Book Review: Sons of Valor by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Book Description

Title: Sons of Valor
Authors: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson
Edition: NetGalley > Audiobooks
Narrator: Ray Porter
Length: 12 Hours and 5 Minutes
Genre: Fiction, Military Thriller, Military Fiction
TW/CW: Death, violence, terrorisms, war, mentions of torture, graphic violence and death,

Disclaimer: An audiobook 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

Sons of valor …

Navy SEAL Keith ”Chunk” Redman has been one of the military’s top doorkickers since the day he pinned on his trident: loyal, single-minded, lethal. Tasked to lead a new, covert team of Tier One SEALs — the most elite special operators in the world — Chunk can no longer simply rely on the status quo. To safeguard America, he needs help to stay a step ahead of its adversaries.

Brilliant at spotting patterns in the data that others miss, ex-CIA analyst Whitney Watts sees evidence of a troubling link between illicit Chinese arms sales and an attack on a US military convoy in Afghanistan. If she’s right, it would portend not only massive casualties, but a devastating threat to global stability.

Sons of war …

From the ashes of a never-ending war, a new generation of terrorists has arisen: sophisticated, tech-savvy, and hiding in plain sight among America’s allies. Battered by the Taliban and by the West, they call themselves al Qadr — Power and Destiny — and they’re determined to wrest back control of their homeland. Armed with a powerful combat drone, they can strike with deadly precision at US forces in the region — but their ambitions reach far, far beyond that.

A new legacy …

The new Tier One’s first mission will require them to not only prove themselves, but to stop an enemy who’s using military tactics against them. Chunk and his team aren’t just the tip of the spear; they’re America’s first, last, and best counterterrorism defense. And they couldn’t have arrived at a more urgent — and perilous — time.

Review

Sons of Valor is a fiction; a military fiction and thriller. It’s also a spin-off from another series that came before, which I have not read yet. This book is an audiobook I picked up from NetGalley and now that I’m done with it, I am already invested enough that I have to go back and read the other books, because hot damn! With the exception of a few retrospective moments and a couple nods to old memories, I wasn’t ever lost, so even if you started here, like I did, you should be fine. By itself, the book stands very well even if you haven’t read the Tier One books. Not having read the other series didn’t make this one hard to read or follow in any way. However, there was a moment, a very suspenseful moment, towards the end where the main character was reminded of a similar incident happening previously and at that point, I knew I just needed to go back so I can read and catch up on the characters.

I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time and I’m now mildly obsessed with digging up more from both these two authors and other books from the same genre. Our two main characters here are Lieutenant Keith Redman (Chunk) and Whitney Watts (Heels), but there are others in this team (Ryker, Saw, Trip, etc). The main characters are real and very complex, with their own very strong personalities, histories, and demons that haunt them and the authors certainly didn’t slack on making sure the others in the team wouldn’t fall flat either.

Chunk, previously a character in the Tier One series, now stars in his own series, this spin-off. He’s an amazing character and a strong leader to his team, all of whom looks up to him and count on him. He’s a man with “arms of a gorilla” but beneath his gruff exterior is a very caring heart. He cares deeply for everyone, especially his team whom he considers family. He also takes care of Whitney because he really threw her into the deep end of the pool (and apologizes later with promises of better preparations next time) in this book. Chunk’s got his past haunting him and he’s determined to never make that mistake again. He’s not perfect and nobody in this book is, but he quickly becomes very likeable.

Whitney is a former CIA analyst, recruited to help out the newly reformed Tier One team. She’s a strong female character and I loved her because through her we, the readers, got to learn more of the action to which she was just as new too. There’s a point in the book where it was her first time shooting someone. She was dubbed “Heels” because she had shown up on her first day with her heels as opposed to something more field ready. She’s smart and thinks outside of the boxes and has better hunch hits than any other person I know, fictional character or real life. She’s got the right fire and resolve to fit into the group and her pace isn’t anything super human, because she has to learn to slowly fit into this group. Throughout the book and even right to the very end (epilogue) there were multiple times she doubted herself and whether she would fit into the team or not. Her previous job, as she had mentioned on several occasions, was to be an analyst! Physically being on the field and in danger is something new to her! However, it is thanks to her and her sharp wits, that the team uncovers so much and makes as great of a leap as they do because she’s so steadfast in her theories. While I thought that the team and Chunk were fantastic characters, I think Whitney would be my favorite out of everyone.

And speaking of teams, I love the team factor here. I’ve been looking for a squad/team book for a while and I finally feel like I hit a pot of gold. I love the slight banters between everyone and their conversations. I loved their teasing and at one point, when Saw mentioned that Chunk was a little green (due to his fear of Sharks and the fact that they were about to go swimming near them), Saw had started to hum while Ryker chimed in with the lyrics from Baby Shark and what a way to start a book.

