Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Bookwyrm's review of Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 616 Pages/ 20 Hrs, 9 Mins (Audio)

Release Date: May 22, 2018/May 3, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

Its always a worry when getting book two in a series with a first book as good as Orconomics that the book will be a letdown, not being able to capture the same magic as the first. Well, after reading and listening to Son of a Liche, I can attest that this is not an issue. While it follows in the same vein as Orconomics, it improves in a lot of ways what was already a fantastic series debut. More action, deeper plot, character revelations, bigger stakes for the overall world. In other words, it is a fantastic book in its own right.

One year after the events of Orconomics, the party of Gorm, Kaitha, Jynn, Heraldin, Gaist and  Laruna are still hunting for the remnants of the betrayed Gazvarda tribe of orcs, and having no success. In fact, they haven't had nearly the success they planned on. The Heroes Guild and kingdom have a a huge bounty after them, and they haven't had the impact helping protect the Darklings they had hoped to. The Darkling races of Orcs, goblins and other assorted races that were screwed out of their NPC status have formed the Red Horde, forsaking their clans. Meanwhile, the bankers and King that had betrayed them all are starting to haul in the loot from revoking the NPC's papers. 

Deciding to put the Gazvarda quest on hold, the party comes across a skeleton that is animated. This is bad news, since the only one who could animate a skeleton is a necromancer, and the group only knows of one of them operating currently: Datarr Urmayan, Jynn's father, currently a powerful undead Liche! Following the skeleton, they discover Jynn has gathered an army of the undead and plans to invade the Freedlands. Hatching a plan to recover some artifacts that may help them fight Datarr, they meet some old companions of Gorm to help equip them, and recover a powerful artifact to use against him. 

Facing Datarr in battle as he attempts to destroy the bulk of the Kingdom's army and Heroes Guild, the group is defeated, and Datarr gains even more converts to his cause. you know, the cause of undeath. It does have a great benefits plan, after all, and he actually goes recruiting with surprising results. Licking their wounds as they barely escape, The party comes up with a last dich plan to stop the necromancer and get an army of their own: Namely, the Red Horde. Now, if only the Red Horde didn't want the party dead, thinking they were the ones that betrayed them to the Heroes. All of this leads to a climactic battle in the Kingdom's capital of Andoran, with an amazingly staged battle scene that has more twists than seem possible. The book ends with plot lines resolved, but the story isn't over. In fact, it will be continued in Dragon Fired.

I can't stress again how fantastic I found this books. The characters were all fleshed out even more, with more revelations about their pasts, some of which were just completely unseen. The dialogue is crisp and witty, and it just comes across as banter that real friends and companions would use. You really sympathize with their struggles, and cheer at their successes. The setting is expanded even more, and the author's world building is some of my favorite in all of fantasy. You just feel like you are right there in the middle of the action at all times. The same issues from the first book are addressed. The nature of heroics, the good and ills of a market economy, especially when its abused by those in charge. Those same individuals, though, also show how easy it is to fall from grace. Even the least of us has it in them to be a hero, as several of the characters show. 

Doug Tisdale, Jr. did his usual fantastic work narrating this one. He had an even bigger cast to work with, and he still managed to give them all a life of their own. While Gorm may be my favorite character he does, several others were almost at that level this time. His narration is smooth and flowing, never lagging or monotonous. He has crept up into my top 3 narrators with this performance, it's that good.

All in all, this is probably my favorite read this year, a year that included Kings of the Wyld, Blackwing and The Great Hearts. Lofty company, but it has something for everyone who likes a fantasy novel, with elements of comedic, epic and grimdark fantasy woven throughout. I can't recommend it highly enough, and you are missing out if you don't try these out for yourself. If I did stars, this would be a 10 out of 10 stars. Its that good.

The Bookwyrm's Review of Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 389 Pages/ 11 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release Date: September 30, 2014/ December 21, 2016 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

I happened to notice this title looking through Audible one day. The title intrigued me, as did the cover, so I said what the hell. Best credit ever spent! While the title has satire written into it, and it does have many humorous elements, it also has a serious fantasy soul mixed in to it, taking the typical fantasy tropes and turning them on their head, all while adding what must be the most hilarious explanation of economics ever.

