Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Gods of Color by CH Baum

Author: C.  H.  Baum

Pages: 350 Pages

Publisher: Page Publishing,  Inc. 

Release Date: April 12, 2017

With the trend right now toward Prose Grimdark, led by writers like Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and George RR Martin, this is a nice change of pace. It is a much more in your face, meat and potatoes kind of Grimdark, more like a knife to the kidneys than a speech and a battle death.

In a world of warriors and magic, Tensions are running high. In the land of Fast, a City-State, Klex, an assassin working for the evil mage Paegus, assassinates Fast's Yellow Seer just after he prophesies that Blue Magic, the most powerful of the 7 colors of magic, will return, and only a select, vaguely defined group can defeat the rising evil. He escapes and rides to get the message back to his master and claim his evil reward.

In the City-State of Ham, The Cities' own Yellow Seer gets the same prophesy, and the king dispatches a team of mages and warriors from his Color Guard to track down Klex and stop him from getting Paegus the message, possibly starting an Armageddon level event! The Warrior team is led by Diana, the Crown Princess of Ham and a Red warrior of renown. The party also includes Peter and Bon, both red warriors (elite warriors), as well as a variety of other warriors of the various color groups (colors denoting specialty, like orange for demolition, green for archers, brown for defensive engineering). The mage group includes Logan and Max, red mages (teleporters) as well a variety of other color mages (orange for fire, green for nature, brown for shields). The warriors track during the day, the mages at night, since the mages channel moonlight for their magic.

This starts an epic, dark adventure, as the Color Guard of Ham tries to head off Klex and stop Paegus's evil plans before they come to fruition. Along the way they will lose members of their party to death and other duty, pick up unexpected allies, and be tested in ways they never expected. In fact, another prophesy foretells that specific members of the party wont survive, and they will have to deal with the repercussions of that as well. Some of the mission will end in success, and some will seem to end in failure. With gods in the mix influencing events, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Some of the team, such as Diana, Peter and Logan, will suffer losses that are much more of a burden than they should have to handle.

In the City of Fast, the situation is a complete mess, as the king is a wastrel and has no interest in ruling justly, just in enriching himself. The city is rife for civil war, and has nothing to offer Ham in support against Paegus. In fact, there are conspiracies within conspiracies in Fast, and you can't tell who is trustworthy. The skills of the Color Guard team are put to the ultimate test in Fast and the Island city of Limala, with the fate of the world resting on what they accomplish.

This book was such a nice change of pace from the overly complicated dark fantasy and Grimdark that is the current trend now. It has a really solid plot, without a bunch of side branches and distractions. The world is well designed and described, and you get a real sense for the look and feel of the world. You can almost feel the nasty swamp of the Rot, the scent of rotting vegetation, of disease and decay. That's just an example. Great setting that one was, and there are so many more.

The magic was creative, each mage focusing on the color they can sense and perfecting its use, although there are a rare few like Logan who can sense and use all the colors, although his red mastery is best. I always like magic that allows for teleporting, so this one was fun, especially since Logan is a lead protagonist. The two evil magics, purple and blue, are suitably awful for a Grimdark story. The magic is a true strength of the story.

With all the good, there was only one minor issues. There were a few of repetitive phrases used in successive paragraphs that just seemed superfluous. Again, this is a minor issue, but may be something the author might want to address if he decides to make this into an audio book.

Other than that, no complaints, and this issue will not reduce your reading enjoyment at all. All in all, a very good effort on a debut novel, and I cant wait to see where the author takes this story in the next book.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Agent G: Saboteur by CT Phipps

 Agent G: Saboteur by [Phipps, C. T.]

Author: C. T. Phipps

Pages: 213

Publisher: Amber Cove Publishing

Release Date: January 4, 2018

As I've said before, with a second book, the second book in a series, especially with a really good book like Agent G: Infiltrator, can sometimes be a letdown just because the first book set such a high bar. In this case, that's not the case at all, since Agent G: Saboteur is fantastic, an original story that expands on the characters and story from the first book but takes it to the next level.

