So, hey, here’s a thing.

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume II

That is my new book.

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume II is now complete.

I will be in a booth at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 14 and 15, ready to sign and sell copies, if anyone will be in town.

If you will not be in town, the book will be available online.


Hope to see you in two weeks.


(By the way, if you haven’t bought and read my first book, I would highly recommend it. It’s available here:)

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume I

Book Review: The Matriarch’s Devise

This one’s been a bit of a long time coming; I got this book  from the author herself at the Tucson Festival of Books, where Brick Cave Media had a booth just two down from mine. I meant to read it right away, but of course — school. And then moving. Now I’ve read it, and I’m glad.

The Matriarch's Devise (The Healer's Trilogy Book 2) by [Skinner, Sharon]

The Matriarch’s Devise

by Sharon Skinner


This is the second book I’ve read by Sharon Skinner – this is the sequel to the first book of hers which I read, The Healer’s Legacy – and like the first, this one’s going on the Keep Forever shelf. Maybe partly because Ms. Skinner signed it for me when I bought it from her at the Tucson Festival of Books, but that’s not the main reason: the main reason is that this is a book I needed to read.

In some ways it’s a second book in a series: the characters are already established, and of course I already had my favorites (Those who know me will be entirely unsurprised to hear it is the animals even more than the people, though I like the two main human characters quite a lot, especially Kira), and so I admit to some disappointment when my favorites were not the stars of this book; the animals and Kira are separated fairly early on, and the wyvern Vaith and the hunting cat Kelmir come back into the story later, but never play a major role. The plot picks up at the very second (almost) the last one left off, and after Skinner places the characters where she wants them, the book – ends. Something of a cliffhanger, though it does wrap up the story from this book (and MOST satisfactorily, I have to say), but yes, it leaves you wanting more. Perfectly normal, there’s plenty of development in this novel to satisfy, we’ve seen our people go through a lot; now I have to get the third book, and I have no problem at all with that.

In some ways, though? This is an entirely new story. The twist regarding Kira’s identity – by the end of the book you know who her parents were, what happened to them and to her, and also, how she has the ability to bond with her animal companions – is not something one could possibly see coming, aand the world she is thrown into because of it is fantastic and imaginative and basically entirely unlike the world of the first book. It’s like reading, say, a Tamora Pierce novel, and then the sequel to that suddenly moves the characters into a Rick Riordan novel – like the second book starts with, “Oh, didn’t you know? You’re also an Olympian demigod. Let’s deal with this, now!” Skinner shows a range of writing and world-building that I have not often seen. Let me also say that the change is not jarring: the stories do fit together, and there is more than enough consistency between the worlds and the characters to make it simply fascinating, to watch these characters jump into an entirely new situation.

No spoilers, but: I liked the new world and the people, and the depiction of their magical powers was super cool, especially the defense that keeps their land safe; the villain was extremely villainous, which made it a little frustrating (in a good way) that the villainy kept happening and I wanted to yell, “Why are you not figuring that out?!? IT’S THE BAD PERSON! GO GET THE BAD PERSON!” I was a little bummed that the final conflict sort of borrowed the bad guys from the first book; that did feel slightly out of place – but I loved how the book ended, and as I said, I love the characters and the ways they’ve developed over this book.

I also have to say that I am very pleased that Skinner has written a high fantasy book which not only has a female main character, who is involved with but in no way overshadowed by her romantic interest, but this book also has an absolutely lovely depiction of a long-term lesbian couple done in exactly the right way: like real people in a real relationship, without anything strange or remarkable about their love for each other. The two women are powerful and respected leaders in their country, interesting and sympathetic characters in the story, clearly in love but also with friction between them – it was wonderfully done. This element, though it doesn’t predominate in the story, was another reason why I needed to read this book.

Now I need to read the sequel. I can’t wait.

This Morning

This morning, I’m thinking about Game of Thrones.

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I haven’t watched it.


Okay, that’s probably angrier than the situation warrants. But I know there are people who reacted to this with that level of shock that approaches anger, when the raised  voice of surprise turns into a shout, a roar, of outrage. (Or at least there are people who would. I think all of my readers are calm, contemplative, rational types. But then, maybe those aren’t the descriptors for the average Game of Thrones fan.)