Across the various kingdoms of Arth, the Heroes Guild is responsible for keeping monsters in check, putting down dangerous monsters and collecting the loot from their hordes. The volume of loot hauls over the years have been a huge boon to the economy, and now make up the majority of the economy. To take advantage of this windfall, investment groups formed to back parties of adventurers in exchange for a cut of the loot. After years of profitable ventures, however, the loot stream seems to be drying up, causing worry in financial sectors. 

This is where the story starts, as we first meet Gorm Ingerson, disgraced dwarf hero, who did the one thing you don't do on a quest. He ran away. For that, he was stripped of his ranks and has been on the run ever since. He has now fallen so low as to become a homeless vagabond, robbing low ranking heroes of their spoils. After one such encounter with one, where he unintentionally save the life of a goblin the hero was out to kill, the goblin, Gleebek, joins Gorm in his wanderings. Since he doesn't speak any lightling (human/elf/dwarf) languages, Gleebek speaks the shadowkin language, and its a hilarious version of I Am Groot, since Gorm has no idea what Gleebek is really saying. After being captured by the guild trying to get Gleebek his NPC (Noncombatant Paper Carrier) papers, Gorm is given 2 choices: Face guild justice, likely to involve a rope and a short fall, or join the prophesied quest of the seventh Al'Matran hero, what usually turns into a suicide run. Usually. Which is still better odds than the other option.

Bowing to the inevitable, Gorm goes and meets his new companions: a drunken elven ranger, a snooty dark mage, a reckless fire mage, a thief turned bard, a silent weapons master from Gorm's past and the High Scribe of the mad Goddess Al'Matra's temple, who is the ostensive leader. They are set the task to find a group of marble masks known as the Elven Marbles, and returning them to the elves. This is the start of a quest that goes in directions you just don't see coming. As the company travels around trying to find the marbles, they run across various dangers, shaking the rust off their skills and cohering as a unit. They even pick up a hidden member, who is much more formidable than you'd believe. 

While on their travels, they meet the most dangerous creatures imaginable; Orcs! How are orcs all that dangerous, you ask? These orcs of the Gazvarda tribe, follow the Path of the Aggressive Seller, that's how! They will make you part with your money with their value added proposition! While in the orc village, they discover a lead that the marbles may be in the fortress of Detarr Urmiyan, the evil necromancer killed years earlier by the paladin Johan the Mighty. Discovering it's empty, they investigate it and find the Marbles. They also discover that while he may be dead, Detarr is still kicking around, now its only as a powerful Liche! Managing to escape, they have to determine who gets the marbles: The elves, or the orcs who they were stolen from years ago. This decision leads to the crux of the story, as the decision of who gets the marbles leads to tragic unexpected consequences, when a huge betrayal takes place. The party then has to decide where to go after the fallout settles, and its in a direction you might not expect.

While this book is a satire, poking holes in traditional fantasy tropes, it is also a serious look at societal issues such as racism, class status, economics and the true nature of heroics. I mean, really, just because goblins are ugly by human/elf standards and live in a dungeons/tunnel systems, if they haven't harmed anyone, how is it heroic to just show up, but in and slaughter them all and steal all their stuff? Who's the real monster? There is a character in the book that is of a species so dangerous the Guild guide says that if you run across one, run away! The problem is, he may be a monster, but he's a true hero, protecting people and just trying to find a true home. How is he a monster? The whole issue with NPCs and their second class citizenship is also discussed, and really plays against the tropes. As far as the economics is concerned, you will have a solid grasp of how an actual market economy works after reading this, and it never feels boring, it's so well interwoven in the story. 