After Agent G broke the back of the International Refugee Society, the secret murder for hire group he was created by (yes created, since he's cloned cyborg), he has been working for a secret black ops team of the US government trying to finish off the remnants of the society, as well as get a hold of their staff and assets. This is where the book starts, as G para-drops onto the mountain base of one of the Society's remaining leaders. His parachute malfunctions, and he is forced to improvise a landing he can survive in an amazing hair raising scene. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book, as he fights his way through the defenses of the fortress and completes his mission with extreme prejudice, which includes getting the the Society's revolutionary AI and one of their best technicians.

Returning to the local airfield, G confides to his handler that his equipment was sabotaged, and he knows he cant trust anyone. After figuring out who on his strike team betrayed him, he interrogates him, finding out that G's ex wife, S, a deadly letter assassin herself, was responsible. This starts a wild series of events, since there is betrayal after betrayal as G and his team try to get the last of the Society finished off. What they don't know is there is a mysterious group opposing them, led by a face from G's life he never expected to see, that can derail all his plans.  This leads to the penultimate showdown with this threat, where more than just G's life is at stake. In fact, at the end of the book, events happen that change the world forever!

Like the first book this is a very character driven book. The various letter assassins, all trained the same, are nevertheless very different people (well, cyborgs). G's story comes full circle, as he goes from brainwashed Bioroid cyborg (that term comes into play in Mr. Phipps Lucifer's Star series) to free thought revolutionary. His act at the end of the book that changes the world as they knew it shows just how divorced from that life he had become. The various character interactions, the dialogue, is all crisp and well thought out. It just feels natural. These characters just feel real, even if the do the most fantastic things. The villains are excellent, especially the surprise villain at the end. You really get to loathe them and what they stand for, which is what any author should hope for. 

The settings, whether a mountain fortress in South America, a set of high rises in Asia, or a ranch in Texas are all well thought out and described. You really get a visceral feel that you are there, on the ground, right in the thick of things. You can almost feel the heat of the ranch, smell the blood and gunpowder. This is common across his books, so it's no surprise.

 This leads to the plot, which is intentionally steering the series from sci-fi spy thriller to cyberpunk. Its a good shift that flows naturally from the decisions made throughout the books roller coaster action scenes. It will be interesting to see where he takes the series from here. I highly recommend this series as a great representation of the author's work. You should definitely check it out!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Legend of Vanx Malic: Through the Wildwood

 Through the Wildwood (The Legend of Vanx Malic Book 1) by [Mathias, M. R.]

Author: M. R. Mathias

Pages/ Length: 315 pages/ 6 hrs, 33 mins (audio)

Release date: September 12, 2012/ June 19, 2013 (audio)

Publisher: Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

When I first saw the cover of this book, I was intrigued. An elf looking guy riding some sort of giant battle cat? Sign me up! The description of what the book was about hooked me. I love stories about rogues, princesses, battles and magic. What fantasy fan doesn't? Well, this book certainly didn't disappoint. it has all those elements, and more, all wrapped up in a well written original package.

Vanx Malic, a half-human and half-Zythian (think elf), has been sold into slavery after he has an affair with a Duke's wife while he worked at an inn as a bard. The Duke can't execute him, so he arranges to have him and the caravan he's on all killed on the road to his new home. Unfortunately, what the Duke didn't know is that the Duchess sent their daughter, Gallarael, along with some guards, to buy Vanx's freedom. Well, this goes about as well as you'd expect. The caravan is attacked, although it's not by the Duke's men, who have all been killed. It's by Trolls, who have killed the Duke's men and plan on killing and eating the members of the caravan. 

In the confusion, Vanx, Princess Gallarael and her head guard Trevin, who is closer to the princess than he should be, manage to escape on a haulkatten (pack/battle cat) and make it to the Wildwoods, the huge forest that is supposedly haunted that no one returns from. After some travel, they meet up with two other members of their caravan who managed to escape: Matty, one handed pickpocket and courtesan turned slave and Darbon, a blacksmiths apprentice. This is fortuitous, since the princess has been stung by a poisonous plant and is in a coma, and they have the tools for Vanx to use his woods lore to brew a salve to slow its spread. They continue on through the Wildwoods, trying to make the next large city in hope of saving the princess, not aware the Duke is now after them as well with his men.

