Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Bookwyrm's review of Wraith Lord by CT Phipps

Author: CT Phipps

Pages: To Be Determined

Release Date: To Be Determined

Publisher: Mystique Press

Series: Book 2 of the Three Worlds series

I often mention in my reviews the sophomore slump, that tendency of a second book in a series to be a bit of a letdown after an especially good series debut. I can happily say that Wraith Lord suffers no letdown from Wraith Knight, and is equal to or surpasses it in every measure, whether it be worldbuilding, depth of characters or action and pacing.

The story starts five years after the end of Wraith Knight, and Jacob Riversson, former commander of the Shadowguard, former involuntary Wraith Knight and now inheritor of the mantle and power of the god of evil, The King Below, is living in the Shadowlands with his two wives, the warrior Regina ni Whitetremor and the sorceress Serah Brightwaters, as they struggle to unite the shadow races into a unified force. Not the easiest thing since the King Below kept them in line through terror and slavery. That's not how Jacob intends to rule. Also, he has less power than the King Below, since he split the power three ways with Regina and Serah. While his brides both want to raise up their armies and go invade the Southern Kingdoms and kill the Nine Heroes who usurped the empire, Jacob, while he spent 2 and half centuries as a Wraith Knight (think Ring Wraith), has no real desire to wreak all that death and destruction on the South. 

Events start in motion though, when a figure thought dead re-enters Regina's life, chased by a figure from Serah's more dubious past, Fel Hellsword, one of the Nine Heroes, and a powerful Archmage. This new person causes a change in plans, since they now have an idea of where Jassamine, the leader of the Nine, and Saint of the Alessian Empire and The Lawgiver, the god of that empire, is planning to strike next: Kerifas, a city traditionally at the center of territorial disputes. It seems the Imperials are forcing all the non-human's in the city into ghettos in an attempt to get them to rise up. Since the cities Fir Bolgs (blue skinned nd antlered humanoids) are already living in those ghettos, they aren't happy having some of their blood enemies such as Jotuns and Boggans forced into their territory. This revelation forces our antiheroes to discover what the Nine's plan is, and try and stop it before a small scale genocide can be brought to fruition, ending in a climactic battle of bad vs. worse, since no one in this story has clean hands.

One thing I loved about Wraith Knight was the grimdark sense of moral ambivalence,  the sense that the "Hero" wasn't so much an anti-hero, and more an anti-villain, fairly amoral and very much and ends justify the means character. This book increases that trend, as all three of the triumvirate of Dark Gods are morally flexible at best, and power hungry potential despots at worst. Still, in comparison to the truly evil Nine Heroes, they come across pretty well. The worldbuilding is top notch, with The Shadowlands expanded upon, as well as adding Kerifas as a setting, with its huge disparity in rich and poor quarters, and it's long history as disputed territory. The new and expanded creature types are interesting, and the added characters, especially Ketras, really add to the story. All these characters seem like real people in the worst situation, with their flaws magnified by the stresses placed upon them, and some of them rising above it to do the right thing, whatever that may be. The action scenes are well written, and the final battle scene has so many twists I just didn't see coming.  Overall, its more of what made Wraith Knight such a grimdark gem to read, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Book cover reveal!

After getting a chance to enjoy and review Ulff Lehmann's dark fantasy gem, Shattered Dreams, Ulff asked me if I'd be interested in doing a cover reveal for the sequel, Shattered Hopes!

Of course I said yes, being a huge fan of book one. So, without further delay, Ulff Lehmann presents the cover to his latest work, Shattered Hopes, soon available on Amazon.com.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Morningwood by Nenen Iliev



Author: Nenen Iliev

Length: 189 Pages/ 8 Hours, 23 minutes (Audio)

Release Date: October 27, 2017/ October 30, 2017 (Audio)

Publisher: Spoken Realms (Audio)

Series: Everybody Loves Large Chests (Book 1)

When I first saw this, I thought it was just a parody of the usual LitRPG fare. While it is hilarious, it actually is a fairly serious look at the tropes of LitRPG, and I found it to be exceptionally entertaining and well written, with a unique MC and some fun secondary characters. It is also very adult.