The characters are some of the best written I have ever run across. That's not just in fantasy, that's in all of literature. Whether it be Gorm's or Kaitha's rather tragic story, Heraldin and Jynn's desperate attempts to escape their pasts and even Niln's attempts to find meaning in the prophecies he's been given, you can't help but to like and sympathize with them. They are not just cardboard cutouts playing generic tropes, they are fully fleshed out characters, dealing with the hand dealt them as best they can. As humorously as possible in a lot of cases. The world building is top notch. Arth is a fully fleshed out world, and you really get a sense of the setting as you read through, and can visualize it easily in your minds eye. I consider this to be a setting equally on par with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar in terms of depth, darkness and potential for humor.

The narration was handled by Doug Tisdale, Jr. after listening to this, he has cemented a spot in my top five favorite narrators. He did a fantastic job with the various voices, of which there are quite a few, giving live and individuality to each. his portrayal of Gorm Ingerson is literally my favorite voice portrayal in any of the thousands of audiobooks I have listened to. Its that good. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you will find yourself hoping the story continues just to keep listening. Easily one of my top five listens of the last two years.

All in all, I can't recommend this book highly enough. The sequel, Son of a Liche, should be highly anticipated by anyone reading or listening to Orconomics. Anyone who like fantasy books should find something to enjoy in Orconomics. Get your copy today.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Great Hearts by David Oliver

Author: David Oliver

Length: 324 Pages/ 10 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release date: May 16, 2017/ January 31, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher : David Oliver

Narrator: David Oliver

As anyone who's read my reviews knows I am a big fan of audiobooks, and thanks to, which connects reviewers to authors, narrators and publisher looking for honest reviews, it's possible to discover books like The Great Hearts. That's a good thing, since it would be tragic to miss out on stories as good as this.

Callidan Darkheart and his hulking partner Cassius are Imperators, Voice of the Emperor, the hands that solve the Empire's problems which others can't, often painfully and permanently.
They are also Callidan and Cassius, boys from a small village in the mountains, who watched their entire village be tortured and slaughtered by a group of barbarian cannibal demon worshipers bent on summoning their foul master to the realm. Escaping the barbarians and their demon, they swear revenge as only young teens can do. While escaping, they trap their pursuers and manage to have a huge boar kill most of them.

One survived, the tracker, although he was injured. They discover that he only worked for the barbarians, he wasn't a crazy cannibal. They start nursing him back to health so he can help them make it to civilization. During this time, they also encounter a strange creature in the dark one night, and Callidan feeds it. This comes in handy later as they face down a wolf pack, since this creature comes and saves them. It is a giant cat the size of a moose, called a Great Heart, and Callidan feeding it caused it to bond to him. This means he is mentally linked to it, and gains strength, speed, agility, increased healing and other abilities, making him much more than human.

Reaching civilization, they are introduced to the local army commander, who puts the tracker to work training his scouts, and takes the boys under his wing, training them as future officers. This includes training in a martial art from a distant country, which Callidan's abilities really allowed him to excel at. This all comes to an end, though, when a rogue Imperator student comes through the city, with two Imperators on her trail. This leads to a confrontation with the student, who it turns out is possessed by a demon. This confrontation injures Cassius, and outs Callidan's bond to his Great Heart, which forces the Imperators to bring them before the Emperor, who heals Cassius. He also inducts them into his Imperators,  telling them the training will either make them Imperators or kill them.

Thus starts the Imperator training. The sheer difficulty of the training would be hard to describe, and be a huge spoiler. Needless to say, it involves a varied cast of characters, learning the skills it takes to be and Imperator, including statecraft, combat training, diplomacy, assassination, and the basics of magic. They even take a field exercise to mysterious valley which has killed all who have entered it. The students and their Imperator instructor do enter, and discover the lost history of their world, which I can't reveal due to spoilers. They also discover the truth of the worlds magic, all in an exciting climactic battle.

This is all told in flashback form, as we start and continue the story throughout with Callidan and Cassius on various tasks as full fledged, experienced Imperators. This includes trying to track down the demon and his worshippers that killed their village. You also see that Cassius is bonded with a creature from the depths of time, making him a match for anything on the world, if also making him frightening in the extreme. This leaves us waiting for the next book for the story to continue.

