Book Review: A Mark of Kings by Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko

Hello and Happy Thursday, my lovely peeps🐥!
It’s time for this week’s review and today, we’ll be featuring A Mark of Kings by Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko!

Book Title: A Mark of Kings
Series: The Shattered Reigns Book: 01
Author: Bryce O’Connor & Luke Chmilenko
Edition: Physical > Paperback
Length: 568 Pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy > Epic Fantasy, Magic, High Fantasy, Dragon, Adult

Links:
Amazon Link >HERE<
Goodreads Link >HERE<

Despite his youth, Declan Idrys knows of the evils of the world. He knows of the bastards and brigands who plague the King’s lands, of the monsters skulking in the wooded depths of the realm. Together with his companion, Ryn – a horse of rather peculiar talent – he has spent the last decade of his life beneath the bloody banners of a half-dozen mercenary guilds, hunting precisely such wickedness festering within the borders of Viridian.

Unfortunately, fate is quick to pull on the leash of its favorite children. When one particularly troubling contract goes sideways, Declan and Ryn find themselves thrust into a war thought legend and long-ended, a conflict so old it is synonymous with a time in which dragons still ruled the western skies. Now, as dead men rise from their graves and the terrible beasts of the northern ranges descend into the kingdom with an appetite for savagery and flesh, Declan is faced with a profane choice. He can turn, can flee an ancient rising horror that would see the realms of man left as shattered death and wind-blown ash.

Or, Declan can face this mounting threat, can come to terms with the fact that his oldest friend might just be more than he appears, and learn to wield an ageless power all his own.

Centuries pass, after all, and the Blood of Kings does not fade…

Veteran mercenary who’s seen it all? Think again!

The first of four [planned] books, A Mark of Kings was a pretty good entry into the series. This book starts off in a prologue with our MC, Declan Idrys, as a baby in his mother’s arms, fleeing the terrors and monsters that have come to invade their town. The following chapter is where the story officially starts. Following a time skip, Declan’s now a hardened mercenary; traveling and fighting is a large part of his life now. The only constant in his life is Ryn, the “horse” that is introduced in the prologue and has stuck with him through thick and thin. During a particular mission, one that’s not so different from the countless other requests he’d taken up, Declan finds himself caught up in a whole different world of trouble and life may never be the same again. It seems, someone has a grudge with what courses through his veins and that particular enemy is murderously intent on getting rid of him and Ryn, for good.

“In the weeks to come, I’ve an unfortunate feeling you and I both will come to miss the time where our greatest concerns were hunting for our evening supper and what split in the road to take”

Beware the occasional info dumping

This was a good book, though could do with a bit of editing. The writing and prose are interesting with a light mix of dialogue (and moments) that seems too modern for the time period, but it wasn’t often nor did I particularly mind it. There’s occasionally a lot of info dumping and there was a moment that was perhaps two chapters worth of a century’s worth of history being told to Declan as the latter sat there, his head reeling in all the information…which sounds fairly accurate to how I felt.

The moments of info dumping coupled with long descriptions of scenes, and lots and lots of traveling going on, made for a really slow read. The beginning of the book was good. The prologue had me sobbing before the story even really began, and it was as good of an emotional hook as one would want! Somewhere towards the middle, though, it really began to taper off and some places dragged. Even the exciting fight scenes didn’t help bring the speed back up by much. Perhaps, it’s a bit like some RPG games. You know, the stage with the final map to the last boss? It’s full of monsters that you needed to grind through to get to the last dungeon? I, for one, have always hated dungeon grinding, so maybe this is just a me problem.

Favorite trope check! Ragtag bunch of misfits on the run from a deadly foe.

What I really enjoyed was the plot and the small cast of characters, the small band standing in the “Ragtag Bunch of Misfits” trope. You’ve got Declan, the veteran mercenary who carries about 7 guild companys’ worth of tattoos (like the Fairy Tail guild symbols!) though he currently only belongs in the Iron Wind Company. There’s Ryn, Declan’s peculiar midnight black stallion, who happens to be his mentor, and is just as big of a protagonist as Declan is. And finally, there’s the father and daughter duo, Bonner, the insanely powerful mage who somehow always seems to have some form of magic that can get them out of trouble (not always “all in one piece” but you gotta do what you gotta do!) and the crew’s only healer, and Ester, the half-elf who is deadly with a bow and will and can take you out in a heartbeat if needed. A strong female character, I think Declan may have needed rescuing more times than Ester did!

It’s a bloodbath out there and nobody’s safe!

“There were dozens of them, the ones tied to the columns apparently only the freshest of the gathered collection. The remnants of a score more were scattered about the feet of those secured upright, ribs jutting from the torn, rotting flesh of broken chests, empty sockets staring into the sky from drawn, horrid faces.”

This is a brutal book and I appreciated how realistic our characters are, especially Declan. An ordinary mercenary (with a not-so-oridinary horse) he’s seen his fair share of battles and has plenty of scars to show for it. However, most of his battles were against the occasional wild monsters and human, so it’s no surprise when he’s greeted with absolute defeat (and having to be rescued time and time again) upon being faced with the undead, chimera dragon beasts, and wights. These are creatures of legends, and suddenly they are very real, and you’re down on the ground about to be eaten or killed. Magic exists, to Declan’s ever-growing amusement, scary horrors of children’s tales exist, and history as he knows it may have been completely wrong all along. Can you blame him for being shocked every few pages? And remember, this is a guy who’s participated in and seen his fair share of violence:

“Declan felt like he had been playing the soldier with wooden swords his entire life, and only just been shown the gruesome reality of the battlefield he dreamed of fighting upon.”

There’s a lot of gore in this book, the authors don’t hold back a thing from hurting anyone. It could be a poor little 12-year-old gathering medical plants up in the mountains, it could be the slaughter of an entire village, and our protagonists are not spared any of this. There’s been times when Declan has been horrifically burned or Ester, so terribly injured, you can see the bone. There’s one scene of people torn apart and another of an eight-foot mound of bodies.

Slow character growth; I didn’t know I needed it until I came across it…

Declan does grow stronger, but on a scale of one to video game protagonist, he’s pretty realistic in this department too. There’s no point where he’s magically endowed with the blessings of the gods, and suddenly he’s capable of fighting a horde of monsters (his ancestor maybe, but not him). It’s a slow progress and though he is decent enough with the sword, even Ryn remarks that he’s far from the skills that his ancestors had possessed, having to find the occasional time to drill him on it. Bonner attempts to help Declan with learning magic, and that too is a very slow process. The small bits of lessons comes handy later on, but don’t except giant fireballs from Declan. He’s still learning, and I think this slow growth is what I enjoyed the most. I’ve always wondered how some anime characters go from “What? What’s that?” to being able to draw runes and casts spells (complete with technique names being shouted out) in the very next scene, and it’s one small thing that’s always ticked me.

This book is a good balance between some seriously messed up nightmare fuel and goodness. By goodness, I mean Declan. He’s an all-round good guy. He’s honorable and so humble about nearly everything. When I think of mercenaries, I think of the poor reputation they have most elsewhere (a sell sword who work for the coin, not loyalty), but here, mercenary guilds are found throughout! You could flash your ink at the border guards, and they would accept it as “Oh, okay, not a sketchy person like I thought.”

Overall Feelings

It may be a little while before I can pick up the second book. That crawl to the climax was excruciating. There were times when I nearly DNF’d at 80 or 90% because nothing was moving, even when things were. The ending being a huge twist and major cliffhanger isn’t enough to have me charging towards the next book. I enjoyed the nightmares this book may fuel (army made up of thousands of rotting and decayed bodies anyone?) and there are some seriously epic scenes (aye, let’s go dragon riding!) and I enjoyed the world building too, but I also kind of wished there was a map in front. There’s a lot of traveling going on, with the group being on the run for most of the book, and the different places mentioned in both history and present would have benefited from a map. However, overall, this was an enjoyable read and my rainbow of annotations and flags could tell you I really mean that. From a plot and concept point, this series has a lot of potential, and I’m intrigued on how things will move on from here.