I have been surprised to see the response that this show has gotten, especially these last three weeks as the final season has slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, so to speak. And honestly, it has made me regret not watching the show; I mean, this is high fantasy, this is my kind of stuff: this is the thing that I should have been on board with right from the start, and I should be reveling in this rare moment when fantasy captures center stage, when the imaginations of millions are fired up, all at once, by swords and sorcery. It’s a beautiful thing. I wish I was part of it.

I’m not.

I blame George R. R. Martin.

That’s the problem, you see. Because I didn’t need to watch the first few seasons of this show: I read the books. I started reading The Song of Ice and Fire in 2003, when the third book had just come out in paperback. One of my favorite students from my first school — great guy, smart and funny as hell, the son of one of my fellow English teachers; he was repeating a class in summer school that he had had no business failing over the regular school  year, but it worked out for me, because he had no problem doing anything I asked, and also made the class fun for everyone in it, made the discussions better, told fun stories, asked good questions, everything you want from a student — he recommended the books to me, and I took him up on it. And I was hooked: those are outstanding books, with a level of action and raw blood-curdling savagery that you don’t normally see in high fantasy, which tends much more towards Tolkien and his magical floating elves and roly-poly hobbits. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but can you imagine a sex scene in Tolkien? I really, really hope your answer was no.) I burned right straight through the first three books in the series, and gushed about them with Danny, the guy who got me to read them. I excitedly told him that the fourth book was slated to come out soon. And he warned me: Martin doesn’t make deadlines. The third book had apparently been delayed two or three times before being published, so I shouldn’t expect the fourth book to come out as scheduled.

Danny was right. The fourth book was delayed, and then delayed again; it was finally released in — I think it was 2005? (Wikipedia confirms.) I remember buying it in Portland, at Powell’s City of Books, because we moved to Oregon in 2004. But I bought it, in hardback, and read it excitedly, too; and it was great — but it was incomplete.

If you don’t know, the series goes  through probably twenty different point of view characters, switching between them every chapter. Some of the story lines are wildly separated; part of the interest was in seeing how Martin was going to draw all these threads together into a single web. It was fascinating. But the fourth book, A Feast for Crows, was only half of the storylines. What gives? I thought, angrily, because several of my favorite characters hadn’t made an appearance at all (And I already got burned on this in The Wheel of Time, when a wall collapsed on Mat at the end of one book AND THEN HE WASN’T MENTIONED EVEN ONCE IN THE NEXT BOOK. If you’ve read the series, then you know my pain; if you haven’t, don’t worry about it.) and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. But at the end of the book, there was an author’s note: Mr. Martin said, “I know, this is only half the story. But don’t worry! It was only because there was too much to put in one volume, so we split it into two books, both covering the same time span, but with different main characters. That other book is almost done; it’ll be out any day now.”

That’s what he said, in essence.

He lied.

It took SIX YEARS.

2011 was when that book, Book Five, was published.

Know when Book Six was published?

Yeah: we all want to  know that. Because it hasn’t been.

A Song of Ice and Fire was projected as a seven-book series. The book that was “almost done” took six years to finish, and the next book is going on eight years. The last book? Well: George R. R. Martin is 70 years old now. And not in the best of health.

Like I said, I got burned by The Wheel of Time. That was my favorite series: and though Robert Jordan, the brilliant author, was in no way at fault for this, he died before he could finish the series; he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that killed him at just 59. I don’t mean to put too much weight on a set of fantasy books, but those books are a great gift, and it is a terrible loss that Mr. Jordan wasn’t given the time to finish them.

George R. R. Martin has had the time. He just hasn’t done it.

And in the meantime, he started making this TV show.

I’m bitter about it. Unreasonably so, I fully admit. I’m actually extremely glad that Game of Thrones has been so hugely successful; it’s nothing but a bright moment for fantasy, and something that can only help the genre, and would-be fantasy authors like me. I’m grateful to Mr. Martin for penning the series, and for getting it on TV, and for helping to make it so good that it has become a cultural phenomenon.

I’ll watch the show eventually. I’m curious, my wife is curious; I want to see it. I need to get over this grudge against Martin. I realize that. And the show isn’t only his, and I have nothing against the other excellent people who have done, it seems, an amazing job of storytelling.