The pacing was excellent and very fast paced. There were no major break time for anyone as Whitney was always coming up with and discovering new horrifying truths that would catapult the team to act quickly least many lives would be in danger. Most of the story was separated into their own little sections where the beginning consisted of training and introductions, followed by a hunch that was being investigated (leading to a waterfall of other clues and theories) and then finally, the action kicks in hard. It’s a pretty linear storyline and towards a certain point, there was just no going back.

I absolutely loved this book, though it’s not for the faint hearted. There was definitely a moment where I either held my breath or my pulse quickened. There was a particular scene that was life or death and had my heart in my throat because the writing was so vivid and the narration so realistic that I was terrified for the character. There’s heartbreak, there’s violence, and lots and lots of death. Everyone, protagonist and antagonist, are fighting for their own beliefs and goals. There’s nothing and nobody to hate because even the bad guys are written so well, their backgrounds full of tragedy and pain. Their own personal nightmares haunt them and lead them to their current path and roles in this story.

I had the audiobook version of Sons of Valor and the narrator was Ray Porter. As soon as the book opened up, I was already in awe. He did a fantastic job and, like I previously mentioned, it was also thanks to his narration and his voice – a slight quiver here or the sighs and exhausted conversations there – that brought the book’s scenes and characters right in front of me. It was thanks to his narrations that lead me to be petrified during that one scene and I felt close to tears because, had I been there, I probably would’ve really cried (which wouldn’t have mattered because I’d first have died). Ray did a great job and was always switching between accents and genders very smoothly. During dialogues, you can tell all the characters apart because he personalized a voice for every character present.
Despite my recent increase in audiobooks, I still haven’t read too many of them so Ray is still new to me, but I am already in love, just from this one book. He did a marvelous job at voicing the story and characters.

Military thrillers and fiction aren’t generally my go to, but in the few that I’ve read, they’ve all been enjoyable. The only worry I have towards the genre have always been missing on the jargon. Some books, and not just military fiction, would occasionally drop a small glossary towards the back while others would often string out a little paragraph or two explaining things, but there was just too much going on here to do that. A lot of the acronyms, words, slang and jargon, and weapons flew over my head. At first, my head swam and I was worried that I was going to either be very very lost or not going to enjoy the book because I was missing some of the “visuals” but as time went by, it really didn’t matter. Some terms I started to pick up very quickly and others were completely okay to miss. It didn’t really affect my ability to read or keep up with the book and by the end, it was hardly something I remembered being worried about.

This was a great read and both the authors, Andrews and Wilson, and the narrator did a phenomenal job with it. I’ll definitely be adding them to my favorites and will be reading more of their previous books as I await the next in this series to see how it pans out.

Book Review: River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America by Alexander Watson

2021, Book Reviews, By Year, Uncategorized

Book Description:

Title: River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America
Author: Alexander Watson
Pages: 287 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Orange Frazer Pres, Wilmington, Ohio (2018)
Genres: Autobiography > Memoir, LGBT

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

Goodreads Blurb:

Two men and a spotted dog restore a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht and launch across the American Heartland from Texas to Ohio. The restoration, the people they met along the way, and life in an America which few know exists are the story of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America.

Review:

This book is long overdue to be read and I feel so bad. I had initially started reading (only the first few pages), way back when I first received the book in September or October of 2020. I recently started to clear through all my backlog and finally settled back down with it. I made myself comfy…got some tea…started to read…and then maybe a third of the way through, wondered, Why in the hell did I put this off for so long?!?

In the scarce amount of time I have, to read, these days, I gobbled this down.

Even before picking the book back up, I remembered one vivid thing that stuck with me all these months, the writing. The writing is absolutely amazing and to say that I liked or even loved it would be a sheer understatement. The writing was solid, the dialogue is so real, accents and all, and the storytelling, masterful. The characters are lively and rich, vivid and memorable. The entire book felt so warm, despite the tears that fell.

I don’t generally read non-fiction, memoirs even less and memoirs about boats (to which I know absolutely nothing about) were unicorns in my TBR. I’ve read travel memoirs before and absolutely loved it and this one? I loved all the same for the near same reasons: people. The people that Alexander, Dale, and Doris Faye encountered are just amazing people (though around a certain line that seems to distinguish the Midwest to the relative East) this friendliness seems to slowly ease off, though it’s definitely still there.