When a low level hero enters the dungeon, he expects to fight the usual giant rats and poisonous mushrooms, that sort of low level thing. When the latest hero goes through the usual mobs of low level monsters, he finds a tasty looking chest just waiting for him to open! Score! Well, until the chest eats him, that is, since the newbie area of the dungeon has started spawning Mimics! Mimics are monsters that are shaped like treasure chests, and then sprout grabbing tongues and teeth when opened. Usually they are a lower level nuisance, although in this case, something weird happens. The Mimic, basically a mindless monster, starts leveling up, including intelligence. 

So starts the mimic's rise to a monster of menace, as he continues to level up, eating one adventurer after another. As he levels up, he gains a new ability: Warlock, and eventually levels up enough to summon demons. and with this new ability, the story really takes off, as he summons his first demon, a succubus he calls Snack (the reason for this is hilarious). From there, its off to the wider world, as they start a series of improbable adventures, adding a new companion, and altering the fabric of the kingdom forever with their actions! 

You would think a book starring a barely sentient chest shaped monster wouldn't be character driven, and in that, you'd be wrong. Being inside the Mimic's head is a hilarious experience, as it goes from just animal cunning to being a genius for its kind, which is about the level of a box of rocks. His companions, Snack and Arms, are hilarious too, and their interactions really help sell the story. The setting is well thought out, and you get a real sense of being in the story. Considering the story takes place mostly in a dungeon and a forest, its very well laid out. Without becoming a complete satire, it does have some fun with the common LitRPG tropes, and definitely has some very risqué adult content. Definitely something a fan of Lit RPG or comedic fantasy should enjoy.

The narration is handled by the talented Jeff Hays, in what I consider to be some of his best work. His voice work for the various characters is so varied, and really brings each character to life. His narrative pacing is some of the best in the business, and it never lags a bit. Definitely a reason to get the audiobook.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes




Author: Mark T. Barnes

Length: 506 Pages/ 16 hours, 47 minutes (Audio)

Publisher: 47 North/Brilliance Audio

Release Date: May 21, 2013

Series: Echoes of Empire (Book 1)

Narrator: Nick Podehl

This is a review that has been long in coming, since, to be perfectly honest, this is literally my favorite fantasy series of all time. I have read a few series that come close to this in my mind, such as ML Spencer's Rhenwars series, CT Phipps Wraith Knight series and David Oliver's Great Hearts series, but for my money, this is as good as epic fantasy gets.

In the Shrianese Federation, successor to the Awoken Empire, the Game of Houses is alive and well. When his father-in-law is falsely accused of raiding an off limits outland he is supposed to guard, Indris, called Dragoneye, a master swordsman and a powerful Scholar-Mage, steps up to defend him and his lands from the army of the other families raised against him. He helps hold off the army long enough to let his father-in-law escape, although Indris and his companions are captured by the armies of the mastermind behind the attack, Corajadin. Barely avoiding execution, Indris is determined to stop Corajadin from taking over his father-in-law's lands, which would give him access to the ancient secrets hidden in the outlands, known as the Romarc. He is also determined to protect the current leader of the Federation from the machinations of Corajadin, who can potentially become leader, and has ambitions to remake the Awoken Empire with himself as the Emperor.

Surviving an ambush that takes the leadership of the Federation out of play, Indris, with the help of his companions, his powerful mentor, and even a member of Corajadin's family, has to try and stop a seismic shift in power in the Federation. In addition, there are other players in the game with goals of their own, including an Engothic Witch who is aiding Corajadin and who may extract a price the Federation can't afford, as well as a person from Indris's past who he thought long dead, who is lurking in the background. All the while, Indris must fight political battles with his own side, who don't want to face the real dangers they are facing. It all leads to a climactic showdown, as Indris and company try and stop the ancient secrets from being released, and keeping Corajadin from destroying the Federation in the quest for Empire.