But no matter how good it is, no matter how well the show has done, and no matter how unfair it is of me to berate an author for not writing fast enough (and worse, hypocritical, because my first novel was published in 2009, and was the first in a trilogy — but I haven’t written the second book yet), I still can’t help but be bitter about Martin taking so goddamn long, and letting himself get distracted by television when he should be first dedicated to writing the books, and finishing the story for his first fans, his readers.

Know why?

Because Danny’s never going to get to read the end of the series.

Danny died of leukemia. He never even got to read Book Five.

It’s stupid to put these things together like this; Danny’s loss would have been tragic any time, and there are a million things he never got to do, and reading these books was not the top of that list, not the saddest nor the most important. But I talked to him, near the end, on the phone, and you know what we talked about? Books. Fantasy books. So yeah, I put them together. And I blame George R. R. Martin for not writing those books fast enough for my friend to get to read them all. And I blame the show for being the final distraction that now likely means the book series will never be finished. And I don’t give a shit if none of this is reasonable.

I hope you all enjoy the show, I really do. And I’ll watch them eventually.

But right now, I’m not watching Game of Thrones.

This Morning (Book Review: Everything Box)

This morning I don’t know if this is a good idea? I wrote a book review, which I want to post; I don’t want to interrupt this stream of This Morning blogs, so I thought I would use the book review for This Morning. Opinions? Is this a copout? Just the wrong sort of thing for me to do, because This Morning is about my thoughts and feelings? I dunno.

I can make book reviews a part of this streak, or I can make separate posts.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think, if you have thoughts.


The Everything Box

by Richard Kadrey

I’ve read three Sandman Slim novels (And if you haven’t, you should – dark horror/fantasy with a punk edge and a great sense of humor), so I had some idea of what to expect with this book; but I didn’t expect this book.

It’s a caper story, a one-off novel with no connection to other Kadrey books (And I just found out this second that there are sequels) about a professional thief who gets hired to steal the wrong thing, and even though he manages to do it, he gets sold out on the job by a fellow thief, who, predictably, has no honor. Coop (Charlie Cooper, though no one calls him that) gets sent to a special prison for the next few years, before he is sprung, by the same guy who put him away, and for the opposite reason: this time the guy, Morty, needs Coop’s help.

He needs Coop’s help specifically for the same reason that Coop was in a special jail: because Coop is not a normal thief. He is a magical thief, who steals mystical and mysterious items for mystical and mysterious people who can pay him in cold, hard cash.

That’s the setup (And forgive me for spoiling the first two chapters), and it’s a good one. The opening scene when Coop is on the job is a lot of fun, and the subsequent caper action is just as good, all the way through. The book does start a little slow, as Kadrey has a pretty broad cast of characters; there’s a madcap element to this, as it ends up with one of those Mad Mad Mad Mad World scenarios, with everyone running around looking for the same thing – the Everything Box of the title – and so getting all of those characters with their disparate personalities and motivations into the reader’s mind is a challenge. Kadrey does it as well as any, I think, but simply because it’s a single book, he has to fall back on some fairly generic tropes and character types. He does at least one wonderful thing, though, which is to completely flip some of those tropes: there are two different demon-worshipping doomsday cults involved, one led by a High Dark Magister (Or is it Dark High Magister?) with a bad back whose throne is a Barcalounger, and the other led by a very traditional suburban family who hold bake sales to raise funds for their dark rituals. (The bake sale scene is one of the funniest things in the book, and one of the funniest scenes I’ve read in a long while.) But there are some confusing moments: there was one character who I actually thought was a different character until they met each other, and I got lost in the earlier chapters and had to slog a bit. But it picks up, and the last 100 pages whiz by; the ending is great.

Apart from the caper action – which takes more than enough twists to keep you guessing; I honestly kept thinking, “That’s it? That can’t be it. Oh wait – that’s not it!” – the book does one other thing remarkably well, which is make you like the characters. Almost all of them are generally likable and amusing, including the ones opposed to our hero Coop, who is an excellent sort of everyman guy who just happens to be a thief. But both because they are a bit one-dimensional, and also because they are pretty goofy, you don’t mind too much when bad things happen to them – and like all of Kadrey’s books in my experience, a lot of bad things happen to a lot of people.

And I liked it.