Alexander is the writer and would be the main POV of this book, while his partner, Dale, is there with him along with their dog, an envy to all who meets her, Doris Faye. He’s raw with his words and feelings, and emotions will never be perfect in this kind of trip.

They’re dropping money into a boat a sliver of a plank away from sinking and restore it enough to go on a journey up the river where they meet a wealth of people and engage in the cornucopia of cultures of every place they dock. There’s so much friendship and so much warmth. There’s also speckles of grief from loss of family to loss of friends, especially friends they meet on the river. There’s all sorts of love here and this book just exudes it both in friendship and in relationship between Alexander and Dale. After all, setting sail on a boat that was previously a wave kick from going down is hard on anybody, relationships especially. And there’s acceptance. So much acceptance, welcomings and well wishings from everyone they meet.

In the writing, there’s flashbacks and very entertaining dialogue, real dialogue. The accents are right there and occasionally I have to squint and feels like I’m playing a quick game of Mad Gab as I I try to read what’s being said, but it makes it so much more fun when you read it out loud and try to picture each conversation. And there’s a lot of conversation, even ones where there’s mostly one word exchanges for half a page.

In the back, there’s a short glossary and the endpapers of the book consists of the map for their journey. Both are a life saver as I have no idea of any of the boat terms being used. I had to learn some of that, just as Alexander and Dale had to because, in the beginning, they weren’t boat people either. The map was a pretty nice gauge to see where they’re at and how far they are from their destination.

A fantastic book that’s nothing like I’ve read this year or anything I’ve read previously. I am no fan of (physically) traveling myself, especially not by boat and ESPECIALLY not a boat that was a major gamble on not just if it’ll sink, but if it’ll run at all for their trip. Alexander took me on an immense journey that I will not forget anytime soon and through the book and through his eyes, I have met so many lovely people, so many kinds of people that I would love to live amongst here. I’ve seen so many new places and experienced so many new cultures of those places.

Thank you, Alexander, it was a beautiful read from start to the end.

5 Stars

Ultimate Blog Tour Book Review: Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: Shards of Earth
Authors: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Length: 592
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Publisher: Tor ((Publishing May 27th, 2021))
Obtained: Ultimate Blog Tour > NetGalley
Disclaimer: A copy of this ebook was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Amazon: amazon.com/dp/B08HLPZY6X
Goodreads: goodreads.com/book/show/55437088-shards-of-earth

This read was part of the Ultimate Blog Tour for Shards of Earth hosted by Dave over at TheWriteReads. A major thank you to the publisher, Tor, and author for allowing me to participate in this tour and for providing me with a copy!


Praise for Adrian Tchaikovsky:

‘Brilliant science fiction’ – James McAvoy on Children of Time 
 
‘Full of sparkling, speculative invention’ – Stephen Baxter on The Doors of Eden 
 
Shards of Earth is the first thrilling instalment in the Final Architecture trilogy – by the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Blurb:

This high-stakes space-based adventure will be perfect for those who loved Children of Time, also by Adrian Tchaikovsky. 
 
The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . . 
 
Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. 
 
Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans such as Idris – who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete. 
 
Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it. 

Review Summary:

A fantastic and exhilarating space opera. The first book and the entry to the The Final Architecture trilogy, this book grabbed my attention quick and its claws didn’t let me go until the very last page where I sorrowfully craved for more. With a very deep and impressive layout of world and lore, there is so much to explore in Shards of Earth. Multiple different species, factions, religions and extremist groups within those factions, different worlds, different nations, armies and governing bodies, and so much more. The characters are fantastic; a galaxy left to throw different forms of small “found family” groups together; blood families a thing hard to hold down. This book was a book of nonstop adventure and trouble. While there’s the ever looming danger of the original destructive Architect, to add to the mix during present time, there are gangs, extremists and radical parties, cults, governing bodies, you name it. Idris and the rest of the Vulture God never get a chance to breath and thus, ensuring that the reader will not either.

You’ll pick this book up.

And you won’t put it back down.

Main Review:

Shards of Earth is the first book in the The Final Architecture trilogy. An exhilarating space opera, sci-fi, this first book did not fail me with its impressive lore, world, and nonstop action. There are so many different worlds, civilizations, species, and even different factions and religions amongst those said species. There’s different nations and armies. There’s species that barely manage to live together, their relationships held together by the threat of the Architects potential return or others that live and work together through lease contracts. The concept of blood families are few to find and rag tag groups like our main cast isn’t so uncommon. This book is everything and has everything; like a giant mega sundae with all the possible toppings and then some. Gummy bears, anyone?