Advertisement

Book Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

I’ve never read any books by China Miéville, having only come across Perdido Street Station because I had been on the prawl for cyberpunk books at the time. For some reason, this Steampunk book made its way into one of the cyberpunk lists. Into my TBR it went, all but forgotten until I’d come across the physical copy at Barnes & Nobles. It’d been one of those quick, “Alright, you got about 10-15 minutes” days where the bookstore was just one tiny stop in an errand filled day. I wasn’t about to leave the store empty handed and I always have a little thing with “it’s fate” if I come across a book more than once.

It remained unread until I’d gone and yanked a couple of books off my shelf and had IG/Twitter poll my next read for me. I spent two slow weeks with this guy, and it was a nightmarish kind of floaty feeling. I still have a book hangover. Fun little note; Perdido Street Station managed to worm itself into my dreams (nightmares?) twice!

Book Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Length: 710 Pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Science Fiction > Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Horror, New Weird

CW/TW: Violence, gore, murder, mentions of rape, kidnapping, hostage situation, medical experimentation, mentions of torture, forced medical procedures, racism (mostly to Xenians and the Khepri), prostitution, sexual abuse of minors, police brutality

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies the city of New Crobuzon, where the unsavory deal is stranger to no one–not even to Isaac, a gifted and eccentric scientist who has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before encountered. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. Soon an eerie metamorphosis will occur that will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon–and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it evokes.

Review Summary

Having never read any of the author’s other books before, Perdido Street Station was an excellent entry into his world. Brimming with amazing and detailed description, I found myself easily lost in the Bas-Lag world. Beautifully painted to see every scene and creature that this world and the city of New Crobuzon has to offer, China’s writing is phenomenal and his world-building no less so. In this story, we follow a rogue scientist as he attempts to help a client regain his abilities to fly again, but little does he know, this experiment of his will cost him immensely; no bag of gold could replace and repair the damages and losses that follow suit. After all, we’re fighting something that even the demons of hell refuses to fight.

Writing

Out of everything in this book, including pacing, readability, plot, characters, and so on, I think Miéville’s writing and world-building are the two things that stick out the most. It’s one of the best things about Perdido Street Station and while it was kind of dense, making it a little hard to get into the book, I’ll admit that these two points (world and writing) were also what kept me reading. It just…felt like every other page, I was grabbing at my phone to search up a definition for all of his, what I call, “great thesaurus words” (less so towards the end). I even ended up borrowing the e-book version from the library so that I could keep up with my rate of searching things up!

Don’t get me started on the parts when a musing and inspired/obsessed Isaac begins to ramble in science and mathematics. He completely lost me there (rereading the passage for the third time did NOT help).

Yet, it feels like, considering the setting and the world, it also felt wrong if I were to not see words like expostulated, susurration, or ululated, as if it completes the sentence and scene just right. You could easily skip those words, you wouldn’t miss a lot nor does it stop you from moving on in the plot/book, but it does feel like you might not see the full splendid scene unless you look it up either.

In the end, yes, his prose, writing, and choice of words is wild but weirdly amazing. I found myself charmed by his sentences the very moment I’d gone and opened the book. His writing is one of my favorite parts about the book. However, as with a really heavy meal, it’s pretty dense, rich, and savory. I probably wouldn’t be able to read a Miéville book back to back (if they’re all like this), but I’m happily going to add him to my list of auto-buy authors.

World-Building

Extraordinary, exquisite, OMG-I-Could-Cry amazing, and utterly imaginative in the weirdest sense. For me, his world-building, the world of Bas-Lag, and the way he described New Crobuzon was the best part about this book, even more so than how much I loved his writing. I could write an essay just about New Crobuzon. For all of the 710 pages, it felt like I lived each character’s life through their six senses. I breathed that foul and retched air, I felt the anger of having to live in fear of the magistrate’s brutal and sadistic punishments, I felt the pain of torturous and prolonged agonizing deaths of characters.

New Crobuzon felt like an inescapable hellscape, but so full of life, people working and living to the best of their ability. I could see what each place, each slum, and even what the sewers felt like. As the story moved on, I could picture myself looking up into the skies and seeing the dirigibles and the trains rushing by in the sky-rails; the sky a perpetually polluted sepia of filth.

New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumour were uncontainable. A monthly chymical dip was a necessary prophylactic for the khepri, if they wanted to avoid itches and sores.

Everywhere I turn, there’s some new thing; the awful remades, criminals who have been punished by having their bodies fused with animals or steam-machine parts, the consequences of their actions forever following them in a twisted and sadistic way. There were also the different species that ran along with humans, Vodyanoi (frog-like people), Khepri (the males being mindless giant beetles and the females with their human bodies but a giant beetle in place of their head…), cacti people, and more. There’s even a dancing giant spider who speaks in a word-salad poetic way. I’m still trying to figure out half of what it said.

“Brock Marsh sewers, for example. All the unstable runoff from all those labs and experiments, accumulating over the years . . . makes for a very unpredictable population of vermin. Rats the size of pigs, speaking in tongues. Blind pygmy crocodiles, whose great-great-great-grandparents escaped from the zoo. Crossbreeds of all sorts.

If given the chance, I could probably talk on and on about my experience with “living in New Crobuzon.” Of all my annotations and highlights, most of mine came from highlights of world descriptions, races, and history and lore of Bas-Lag. It’s definitely not a beautiful place, in the slightest (I would NOT want to live here nor would I make it a single second), and Miéville will show you just this.

Just as with the writing, the only con on this end was the same thing that I fell in love with. The sheer volume of information and descriptions coming your way is endless. At times, the world around you is wonderfully crafted and described. But, there’s also times when it slows the story down; certain minor scenes having more description than needed.

Plot & Plot Development

The plot was kind of interesting. Our protagonist, Isaac, is a rogue-scientist who comes across a bird-man, a Garuda, who has lost his ability to fly due to reasons he refuses to disclose. His injury is grotesque (there is a LOT of body-horror in this book), but there’s not much he’s willing to talk about, only that he wishes to regain his ability to fly at whatever the cost. Of course, the gold offered is enticing on its own, but Isaac, being a scientist, is intrigued and enthralled enough just by the sight of the rare creature, that he is willing to take on the case and immediately gets on to studying and experimenting. It’s when one of his experiments gets out of hand when things spiral down hard that it’ll give you whiplash. Suddenly, we’re talking about endangering the lives of the entire city and three organizations wanting Isaac and his friend’s head on a platter.

One trope to describe the plot? “Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.”

Characters

The characters were interesting and wonderfully written characters; each with their Santa sacks of traits, personalities, histories, flaws, and moralities. Of the main group, there’s Isaac, the rogue-scientist, his Khepri girlfriend, Lin, who has a giant beetle for a head, Derkhan, one of the writers for a rebellious (and illegal) newspaper that she risks her life for by being associated with it, and of course the Garuda, Yagharek (Yag). There’s loyalty, there’s betrayal, there’s redemption, and there’s the unsavable.

Overall

Overall, I loved the book. I’m going to have a book hangover for days to come. Until I return to the trilogy, I’m going to deeply miss the world, the writing, and the prose. The characters went through hell fighting something that even the ambassador of hell absolutely refused to help and I spent a better part of two weeks “fighting” with them.

I’m not a chymist, or a biologist, or a thaumaturge…I’m a dilettante, Yagharek, a dabbler. I think of myself…” Isaac paused and laughed briefly. He spoke with heavy gusto. “I think of myself as the main station for all the schools of thought. Like Perdido Street Station. You know it?” Yagharek nodded. “Unavoidable, ain’t it? Fucking massive great thing.” Isaac patted his belly, maintaining the analogy. “All the train-lines meet there— Sud Line, Dexter, Verso, Head and Sink Lines; everything has to pass through it. That’s like me. That’s my job. That’s the kind of scientist I am.

First Lines Friday

Hohoho! Did I say last week was long?
Well, I was mistaken. This week has been even longer, and I’m extra thankful for the upcoming weekend.
Happy Friday, my lovely peeps🐥! Today’s post: First Lines Friday!

First Lines Friday is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

(Click on the book covers for a link to their GoodReads page)

꜀( ˊ̠˂˃ˋ̠ )꜆ F – R – I – Y – A – Y !! ꜀( ˊ̠˂˃ˋ̠ )꜆

This week’s lines…

Around Abegale Idrys, the world burned.
There was nothing to be done as the fire rose up around her, swallowing the walls of the small nursery she was trapped in and chocking away the air from her lungs in a constant wave of heat and smoke.