As they reach the edge of the wild, they discover a wizard in stasis, and this leads them into a much bigger conspiracy involving trolls, the royal family and an evil wizard bent on his  own evil plans for conquest. They still have to try and save the Princess, who is slowly dying of the poison, of which the only cure can be found on an island full of hostile dragons! As the book ends, Vanx and Trevin go on a desperate search for the cure, while hopefully thwarting the conspiracy.

This was the first book I read by MR Mathias, and it was a lot of fun. The characters are well drawn out, being fleshed out through interactions with other characters and some internal monologue. Vanx is a great rogue type character, being middle age at 52 by human standards but barely and adult by Zythian standards, so he has a view of both worlds. Gallarael is a damsel type character, but she has hidden strength. The rest of the characters have some flesh added to them as well, really rounding out the party. The world setting is well thought out, and detailed well. The plot is fast paced, serious and humorous in turn. All in all, a fun adventure fantasy story that will make you want to get to book two. 

As far as narration, Gregory Silva does a decent job keeping the listener engaged, giving each character their own voice. He was consistent with their voices, and keeps the frills to a minimum. A solid performance.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Bookwyrm's Review of Lucifer's Nebula by CT Phipps and Michael Suttkus

Author: CT Phipps and Michael Suttkus

Pages: 279

Release Date: January 5, 2018

Publisher: Crossroad Press

When I read a book I really enjoy, I often have reservations going into the second book. Will it be a letdown? Will it take the characters in directions I won't like? Will the plot just be filler trying to get to the next book in the series? Well, I am happy to say, Lucifer's Nebula, the followup to the wildly inventive dark space opera Lucifer's Star more than lived up to my expectations.  Not only did they write a compelling plot, but the directions taken with the characters not only fit, but expanded on who they were, as well as creating opportunities in future books to flesh them out even more.

The story starts with the crew of the space freighter Melampus, captained by the former Arch Duchy of Crius Count Cassius Mass, on a job transferring weapons for some shady characters. Unfortunately, said shady characters, being shady, are more than willing to screw them over and try to kill them. In the middle of the double-cross, another shady group interrupts, and a fire fight ensues, allowing Cassius and his medical officer/lover Isla, to escape. Upon escaping, they are contacted by Ida Claire, the former captain of the Melampus, who also happens to be the leader of The Commonwealth's spy agency, The Watchers. She has a job for Cassius and crew that will wipe the slate clean for them, as well as pay big: bring the reconstituted Arch Duchy of Crius, now known as The Free Systems Alliance, leadership, who have been kicking the Commonwealth's tail, the terms of surrender for the Commonwealth!

This is where things really take off, as Cassius and crew determine to follow this mission, even though they suspect it will be a trap. They also have the secret of Judith, the Cognition AI who happens to be modeled on Cassius's wife to protect, which would have them made outlaw anywhere in the universe. In the course of fulfilling the mission,  Cassius and crew face betrayal on all sides, Including from people they had every reason to trust. They also have a family reunion for Cassius, including with a member of his family he thought long dead! This sends things spiraling in a wild direction, as they discover that The Free Systems Alliance is not at all what it appears. 

There is a much bigger conspiracy behind it all, with elder races who have passed beyond mortality, the Community of aliens who hover on humanities borders, and an ancient Evil locked away in Lucifer's Nebula all pulling strings behind the scenes for their own various schemes to come to fruition. Humanity, unfortunately, may be the ones to pay the price! Cassius and his friends and new allies must figure out which side to back, all while avoiding the betrayal mentioned before, from someone you just don't expect. At the very end, Cassius and crew are forced to decide if running away is worth the price of the potential destruction of humanity itself, even if that humanity has betrayed them time and again.

Since I have started reading their books, I have been a huge fan of how Charles and Michael have been able to create such relatable, exciting characters. They flesh them out so well, even the side characters. The motivations for their actions, even in a distant, sci-fi future, are realistic, never forced. Being willing to fight for friends and crew, no matter the odds, is a trait that any reader should be able to admire. The characters have flaws, and make mistakes, making them even more relatable, but they still try to do the right thing. Well, right enough. 

