. The first for his wit and his intelligence as well as loyalty to Amaranthe, and the latter for his quirkiness and the hint of hidden depths. Maldynado, I suspect, hangs around out of curiosity: the adventures he gets into with the Edge are a lark, and how can Amaranthe not be attracted to him? Amaranthe herself is a funny contradiction of terms, alternately determined, fearing to fail, failing, and delighted at turning tables.

You can read the rest here on Amazon: Emperor’s Edge Review

photo credit: Hyasnaa V32 via photopin (license)

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Kristie KiesslingAuthor of the short story, Sanguis Dei, and a poetry collection, Light and Dark
Kristie’s Blog
(Kristie is on hiatus this month, tending to real-world goblins and various kinds of general anarchy. We wish her luck and look forward to having her with us again next time!)

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Patricia RedingAuthor of Oathtaker
Patricia’s website

With so many new books published each day, it can be difficult choosing something to read, but one genre I like to read and review from time to time is fantasy for young readers. I enjoy the worlds created and look for those reads I would have passed on to my children when they were middle-graders. There are a number of prerequisites for me: they may not promote behavior I think objectionable for the young reader and they must be grammatically sound. Of course, it always helps if they offer a good dose of humor…

. . .  (Read more!)

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What’s one of your favorite books?
What makes it and/or the author so great?

Book Review: Dark Currents

Review: Dark CurrentsI really enjoyed the first book in this series, Emperor’s Edge, and the fun continues in Dark Currents. Buroker has developed a good, solid framework of society that isn’t thrown off kilter with the inclusion of magic—a magic that is referred to in Amaranthe’s world as “science.” Her writing style is smooth and engaging, neatly balancing narrative and dialogue. The characters continue to capture the reader’s interest. What’s more, they develop even further—no cardboard cutouts here! They are each wonderfully detailed and clearly different from one another, and the fact that they are not all always comfortable and heroic makes them even more believable. When one of them goes out of his comfort zone in order to get something important accomplished, it *means* something.

The quality of writing style, grammar, punctuation, formatting, characterization, setting—all are top notch. The story is a quick read, not too long and it’s fast-paced. There are some wonderfully quirky twists and surprises, though the antagonists remained slightly distant and nebulous. If I have one complaint it’s about the gratuitous crass innuendoes. They felt like a forced afterthought and could honestly (and beneficially) have been left out altogether. Their inclusion puts this book on the borderline for recommendation on my list of Flinch Free Fantasy. Otherwise, the humor and the exchange of barbs had me laughing out loud in places. Buroker has a knack for telling a good tale.

Care and Feeding of Authors

Traditionally, publishing houses were the ones to discover and nurture notable authors. With the shift to indie publishing, the responsibility falls upon the reader themselves. Isn’t it cool? You have the power!

“After conducting more than 250,000 interviews about reading behavior since 2004, Codex has found that a major shift has taken place in discovery in the past two years, as digital books have become a significant part of the book world. 

Two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because readers found out about a book in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, the single-largest site of discovery. This year, that figure has dropped to 17%, a reflection both of the closing of Borders and the rise of e-readers. In the same period, personal recommendations grew the most, to 22% from 14%. Some three-quarters of personal recommendations are made in person, while the rest come by e-mail (8%), phone (7%), Facebook (4%) and other social networks (3%).”

~Peter Hildick-Smith
Lost and Found: Trends in Book Discovery (October 9, 2012)

This on-going engagement with readers becomes more important to authors every day. And in addition to people you know recommending books, there are social cataloging sites (Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, Shelfari) and sites that recommend books according to your personal criteria (The Fussy LibrarianWhat Should I Read Next, Which Book, Book Hitch, Gnooks).

“[COO of Enders Analysis] Douglass McCabe’s statistics show that only a piddling 10 percent of Amazon book choices are made because of its ‘bought this/also bought’ recommendation engine. Bestseller and top 100 lists influence 17 percent of book choices, with 12 percent down to promotions, deals, or low prices. Only 3 percent came through browsing categories. Planned search by author or topic, however, makes up a whopping 48 percent of all book choices.”

~Suw Charman-Anderson
Half of Amazon Book Sales are Planned Purchases 

I have my own “Best Of” list, consisting of primarily fantasy books, if you want to see what I recommend: Flinch-Free Fantasy.

Authors would be nothing without you, the reader. Do you want to know what you can do to help you favorite authors? Here are a few ideas:

We authors appreciate everything you do. Please feel free to share this graphic. Sending chocolate is nice, too.