Enjoyed that preview? This week’s book is…

A Mark of Kings (The Shattered Reigns #1) by Bryce O’Connor and Luke Chmilenko

Blurb

Despite his youth, Declan Idrys knows of the evils of the world. He knows of the bastards and brigands who plague the King’s lands, of the monsters skulking in the wooded depths of the realm. Together with his companion, Ryn – a horse of rather peculiar talent – he has spent the last decade of his life beneath the bloody banners of a half-dozen mercenary guilds, hunting precisely such wickedness festering within the borders of Viridian.

Unfortunately, fate is quick to pull on the leash of its favorite children. When one particularly troubling contract goes sideways, Declan and Ryn find themselves thrust into a war thought legend and long-ended, a conflict so old it is synonymous with a time in which dragons still ruled the western skies. Now, as dead men rise from their graves and the terrible beasts of the northern ranges descend into the kingdom with an appetite for savagery and flesh, Declan is faced with a profane choice. He can turn, can flee an ancient rising horror that would see the realms of man left as shattered death and wind-blown ash.

Or, Declan can face this mounting threat, can come to terms with the fact that his oldest friend might just be more than he appears, and learn to wield an ageless power all his own.

Centuries pass, after all, and the Blood of Kings does not fade…

Blog Tour Book Review: The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Oh ho ho! I enjoyed this book so much, but failed for hours to put words to this very empty WordPress draft…
Hello my lovely peeps🐥! It’s Friday!
And today, it’s my stop on the Blog Tour for The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston hosted by the wonderful TheWriteReads!

(Look at that GORGEOUS cover!!)

Book Description

Title: The Knave of Secrets
Author: Alex Livingston
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 400 Pages
Publishing: 7th June 2022 (US); 9th June 2022 (UK)
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1786186071/ 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59365822

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the author, publisher, the tour host (TheWriteReads) and to NetGalley. An ebook copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.

Blurb

A twisty tale of magicians, con artists and card games, where secrets are traded and gambled like coin, for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Mask of Mirrors.

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

Review

Valen Quinol is a failed magician, having departed the academy, many years prior, and now using the same magic that he’d been working on as a way to earn his living. In the world of gambling, Valen is a cardsharp and the mastermind behind a small crew of con artists, making money off the misfortunes of other people’s poor luck, a cardsharp. The crew consists of Marguerite, his wife who helps with providing everyone with marked cards or tampered die, an ex-pirate named Jacquemin (Jaq), and Valen’s old classmate, Teneriève (Ten).

I loved this story and found myself unable to put it down. It starts right off with Valen, Jaq, and Ten pulling a small con on a gentleman and we’re put right into the action pages later. There are 5 POVs in this book and it was a bit confusing towards the beginning. I even forgot who a particular person was and racked my brain to come up with their story again. It’s not as bad once you fall in pace, but with the story breaking into these five characters’, it does slow things down a little in the middle and the story may go from fast and dangerous to something that’s a little calmer.

For much of the early parts of the story, Valen has been tasked with (more of by force and threats), by a powerful gang, to participate in the Forbearance Game, an invitation only tournament where players must bet with their secrets once money itself runs out. His job is to win a particularly important/dangerous secret that’s valued at several different characters’ worth of interests; some staking their lives while some are in it for the opportunities it may bring. There’s a lot of politics in this story that I didn’t really focus too much on, nor did the political story keep my interest much. Some of it were info dumps that I had to resist skimming over. It was there to drive the story on why certain characters and sides were SO invested in getting their hands on the secret. It does spread out nicely where different characters piece together the importance of the secret and the climax and grand reveal was the collection of all these discoveries spilling out. The ending though felt somewhat abrupt, but did feel like it could carry on into a second book. If so, I eagerly await it because I have kind of fallen in love with this little group of four.

Characters wise, much of the characters were very well written and I enjoyed reading most of the POV chapters. As I wasn’t as invested in the political side of the story, I was more drawn towards Valen and his crew, and Michel’s (a Brother from the previously mentioned academy) chapters versus the two ambassadors’ chapters. There’s no perfect characters in this book as many of them make, and acknowledge, that some of their problems have stemmed from some really bad decisions and poor luck. Valen himself is still building and learning about his luck magic and ever practicing to be a better cardsharp and cheat. Ten’s chapters were very interesting because her history is one of the most developed amongst all the characters and you can see how it influences a lot of her actions. I love that the characters are older here, too. Their lives have more years of experiences and more stories to tell. Valen and Margo’s marriage was something that was just there, there’s not a lot of gushy love in the middle and I kind of enjoyed that; an old married couple just sipping on their wine to reflect on their day together before hitting the hay.

My favorite thing about The Knave of Secrets was the world building and the magic system. I’ve always been more of a swords and knives kind of fantasy reader versus magic, so I don’t see actual magic systems too often. The magic here had been the most interesting part of the entire book with divination and enchantments being the two main types of magic, though Valen’s magical background involved him trying to perfect a third type: “luck magic”. The enchantments were so special because of what felt like infinite possibilities. Anything could be enchanted for any random purpose including making a building float, necklaces to help against losing one’s breath when running, and cloaks from catching on fire. There’s divination and scrying to see certain things, and witchcraft to manipulate weather or heal wounds. It’s all so fascinating to read and the continuous display of random enchantments throughout the book was like little treasure boxes for me.

I also enjoyed the general world of this book. Aside from the different countries and politics, there’s also themes of different classes and in this society, a person’s status is very important to them. Even the rich need to constantly worry about their “vote” and relevance in people’s minds. I found it to be intriguing on how ingrained casinos and gambling was in this world. It’s everywhere. If not in a casino, there’s gambling at the local pubs and even cafés! Even gangsters settle things with a quick game, and it seems that dueling someone on game floors is so common, people just shove aside tables for a quick second before hands are shaken and things go back to normal. And of course, there’s the whole Forbearance game. Gambling here is so expansive, there’s an appendix in the back of all the different games played in this book/world!

Summary/Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I loved the main characters and found their group dynamic to be pretty interesting. They were family and willing to risk their lives for one another, but are capable of striking out on their own and walk a different path if they choose to. The characters had depth, some of them having really detailed backgrounds and histories. The world building is rich and complex. The magic system was fascinating and vast. The only thing I didn’t care too much for was the politics and the different countries; it was somewhat confusing. Still, while I didn’t care much for it, it was enough to keep me invested, even if it was just as a background tally of minor notes. If you enjoy heists or groups of con artists, with fantasy, politics, magic, and stories revolving on a lot of gambling, this may be a good book for you.

About the Author

Alex Livingston grew up in various quiet New England towns before moving to Buffalo, NY to study English at Canisius College. He writes SFF prose and interactive fiction. Alex is married and lives in an old house with his brilliant wife and a pile of aged videogame systems.

Book Review: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

I think I’ve found my favorite book of the year so far!

Book Description

Title: Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes
Author: Travis Baldree
Edition: EBook
Length: ~318 Pages
Genre/s: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, LGBT
Rating: 5 Golden Eggs

Disclaimer: An eBook copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This did not affect my review, and all opinions are mine.

The cover has "A novel of high fantasy and low stakes" on top, followed by the title "Legends & Lattes". The author's name is Travis Baldree to the bottom. The cover art has a succubus to the left, holding a cinnamon roll, and she's smiling up at the Orc behind her. To the right is an Orc smiling at the succubus behind her while holding a mug on one hand and a teacup in the other.

Blurb (Goodreads)

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

Links

Review

I’d been searching long and hard (minus the hard, but definitely the long) for a similar book.

Ever since I played Coffee Talk by Toge Productions, I’ve been searching and scouring the web for the book version of it, something that focuses on the warmth of a coffee shop. So, when the opportunity was present, I snatched right at it! I still had books to finish but was constantly eager to start on this and when I was done, I almost cried. It was over before I know it, a smooth and solid read that’s not hard to drink in and digest like some of the more poetic fantasy books I’ve gone through in the past. “A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes” indeed.