There is so much to love about this book, and series as a whole. The world building is fantastic, with a wide range of locations throughout, all lovingly described in such a way that you feel you are there personally, all without feeling like filler. The plot is intricate and fast paced, never leaving you feeling it drags along, but moving you from one scene to the next seamlessly. The real strength of this book, though, is the characters. From the main characters to the faceless masses, the author manages to inject life and personality into them all. Indris is my personal favorite. A powerful mage, he struggles against the destiny others planned for him, and charts his own course, regardless of the personal cost.  Intensely loyal, he will do anything, risk anything, for those he loves. Mari, Corajadin's daughter, and the black sheep of the family, is also a favorite. a fantastic warrior, she is conflicted over loyalty to her family's machinations and her oaths to the Federation. She also struggles against the destiny planned for her, refusing to be a family brood mare. All the other various characters are well drawn out, never feeling two dimensional. they have realistic motives and ambitions, even the villains. In fact, the villains in this series are some of the best you will find in fantasy. They are that well written. 

Nick Podehl handles the narrative work, and is he fantastic! He brings all the various characters to life, imbuing each with their own voice and personality through a variety of accents, tones and pace. His narrative pacing is some of the best in the business, and there is a reason he gets so much work. Just another reason to check this series out.

Is the series perfect? No, but in my mind, its not far from it. The author does go the route of complicated and unusual character, nation and location names, which is not for every reader. I don't mind it, but when I recommend it to my friends that do mind that, I recommend they try the audio version. It really does solve the issue for a lot of people. That's about all I can see that fantasy fans might take issue with. The backstory is as deep as it gets, and the politics, actions and magic are top rate. I wholeheartedly recommend this series for fans of epic fantasy, be it Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time or even lesser known titles. This series matches up well with any of them. It is also a completed trilogy, so don't go in thinking you have to wait ten years for the next book. I do hope to see more of Indris's adventures one day though.


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Thunderbolt by Brandon Cornwell




Author: Brandon Cornwell

Length: 267 Pages/ 13 Hours, 13 minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Podium Publishing (Audio)

Release Date: December 1, 2017/ March 27, 2018

Series: Dynasty of Storms

Narrator: Ralph Lister

As with most second books in a series, I had some trepidation with this one. A lot of second books of a series can be a bit of a letdown, especially compared to an outstanding debut. This, however, was not the case with this one. If anything, it took the ball from the first book and ran with it in a wildly creative, dark fantasy epic.

After the events in Greenreef in which Elias, a giant outcast elf, defeated the pirates that had plagued the islands, only to have his betrothed and unborn child murdered by those same pirates, Elias and a force of Sea Elves return to the mainland. They are seeking vengeance on the pirate's leader, Darius Tessermyre, and his allies in the Felle, the dark army of Orcs, Ogres, Trolls and other dark creatures. After landfall, they discover the mainland situation is even more dire than when Elias left, with the Felle making gains everywhere.

Returning to the north to go meet with his foster brother, who was supposed to inherit the throne, Elias and his small army are sidetracked with the changes in the North. He learns from a group of dwarves that Elias helps with a dragon problem, that his brother didn't win the succession. He is now basically caretaker for his own possessions, as dishonest nobles have sided with someone else as king. Elias and his army help his brother take back the city, and then make plans to rescue the former queen, who is still alive and held hostage. The subsequent rescue attempt and its results will change the North forever, as they discover that the cause of all the troubles may tie in to the larger world in ways they never imagined. Secrets will be uncovered as an army the likes of which has never been seen in the North approaches to take down Elias and his allies, and some unlikely allies join the battle to determine the fate of the North in one climactic battle.

While it is an excellently plotted book, and the world building is first rate, this is basically a character driven book. The characters, especially Elias, are so richly detailed, with motivations and actions that ring true to their personalities, you can't help but be engaged as you read. Their every success and failure you feel personally, as you become engrossed in their decision making process. The secondary characters are fleshed out as well, and even the villains have realistic goals and motivations, even if it is just personal ambition. Its obvious the author was dedicated to making characters the reader could believe in.

Ralph Lister handles the narration work in a spectacular fashion. With his sort of raspy British voice, he gives a character life they might not have known otherwise. His emotions really show when he handles the dialogue, and he gives each character a unique voice of their own. His narrative pacing is excellent as always, and he never dips into a monotone. He is definitely one of the best voice actors working in the market today.