The book starts out with a prologue, a bit of history introducing you to two of the main characters, Solace and Idris, a soldier and a navigator as they are set to confront the Architect before it destroys another planet, “beautifying” it, and others, by its own standard, reconstructing it to be the titular illustration’s signature bloom.

1 prologue and a few chapters in, I was already quickly drawn into the world. It’s immense and right off the bat, it feels like there’s already a million things thrown at you. I was overwhelmed, at first, with all the names of different species (and some species, the fragments of mankind, even had factions), different worlds, ship names and station names, nations and armies. To my joy, there’s a glossary towards the back along with a timeline of the events that take place before and after the first Architect attacks! I flipped to that part of the book a good deal during the first half of reading.

The cast was probably one of my favorite parts of the book; my favorite starting with Idris and then Solace following close by. Idris because I feel like he’s a cinnamon roll in need of protection and Solace because she’s like 10 levels of badassery (not to say the rest of the Vulture God were even remotely any less badass) There’s a small family kind of bond between the Vulture God crew. Everyone’s got their jobs to do and everyone plays a role on the ship. There’s a mixture of humans and nonhumans onboard from hivers to crab-like creatures. There’s no end to the diversity of the characters, main group or otherwise. 

And there’s no end to adventure, action, and trouble.

Because then there’s the antagonists of the story and it’s not just limited to the Architects; the moon sized behemoth of an entity that can restructure a planet. There’s different factions of men, radical and extremist groups, unwelcoming worlds, scary wildlife, and religious cults involved [and heck, throw in multiple different governments as well]; as if an end-of-the-world creature isn’t enough to worry about. The enemies here are just as well put together as the characters are. They’re relentless and terrifying and they’re strong. 

This book is action packed (and even then, it’s a bit of an understatement). There’s plenty of things happening and I feel like the crew (and thus the readers) just never get a chance to breath. The plot is never too slow or too quick. If there’s a fight, you will really be looking at a fight! There’s pages and pages of action and even running. At the end of the day, it’s not even about who wins anymore. It’s about who survives.

The beginning of the book is a bit slower than the latter half because it’s mostly setting up the stage. We get to know the history of Idris, we get to see how the crew goes about their lives on their usual jobs doing what spacers do in space, and then towards the middle things start to happen and everything picks up. By the time the last few scenes hit, my jaws have already dropped and I didn’t close them or the book until I reached the last page. 

By the time the beginning slowly reeled you in and captivated you, grabbing at your attention bit by bit, you’re stuck and it’s only a tall roller coaster drop from there and on. The action and the events Just. Don’t. Stop. It keeps going and going until you’re frantically flipping through. There’s no break for Idris and his gang so there’s no break for you. Might as well grab another cup of tea and keep reading. Who cares if you have to wake up early for work tomorrow? 

It’s the first time I’ve ever read any Tchaikovsky books and as someone who grew up not particularly enjoying space opera (in films/movies) I wasn’t expecting to love this book. I only went in because I was starting to become buddy buddy with one of my new favorite genres, sci-fi. As it turns out, it’s an adventure like none other. I’ll definitely be checking out his other works as I eagerly await the next part of this tale because as soon as that comes, I’m jumping into that ship. 

If you love sci-fi with multiple species, behemoth entities that humans have no possible chance against, intergalactic life, space battles (and cool space guns) and ships going through another dimension/space to fast travel, and a little lot bit of politics thrown in, you’ll absolutely eat through this book. 

A great first space opera for me! 5 cups of Joe from me!

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

5 Stars

About the Author

((from http://shadowsoftheapt.com/about-the-author ))

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the author of the acclaimed Shadows of the Apt fantasy series, from the first volume, Empire In Black and Gold in 2008 to the final book, Seal of the Worm, in 2014, with a new series and a standalone science fiction novel scheduled for 2015. He has been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend Award and a British Fantasy Society Award. In civilian life he is a lawyer, gamer and amateur entomologist. 

I Am Not A Wolf [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

Title: I Am Not a Wolf
Authors: Daniel James Sheehan (Author), Sage Coffey (Illustrations)
Length: 208 pages (Print); 4 Hours and 28 Minutes
Book Type: Audiobook
Narrated by: Jay Aaseng
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Obtained: NetGalley
Disclaimer: A copy of this audiobook was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Goodreads Blurb

Life is good! You have a job, an apartment in a nice part of town, and an online dating profile that’s recently yielded as many as three matches. From the outside, it would appear you’re a human man that has all the trappings of a stable and functional life. But you also have a secret. You’re not a human man at all. You’re a wolf.