Book Review: City of Bones

Image result for City of Bones martha wells

City of Bones

by Martha Wells


I don’t know why I’ve never heard of Martha Wells.

It’s clearly my problem; she’s written more than a dozen novels since the mid-90s, been nominated for Hugos and won a Nebula, along with several other awards. I mean, I’m not THAT deeply involved in the F/SF world; I don’t go to ComicCons, I don’t really belong to any fandom, I don’t dress up as any characters (Other than my generic pirate costume, which is the only costume I will ever wear for any appropriate occasion), I don’t obsess over Star Wars or Star Trek (And that might have been a way for me to learn about Ms. Wells, as she has written a Star Wars universe novel. But I haven’t read it.), I read things other than genre fiction. There’s a lot I don’t know.

The surprising thing is not so much that I’ve never heard of a fairly well-known and successful SF/fantasy author; the surprising thing is that I’ve never heard of her despite the fact that she’s so damn good. I guess I need more reader friends to recommend books and authors to me. Maybe I should go to some Cons. Get a new costume.

This book surprised me. I got it entirely at random; I found it in a local thrift shop when I was looking for fantasy and sci-fi books I did not know to give to a former student. The former student ended up not wanting the books, so I kept them and have been reading them slowly, and happily, it was this book’s turn. And what do you know: this is a damn good book.

It’s sorta post-apocalyptic in the sense that there were Ancients who might have been us, who destroyed the world but left relics and mysteries behind. Those relics and mysteries are magical more than technological, so it might be an alternate world entirely; it’s left unknown. Reminded me of the Wheel of Time, which of course means I liked it. The society that has managed to survive the cataclysms of the past is essentially city-states on the edge of a giant wasteland that is the result of a supervolcano eruption caused by the Ancients in some way. The book takes place in one of those city-states, and the society that Wells creates, as well as the world she builds, are excellent: detailed and complex, as well as believable and realistic. It’s a sort of a caste city; built in eight tiers, each of which is separated from the others by gates and guards, and mainly by social rules and expectations, the people range from the desperate beggars of the Eighth (bottom) tier to the hereditary monarchs and powerful government officials of the First Tier. The book ranges all the way from top to bottom. It also goes out into the Waste, where the largest relics of the Ancients are: buildings called Remnants, it is unclear what their purpose is, and since they are surrounded by deadly terrain filled with venomous predators and roving bands of cannibal pirates, most people leave them alone.

But not the characters in this book, which was the other great strength here: these are good characters. The main three are two sort of Indiana Jones-type adventurers, dealers in ancient relics, experts in identifying and valuing the objects that have survived since the cataclysm (They are also badasses, though Wells doesn’t go overboard with that, which I liked.), and a young woman from the First Tier, the daughter of a wealthy family who is also a newly trained wizard/guard for the city, called a Warder. She hires the two relics dealers to help her solve a mystery involving three ancient relics, along with a book, written apparently by the ancients, which explains the use of the relics and gives both a tantalizing hint of power, and also a dire warning. Guess which one the power elite of the city pays attention to, and which they ignore.

The book follows the quest of these three to solve the Ancient mystery, while also delving into the daily lives, the trials and tribulations, of the two relics dealers, who live on the Sixth tier – high enough to avoid beggary, but low enough to have to deal with thieves and gangs and organized crime, which touches them because there is a black market for relics, and they have to deal with it. The characters are well-developed, and are both sympathetic and also not, in a proportion that makes them seem very much like genuine people: the main character, the relics dealer Khat, is often sullen and secretive and obnoxious; but of course he is, because he lives a hard life surrounded by people he can’t trust, and he is also a member of a racial minority (A non-human race, that is, because this is a fantasy novel) and so he deals with constant prejudice, as well. His partner, Sagai, is a husband with four children, and so has to take fewer risks and also be assured of making enough money to support his family. The noble Warder, Elen, is somewhat sheltered and therefore naive, but has also put her trust in the wrong people, and suffers for it.

Overall, the book was great. Good characters, good world, good plot. It goes from feeling more like a historical novel, maybe set in Egypt or Baghdad in Biblical times; to feeling like a full fantasy novel with magic users and relics and magical creatures, as well. It’s impressive, and I highly recommend it.

Book Review: The Alchemist of Souls

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The Alchemist of Souls

by Anne Lyle

First, the things about this book that I appreciate.