I wanted something coffee shop related. I wanted there to be some form of budding relationship, either of romance or friendships. I wanted there to be a world where different races could co-exist, DnD style but without the dungeon part (low stakes, ya know?). I wanted to show the hardships behind a small business, especially one that’s being built from ground up. Legends and Lattes brought all of that to the table, and then more, surprising me with small details that were truly appreciated. I’ve never felt so much warmth in a book and Legends and Lattes really stuck with me. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted!

Who she was before, is not who she is now.

Viv is an Orc adventurer who shall swing her sword no more. She’s done with the bruises and cuts. Done with a paycheck per job to another. She’s done with adventures and wants to finally settle down somewhere; start a new life, one where she doesn’t need brute force to answer problems with. She’d been saving for a while now, little bits here and there through years of adventuring and jobs and the result presents itself in the shape of a livery turned coffee shop in a city where nobody knows what coffee is.

When she arrives in Thune, her new home for, hopefully, a long long time to come, she finds herself befriending many people on her way to making the café a success. There’s Tandri, a young succubus, stern and severe at first, who warms up quickly to Viv and becomes a partner to the shop. She helps tend to the registers and patrons, helps with ideas on luring in new customers, helps with the behind the scene duties like the dishes or using her artistic skills in drawing up the menu. There’s Calamity (Cal throughout the book) who was the guy that Viv hired to turn the stable into a working establishment. The hobgoblin was there to help her through the entire construction, the primary man on the job, and there to help with any other needs like expansions or, through the usage of gnomish technology, to install things like an air-circulator.

Built on blood, sweat, tears, and bonds.

One of the key aspects that I love about this book is the realism, the characters, interactions, and the frustrations behind opening up a business. It’s hard being a coffee shop owner and harder to try and attract people to a shop that’s already previously known to be the location of an old and sticky stable. Viv often gets frustrated and while she’s adamant that she will never try to use force and bloody fists (and steel) to solve problems again, there are times when she occasionally considers it, only to push it away. Tandri is always there to help her out and bring the conversation and situation back to earth, and the pair grows along with the shop together. I adored their journey from the “was an old livery” to success; from assistant to partners. Tandri was there to bring Viv back up when things go awry (from the start to the end) and in turn, Viv made sure to be there for Tandri as well.

One of the most important part of a coffee shop related story/plot (and in real life businesses as well) are the patrons and customers. The thing I looked forward to, the most, were how the staff and patrons interacted, especially given that most of said patrons, have never touched lips to this “exotic beverage” of beans and water. There would be plenty of repeating customers through the story, and I loved them all. In such a short time, I already grew quite fond of many of the characters.

Given how much was provided, I adored the worldbuilding

a picture of a sword and shield. There's a mug of latte (with a heart latte art) in the center of the shield.
Sword and Shield (Travis Baldree)

There’s a lot of world building and charm to this book in the short time we get to know the city of Thune. One of the things that I’d been seeking for so long, in a “Coffee Talk-like book”, was the diverse mix of race and species that the game had presented; humans mingling with werewolves, elves, succubi, orcs, merfolk with octopus legs, vampires (and vegan vampires!) and so on, just working and living together. Legends and Lattes presents the same thing with the streets roaming with its own mix of elves, rattkin, gnomes, hobgoblins, orcs, and succubi. And, in each, there are moments where certain characters voice their feelings over being stereotyped and judged on.

And then the technology. There are ways to bring coffee from [our] world to the world of fantasy and DnD with gnomish technology being the way that “coffee machines” and “air-circulator” can exist. There are magic schools in here, one of the repeat patrons being a student from there. Besides the walking and talking races I’d mentioned, there were also giant dire-cats that are essentially the same as our favorite ol’ house cats just…bigger and scarier. There is a local gang that threatens Viv if she does not pay her monthly dues to their boss, the Madrigal, and Viv must either pay or try to find a way to open up the discussion and make a deal with them. And the streets roam with people (practically most of the city since coffee is a gnomish beverage) that have never heard of the hot drink and time and time again, Viv has to try and lure new patrons to at least give her coffee shop and it’s drink a try. The menu literally started with two items, coffee and lattes, both with their own short description, and it grows from there.

So in all this, in 318 pages, we get to experience all sorts of pieces from this world that Travis Baldree has presented to us. It’s vast, it’s colorful, and oh so rich. It’s definitely not the main focus here, but with just passing descriptions of the day-to-day activities that Viv and Tandri experience, it’s already good enough for me to imagine what living in this world would be like.

So cozy and should be enjoyed with a nice warm mug of your own brew of coffee.

It was warm, even through the conflict of the story, and through all the troubles of being an orc and now new business owner. I adored the relationships presented. I got to experience what it feels like to chatter with your favorite patrons every time they stop in. If you enjoy getting to discover a world of diversity, and enjoy the charm of coffee shops, I would say to definitely give Legends and Lattes a try. When the world of adventures and brutal fights grows tiring to the soul, the book offers the best sanction to a weary traveler, to just settle down in a booth corner, and enjoy life with one sip and bite of a cinnamon roll at a time.

5 Shiny Shiny Eggs!

Book Review: Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan

Somehow I managed to squeeze Nolyn in with about 5 hours left to spare from midnight.
Sure is reminiscent of a few years back when I finished and met my 10ish yearly books goal with 12 minutes till the bells rung! Ahhaha.

⊹⋛⋋( ՞ਊ ՞)⋌⋚⊹

Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favorite authors of all time and fantasy was also my first ever favorite genre, but I had put leisure reading down during college and when I finally picked it back up, I just stopped reading fantasy, preferring, instead, the thrills of mystery thrillers, police procedural, spy thrillers, and forensic books.

I read a handful of Michael’s books and fell in love with Hadrian and Royce, from the Riyria series, immediately. I never finished the series (due to said break from reading) but I did pick up the first book Age of Myth from Michael’s second series, The Legends of the First Empire and I distinctively remember it was during my Hong Kong trip to visit my hometown and family, the summer after graduating from college.

And then I never picked up any of Michael’s books ever again. It was around that time that reading was still “meh” to me and when I was finally actually ready for books again, years later, I had branched out so wildly (new authors, new genres, new many things) that Michael was buried in the well-known “TBR mountain.”

So when I was given the chance to explore a new series, I was ecstatic!

Book Description

Title: Nolyn
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Edition: NetGalley > eBook
Length: 487 pages
Genre/s: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Adventure, Action
TW/CW: Violence, Blood, Graphic Injuries, Graphic Deaths, War, Child Kidnapping

Disclaimer: An eBook copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This did not affect my review, and all opinions are mine.

Blurb (Goodreads)

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reinstatement to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold doesn’t exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war didn’t know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Review

“Sitting snuggly between the Legends of the First Empire series and the Riyria books” this series had little “Easter eggs”, terms and phrases that I recalled seeing in both series. I’m sure there were some easter egg events and lore too, but I hadn’t read the second book of the First Empire series yet. Alas, being that it had been years since I last spent any time with either series, I might as well have read this as if I was coming across Michael’s works as if it were my first time, but then there were the occasional brief moments where I felt a smile creep onto my face because, “I know what they’re talking about!”

But there were also moments where where I felt like I actually needed to go back to (at least) the First Empire books to understand Nolyn; moments where I felt like I was missing something crucial. However, these were far and spare in numbers and in time, I was more focus with the plot than feeling like I needed the complete story. It stands perfectly fine on its own.

I loved this book. I loved all of the characters, the beautiful setting, the camaraderie, the relationships, flaws and all, the magic, gods, lore and all of everything else.

This book is split between three POVs, two main protagonists and a third occasional glimpse of the antagonist’s side of things. Two people with two stories and two different goals, all orchestrated and conducted by a terrifying foe. I recall screaming out loud, “How the f*** are our protagonists supposed to deal with THAT!”

The villain/antagonist was so strong and felt flawless in the beginning. There were no holes and he was god-like in abilities. I thought back to all of the Gods and “Gods” that protagonists have fought across different books and games and none of them could come close to the absurdity of how soul-shakingly horrifying the villain’s powers were here and that made everything feel worse, more terrifying, and so much more desperate. It felt like war had ended before it even started; lay down your swords, there’s no point in fighting.