Double Delight With Traditional and Indie Books

Our panel project, A Drift of Quills, is still in its infant stages, but I look forward to our posts on the first Fridays of the month. My fellow Quills are fun to work with, and I love seeing what responses each of them have to the topics we’ve selected. I hope you do, too! Without further ado…

Author of The Rift Series (beginning with Sing the Midnight Stars)
C.M.J.’s Website

For this month’s topic, we decided to identify one traditionally published and one indie-published fantasy novel that we enjoyed and explain why. My fellow Quillers won’t know this until they receive my portion of our post, but I have a great deal of difficulty reading indie work because of the poor editorial quality and have finished only a few of the many I’ve tried. I’m not saying that traditionally published books are all well edited; far from it. But as a rule, they’re in much, much better shape than indie books. (By the way, we recused ourselves from reading one another’s books and I haven’t read any of their work; my comments don’t apply to their writing!) I edit for a living, which means I look for errors in grammar, structure, punctuation, continuity—the whole shebang. But I don’t actually look for them: They leap out at me, and that makes it impossible to ignore them as I read for pleasure.
Therefore, I haven’t found an indie fantasy story I like.

My favorite traditionally published fantasy author is Stephen R. Donaldson. His Mordant’s Need series, which includes The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, is one of the most satisfying fantasies I’ve ever read. (And yes, it’s well edited!) The language is beautiful and evocative, which is difficult to find these days. In fact, some of the most popular books of the past decade are devoid of rich prose and barely rise above the fourth-grade reading level typically used in newspapers. I truly don’t understand the attraction.

But I digress.

Donaldson’s tale rests on a solid foundation of back story that adds intricate layers of realism, which I believe is a must for any narrative that strives for depth. The heroine, Teresa, is wimpy and at times spineless—the Donaldson books I’ve read lack strong female characters in general—but I otherwise like the series so much that it doesn’t detract terribly. Although she is one of the main characters, she shares the stage with a man who does make a fulfilling hero despite his flaws and helps compensate for her shortcomings.

I prefer complicated plots, and the author delivers. The kingdom is at war, mysterious saboteurs are trying to bring it to its knees from within for reasons unknown, the protagonists and the mad king may be more than they seem, and the heroine has entered Mordant through a mirror in our world (very Lewis Carroll, and a device I’ve been in love with since I first read his books).

But the primary reason I love Mordant’s Need is that the series brings alive another world, as any good book should, taking me out of time and place and firing my imagination. And I can visit as often as I like.

Author of As the Crow Flies and two short stories (Just in case you’ve forgotten!)

Oh, decisions, decisions…! Choosing just two fantasy novels is nearly like asking me to pick my two favorite children. Still, there are a certain number that qualify. One would think that with all the thousands of books available, I might have a lot more favorites, but all too often I find myself throwing my hands up in disgust at issues that plague traditional and indie books alike: weak plots, poor editing, cardboard characters, and a lack of voice. In fact, the last hair-tearing book I read was traditionally published, and I kept wondering what the company did with their editors. On the indie front, I’m starting to see a noticeable division between those publishing because they can and those who are serious about this writing business. I will confess, if the cover is horrible, the chances of me reading it are extremely slim. The cover represents what’s inside. Yes, I must first be intrigued with pictures.

So you can imagine my squeak of delight when I saw the cover of Brood of Bones, by indie author A.E. Marling. The artworks is by Eva Soulu, and I’d like to have that print hanging in my house, it’s so lovely. The book didn’t disappoint, either. A magic-wielder afflicted with a sleeping disorder is caught up in a fantastic terrific whodunnit. The setting and the magic are skillfully portrayed; the characters are complex and not always predictable. The main character, Hiresha, struggles not only with her sleeping problem, but with the past that has formed her; her position is her armor and her purpose. Maid Janny is a gem of irreverence, while the Lord of the Feasts is both charming and terrible. The deposed arbiter of the city is exasperating at the same time she is delightful, and the two city leaders (a pair of priests representing different deities) are not what they might seem. The formatting and editing are first-rate—and I’m picky, so you can relax on that count.