I am a huge fan of Callidan and Cassius. They play very well off each other, and are hugely different from teens to adult. You can tell life has really weathered them. They are just so well drawn out, you are really able to get inside their heads. The secondary characters are all equally well drawn out, given three dimensions, with realistic motivations and consistent actions. The format of shifting to flashbacks doesn't work for all authors, but this author does it better than any writer I have ever read. It is done so well, it never feels jarring, and is used with great effect to foreshadow current events. The plotting is fast paced, and definitely qualifies as grimdark for those looking for genre labels, although there is a generous helping of humor to help offset the grim. The action scenes are so well described you would swear you can feel the swish of the blade, the bite of the edge. From the smallest duel to the biggest battle, you feel as though you are right in the middle of the action, blade in hand. You can't ask for much more in a fantasy tale.

The Author self narrates. This is often a hit or miss proposition, but in this case, it's a definite hit. He really brings each character to life, injecting separate personalities into each. He really gets a variety of accents and inflections to differentiate the characters. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you never feel the narration slow down into any sort of monotone.

All told, an excellent effort, one which I heartily recommend. As I've said, I rate this up there with Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald's Blackwing as my top fantasy reads/listens in the last 12 months. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Miscreant by Brock Deskins

Author: Brock Deskins

Length: 399 Pages/ 13 hrs, 16 Mins

Release Date: November 30, 2014/ February 22, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Dingo Dog Publishing

Narrator: JS Arquin

After reading Brock Deskins Shrouds of Darkness and being hugely impressed by that, I was looking forward to see what else he had coming out. It turned out he had this antihero gem that just captivated me from the first page to the last. I was really impressed how quickly the book sunk the hooks in and kept me wanting to keep going.

Garran Holt lives in a small village in a kingdom with two factions vying for supremacy: The King versus the powerful Merchants guild that controls all commerce and goodly amount of the members of Parliament. In an effort to break the stranglehold on the economy the Guild has, the King, with some secret backers, is building a free trade road through the kingdom to open it up to outside competition. The guild decides to let him waste his treasure, and hopes to bankrupt and overthrow him by using mercenaries disguised as bandits to drive up the cost of building it. This is the setting in which we meet Garran Holt, the Miscreant.

Garran is his village's bad boy, the kind of kid that plays all the pranks, filches the moonshiner's liquor and is just kind of a rowdy slacker. After an assignation with the mayor's daughter goes comically wrong, Garran is hauled before the town counsel on rape charges. after proving his innocence, while also enraging the entire counsel as well as his mother and stepfather, which brings up what happens next. Garran is indentured into the King's Road building crew until he turns 18. Shockingly, he's not to happy with that, and starts to plot his escape.

The work camps are made up of teens like Garran and convicts released to the crews in exchange for reduced sentences. This includes a lot of thieves, rapists and murderers, which puts the boys ill at ease. After an encounter with a particularly nasty bruiser, Garran sets a trap that teaches the bruiser and his cronies he's not an easy mark. The crew settles in working the road, but Garran is injured severely falling from a tree when his safety equipment fails. While recovering, he discovers the wonders of laudnum. When the camp is finally attacked by the mercenaries, something in Garran breaks open. He discovers e has power he never knew about before. Time basically slows down for him, and he is flush with strength and vitality, as well as expanded senses. He goes from zero to death machine in no time at all, killing all the mercenaries in a blurry rush of air. The work camp leader sees this, and realizes what he is: a Transcended, one of those blessed with power who held the barbarian berserkers at bay in the last invasion of the kingdom.

Taking Garran  to the Kingdom capital, Garran is enrolled in the Agents training program at the university, which trains the diplomats, spies and assassins. This is, of course, after Garran gets lost in the city using stolen credit papers to peruse the city's red light district and its casinos, where he runs afoul of the local mob. All these relationships he makes will come into play later. Needless to say, Garran, being a penniless commoner in a school full of noble and merchants sons, has to live by his wits, which are actually rapier sharp. I cant' go into huge amounts of detail about his time at school without spoilering it, but needless to say, if there was ever a character that could find a way to lie, cheat and steal his way through an entire education, Garran is it. His adventures in the school are spectacularly creative, and his successes and failure are all monumental in scale. Lets just say this isn't Harry Potter at Hogwarts. The next book deals with his life after his time in the program.