The two main characters are Sephryn and the titular character, Nolyn, two descendants of a band of legendary warriors and people who, as told by stories, had descended into the afterlife and returned to the living. Their stories are not connected with one another until towards the middle and end where you realize that the events they experienced were part of a bigger plan, again, orchestrated by the big bad previously mentioned.

Of the two, I had initially enjoyed Nolyn’s story more because it had everything I have ever wanted. His band of Sik-Aux warriors, led by a (more modern) legendary leader was one of my favorite things about this book. The camaraderie, the way they joked with each other, mildly butt heads, but also deeply cared for one another, keeping dangers off each other’s backs. They all came from different backgrounds: a poor man who sends money earned from the army back to his mom, a man who was already headed to his grave, a murderer, a thief, a man on the run…the way they very quickly accepted Nolyn as their own. Oh, my heart.

Sephryn’s was more of a desperate storyline and it felt so hopeless from the start. Once things really got rolling on her end, I began to tear through her chapters much faster and with a clenched fist. Her fear was etched through the entire climax and how it ended was just so frustratingly awful, but the ending was amazing and, yeah, I cried. Points for tears. Always points for tears.

As with all of Michael’s books, I loved his storytelling, writing, and characters. I love all of his characters, regardless of series. The Six-Aux felt had the same bro-vibes as between Royce and Hadrian (only there’s many more of them). Though they did have their fair share of screen time, I wish I got to know them juuust a little more.

Now, in terms of characters, there were plenty of people I loved from the thief who could have asked/taken for more but settled for a hug in payment, to the friend of Sephryn, known to have gone mad in the head, the entire Six-Aux, and of course the two main characters. Relatively same in age, they were so vastly different. Sephryn, despite not succeeding the way she wanted, was still a leader of a council and so mature compared to Nolyn who, despite being hundreds of years old, still felt kind of naive? He did do his fair share of growing in a short span of two-ish weeks, so reading his interactions and development was another favorite thing about the book.

Overall, loved the book, and if you love fantasy with lore that spans across multiple series, I would highly recommend Nolyn. There’s witty banter, there’s great storytelling and dialogue, amazing and desperate plots, characters you love, hate, and feel lukewarm about, funny characters, scary characters, you name it. It’s fast-paced and there are some pretty graphic deaths. The chapter with the city invasion brought goosebumps to me. It was intense, and more than once I had to get up and process the twists that were being thrown in. The ending was pretty sweet, but it’s kind of heavy all the same.

As always, another amazing read from Michael J. Sullivan!
Now I REALLY need to reread his other works again.

Book Review: Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

((Did you know that piano music could be so…cute? It’s what I’m listening to while writing this and
I think it’s adorable 🥰))

Ever get told that you shouldn’t take firework videos and to “just live in the moment?” No video can ever capture the true joy and experience of the firework. The colors that splash across other people’s faces, the power of the blasts that ripples through your chest with every blow…a video simply isn’t the same.

My review won’t show you how many tears I shed or how many times my heart was shredded to pieces.
The leaps of joy, the excitement and sheer thrill of reading Aram’s first flight on a dragon, the helpless heartbreak of watching someone die and not being able to do anything because you’re on the other side of the page. All of that.

Book Description

Title: Dragon Mage
Author: M.L. Spencer
Publisher: Stoneguard Publications
Edition: Physical Hardcover Copy
Pages: 818 Pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy > Dragon, Fantasy > High Fantasy, Fantasy > Magic, Adult

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as part of a giveaway hosted by Storytellers On Tour. This doesn’t affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.


Thank you so much to both SOT and the author for sending me with a copy of the book!

Blurb

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.

But Aram is more. Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

Review

I have never read anything by M.L. Spencer before Dragon Mage and now that I’ve gone and finished the book, I know I have to take a look at the rest of her series. Spanning nearly a thousand pages, every page that I read felt a countdown towards the inevitable end. Savoring the words didn’t help and by the time I was halfway there, it didn’t feel at all like I’d just thrown down 400 pages. It was a long read that didn’t feel long. In fact, it left me feeling like there could be more and I wouldn’t have minded. My remaining few days with the book were inhaled in a single evening, the last few chapters too good for me to put the book down. I sacrificed sleep to finish this book and while it wasn’t a good idea to do so, it was totally worth it! By the time I’d closed it, I was in a drunken stupor, unable to process anything that was happening around me.

It was good. It was good good.

Storyline and Plot

The story revolves around Aramon Raythe (Aram), a young misfit boy from a small fishing village. All his life, Aram has known that he was a little different. No matter how he’d try to change himself to fit in, none of the others wanted to play with him. He doesn’t know why or how he’s different, but he knows he is. He’s different because he can see in color, beautiful colors that surround everyone, giving away their true nature; whether they were warm and friendly, spiteful and mean, or downright dangerous. However, he’s not just different in that sense. The ability to see colors is a sign of a deeper power within him, a power that’s strong enough to contest with the gods. But, he must keep his powers hidden for there are people who would love to twist and wring that very power from him for their own good by means of agonizing extractions ending in death after years and years of torture.

There’s so much to this story. No matter what genre, I tend to avoid standalones because I’m always left craving for more and there’s never enough. I left satisfied at the end, but it’s the satisfied that just barely keeps me going. Like hunger, it’ll die down and soon I’ll be aching for the next book again.

This book was labelled as a coming of age book [on Goodreads]. You follow the story of a boy, and his best friend Markus, from their youth to their adulthood. Aram starts off as a 12 year old boy and Markus is two years his senior in the beginning of the book. By the end Aram is 18 and we watch him grow and learn through the years. In the beginning, Aram is still pretty young, though at a ready age to be apprenticed to others. Later on, there’s a handful of chapters where Aram tries and struggles to fit into a new life as he begins the next stage in a school (designed to train Wardens and Sorcerers). There’s progress and a couple of time skips in between as well. Through all of it, he finds himself as student under multiple people some who means well for him and others not so much.

For a better part of the beginning, it felt like there was this constant pressure of mistrust and maybe even of doom. It’s this lingering loneliness that follows Aram and Markus as they go about not knowing who could be trusted only to realize that they probably couldn’t trust a single soul around them other than each other. There’s this haunting and hunted feeling to every chapter and almost feels like wolves forcing a couple of sheep to live with them, swearing they won’t hurt the sheep. Say no and you die but say yes and you live every day feeling like today’s the day they finally eat me.

There’s no room to breath and this sense of doom and danger follows the two through most of the book. From the very beginning, there is plenty of death and nobody dies a merciful death here. Some of the killings are downright disgusting and sadistic. The worst part is, unlike a movie, you can’t turn away from it! The enemy does not discriminate on who they kill, just that they do.

Relationships and Bonds

One of my favorite things in this book are the relationships. I found it to be an outstanding part of the book that made it a special read. All of the bonds throughout gave me such a fantastically warm feeling because there is probably no love greater than the love that was displayed here. It was a soothing feeling considering how terrifying everything else in the story was. You know…no matter how bad it gets, at least you have your friends, mentors, and your dragon who will kill anyone who tries to harm you.

The most important bond was between Aram and Markus, the Champion and his Warden. I felt like the relationship and bond between Aram and Markus was deeper than any other bond in the entire book and the story focused heavily on it from both of their POVs. Markus knew Aram way before any of the other characters did. They’re from the same fishing village and two years Aram’s senior, Markus already had this feeling that he was responsible in making sure Aram was safe (and now that I’m looking back, I feel like I know why he felt that tug). In the very beginning, he’d saved Aram from a beating as the boy had been ambushed by a group of village bullies, mocking him for his strangeness. And this protectiveness from Markus to Aram extends through the entire book. Their friendship was so amazingly strong that it was inspiring!

“He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it, but he knew that, if he fell, then Aram would die. And he was convinced that if Aram died, a small but wonderous part of the world would die with him.
So he stood in defiance of the flames as they ravaged the air around him, until he felt his skin start to scorch. And even then, he did not cower or falter.
Even in the face of death, he stood.”