Traditional-wise, I think Michael Whelan became one of my favorite fantasy artists when I came across The Dragonbone Chair, first in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Three wonderfully thick books long (the paperback publication of the third was divided into two volumes), the series has yet to be knocked off its pedestal as my all-time favorite epic fantasy. The world Williams describes is intricate and deep, with a rich (but not overwhelming) history. The characters—well, it’s easy to forget they’re the product of someone’s imagination. There are complex cultures and races, folklore, humor, tragedy and growth all masterfully blended into the grand conflict of Good against Evil. The power struggle between the heirs to the throne and the presence of three magic swords might sound like standard fare, but it’s just so darned well done! Toss in alliances, betrayals, politics, epic military battles; then factor in world building and character development, pacing, and emotional impact, and by golly, if you haven’t read this, what are you waiting for??

Author of Oathtaker

There is no shortage of traditional published fantasy works from which to choose a favorite. Even so, a single one comes to mind. It is a work I’ve read—I think five times now—and it is the one that encouraged me to write myself (not because I could hope to match it, but because it made me hungry to experience the process). That work is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Series, which begins with Wizard’s First Rule.

I am fascinated with Goodkind’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, constantly turning pages, waiting with bated breath for the next thing to happen—because there is not a moment in which something is not happening. With heart hounds, dragons, wizards, sorceresses, the Seeker of Truth, the Mother Confessor, horrific villains, and so many more creatures and characters, some wholly new and unique, Goodkind’s story is utterly spellbinding. From this series (which I estimate runs 8 – 10,000 pages), I can readily name more than 50 “main characters.” These are characters central to some portion of the story, characters I got to know throughout the series, characters I may love or hate—but will never forget. Add to this Goodkind’s ability to weave elements of the story—sometimes beginning with a mere mention early on and then reintroducing that element volumes later when it becomes a key ingredient to the overall story—and you have a truly great series. For this reader, Goodkind is unmatched.

As to indie published fantasy works, I admit that I have not read all that many, but one I found particularly well done and entertaining was The God King (Heirs of the Fallen Book 1), by James A. West. Notwithstanding the fact that this work makes use of names with (what to me are dreaded) apostrophes (“Geh’shinnom’atar), and notwithstanding the fact that the work includes “dead people walking,” (two things I generally highly dislike reading or reading about), I found The God King quite enjoyable.

West’s voice is intriguing, his word pictures are carefully painted, and his word choices clever in that they help to create a unique alternate world. West’s characters were honorable at times, quirky at times, but always consistent and in the end, believable. Perhaps the highest praise I could offer in this regard is that West drew, in The God King, a genuinely legitimate lead woman character. She was firm in the face of danger, was committed to helping to overcome evil, and was a full member of the otherwise all-male “team.”

Author of the short story, Sanguis Dei and a poetry collection, Light and Dark

When browsing through the “cheap seats” (read: FREE) of indie books, I came across the short A Circle of Iron by Greg Benage. Taught from childhood that “we don’t judge books by their covers”, I nevertheless found myself intrigued. I’ll be honest, if the cover turns me off, I move on. Perhaps it was the simplicity, the colors, I can’t really even say. Maybe it was the title that bears a striking similarity to a 1978 martial arts movie. But, it was free, (and still is) so I snatched it up. I expected poor writing, poor characters, poor … well, everything. I wasn’t disappointed. Let’s face it; indie publishing is writers putting their work out there (often) without benefit of the many years of savvy that traditional publishing provides. We’re doing this on our own, working our way through the ropes and hoping we find mentors along the way. It is a gritty, sometimes dark business. A Circle of Iron is gritty and dark with bounty hunters chasing down and slaughtering blood drinking wights. It is a fantasy full of violence set in the world of Eldernost.

Here’s the weird thing: I liked the characters despite their too-convenient back stories. I liked the bad guys. Though they were predictable too, I thought they could be so much more. There were hints of much more, and the too short tale never delivered more than hints. The story had potential but it bogged down, despite being so short, when the author used unnecessary foul language. Worse, he used colloquialisms that drew me out of the nebulous at best setting and into the present day. I half expected someone to hand the hero a cola at some point.

I do hope Mr. Benage keeps trying. I think he could actually write something exciting if he really put his mind to it. This felt a bit to me as though he had this tale and tidied it up and published it to get out there. I don’t blame him for that, I just hoped against hope for more. If I’d been allowed to tell you about As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe, I would have chosen that as my enjoyed indie read.