I appreciate, first and foremost, that Lyle was inspired (as she describes in her author’s note) by a name she came across in her research; she said that as soon as she saw the name Maliverny Catlyn, a minor but genuine historical personage, she had to use that name in her book. She’s completely right; the name belongs on the hero she created for this book; and since my own book was also inspired partly by a name, I approve of this wholeheartedly.

I appreciate that the book is exhaustively researched and detailed; that it covers quite a number of aspects of Elizabethan English life; I appreciate that it focuses on the theatre of the time but barely mentions Shakespeare. I appreciate that she made subtle changes, such as making Elizabeth I marry and bear two sons to succeed her, while keeping so many other things historically accurate (As far as I know, that is): that’s a fine line to walk, and she does it well. I really appreciated the religious and political tension she was able to capture; the intrigues were excellent.

I appreciate the skraylings as a theme: this is the major change that turns this into fantasy instead of a historical novel, that when the European explorers traveled to the New World, they discovered not merely the Native American populations, but also a humanoid race with an advanced civilization and apparent control over magic. So now Europe has a new ally to woo and also plot against in their wars between Catholic France and Spain, and Protestant England. It’s a good theme, and it’s done well.

I appreciated that there are strong gay characters and nobody really thinks too much about it. They get some grief for being all sinful and stuff, even from one of the other characters, which Lyle takes advantage of to create a great scene where the bigot gets called out for her hypocrisy. It’s extremely well done, and the most romantic aspect of the book, which does have a variety of romantic entanglements between the several characters.


What I did not appreciate about the book:

It’s too long. I don’t like to say that, since I’m a wordy writer myself, and I love 1000-page epic fantasies like the work of Robert Jordan and GRRM and the like. But this one dragged. There were a few too many characters and a few too many plotlines, and those plotlines went on for too long. While the two main gay characters were interesting in and of themselves, they could have been removed from the story entirely without any real loss to the plot, and the same goes for the weeks of buildup to the theatrical competition. There’s a lot of life in the book, which also has its own attraction, but isn’t necessary for this story. It’s a bit bothersome because this is the first in a series, and it’s like Lyle couldn’t stand to hold back and put some of the interesting things into later books, so she packed it all into this one – and it’s too much.

Though I liked them thematically, I didn’t really care for the skraylings. There were some really interesting tidbits that showed excellent thought and planning from Lyle – like the linguistic nugget that has the skrayling/English pidgin avoiding the letters p, b, and m, because skraylings find them effeminate; and the reason for this is that the skraylings show their canines as a gesture of assertiveness and dominance, and those three letters are the only sounds that require you to close your mouth entirely. That is cool as hell. (Though in the actual writing of the pidgin, Lyle uses normal English, essentially leaving the pidgin implied; so what the hell? I mean, that’s just lazy. There was a guy wrote an entire novel without the letter E, and you can’t write a few lines of dialogue without those three letters? THAT LAST SENTENCE DID IT AND IT WASN’T EVEN HARD! THERE, I DID IT AGAIN!) But the ambassador is a weak character, and none of the other skraylings are given a chance to stand out; I don’t understand the ambassador’s particular personal situation, nor the connection to Mal Catlyn; I don’t like the way Mal just keeps running away, and the ambassador passively lets him go. I just didn’t think much of them.

I hate the ending. At the end of this longish slowish book is a rapid-fire explosion of events that suddenly introduce a new bad guy, have a surprise twist regarding the main character and his family, grant magical powers where they haven’t been before, throw the characters into a search-and-rescue and also a duel to the death, and then end with the bad guys sort of winning. It’s clearly a set-up for the next book(s), and I doubt the bad guys will win in the end; but it made this particular book freaking annoying. Which makes me not want to read the next books.

It’s too bad about this book, because it does have some good elements; but the plotting and pace make it not worth the time. Don’t recommend.

Book Review: Redwall Book — is it #6?

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by Brian Jacques

(*Note: it’s #5, actually.)


Now this is a good Redwall book.