The plot is fast moving, smoothly transitioning from one action packed scene to the next, while allowing character interaction and growth. There is humor sprinkled throughout, with a lot of pop culture references, which is a hallmark of their writing. The settings, whether on the ship, or in the various planetary settings, are well drawn out. You can feel like you're right there in the scene, in the middle of the action, especially in the scenes in the Nebula. You never get the feeling this is a retread of some other sci-fi property. 

Overall, I feel this is a great addition to the series. The writers took what worked in the first book, and really ran with the ideas, expanding on the themes, adding new characters, and exploring new ideas to round out the story. I can heartily recommend this story to anyone who likes strong character driven sci-fi.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Bookwyrm's Review of Hunter by Heath Stallcup

 Hunter by [Stallcup, Heath]

Author: Heath Stallcup

Length: 200 pages

Publisher: Devil Dog Press

Release Date: December 29, 2016

After reading Heath Stallcup's Monster Squad series, I was in the mood to check out his other offerings. So what do I come across? A book called Hunter. I checked out the blurb, and must have been really tired, because I thought it was a book about Vikings. that was my misreading, because looking back, it didn't say that. Instead, its a book a vampire named Sven Ericsson who came to the new world when Sweden had a colony here in the mid 1600s while he was in the Swedish navy. 

During his first shore leave, after a wild night of drinking, he wakes up in a stable, covered in blood, and is unable to leave the stable, since he can't stand the sun. After the sun goes down, he goes out and meets his creator, Inga, who inducts him into the night world, she shows him how to feed discreetly, and shows him his new abilities. After a few years together, Inga is killed on a solo hunt by some humans. After he hills the men, Sven begins a solo life, cut off from humans as much as possible, hunting Natives in the wilderness. 

Switch to now. Sven, using that new fangled internet thing (he is almost 400 years old, so yeah, its new to him), finds a group advertising members willing to be fed on. Taking a chance,  Sven meets Gibson, a pretty goth girl who actually lets him feed on her. Getting comfortable being with her, she betrays him and she and a group of her friends restrain him and Steal his blood to allow them to turn into vampires. 

After escaping, He is attacked by another vampire named Jasmine, who is an enforcer for the Vampire Counsel, the ruling body of the supernatural world, of who's existence Sven wasn't even aware. He is drafted as her apprentice hunter to hunt the group down, as well as other supernatural threats. This starts a wild series of events, in which Sven ends up partnering with a nephillim named Orel to try and take out a corrupt counsel, as well as kill other supernatural threats. This leads to Sven having to decide where his real place in the supernatural world is, whether as a hunter or a lone wolf.

The characters are a real strength of this book. Sven, even being a bloodsucking vampire, is not evil. Even the Nephillim who can feel evil doesn't get that vibe from him. He is a well rounded character with centuries of various experience. Jasmine and Orel are also well drawn out, and have interesting backstories. The setting is well described, and gives you a feeling of really being in the action. With a fast moving, action packed plot, it avoids a lot of the vampire tropes and really charts its own course. I can happily recommend this story to any fans of urban fantasy, which is probably the genre is most belongs in.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Bookwyrm's Review of Rising Thunder by Brandon Cornwell

Rising Thunder (Dynasty of Storms Book 1) by [Cornwell, Brandon]

Author: Brandon Cornwell

Pages/Length: 249 pages/ 13 hrs, 44 mins

Release Date: April 3, 2017/ October 10, 2017 (Audio)

Publisher:  Brandon Cornwell/ Podium Publishing (Audio) 

Narrated by Ralph Lister

I have to admit, the premise of this book, the idea of a giant outcast elf, really spoke to me. Unless we are talking Drow, most elves are the Tolkien ideal: A graceful, wise elder race set on the world to guide the younger races, or at least to look down on the short lived fools. Only in more recent works like Paul Lavender's The Eighth God has a new, more callous approach to elves been taken. This writer takes it to an even greater length.

Elias is a giant of an elf. at over seven feet tall, he towers over both elves and humans. in fact, other than giants and ogres, you won't find many creatures taller than he is. He is also strongly built, not the lithe, graceful elf that is typical of his kind. Exiled to the mountain humans in the North (this worlds analogs to Vikings) He has lived there for over 60 years, although in elf years, at 167 years of age. he is hardly more than an older teen. While he is accepted as a ward of the King, he is not trained any more as a warrior than he was with the elves. He goes on no raids and is not an advisor to the king, just a friend.