The other bonds, in the book, were very important and just as fascinating too. I’m not familiar with dragon books, lore, stories, movies, or anything else related to dragons. I have only ever come across ONE dragon book, in my life, and it’s sitting in the deepest part of my shelf unread save for a happy few pages when I’d gone and skimmed it. The dragon and riders here are soul-bound. When one goes, so will the other. Their bond is so immensely deep that nothing can sever this, not even death. They can communicate without words and they can feel each other’s pain. Between a dragon and its rider, it’s almost like one soul in two bodies and one would not survive the tragic death of the other.

“There’s two bodies here: the dragon and its rider.” In answer to Aram’s confused look, she explained, “If a rider dies before their dragon, the dragon carries their body off somewhere, usually to a beautiful place, and wraps around them just like this. Then the dragon dies and becomes stone. That way, they’re together forever.”

The Action Scenes and Magic System

I found the magic system to be intriguing, amusing, creative, and fascinating. The world that Aram sees are full of colors and strands of aether. The magic system in this world works in that Aram, and other Savants, can manipulate these strands of energy into different knots and there are an amazing amount of different knots for different uses. Knots are important to both those who use it to fight and significant to even those whom are not fighters themselves (fishing villages and their nets, the knots used to tie necklaces for their loved ones, and as Aram explained, even our clothes are essentially giant fabrics made up of tiny knots).

Strands can be read and those who can see them are able to gather information about events that happen from a long distance away and that news lingers for a long time. In combat, strands can be manipulated into all sorts of things such as hardening them into a shield, using it to draw out heat from fire, weaving (and that’s the term they often use here) blankets and cocoons of them for protection, turning it into spears, whips, and even a web that collapses into a boulder. Thinking of it as art and art being endless imagination, by using strands, the possibilities are nearly infinite and it’s the creativity that grabbed my attention the most. Personally, if you gave me a bunch of string and told me that I can manipulate it in any way I want, that it’s my “weapon”, I wouldn’t have even thought of hardening strings of energy into a shield!

The action and fight scenes themselves are plentiful and very unforgiving, but outstanding and terrifying. With the combination of magic and weapons, you’ll find yourself at the center of chaotic scenes where a moment’s hesitation would be the end of you. There’s no endless rallies against each other and some of the fighting is relatively quick because it’s meant to be so. Nobody has endless stamina after all.

Contrary to what most people think, a swordfight is not a dance. It should be brief, and it should be brutal.”

Then there are the Shields and Warden, people who are impervious to magic. No magic works on them because they’re essentially magic proof, with Wardens and the Truly Impervious being more powerful than the average Shields. They’re purpose is to guard their sorcerers or Champion from magical harm while working together as if they were one person.

So, when it comes to fighting you get this mixture of shields and magically resistant people and then you get people flinging both magic and weapons at each other. The battlefield, I imagine, becomes this spectacular gallery of colors with fire and lightning bolts, literally a rainbow of dragons, a sky of riders piercing through and then mixed in with apparently what is essentially zombies of their own mixture of colors. Throw in auras and strands and I can only imagine what Aram must see in the world.

And when you include characters that you love, with death not caring who you love best, each fight and each battle is a dance that is engrossing to watch, gripping and sometimes unbearably long even if it’s only a mere few pages.

Characters

There are multiple amazing characters. I absolutely loved Aram and found it hard to hate him or find any flaws in him. He lacks in confidence and I just wanted to give the poor kid a hug. A lifetime of being shunned and a misfit, no matter how much effort he puts in to try to fit in, doesn’t just poke holes in your confidence, it takes off the entire bottom of the pail and lets the water run free away! He works on his confidence and there are moments where he allows himself to feel a bit of pride, but no matter what, he always finds a way to humble himself back down, seeing no way in accepting a praise without it feeling like gloating. I found him to be such an endearing character and I honestly haven’t loved a character so much in so long.

Markus is two years older and he’s been Aram’s longest, and for the most of Aram’s life, his only friend. He was there to protect the boy when he was getting a beat down from bullies at the beginning of the book and the two are inseparable. He would die for Aram (and Aram for him) and is always there to lend a shoulder, especially seeing that Aram can be a bit of a trouble magnet. Because you know…being a chosen one means you’re always going to be a bad luck and trouble magnet.

There are an amazing amount of strong female characters in the book as well such as Wingmaster Vandra, built like a mountain, who is like a mentor to Aram, one of many. She was one of the first to believe in Aram when the other [adults] and even Aram himself, didn’t. There’s also Calise who’s magic differs from Aram’s ability to see and manipulate strands. A healer, her magic comes from within and is the second person Aram calls a friend.

There is also the Council members, the dragons who all have their own personalities, words not needed, and of course Aram’s gaggle of fellow students who later on becomes his friends. Every time the bunch of them hang out, it’s trouble because that’s what friends do. They joke and fool around and get into trouble. I quite enjoyed them around because there were enough of them that made the scenes feel rowdy…but happy and warm! Seeing that Aram struggled so hard to make friends growing up, their willingness to be his group of buddies make them even more special.

Overall

I think it’s been years since I felt so invigorated after finishing a book, and years since I loved a book as much as I did. The worldbuilding was amazing, the characters were vibrant and wonderfully done, the fighting scenes were brutal and deaths are very unforgivingly awful. Some are so vivid I can still see them in my head… The writing, language, and storytelling was brilliant, smooth, and perfect. There is a steady character development and growth, beautiful bonds between friends, mentors and students, and dragons.

It’s a delightful read, one that I sorely missed. The book went down in a hungry way like I haven’t done since maybe middle school and all 800+ pages of it was gobbled up in a few days. There is a beautiful magic system full of creativity and with the combination of people who are null to magic, and warriors who fight with weapons, the fighting scenes are completely absorbing to read through and full of surprises, never a dull moment.

It’s fast paced, never a moment to stop and breath. There was a constant feeling of looming threat from the beginning and even when the duo were relatively safe, tiny bits of this danger and doom feeling still made it’s way into the warmest of chapters like miasma that just wouldn’t leave. There’s often plenty of devastating news to witness and very early on, M. L. Spencer is already not kind to her characters. Death is plenty, undiscriminating, and brutal. You’ll want to grab your heart now before the book takes it from you and rips it up (don’t worry, it’ll offer to stitch it back up for you later, sort of).

An utterly fantastic read that left me speechless and with a massive book hangover. I cannot wait for the adventure to continue in book 2.

Rating

5 Stars
5 Cups of Joe
Because an infinite rating would be a caffeine overdose and I can’t die before book two comes out.

Spotlight: The Shattered Crown of Blood and Gold by Rosie Forest

Today’s post is going to be a Spotlight post for a book releasing later this month! I truly can’t believe that it’s already July! It felt like yesterday was just the end of May and now the second half of the year is already here and I 😱

The Shattered Crown of Blood and Gold is the self-published and debut book of Rosie Forest. It’ll be released on July 20th and it’s available for pre-order now! I’m including a few links at the bottom of this post so that you can pre-order or learn more about the book. There’s also a Twitter giveaway that Rosie is running until July 10th!


About the Book


Title: The Shattered Crown of Blood and Gold
Author: Rosie Forest
Length: ~314 Pages
Genres: Fiction > Fantasy, Romance

Blurb:
On the night of her Claiming ceremony, 19 year old Kassya Sylthana is gifted her family’s Magyck, and officially named heir to the Aelvalian throne. However, when rebel forces attack, she’s forced to flee the castle with a man she only just met, leaving her mother and home behind.
Together, the duo navigate the land of Aelvale, and she realises that the world is a very different place from what she had thought.
How many truths will she have to uncover, and how far will she have to go to take back her Kingdom? 




About the Author

Rosie Forest (who uses she/they pronouns) is a student studying Creative Writing at University, and living in London, UK. With their tiny dog Nik and a passion for reading New Adult fantasy, she decided to take the leap and self-publish their first novel! She finds it insane that they can finally call herself an author, after having a life-long admiration of the industry!


Twitter Giveaway [Until July 10th]


International Twitter
Giveaway; hosted by Rosie Forest.
@ Rosiereaders


The Lore of Prometheus [Blog Tour] [Review]

I received a copy of this book as part of a blog tour. A huge shout out and a major thank you to the BBNYA 2020 tours organized by the @The_WriteReads tours team as well as to the author for letting me participate in this tour. All opinions are my own. 