There are some things that come close to my complaints in the past: the books in this series, while all well-written and sweet and fun, have tended towards a formula, to the detriment of a couple of the installments. And there are pieces here that are also part of the formula, to wit: a young male member of the Redwall community finds the sword of Martin the Warrior (How the hell could these people lose a sword this many times? I mean, come on! Every book they find that dang sword! Somebody needs to give these guys a pad of sticky notes.); a hare of the Long Patrol who can eat more than three other animals combined; the vermin army that attacks is led by a vicious evil beastie who rules them with fear and violence; said vermin army (spoiler – but not really) is defeated in the end; there are cute baby animals and playful pranksterish adolescent animals and kindly but staid elderly animals; and there’s a lot of food.

Goddamn, there’s a lot of food in these books. It’s like their one way to celebrate both their general happiness in life and also their victories over their enemies: some massive feast, with detailed descriptions of the dishes and the animals eating as much as they can.

But in this book, Jacques was able to add enough newness that the familiar elements felt familiar, rather than stale. Like the animal who finds and wields the sword (A squirrel this time, named Samkim) is not really the big hero: he does some good things, but mainly, he loses the sword and spends most of the book trying to chase it down; a different creature is actually the one who saves the day. While the vermin army was familiar, it doesn’t actually attack Redwall, and so there wasn’t the usual depiction of a siege. There was a siege, but it had an entirely different character because it takes place at the hollow volcano stronghold of the Badger lords and the hare Long Patrol: Salamandastron. And it is the badger lords who save the day. Also, the cute baby animal goes out on a quest, as do the pranksterish adolescents; this made both familiar character types more sympathetic, and minimized their cuteness and pranksterishness, which I really liked. This book had more to do with the badgers of Salamandastron, and also the shrews of the GUOSSIM (“Logalogalog!” has to be one of the best battle cries I’ve ever known. Along with the Tick’s immortal “SPOOOOOOON!”), than it had to do with Redwall itself, though Redwall is still a prominent part of the story; so this one felt like it expanded the world, rather than walked the same old paths.

There was also, though I don’t want to spoil the story any more than I already have (Come on, you knew the bad guys weren’t going to win. This is a children’s fantasy series. No way the bad guys actually win.), some real tension and suspense: because there is death in this book, and it isn’t just minor characters. The battle for Salamandastron has casualties on both sides, and indeed, goes against the badgers in several ways, for much of the book; creatures that seem set up to play major roles end up dying; there is a sad but realistic depiction of a serious contagious disease, and the way such a thing could rip through a community during the medieval times that these books are essentially set in. It meant that when some characters that I liked managed to survive, I was genuinely happy, because I knew there was a real chance they might not, so it was a victory when they did.

Other fantasy authors, take note. Except for you, George R. R. Martin. You already know more than enough about killing off your own characters.

This was a really good book, one of the best so far. Looking forward to more.

Book Review: The Healer’s Legacy

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The Healer’s Legacy

by Sharon Skinner


So I bought four books at the Tucson Festival of Books. All independently published, all of them bought directly from the authors (And all the authors signed their books for me, which is excellent.). Unfortunately, two of those books were not very good, and I didn’t finish reading them.

But two of those books were excellent. And interestingly, they were both from the same publishing house, Brick Cave Media. I think those folks have their act together. The first good one was Platinum Magic by Bruce Davis; the second is this one, The Healer’s Legacy by Sharon Skinner.

It’s a high fantasy, swords and sorcery, magical beasts and inhuman races; but like all good fantasy, the setting and the world is only that: the setting. The story is about Kira. And sure, Kira has a psychic connection with a moon cat (Essentially a black panther) and a wyvern (a tiny dragon), and she has training in herbalism and the healing arts; but the main thing is that she is an orphan who was taken in by a healer who made her an apprentice, and when Kira reached her adolescence, she quite naturally rebelled, and ran away from home after an argument; she then met a man. A strong, handsome, dashing man, who swept the young woman off of her feet and made her a princess – because this man is the Warlord, the leader of a mercenary company that fought off an invasion and saved all of the people of the countryside.

But this man is also abusive, violent, unstable, and obsessed with Kira. And that, more than anything else, is the story of this book. Kira manages to escape in the beginning chapters, and then she nearly kills herself throwing off pursuit, because the warlord’s men do not give up, as they know their master will not give up. But Kira does manage to give them the slip, and then, for a while, she finds peace, and what may be a new home – maybe even a new family.

Until the Warlord finds her again. Then she has to decide whether she will run away, or try to stand and fight: the second option is her only hope for a lasting freedom from her abuser, but it is immeasurably more dangerous for her and for the people she’s grown to care about.