This is one of the most character driven stories I have ever read, with Garran very much the centerpiece. He's such an antihero he makes Deadpool look like a straight arrow in comparison. You never know what he's going to do next, but with his utter lack of respect for authority and his trust issues with women, you know its probably going to be out of this world crazy. The setting is well drawn out, from Garran's small village to the work camps and on to the capital. The actions scenes are fantastically laid out and executed, really giving the reader/listener a feeling of being right in the action, which is a gift this author shows in all his work. The secondary characters are fleshed out, and aren't just caricatures and stereotypes. The magic system is of a person, body magic type, and it is well described and detailed. Definitely a lot for fantasy fans to enjoy, especially if you enjoy flawed protagonists.

JS Arquin did an admirable job narrating. His narrative pace is smooth, with no lags or monotone. His voice work is excellent, gifting each character with their own voice, whether through pitch, tone, accent or intonation. He really brought the story to life.

I would recommend this book to any fantasy fans, most especially those looking for a more morally debatable, flawed main character. I can't wait to get into the second book, The Agent.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Shrouds of Darkness by Brock Deskins

Author: Brock Deskins

Pages/Length: 217 Pages/ 7 hrs, 41 mins. (Audio)

Publisher: Dingo Dog Publishing

Release Date: May 8, 2013/ November 30, 2017 (Audio)

Narrator: Steven Jay Cohen

With the slew of vampire urban fantasy that has hit the shelves in recent years, from romance with vampires to gritty urban grimdark, I wasn't sure where this would fit into that group. While the idea of a vampire detective isn't new, Brock Deskins' Leo Malone is definitely a great character who brings an added dimension of humor and determination you don't see in a lot of this type of character.

When a mob accountant is accosted outside his office by a gang of rival thugs, things get hairy, literally, as he turns out to be a werewolf. That's bad, since supernaturals are supposed to keep it hidden, and shredding some gangsters isn't very subtle. The vampire leadership is quite keen and strict about keeping it hidden from the humans. 

This brings Leo Malone onto the case when the accountants adult children hire Leo to find out what happened to their father. The case turns out to be much more complicated that its seems, Since it seems there are forces that don't want him found, and will do anything to keep him from being found. Leo's complicated relationship with the vampire Elders isn't helping, as they would rather see him dead if they could than anything else. As he delves further into the disappearance, he discovers a much larger conspiracy that that threatens not only his life but exposure of the supernatural community in general, which could have far reaching consequences for all the supernatural nations.

Like his other books, Shrouds is a character driven book. The urban setting is fun, and you get immersed in it, but the characters are where the action is at, especially Leo. His attitude towards life and the vampire nation in general really make him a sympathetic character. You really root for him, even as he snarks his way from one discovery to the next. The secondary characters are well fleshed out as well, and the plotting if fast paced and never lags.

Steven Jay Cohen does his usual excellent job of bringing the story and characters to life. His Leo voice may be my absolute favorite he does. Just the right amount of snark for the part. His narrative pace is spot on, and smoothly flows throughout the book. He is definitely a reason to consider getting the audio version.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Eleven Must Reads in 2018

Its funny, we always seem to get lists throughout the year of the big new releases, the must reads. How many times did you check them out, and find yourself disappointed, thinking, I'd rather have read that book from a couple of years ago from so and so that looked interesting? I get that a lot and suspect  a lot of you do too. While there are some big traditionally published new releases like Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald's Blackwing that are justifiably held in high regard and are big hits, they really don't need my recommendation, being known by fandom at large. I decided to make my own list of must reads, series that you may have overlooked, first books in series that you will hopefully enjoy and consider picking up the rest of. I have to thank Charles Phipps, who writes a variety of series under the name CT Phipps, for encouraging me to do so, since we spend so much time recommending various series to each other. I have discovered so many good series thanks to him and met some fantastic people along the way. 

The vast majority of the books on this list will be by independent authors or small press, although there will be some traditionally published authors as well, especially the older series. I have just really enjoyed the variety and creativity of a lot of the indy market recently and I hope you will agree. On that note, lets get started.