As the current king dies, a power play takes place, and Elias is forced to leave for at least a year by the King's son a he sorts out the potential usurpers. He can come an reclaim a place in a year, assuming the new king is still on the throne. 

After leaving and deciding to head to the human lands, Elias is accosted on the road by a huge man wearing armor and wielding dark magic.  He is only saved by the intervention of a mercenary troop that happened to be passing on the way to a job. Elias then joins the group, who specialize in guarding caravans and nobles. Their next job involves guarding a noble on a trip, but this goes horribly awry when he betrays them and sells them to pirates as galley slaves! 

Leading a breakout by the rest of the slaves, Elias and the slaves  finish the ships journey to the islands they were headed to. Elias finds out one of his fellow slaves, a sea elf (blue skinned elf), is a local chieftain, who invites him to stay with his village, since he suspect Elias is the answer to a prophecy. That prophesy involves an outsider saving the islanders from the pirates who have been preying on the islanders for decades. Elias also meets the chiefs daughter Coral, who he is told is part of the prophesy as she is slated to bear the chosen ones son. The young elves relationship grows from there.

What follows is a few seasons of mayhem and chaos, as Elias and the crew of mercenaries and islanders he recruits go after the pirates, both on the sea and on their island strongholds. They survive many battles and ambushes, and after a huge and tragic setback, they finally have the forces and a plan to attack the Pirates main base. The attack also brings out the mystery man who attacked Elias so many seasons ago, and they finally face off and some painful revelations are made to Elias. After the battle, Elias has some difficult decisions to make about where to go with the rest of his life, and with his men. He makes a decision that will have long lasting repercussions for much of the world.

I really enjoyed this book, the characters, especially Elias and Coral, are really well drawn out. The plot is fast paced, but takes time to flesh out and give interesting story lines to the various characters. The various locations are well described, and you really get a good feeling about how they appear, as well as the character descriptions, such as the difference in elf sub-types, like the sea elves having blue skin and Elias's tribe having reddish. There are also a few surprise elements to the plot, and they are quite fun for a pretty grimdark story. The ideal about the injustice of prejudice, overcoming odds, and finding happiness are all at play throughout the story, and are excellently portrayed. 

One warning. This book does have some graphic sex scenes between Elias and Coral. They are integral to the story, not just tacked on, or so it seemed to me, but this may be a turn off for a few readers, so be forewarned. I didn't see anything objectionable about them, since it is consensual sex between two elves, both over 150 years old.

Ralph Lister is in top form on this one, bringing his substantial chops to bear on a complicated story with many different characters, with multiple accents. He handles them all well, and his narrative pacing is great. He really kept the story moving along, and gets the listener really into each of the characters.

This is one of those stories that will appeal to a broad variety of fantasy readers, whether they like epic fantasy, swords and sorcery or grimdark. I can't recommend it highly enough, because it is a fantastic novel for a debut writer, and things will only be getting better from here!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Bookwyrm's review of The Scourge by Roberto Calas


Author: Roberto Calas

Length: 292 pages

Release date: October 9, 2017

Publisher: 47 North

The zombie apocalypse in the middle ages? Sign me up! The idea to take actual historical figures and an actual event like the Black Death, and twist it a little to have it become a zombie plague in England strikes me as a creative premise for a series.

This first in a trilogy deals with a knight and his two knightly companions trying to rescue the knight's wife from an abbey a 100 or so miles northeast of London during a zombie apocalypse. This is in the 1300's, when that would seem like a really long distance on horseback, especially with a horde of zombies in the way. They still make the attempt. It seems mail, swords, maces and crossbows are actually good weapons and defense against zombies. The intrepid knights travel across a nightmare England, with a ravenous population, warlords staking their claims in a lawless land, and even French incursions! This is all leading to  a climactic battle with the horde besieging the abbey.

The plot is fast moving, the characters engaging, and the religions aspect is handled well, especially in an age where everything is seen through a religious prism. The battle scenes really shine, showing just how well an armored knight can do against the walking dead! Using real locations, and a main character who actually existed just adds realism to the story. I would recommend this to any fan of zombie and knight stories.