And of course I won’t spoil which option she chooses. I will add that there is an additional reason for Kira to be traveling: she isn’t just running away from something terrible, she is also running towards something – the hope that she can find out something about her mother’s people, which is where she got her red hair and green eyes, and might be where she got her psychic ability, as well. And the place where she stays, and where she might decide to make a stand, is not filled only with welcoming kind-hearted folk; she has enemies there, enemies that might even be more dangerous to her than is the warlord himself.

The characters are really good: deep and complex, well-realized and genuine despite being characters in a fantasy novel. There are all the elements of a good story here, and that story dominates, complemented by the fantasy world and the political intrigues and the rest of it. The fantasy world is also good, with an interesting depiction of feudalism and a good use of Kira’s healer training, one which made both the character and the world more relatable and realistic.

It’s a good book. I will be reading the sequel. And also checking out more stuff from Brick Cave Media.

Book Review: Platinum Magic by Bruce Davis

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Platinum Magic

by Bruce Davis


I recently bought four small-press novels at the Tucson Festival of Books; I’ve read three of them so far, and though I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, I have to say: I’m one for three. Two of those books are clearly self-published, because no publishing house, agent, or editor would take these books on: the writing isn’t good, the stories aren’t very good, the characters are terrible.

This one, however, is the good one.

All of those elements are, in this book, well done. The writing is quite good, the story is a lot of fun, the characters are excellent if a bit cliché. The best part of this book, actually, is the world-building: that’s often a sort of weak praise, as many authors – of all levels, professional, amateur, self-published or NYT bestsellers – specialize in the world-building more than the writing. I understand; the world-building is the fun part: you get to make stuff up, fix the problems you see in our world, add interesting things. It’s great, and a lot of authors let their imaginations run wild, usually without considering whether or not the world they create is at all realistic or plausible, or a good place to put a story – the Eragon series is a prime example of this, I think. Christopher Paolini wrote the first book when he was a teenager, and it reads like it: dragons are cool! Magic is cool! Sword-fighting is cool! And the hero (a teenaged boy – weird how that works) masters all three things in short order, and then flies off on his dragon to kick the world’s ass. Cool!

But also, lame.

Anyway, enough of other, worse books: Davis has done an excellent job with this world he’s created. He’s turned our world into a magic world – or perhaps a magic world into our world. The main characters are cops, investigating a murder case that has larger implications; and while those cops are dwarves and half-elves, and they use repeating crossbows rather than firearms, they still function like cops, in a world with precinct politics and public pressures and corruption and everything else that cops actually deal with. In some ways, this reads like a police procedural, just in a fantasy world. It reminded me quite a bit of Glen Cook’s Garret, P.I., series, in that the familiar tropes are put into an unfamiliar situation, and bring those old cliches to new life by doing so.

And just like the Cook series, this book has deep roots: there are political implications to the case these cops are investigating, and the political tensions between races and nations are built on a long history which slowly unfolds over the course of the book, just as it would in a novel with a real-world setting; that was well done. Though I will say that this element was also the source of my one complaint: though I appreciated Davis’s ability to avoid pages and pages of explication of his world’s history and politics, I was also quite confused early on in the story, as there were references made to old political alliances and upheavals that had strong implications in the story’s present, and I didn’t know what the hell the characters were talking about, which was annoying for a while. But it did all become clear in the end, so it was only a temporary annoyance.

I liked the mystery, particularly the twist Davis puts on it – no spoilers, but the perpetrators were involved with interdimensional travel and smuggling, which allowed Davis to step outside his own world, and gave a great surprise in the final conflict – and I really liked the characters, especially the main two cops, Simon Buckley and Haldron Stonebender. I thought the romance was a little too pat, a little too cliché, but it was sweetly written, nonetheless; Davis makes a nice point about love between different races which I liked. And I loved the use of orcs in this as second-class citizens, despised by the more powerful races, treated with deep suspicion and contempt by the cops, forced into ghettoes and menial labor and crime. Davis does what good fantasy should do: make a point about our world through the use of a fantasy lens that focuses our attention in a way that a more familiar setting might not be able to. He does it well, without making his allegory too on-the-nose; he just writes a good story, with some themes that should ring true even to those of us who aren’t part elven.