Overall, this is a book I wholeheartedly recommend for any fans of dark fantasy. Not quite as grimdark as the first book, and without the adult content of the first, this is easily a worthy successor to the first book and should appeal to a wide range of fantasy readers.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann







Author: Ulff Lehmann

Length: 516 Pages

Publisher: Mystique Press

Release Date: March 24, 2018

This is one of those book I had on my TBR pile for a while, but just had trouble getting to it. Finally, I decided to read it, and life kept intruding, and it took way to long to finish. Not because it was bad or uninteresting, because that's not the case, just life kept interfering. Having finished it, I can say that this grimdark gem was definitely worth the time put into reading it.

The story starts with two children who chase their dog who runs off into the Woods of Gathran, the old home of the vanished elves. Proceeding deeper into the forest, they come across an ancient site of magic, where something that has been long held is now stirring. Unfortunately for them, their being children isn't protection against the evil happening their, and this being grimdark, you can guess what happens.

We then come across Drangar Rallgon in a small village, where he lives as a shepard. After a run in with a spoiled noble which leaves the noble dead, he heads off to parts unknown to escape the unfair fate that would await him if he stayed. Unfortunately, he is ambushed and captured on the road, where his captors intend to use him in a demonic sacrifice. He is mortally wounded in the sacrifice, which is interrupted by Kildanor, a Chosen of Lesanagh, the banned god of the sun and war He has abilities well above those of mortal men, and manages to stop the demonologists before they complete their ritual.
  This is where the story really takes off, as they return to the city of Dunthiochagh, which is ruled by Baron Duasonh, a just ruler, often at odds with the weak, corrupt king in the capital city of Harrail. Drangar is placed in a room as they await his death from his wounds. Meanwhile, something that hasn't been seen in over a hundred years has occurred. A young Phoenix wizard named Ealisaid wakens from a magically induced sleep that was supposed to last two weeks. Instead, it has lasted over a hundred years, and her order has been destroyed. Confused and thinking what she is seeing is an illusion tricking her by one of her colleagues, she lashes out with her magic, destroying two building and killing a dozen people. Kildanor, the last person to face a Phoenix wizard, stops her before she can bring down more destruction, and she ends up in the dungeon. While in the dungeon, she manages to help bring Drangar back to life with Kildanor's help.

All this happens as the Baron's cousin betrays them all, raising a coup, and they find out he has set up the kingdom to fall to their northern neighbors. The coup is put down at heavy cost, but the capital is invaded and the king captured. This all leads to a wild series of events, as Drangar is brought back to life, and they discover their is a conspiracy much deeper than suspected. As the invading army approaches the Baron's city, a lone elf has returned from their exile to try and fix what his people caused by leaving the forbidden demon summoning texts in their forest home when they left. They seem to have some tie in to what is going on, and Drangar finds out he is part of a conspiracy he could never have imagined, as his past comes back to haunt him. We are left at the end with the Dunthiochagh surrounded by an invading army, ready to strike, but with the defenders having some aces up their sleeves, including the freed wizard Ealisaid, who has found a reason to live in this strange new world.

While the book has some excellent world building and plotting that really doesn't lag, the characters are where this book shines! Drangar was my particular favorite, haunted by memories of atrocities and failures to go along with his successes. He is haunted by a force within him, struggling to be released. The rest of the cast also has attention lavished on them, so even minor characters resonate in the reader's mind. The plotting is solid, with the second two thirds really taking off and running full tilt. There are lots of dark moments throughout, with humor leavened in to keep it from becoming a grim slog, which is an excellent approach to grimdark writing.  The magic is limited to a few people, since the order of wizards was put down, leaving priests and chosen as the only magic users in everyday life. The backstory is deep too, which is a good, often overlooked touch that I appreciated.

Is the book perfect? No. The author does give into the temptation to use odd, hard to pronounce names, which is off putting to some readers. Of course, my favorite book series, Mark Barnes Echoes of Empire trilogy, is the king of weird names series, so it didn't put me off. I hope to have an audio version one day to see if the voices in my head pronounce the names the same as the author.  Overall, I can't recommend this book highly enough, and its mix politics, danger, adventure and grimdark evil should resonate with a lot of readers.