The Rules of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga Book 1) by [Phipps, C.T.]

The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps

Imagine if you received the magic cloak of the greatest hero (The Nightwalker) of your city (Falconcrest City) in the mail. Imagine the cloak gave you fire and ice projection powers, levitation, intangibility and limited invulnerability, as well as the ability to see spirits. Would you be inspired to take up the Nightwalkers mantle and go fight the forces of evil?

Well, then you would be the exact opposite of Gary Karkofsky, the man who actually received the cloak. Heroism is for chumps, especially when crime pays so well! It is on this hilarious premise that Gary's story proceeds, as he becomes Merciless, the Villain Without Mercy!™️ and now five books later is still going strong, with all the pop culture reference the author has become justifiably known for. It will keep you turning the pages and wanting to get the next book in the series.

The Garden of Stones (Echoes of Empire Book 1)

The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

This is literally my favorite fantasy trilogy of all time. It is epic in scope, with 10,000 plus years of history as backstory. There is an incredible group of characters which will resonate with the reader, even the villains, of which there are a few. There is magic, called disentropy, on a grand scale, and even a nod to gunpowder fantasy and steampunk! There is something for everyone in this deep, richly written darker fantasy epic. 

Grudgebearer (THE GRUDGEBEARER TRILOGY) by [Lewis, J.F.]

Grudgebearer by J. F. Lewis

Imagine an immortal race of elflike beings creating an immortal  race of warriors called the Aern, basically magic proof, steel boned, intelligent killing machines, to do their fighting for them. Now imagine the warriors were compelled under a geas to honor all oaths made by and to them, and to violently deal with people breaking oaths with them. Now, imagine if you will, what would  happen if the king of those elflike beings casually broke an oath made to the Aern, forcing their retaliation under their geas.

If your imagination said fire, destruction and death for oathbreakers, as they came to be known by the Aern, then you guessed correctly. The story starts centuries after a peace has finally been made between the two sides, as old menaces start rearing their head, and a headstrong prince breaks the truce by his hubris. The story skyrockets from that point as The Aern must decide if they must finish what they started all those centuries ago, and what that will leave of the word if they have to bathe it in flame and destruction once again.

Darkstorm (The Rhenwars Saga Book 0)

Darkstorm by M. L. Spencer

A series that makes no apologies for being grimdark, this formidable entry into the genre is a shot across the bow, take no prisoners tale of epic destruction, deception, betrayal, heroism and swerves that would make a grand prix driver dizzy. When an apprentice mage discovers her guild master is in a cabal determined to bring about the rise of dark magic, she and her mentor, as well as several others, are thrust into a race against a conspiracy that has world shaking, and possibly destroying, consequences. Along the way there are betrayals and revelations you literally will not see coming, even with this warning! Fantastic characters and plotting will keep you turning the pages.

The Eighth God (The Orcslayers Book 1) by [Lavender, Paul S.]

The Eighth God by Paul S. Lavender

Another Grimdark entry to the list, this particular debut takes a different tack. Taking standard fantasy tropes like Elves, Orcs and wizards, he amps them up and makes them his own. These elves and orcs are as far from the fairly sterile versions in Lord of the Rings as you can get. The elves are arrogant, bigoted snobs to the extreme, while the Orcs make Ghengis Khan's hordes look like little old ladies on their way to church. They are feral intelligent monsters, with no conscience at all. They are just villains you can hate. The wizards are powerful and use the flashy magic so many books downplay now. Also, there are some funny moments sprinkled throughout, lightening up the tone a bit to keep it from becoming a depressing dirge. Definitely a series you should consider checking out.