This book alone was worth the purchase of all four. I would definitely recommend it.


(The book is available here, if you’re interested; since this is the publisher, I expect the author gets the biggest return from this site’s sales.)

E-Book Review: Blood Calls by Charles D. Shell

Image result for blood calls charles shell

Blood Calls

by Charles D. Shell

(Please note: I was given a free copy of this e-book in return for my honest review. This is it.)


Now that was a fun book.

I haven’t read a ton of independently published e-books; but of the ones I have read, this was without a doubt the best.

It’s the story of two outcasts, a man and a dragon, both the victims of deep-seated and vicious prejudice, who find friendship and solace with each other; until they are finally forced to leave the land of their birth. The man, Corbin, who is a nobleman of his home country of Denza despite being an unwanted bastard with a mother from a despised minority, is given a minor diplomatic post in neighboring Sunal, thanks to the influence of his influential uncle. Corbin and his only friend, the dragon Blood, travel to Sunal, where, if everything goes according to plan, Corbin should be able to sink into relative obscurity, pursuing his twin passions of drinking and womanizing, and perhaps occasionally dipping his toes into diplomacy.

But world events, and Corbin’s heart, have other plans. Corbin finds that the prejudice that he has suffered under for all of his life is nonexistent in Sunal, where the Skuranese, his mother’s people, are accepted. Corbin is able to find friendships (with other men, for once) and even to pursue a woman for more than a roll in the hay. This would be enough changes in Corbin’s life: but there’s more. War is coming to Sunal. War that could threaten everything that Corbin has found there, as well as his homeland, his life and the life of his dragon, and perhaps everyone on the continent. Unless Corbin and Blood can do something about it.

The world-building in this book is top notch. The relationships between the various nations and their people are interesting, and enough historical backstory is given to make it all seem quite realistic. The magic system is done well, with different spellcasters making use of summoned spirits and creatures, or simple control of the four elements, or Frankenstein/steampunk creations made of living creatures mixed with machines. There are some unusual elements in the magic system that were very intriguing – like sonomancy, the use of sound for magic and also as a weapon; Shell was also able to reflect that form of magic in the society that makes use of it, which was a thoughtful and effective choice. The military aspects of the war – which is told not only through Corbin’s experiences, but also from the point of view of an officer of the aggressor nation of Gurein, which is trying to conquer and consolidate an empire, no matter what the cost – are as good as any military fiction I’ve read. I did wish there was a map, a visual aid that I have always found both interesting and useful in books like this; hopefully the author, with his arts background, will be able to provide one in future books.

The book isn’t perfect. I thought the romance was a bit haphazard: Corbin has never been anything but a womanizer, and though it makes sense that he’s never had an opportunity to be anything more, he jumps from that habit to a pursuit of true love a little too easily; he also settles on the object of his affection without much more inspiration than Romeo and Juliet, and though I love the Shakespeare play, I don’t really believe in love at first sight, especially not when it is turned into a chivalrous courtship, as this one basically is (though not entirely, I hasten to add). The dialogue and banter between the characters is often amusing, but much too close to our own society, using slang and colloquialisms that don’t make a lot of sense in world that isn’t ours; hearing a man from Denza call his telepathic dragon a “smart-ass” sort of took me out of the fantasy. (Also, maybe it’s me, but I want fantasy books to have fantasy names; though most of the main characters do, there are side characters with names like Jerry or Terri, which again kind of burst the bubble.) I didn’t like the character of Dante Firetongue, who is a newspaperman straight out of modern comics – he even refers to a good story as a “scoop” – and who never really settles on a personality, leaving us guessing whether he’s a shallow, selfish bastard or a good guy with a high defensive wall around his heart. I also thought Blood, the dragon, who is a good guy with a high defensive wall around his heart, was just too much of a jerk sometimes, when I wanted him to be lovable even when he was being sharp-tongued.

However, none of these things are the heart of the book. The heart of the book is the characters learning how to live together, accept each other, and protect what is truly worth protecting. That, the book does extremely well. There is good action, good suspense, and good humor throughout; and I enjoyed the ending as much as I enjoyed the beginning, which is the sign of a good novel. I’d recommend this book for fantasy fans, and I plan to see what else Mr. Shell has to offer.