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We stand in the sun and look back in our tracks
An image of self in grays and in blacks
Laughter and joy hold us in their sweet thrall
But even in wonderland shadows must fall

Book Review: “The Chosen of Anthros” by Travis Simmons

September 29, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction, mythology-based

The Chosen of AnthrosThe Chosen of Anthros by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

“The Chosen of Anthros” is the 4th book in Travis Simmons’ “Harbingers of Light” series and picks up where “A Lament of Moonlight” leaves off – with our heroes having finally found their way through the forest and ready to head into the Harbinger settlement.

This entry in the series is full of surprises as we learn more about both the Harbingers and the plague in general and the characters specifically. Once they reach the settlement, each of the characters is given training and tasks that keep them separate much of the time, and Simmons does a nice job of spreading the story between them, giving each the chance to grow individually. There are also the beginnings of what might turn out to be a sweet love story, which is a nice touch amongst the seriousness of the rest of the events.

As a lover of Norse mythology, I like how Simmons uses various aspects of the stories to tell an original tale – not just a retelling of established lore. While he uses different names for some of the gods, it’s still pretty clear who they are (especially if you’re at all familiar with the myths) but it allows him to endow them with different characteristics, making them fresh.

This installment ends with a shocking cliffhanger – which sometimes can be rather off-putting. In this case, however, it just makes me that much more eager to see what happens next.

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Book Review: “The Rings of Power” by Lor Hasse

September 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

The Rings of Power (Solomon's Circle Book 2)The Rings of Power by Lor Haase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“The Rings of Power” is the follow-up to Lor Hasse’s novel, “Circleborn.” In that first book, we met a group of young adults who are part of a circle of magic wielders, whose powers are passed down from one generation to the next, and each of whom wields a different kind of magic – for example, there’s blood magic, earth, ancestral, and so forth. For the circle to function properly, each type of magic must be represented, and to maintain that balance needed for the magic to work properly, there are bonds of varying strength between different kinds of magic.

The first book introduced us to the characters, the magical system, and the basic conflict, which involves a member from an older generations circle who wants to obtain more power for himself by eliminating the next circle generation. While trying to protect themselves from the rogue mage, the group also finds itself facing stresses from within due to the complex nature of the bonds, leading some members to consider taking actions that might prove to be detrimental to the group and its goal. The play between the internal and external struggles is nicely balanced and gives each character different issues to contend with and different opportunities for growth.

One of my biggest complaints about the earlier book was that Hasse the tended to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time, dropping hints and foreshadowing, but tending to drag out the explanation that allowed the story to progress forward. Fortunately, in this second installment, he rarely does this at all, providing us instead with good, solid suspenseful scenes that lead up to a reveal, taking enough time to let our curiosity peak, but doesn’t draw it out too long, giving this book a much faster pace. Also, a problem with typographic errors I had noticed in the first book has apparently been cleared up as I didn’t notice as many this time around.

While I did enjoy the book a great deal, and do recommend it, there are a few places where it feels like I might have missed some details – either from the first book or from earlier in this one. There are times various concepts are discussed or references are made to structural issues within the circle where I feel like I’m perhaps missing some of the information needed to put it into a fuller context, but I found that for the most part when I kept reading the context would usually become clear enough that I was able to follow along without any problem and enjoy the story unfolding.

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Book Review: “Bitter of Tongue” by Cassandra Clare

September 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Bitter of Tongue (Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy)Bitter of Tongue by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of my favorite entries in the “Tales From Shadowhunter Academy” series. This book helps set up the next book in the Shadowhunter series by giving us a closer look at the Blackwood family. In the “Mortal Instruments” series, young Mark Blackwood is kidnapped by the Fairies and forced to join the Wild Hunt. Because the political situation with the Fairies is so tenuous, however, the Clave decides not to try to rescue him.

In this story, Simon has an encounter with Mark, one which is both deeply moving and deeply troubling, and helps show what it is about Simon that sets him apart from so many of the other Shadowhunters. His response to the situation is surprisingly mature and shows us more of the strength that gave Simon the ability to survive his transformation into a vampire (and back) and the loss of so many of his memories.

Most of the books in the series have really been quite good, but I think of the ones released so far this one is easily my favorite. It presents a very difficult situation that has no easy answers and serves as an excellent reminder as to why Simon has been such a fan favorite in the series.

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Book Review – “A Lament of Moonlight” by Travis Simmons

September 6, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, mythology-based

A Lament of Moonlight (Harbingers of Light, #3)A Lament of Moonlight by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As the 3rd book in the “Harbingers of Light” series, “A Lament of Moonlight” serves mainly to move the story from one book to the next, rather than present a tale of its own. It does so in fine fashion, as author Travis Simmons once again provides solid character development and several dynamic action scenes.

The setting, once again, is the Fey Forest, which our heroes are traveling through in hopes of reaching the Harbinger of Light settlement, where Abigail can learn to control the Wyrd magic brought on by the shadow plague. The stakes are raised when the group finds itself on the wrong path, meaning that instead of exiting the forest near the elven city and harbinger refuge, they must travel considerably further both in the forest, and from the forest exit to the city .