God Touched (The Demon Accords Book 1) by [Conroe, John]

God Touched by John Conroe

This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Chris Gordon is a rookie NYPD cop. He also happens to be able to exorcise demons, who possess bodies and haunt dwellings. When he and his buddies go to a club one night, Chris's life is changed forever when he stops a demon from killing a woman in the club. Turns out the woman, Tatiana Demidova,  is a vampire, the most important one in the world, being the only born vampire ever. After biting Chris in a reflex to being hurt, she an Chris find they are bound together by a power far greater than themselves, and Chris goes through a lot of changes as he bonds the vampire virus without becoming a vampire. The series continues on as they fight a variety of demons, vampire politics, other occult menaces and corrupt elements of the US government. Definitely a fun read and you really get invested in the wide cast of characters. 

The Secret King: Lethao

The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman

I discovered this series from a promo copy of a prequel novella in the series. This is the first full length novel in the series, dealing with the remnants of a human like alien race, the Aonise,  on the run from the enemy that is bent on their destruction. While traveling in their four Arks towards their last refuge, their king, Kendro, has to face challenges to his right to rule and deal with threats to their very existence.

Their chosen refuge,  Earth, presents its own challenges as the vastly more powerful and advanced Aonise must deal with a vastly inferior but numerically superior human race. I keep comparing this series to a combination of Game of Thrones mixed with 70's Era Battlestar Galactica, with just a dash of Kevin J. Anderson's Seven Suns Saga. Great plotting and characters will keep you turning pages and wanting more.

Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough

Aral Kinglsayer is a broken man. Once a priest of Namara, the Goddess of Justice, he was an assassin, bonded to a shadowy wraith, Triss, as all her priests were, smiting the mighty when they became unjust. Namara was cast down by the other gods and their proxy priesthoods, and most of her priesthood were hunted down and killed. Now living in hiding, he is a drunk and works as a kind of fixer, working as a courier and petty criminal, doing collections. When a noble lady approaches him about a job, he is swept up into a conspiracy that will bring him face to face with his past life and force him to make hard choices. Can their be justice when the very embodiment of justice has been murdered? If Aral and Triss have their way, there will be justice again. With a great cast of characters, especially Aral and Triss, as well as fantastic plotting and setting that are original in a sea of Tolkien knockoffs, this series should appeal to a wide range of fantasy fans looking for something a little different.

The Ivanhoe Gambit (Timewars Book 1)

The Ivanhoe Gambit by Simon Hawke

First in a 12 book series, The Ivanhoe gambit deals with one of my favorite sci-fi topics, time travel, in a creative way. After the discovery of time travel, world governments decided to do away with war in the present, instead sending soldiers into the past and inserting them into armies of the past as foot soldiers, then having arbitrators decide the outcome of the soldiers work. It's this scenario this book starts in, as Sgt. Lucas Priest of the US Temporal Corp is tasked with an unusual task, assisting in a timeline adjustment, as something has gone on in a previous time that has altered the course of history.

That something occurred during the time of King Richard I of England, and through cosmetic surgery, Lucas, Private Finn Delaney and others are inserted in to replace certain historical figures, Including Lucas taking Ivanhoe's place and Finn  replacing Robin Hood. They discover there is a rogue Temporal Referee tinkering with time and it is up to them to stop him before his plans come to fruition. Excellently plotted, it has non stop action and deals with time travel in a very analytical way, trying to maintain consistency with its own rules at all times. The characters are excellent, and some later additions in the series, including a recurring villain, really add some spice and keep you wanting more.

BRUTAL: An Epic Grimdark Fantasy (BRUTAL TRILOGY Book 1) by [Alderdice, James]

You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.
This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely
 I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!

It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World (Bad World  Book 1) by [Lawson, Curtis M.]

It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World by Curtis M. Lawson

This wild, funhouse ride of insanity has everything you could look for in an action/mild horror hybrid. A Rhodesian Mercenary with ethics, a militant Catholic nun assassin, a terminally ill pair of serial killers, a guy who destroys peoples lives for cash, as well as dirty cops, junkies, pervs, and a pair of daggers that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper, known as the Fangs of Wallachia. As you can imagine, everybody want to get a hold of those and the power they hold. With an interesting cast of characters, excellent dialogue, some quirky plot twists, and crazy action and horror touches, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from urban fantasy, horror and thriller fans.

I am considering doing a part 2 of this list, depending on feedback, so please feel free to leave comments about what you think of the list.