That story carries well what is the burden of indie works: to make them better than the world expects them to be because they are indie works.
My traditional selection of a story I enjoyed is Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead. Lawhead has long been one of my favorite authors and his novels lean toward the historical, but there is that element of magic that speaks to fantasy and I love that. Hood is the tale of Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne of Elfael. Set in the primeval forest that borders Wales, it is a retelling of a familiar old legend full of Celtic mythology and political intrigue. At just shy of 500 pages it is an epic worthy of the name in all aspects. Hood swept me away into the greenwood and carried me along with Bran through battles, Normans, the Red King and the discovery of a destiny of which no runaway, reluctant hero could have dreamed.
I am excited by what independent publishing can offer the world and I believe that the future of indie is rich worlds and tales along the lines of As the Crow Flies rather than A Circle of Iron. As for Lawhead and Hood they have given me what traditional publishing has almost always delivered, that excitement of worlds unknown kindled in me when I was young and read Tarzan or The Hobbit.

Note: I did not solicit Kristie’s kind words about my book, but you should take her advice and read it. 😉 I have read and enjoyed Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead, and several books from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth. I am filling in the missing volumes slowly, with gently used editions. I also happen to own Mordant’s Need. And now I find myself wanting to dash to my library (all the way across the room) and read ALL of these books again, as well as books 2 and 3 of Lawhead’s series, which is entitled The Raven King. I have them! I just haven’t quite got to reading them yet, much to my husband’s disgruntlement.

And how fun to discover the Quills treasuring the same books I do…

How about you? Give us a pair (or two or three!) of your favorite books, one indie and one traditional. Go ahead and add to our towering pillars of Books to Read! We’d love to hear from you.

Book Review: The Written by Ben Galley

I picked this book up because I loved the cover (nothing new there, right? Great cover), my interest was piqued by the blurb, and because I read good things about it. I really wanted to like it, but… at best I came away with mixed feelings. Galley has made use of some truly beautiful prose, but it is unfortunately buried in a hailstorm of adjectives and repetition that tangled the flow rather than moving it along. He tells an interesting story about an unusual character, but… his choice of wording put a distance between me and the characters that was only exacerbated by poor grammar. I read about these people, I didn’t feel them, couldn’t become invested in them. They felt shallow. The dialogue was frustratingly weak, and oh, the head-hopping…

The magic seems interesting—and I love the idea of the tattoos investing a person with particular strengths. I like, too, that gaining those marks was not an easy process to endure. There are hints of another, older magic, and I wish that had been explored a little more, just so that I could see that a difference actually existed.

We’re served a platter of typical fantasy-fare creatures: vampires/vampyres, werewolves, dragons, elves, trolls, etc. The Sirens—who are nothing at all like traditional sirens—provide a bright spot with their (not uncommon to the genre) bonding with the dragons, which inexorably changes them. They begin developing scales as well as taking on the dragon’s color and personality, except in the case of the king dragon and the queen Siren, and no explanation was offered for that inconsistency. The storm giants? Awesome.

The drug addiction is an unusual subject for fantasy, and the character’s involvement with “nevermar” starts out strongly on both the personal and the social front. We can understand a little about his problem with it, and it promises an obstacle that is difficult to overcome. I enjoyed the idea of a hero with some very real problems, but… but… the drugs weren’t one of them and his crazy uncle wore his welcome right out. For someone of Farden’s age, education (hello, he’s Written), and experience, he was often extremely stupid and illogical. I want either Experienced or Stupid; the two do not mix well in the same character! About halfway through, more or less, we were suddenly introduced to foul language, which not only didn’t fit the scene(s) well, but served to take me right out of the story. Personal preference? To a certain extent, yes, but I thought the use felt first forced, then lazy.

The dream scenes—also interesting, but could pack a little more oomph. There are all kinds of hints about things to come, and then an outright realization, but the character does the realizing on his own and I was left scratching my head. Did I miss something? Maybe. Being bludgeoned by adjectives had me skimming.

The author also has a tendency to introduce chapters and sections with a mysterious “someone” that is only identified later in the scene rather than coming out and telling the reader who we’re dealing with right up front. This works occasionally, but after a while it is only annoying. Potentially *good* scenes were overwritten, and I got the distinct impression of a play-by-chat RPG. As a result, the actual plot suffered. I struggled to connect the dots, especially when the army ran off to Durynas on what seemed a whim.

Then the wonderful potential that kept sneaking out went all to pieces with the melodramatic—and also illogical–antagonist. I couldn’t help but think of all the villains faced by Scooby Doo and the gang, which is great if you’re writing a cartoon or a comedy, but hard to swallow in “gritty” fiction.

The bottom line? In spite of the twitch-inducing problems, I think this could be a really fantastic story if it were put into the hands of a ruthless editor. All of the “good buts” I’ve mentioned could so easily become strong points and turn this book into a “must read.”