Assume the role of one of nature’s greatest predators, just barely maintaining a fake identity as a part of the human workforce. Each choice you make in this interactive story is crucial to your survival and, more importantly, your burgeoning career in the corporate world. Will you navigate water-cooler gossip without arousing suspicion? Can you go on a date without bringing up how much you love ham? Or is it perhaps time to throw this human life to the wind and return to the woods from whence you came? These choices and many more await you in this story about trying to find your place in a world that barely makes sense to you.

Review

I really enjoyed my last audiobook because I was able to complete a book while folding clothes, taking a walk, and even gaming. I could indulge in a separate hobby while not neglecting my reading hobby and I could work while reading without actually reading. It was like a podcast but with a book! I enjoyed it so much that I went back to NetGalley and found myself another audiobook under the listen now tab.

I was able to finish this one in a a few hours, but that was just one ending. I went back multiple times to see all the different outcomes because there’s more than one.

I Am Not A Wolf is a hilarious choose your own adventure satire piece of the corporate world and human society from the point of a wolf not wolf. Hilarity ensues only a few moments in when the narrator speaks as the wolf for the first time and I bursted out in laughter because it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. It was this awkward mixture of a wolf pretending to be a man, but failing so obviously miserable but it’s okay! We live in a society where being different is practically the norm now and generally speaking, you might find that if you’re too different, you actually have a better time mingling in with the general crowd and attract less attention. Think about it, if I saw a man looking like a wolf, I’d just assume that he was just…super duper into animal cosplay. I see plenty of strange people, here in the big city, so another strange person wearing a wolf costume underneath a business suit is just another drop in the bucket.

There are also themes of the corporate world and its absurdity of being just a few minutes late to work or requesting someone to come work on the weekends, but praising it in a way so that were you to reject it, you’d feel guilty (“You’d be such a rockstar if you could come in.”) Then there’s the norm of making sure you don’t call out your boss on their mistakes, even if they are in the wrong, those civil small talk conversations that always revolve around the same few topics. fighting to come into work despite being previously out sick and feeling guilty about taking those PTO or sick days and wanting to prove yourself useful again.

The dialogue and story here is pure gold as you have a wolf contemplating about the human world, things like how you have to work a 9-5 weekday job just to afford a weekend off to go do what he used to do for free (sleeping outside, “AKA camping”). There’s so many little notes in this book that pokes fun about how corporations and humans (mostly humans) work, specifically from the viewpoint of a wolf.

As a choose your own adventure, at the end of each chapter, the audiobook will tell you to turn to a specific chapter such as “If you wish to take the bus, go to chapter 2,” or “If you would like to use a rideshare app, go to chapter 5.” The choices you make will affect the next part of the story and can influence your ending, so it’s fun to really think your actions through and through.

The only small nuance about the audiobook version would be that, unlike the paper and Kindle versions where you’re already constantly engaging with your book anyways, the audiobook will have you constantly picking up your phone, unlocking it, and then choosing your chapter. It differs from other audiobooks in that way because usually I could be cleaning or walking around without having to interact with my phone (especially useful if your phone is zipped up in a purse while you’re commuting). Still, it’s a small little thing and it doesn’t really phase me because I generally have my phone on my desk, next to me, anyways.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s brilliant and it’s genius. It’s quirky and so unique. I’ve read a handful of choose your own adventure styled books as a kid so this book really brings me back to my childhood. Of course, though, it’s still my first ever choose your own adventure audiobook!

The narrator did a terrific job with this book. His voice for the wolf threw me off and I played it over and over the first time the wolf spoke. Each time he opens his mouth to speak, it somehow only gets more and more funny. I absolutely adored Jay Aaseng’s narration because it fit the characters so well.

A wonderful and short little read that you can (and are definitely encouraged to) re-read over and over because not only do you want to experience a different ending, you want to see how the story unfolds if you were to take that other choice. Some of the choices are small, but they ultimately affect how the rest of the day goes and it all adds up eventually. An unforgettable read and experience in which I loved every single part of it; the humor, the dialogue, the inner and more complex analysis of human nature and corporate society. Everything in this book was amusing and perfect and I am truly amused.

Quotes

“You are a wolf, but this is something the world can’t know. Some people aren’t ready to know. Some aren’t willing to understand, but most are just terrified of wolves for some reason. You’ve spent much of your life integrating into human society. You have a job, an apartment, several online dating profiles, and a terrible roommate.”

“In fact, you’ve found that the more someone stands out, the more people tend to leave them alone.”

“You are an entry level graphic designer at this rapidly growing start-up company and you’ve earned it. Most humans would have been discouraged by the almost never ending unpaid internships you endured to get here.”

5 Stars

Dragma’s Keep [Book Review]

2021, Book Reviews, By Year

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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