Monday, July 30, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Jurassic Jackaroo: Jaspers Junction by Roma Gray




Author: Roma Gray

Length: 251 Pages/ 4 hours, 43 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: J. Ellington Ashton Press

Release Date:  July 27, 2017/ January 15, 2018

Narrator: Terry F. Self

I discovered this one on a Facebook audiobook promotions group offering Audible codes for honest reviews. I had a bunch of other books to finish, but the author was local, and the premise interested me, since I have always been fascinated by Native American superstition. I'm glad I took a chance on it, since I discovered a talented author and a fantastic narrator.

In the turn of the turn of the 19th century western US, a retired gunfighter who has more money than he can spend meets a Native man with an interesting story to tell. A story about his tribe, and a curse that brings death from an ancient monster to all that speak of it out loud. An ancient monster his tribe brought about with their shamans' magic and hubris. Right then, part of the roof collapses and the Native runs out of the room, leaving the gunslinger to wonder if what he said was true. Following the native out of the saloon, he finds him, just as he is being slaughtered by a creature of nightmare. Speaking to it, he finds he's not a target, since he hasn't spoken of the monster. This gives him an idea for some excitement in his life, something sorely lacking since he retired.

A bit in the past, we see a young native boy talking to his mother, confused why she is so sad. Turns out, she was supposed to pass her magic on to her children, and since she didn't, well, the tribe wants the magic back from her. They get it back too, in a horrific scene the young boy is forced to watch. Ten years later, a girl he had a crush on when he was younger is about to meet the same fate. Instead, he convinces her to run away with him to the white mans world, where hopefully, the tribe and it's evil wont be able to find them.

A year later, we find them working a ranch with an immigrant Australian couple who moved to the states to start a ranch. They are happy and accepted by all the local townsfolk and church members, and have begun to reconstruct their lives. Then, out of nowhere, the girl is captured by their tribes shamans, who have managed to track them down and need to get her back to complete the sacrifice. The boy and the rancher determine to take off after them and get her back. This leads to a series of misadventures as they try and get her back before they reach the tribe, but things don't quite go as planned.

Meanwhile, in Jasper's Junction, a ghost town the gunslinger had made as a prop, the Gunslinger has invited a bunch of gun fighters, warriors, thieves and assassin's to compete in a hunt in the town for items that, when found, will show their skill and get them into the game of riches the gunslinger has proposed.  All they have to do is find one of several Fabergé Eggs recently stolen from the Tsar of Russia's collection, and get them to the saloon. Of course, they have to make it through lethal traps, hired gunmen out to kill them as well as each other, since millions of dollars are on the line and they will all kill anyone in their way. This interesting group of characters is whittled away until only 5 are left, and the gunslinger gives his proposal: Be part of his safari to hunt a mythical monster which he wont give details about to avoid invoking the curse.

Meanwhile, in the mountains, the young native man and woman face their tribe as they are about to do the unspeakable to them. Suddenly, a commotion arises, and the ceremony is disrupted and chaos ensues. In this confusion, the young native man is given an offer of a chance to come out on top if he's willing to make a rather unpalatable deal. Seeing no other choice, he accepts, spinning the future onto its head, and leaving us to ponder where his story will go next.

For a fairly short book, the world building in this one is well done. You get a good feel for where the story takes place, especially Jasper's Junction, which feels like an old west version of the Marvel Comics villain Arcade's Murderworld, only competent in killing people. The characters are well executed, with their motivations and actions feeling natural and organic to who they are and what they have experienced. The villain, if you can call an ancient spirit monster a villain, is excellent, keeping hidden and only striking when the moment is right, and it's final appearance turns the whole story topsy-turvy. The whole thing feels like a combination of Grimdark weird west mixed with the inventions and adventures of Wild, Wild West. All we needed was Robert Conrad to make a cameo to make the whole thing perfect. 

Narration was handled by Terry F. Self, who did a fantastic job both bringing the characters to life and keeping the narration flowing. He avoided trop accents for the natives and foreign characters, taking a nuance approach. His change of tones, inflections and emphasis definitely differentiated each character, and he is definitely a reason to consider checking this book out.