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. 
If you are an author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (https://www.bbnya.com/) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official.

If you would like to sign-up and enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 AUTHOR SIGN UP FORM HERE. Please make sure to carefully read our terms and conditions before entering. 

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)! 

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (If you love beautiful books you NEED to check out their website!) And the book blogger support group TheWriteReads.


Book Name: The Lore of Prometheus
Author: Graham Austin-King
Pages: 287
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle Genre: Fantasy > Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Fiction > Military Fiction, Thriller
Rating: 4.5 (Goodreads: 5)

TW/CW: PTSD, Gore, Violence, Kidnapping, Torture, Drugging, Held Prisoner, Death, Burned Alive/To Death, Murder, Medical Experimentation, Gunshot wounds, War and War Scenes 

Blurb

John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.

It has been almost five years since the incident in Kabul. Since the magic stirred within him and the stories began. Fleeing the army, running from the whispers, the guilt, and the fear he was losing his mind, Carver fell into addiction, dragging himself through life one day at a time.

Desperation has pulled him back to Afghanistan, back to the heat, the dust, and the truth he worked so hard to avoid. But there are others, obsessed with power and forbidden magics, who will stop at nothing to learn the truth of his gifts. Abducted and chained, Carver must break more than his own rules if he is to harness this power and survive.

Thoughts & Opinons

Straight into the book, I took noticed of the writing style and thought, “I’m going to like it here.” I wasn’t here to participate in judging last year’s competition, but if I had to choose any random piece, it didn’t matter where in the book I landed, I probably would’ve agreed that this book was very well written so I think it’s a well earned crown that sits atop this book and author.

A short read that’s just shy of 300 pages, I went into this book already late and still managed to finish right about on time. Saying I inhaled the book was probably an understatement.

A very dark book the starts with addiction, gambling, trauma and hallucinations and dives deep into kidnapping, experimentations and brutal psychological and physical torture. Trauma is a major theme of this book and is the root and source of many of the prisoners’ powers. Horrific trauma, watching your loved ones die, and knowing there’s no other possible way out for yourself is the fuel to the bonfire.

This is the second military fiction I’ve read, and to date, both books had protagonists that suffered from various degrees of survivors guilt. John Carver, is a broken man, even before the kidnappers got a hold of him. Suffering from deep trauma, severe PTSD and survivors guilt, he is down on his luck and very nearly down to his last pennies. With a loan shark breathing down his next promising his own next breathes to maybe be his last, unless he coughs up the dough, Carver is doomed and very very desperate. He’s got no more choices left and he needs to get a job and he’s desperate enough to go back to where it all started.

With most of his skills stemming from his military experience, his only chance is a glorified babysitting job back Kabul, back to where the dust and nightmares began.

Being the only one in his squad who had survived during his time in Kabul, he blames himself for the loss of his teammates, especially so as hallucinations. For the last five years, Pearson, Wilson, and Turner have plagued him and not just in his memories. Ghosts of his past follow him daily, so real they bleed on the floors in front of him, reminding him that he, Carver, could have and did not save them.

Mackenzie is the other main protagonist with her own traumas and just as Carver’s trauma woke his “miracle” so did hers. Both she and Carver were well written characters and you really got to know them. Mackenzie displayed absolute strength in the toughest of times and the two of them made for an amazing read and as much as I enjoyed how well done Carver’s character is, I think that Mackenzie is the character I loved the most. My heart broke for her, stopped for her, bled and cried for her trauma; both in the past and what she goes through in the book, especially the latter.

Action packed, this book was phenomenally put together and thought-out. There was plenty of research going into this and those, like me, with no background in the military won’t need to fear getting lost. Any jargon of any sorts is easily and simply explained; a quick breeze over without interrupting the story telling and flow.

The book switches between two characters POVs (Mackenzie and Carver) as well as two types of POVs, third and first respectively. I didn’t really mind the switch in POV types though it did take me perhaps 6 chapters to noticed that it was being switched around at all (I’m not the most attentive). I actually quite liked it because it helped separate the two situations and if there were any deeper analysis to this; I’d say the first person really helped me get into Carver’s head because only Carver could see what he sees and that’s people that are no longer amongst the living. I don’t think third person would have worked as well.

Fast paced and with great dialogues that helped break and ease the tension in this extremely dark, gorey and very unforgiving situation, this book was very well executed. It had me hooked from the start and flying through the book was no hard task. Paired with wonderfully written characters, real or not, I had a great time. I was a WEEE bit confused towards the end but that might just be me.

A little sad to see this book come to a close as it’s a standalone but it’s been the rainbow to my newly discovered pot of gold as I look forward to more from Graham Austin-King and I will definitely be following and checking out some of his other works.

I heavily recommend this book because it’s executed so well with the writing being one of my favorite aspects of this read. I’m one to love characters more than the writing and plot itself, but this time, despite how well the characters are already written, it was the writing style and writing that I truly fell in love it. However, please keep in mind that this is a pretty dark book with a lot of triggers. It gets very intense and heavy at times and even I needed a breather here and there.

4 ½ Cups 🥰

Author

Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells.

A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.

He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.

After spending a decade in Canada learning what ‘cold’ really means, and being horrified by poutine, he settled once again in the UK with a seemingly endless horde of children.

To date he is the author of five novels, drawing on a foundation of literary
influences ranging from David Eddings to Clive Barker.

Website: https://grahamaustin-king.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrayAustin

Dragma’s Keep [Book Review]

Navigation


It’s been a year (and then some) since my last fantasy book (looking at my 2020 Goodreads challenge, the closest I came to fantasy were probably a sci-fi and a steampunk book).

And then Booktasters contacted and connected me with Vance Pumphrey and so…let’s raise a mug to the first fantasy book I’ve read (let alone reviewed) in over a year! HOOHAA!

Thank you to Booktasters and Vance Pumphrey for letting me read a free copy of this book. All opinions are fair, honest, and are my own.

Book Name: Dragma’s Keep
Author: Vance Pumphrey
Series: Valdaar’s Fist Book: 1
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle (EPUB converted to MOBI)
Pages: 348 (Kindle), 276 (Paperback)
Genre: Fantasy > Dungeons & Dragon

Goodreads Blurb:

Valdaar’s Fist. Forged by mortals. Enchanted by Drow. Wielded by a god. Lost by man. Or was it?
A band of unlikely adventurers embark upon an epic quest in this first book in a four-part series, battling minotaurs, demons, orcs, and wraiths—and occasionally themselves.
Surely they must prevail…because the very balance of power in the land requires it.
In Dragma’s Keep, Vance Pumphrey weaves a lyrical and magical tapestry that sets the stage and whets the appetite for the next adventurous fantasies that comprise his Valdaar’s Fist series.
Vance Pumphrey traces the evolution of his high fantasy novels from his Nuclear Engineering career in the U.S. Navy—not an obvious leap. He started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the Navy, though, and the inspiration for Dragma’s Keep was born.
Dragma’s Keep is the first in the Valdaar’s Fist quartet. A second series follows soon.
Retired from the Navy, Pumphrey lives in Seattle with his wife of thirty-plus years.
To find out when the next Valdaar’s Fist book will be released, check out VancePumphrey.com.

Thoughts and Opinions:

At the time I picked this book, I was (still am) obsessed with Vindictus, a MMORPG. I spent the last two-ish years on Dragon’s Dogma, and most of my life playing and following the Fire Emblem series. Fantasy games are still very fresh in my mind and thus, of course, along with the craving for books emulating the feelings I get from playing them. To be able to get all of that on paper had me over the moon.

The inspiration for Dragma’s Keep came from Dungeons and Dragons and while I’ve never participated in a session, some of my friends do and so it’s not too foreign to me. Nevertheless, any references I make in this review will end up referencing fantasy games because that’s what I’m more familiar with.

Writing Style

As the book version of the annoying movie watching commentator, there were a handful of things that came to mind when reading the book, starting with the language and writing style. There’s nothing that’s grammatically incorrect or misspelled (not that I see) and the language is a lot like some of the other fantasies I’ve read (a bit leaning towards Middle Age/Medieval rather than modern English in maybe something like an urban fantasy).

Phrases like “fly true” and “yet live” more than peppers the book. However, I had no issues digesting what I was reading. Which is pretty swell considering how often I tend to scrunch my brows and reread (over and over) pages in fantasies because I’m trying to figure out what the sentence is trying to say! Here, there was no need for my brain to dance around the same paragraph. Everything was easy to read and easy to follow.

The dialogue is golden. I could complain all I want about how I was starting to get annoyed with all the bickering over pointless things, but if a parent can handle their kids screaming at each other, I can handle these characters. There’s humor everywhere, mostly in the dialogues, and the interaction between characters was eye rollingly annoying sometimes… but it grows on you and their little fights becomes part of the group’s charm.

Characters

The team is a pretty diverse party in terms of age (?), gender and race (with the exception that there’s only 1 female and she’s a healer. I play a female axe wielder in games and look forward to the day I see that on paper😉). It’s fun to acknowledge the group as a party versus a “team” because we’re talking about a DnD styled setting and world here! I enjoy all of the characters, some more than others. 

There is Sordaak, a slight framed mage hidden under his voluminous robe who has the temper of a dragon woken up too early from his slumber. He’s snappy. I’m talking about “Don’t talk to me unless my coffee is in” snappy. But that’s not to say the rest of the group isn’t a bit snappish themselves! There are times where I rolled my eyes because “Oh boy, another petty argument”.

But…I guess being a little overly snappish isn’t the worst thing that could happen amongst a band of strangers that just met like a day or week ago. And in their dungeon situation where you’re walking into battle after battle with minimal rest in between, I guess it’s excused. Team dynamics of “siblings fight but still protect each other’s back (with their own lives)” ya know?

Sordaak meets a thief named Savinhands (Savin or “Thumbs”) who insists he’s a rogue and not just a mere thief. He’s also a cinnamon roll who needs to be protected because he’s precious. Handy with his lockpicking skills, he’s more resilient than any thief I’ve ever played.

There is also Thrinndor (occasionally “Thrinn”) who is a fighter (Paladin) and his buddy, a dwarf named Vorgath Shieldsunder, “son of Morroth of the Dragaar Clan of the Silver Hill” (say that fast 5 times). And then lastly, in comes Cyrillis, a cleric who isn’t afraid to dish out a few blows, herself. Anyone playing Fire Emblem knows that clerics don’t generally enter the fight meaning she’s like gold to the team. A cleric that doesn’t need a body guard 24/7? I’ll take it! Her tongue and glares work just as well as her staff towards enemy and friends alike.

Party Dynamics

The party dynamic is interesting.

These people are total strangers to one another (save for Thrinn and Vorgath who do have a bit of history).

(*Inhale*) Sordaak meets Savin when the latter was gambling at a local tavern and through some circumstances stemming from Sordaak’s part, the two end up high tailing out of town together and eventually manage to convince a hell-bent-on-killing-them paladin to join them on a little adventure (in exchange for their lives) so our little paly agrees, roping in his dwarf buddy to join in on the fun and the four merrily go off, bumping into and aiding a sister in need of help who becomes the team’s healer. (*Exhale*)

Sounds DnD and game-like enough to have such a diverse party of people just thrown together for the sake of treasure and adventuring, right? The team’s faith is different in the beginning too (faith here plays a HUUGE role) There’s borderline atheism, there are people who follow Praxaar and then those that follow Valdaar. Yet, merely a few pages in, they go from strangers to I will protect my party members’ life with my own if it needs be. While sure, the party’s health is a necessity for your own survival, the end goal was treasure and deep friendship wasn’t something I really expected (not complaining). There’s tension. There’s bickering. There’s poking fun. But it’s all in a merry way and nobody holds grudges against one another. Again. They met like a week or two ago by the time they started their adventure. They’re now stuck with each other, like it or not. Might as well make the best of it, yeah?

The lore is pretty nice too. It’s consistent, it’s everywhere, and plays a massive part in the plot. (IIRC) Praxaar and his twin brother Valdaar are (were) Dwarves before they became Gods. The introduction chapter gives you a quick background to the lore and is written as if it was an old historical tome. The impressions from that chapter are a bit warped because history is written by the victor, which is honestly really neat. You’ll find out why later. 

Pacing

The pace of the book is quick. It’s so fast you could hear the NASCAR vehicles slowing down next to you. We have a mage who bumps into a thief who runs away together and bumps into a paladin, who has a buddy who’s a dwarf, and the four go adventuring for a secret (and rumored to be long gone) keep in the middle of bloody nowhere that holds treasure. They bump into a cleric and they do a whhhollee lot of fighting and reach the big bad boss. It’s a single dungeon run with multiple mini bosses, individual area skirmishes, that leads up to the final boss that ends the one dungeon run. Pumphrey loves his action. It’s no DnD and RPG game without the constant swinging of swords. There’s so much fighting that even the cleric and mage runs out of spell “juice” and need a bit of recharge before moving on.

Action? No shortage of it. Promise!

And no one is invincible! I fear for this party’s brain cells for the amount of times someone has been knocked unconscious. The meat-shields (as Sordaak affectionately calls the Paladin and Berserker) can dish out a beating and can take it too, but it doesn’t prevent them from being overwhelmed. Mages can friendly fire themselves and their teammates with area of effect (AoE) spells (I never thought I’d see those words outside a game).

There are occasionally info dumps. I’m not usually a fan of info dumps and there was literally an entire chapter where everyone just dumped their backstories with each other “let’s sit in a circle and share something about yourself, first day of school” style. Not my thing but I was pretty amused by it since even Vorgath himself 4th walled the situation (just a bit) by calling Sordaak a “wordy sumbitch.”

Overall Thoughts:

I’ll be thinking about this one for days. It just tickled me in all the right places. Sure, I’ve never played DnD myself, but the writing style and plot was close enough to all the fantasy games I play that most of everything was relatable anyways. There are certain creatures I had to look up like Sordaak’s familiar (a quasit), but being that it was based on and inspired by what already exists, it was really nice to know a visual is only a Google search away!

I quite enjoyed the pace. It’s a dungeon crawl, albeit a longer dungeon with multiple battles. Yet, at the end of the day, it was a single dungeon so the adventure was sadly quickly over. Fear not! It’s only book one and the group intends to continue to travel together because that’s what a good party does. I was elated every single time I came across any gaming term. I loved the group dynamic and humor. I slightly anticipated the ending, but it was written well enough to incite strong emotions in me (a knotted stomach twisty kind of uncertainty…but not fear!)

I loved this book and when I set aside a little more time in my schedule, I truly can’t wait to continue adventuring with this gang of random people thrown together by fate. If you like fantasy gaming or Dungeons and Dragons (the latter especially as it inspired the book), I definitely recommend giving this book and series a try. 

Language & Writing Style: Fantasy and Medieval style of language though it is easy to digest and easy to read. You don’t know how much relief that brings me. I tend to get stuck rereading and not understanding when text is too flowery. Occasional info dump. Terms like AoE (area of effect) and meat-shield tickled me because I never thought I’d ever see those words outside of gaming let alone in a book!

Dialogue is golden and a huge part of why I enjoyed the book.

The Characters & Party Dynamic: The characters are likeable but occasionally got on my nerves how much they bickered over very petty and pointless things. Just minor things that kick up upon traveling and constantly nearly dying together. I think it’s this mix of love-hate feeling that I have towards their fighting that makes it fun and impressionable. There’s a paladin, mage, thief, and healer (all humans) and a berserker (dwarf). Diverse in gender (though there’s only 1 female), fighting class, age, and race/species, they make for an odd but very fantasy RPG fitting group.

Everyone’s spirit animal here is a snapping turtle.

Pace: Fast. It’s a single dungeon crawl with multiple skirmishes and mini bosses that leads to a final boss. There’s plenty (I mean PLENTY) of fight scenes to enjoy. 

There’s no shortage of action scenes.

Quotes:

“Yeah, well,” began the mage. “Occasionally those of us of superior intellect—”
“But—” interrupted Vorgath.
“Zip it, meat shield!” snapped the caster.

“That staff,” explained the dwarf. “If she were to smack me in the nuts like that with that thing, they’d rattle around down there for a week!”

“Thieves do not trust thieves,” he said. “Especially those within our own guild.”

5 Stars