I’m really enjoying this series. The books are not overlong which helps them maintain a brisk pace – but they’re not so short that story details get left by the wayside. The mythology Simmons is unveiling as the story builds, while based on the Norse mythology, deviates in various ways, so that even if you’ve read a ton of Norse-based stories, there are plenty of surprises amongst the familiar.

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Book Review: “The Saga of Edda-Earth” By Deborah Davitt, parts 1 and 2

June 17, 2015 | Posted in Alternate History, Book Reviews, Epic Fantasy, Fiction

The Valkyrie (The Saga of Edda-Earth Book 1)The Valkyrie by Deborah L. Davitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Goddess Denied (The Saga of Edda-Earth Book II)The Goddess Denied by Deborah L. Davitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[Note: This review covers the first two books of the series – the stories flow together so well, and my comments for each are essentially the same, so it didn’t make sense to make two separate reviews. There are no spoilers for either book in this review.]


Let me get straight to the point – the first two volumes of “The Saga of Edda-Earth” contain some of the best epic fantasy fiction – Norse based or otherwise – I’ve read since Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon,” a book that has been at the top of my favorites list for many years. (At the time of this review, the remainder of the series has not yet been released.)

Like “Mists,” the first two books of “Edda-Earth” dive deeply into its world’s political and religious landscape during a time of change. Edda-Earth is an alternate reality in which Rome never fell. Most of the world is under Rome’s banner, though the amount of control Rome exerts over the different nations varies. Some retain almost full autonomy, while others are almost fully controlled by Rome.  Each nation, however, maintains its own culture, though there are prohibitions on human sacrifice and proselytizing.

The story takes place in times roughly analogous to our own, in which technology and magic exist side-by-side. Author Deborah Davitt has constructed an extensive and detailed alternate world and history for the Saga. The technology used in most of the Empire is fairly similar to our own, though there doesn’t seem to be much of an emphasis on computers and some of the firearms are a bit more primitive. As for magic, there are three distinct schools – ley magic, powered by quantum strings; sorcery, which makes use of physics and the mage’s will; and spirit summoning – as well as people who have inherent abilities from the divine spark of being godborn or god-touched, or who have been granted certain abilities through the use of tools like magical tattoos. I really like the way Davitt has tied science and magic together, while still allowing for some magic to be of a more wonderous nature. 

Since nations retain their indigenous culture and beliefs, religion in Edda-Earth is quite diverse. The strength of any given pantheon derives largely from how many followers it has, and people who have chosen a faith – whether it was a deliberate decision or because they simply followed the faith of their culture – they essentially fade from the awareness of all other gods. Some gods have little to no direct interaction with their followers, relying on faith alone, while others choose to make their presence more tangible.

As the story opens, Propraetor Livorus – a man generally considered to be the right hand of Cesar and who is often sent to deal with delicate diplomatic situations – is being sent to a small nation in the middle of what we know as the U.S., in response to the apparent kidnapping of a young girl who they believe is to be used as a human sacrifice. Accompanying Livorus on the mission are his lictors – kind of a combination body-guard and advisory council. Foremost among his lictors is Sigrun Caesia, a godborn granddaughter of the Norse god Tyr, and the Valkyrie of the first book’s title. Adam ben Maor, who is frequently the lictors commanding officer, is a Judean warrior who is quite skilled in the use of weapons. Kanmi Eshmunazar is a ascerbic but brilliant Carthaginian sorcerer, and Trennus Matrugena, is a ley-mage and spirit summoner from Gaul whose size and prowess often belie his gentle spirit. There are others who come and go or work alongside the lictors, but these are our main heroes.

The story follows them as they discover rumors that the practice of human sacrifice is being restarted in other areas as well, and as they explore the deeper mysteries of what is behind this change and the impact it’s having on the world. Add in a couple of natural disasters and some long-simmering tension threatening to become open war, and Livorus’ crew has their hands full. As with any story, there are a few plot points that will feel a bit familiar or even predictable, but I found myself far more often surprised or shocked by the turn of events and the changes in the characters that resulted.

Part of what makes this series so incredible is the extensive level of character development that Davitt provides. Unlike many epic tales – where we follow the characters primarily for the duration of the perilous journey they must undertake to save the world – here we stay with the characters for an extended number of years and see them not only as they handle their various missions, but also during the times when they are able to remain home. We get to know them as they deal with the full gamut of family issues, from difficult relatives, to falling in love and building their own families, and learn who they are when they have the chance to just be themselves. Rather than slowing down the pacing, however, this additional perspective gives “Edda-Earth” an added richness and the deeper understanding of the characters provides a boost to the tension when they are in danger.

Both “The Valkyrie” and “The Goddess Denied” are long books – each coming in at around 600  pages, so they do require a bit of an investment of your time, but I certainly found it to be well worth it, and I’m excited to see what Davitt has in store for our heroes next!

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Book Review: “The Darkling Tide” by Travis Simmons

April 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based

The Darkling TideThe Darkling Tide by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This reviews contains spoilers for the first book in the series, “A Plague of Darkness.” 

In “The Darkling Tide,” the 2nd book in Travis Simmons’ “Harbingers of Light” series, we rejoin Abigail, Leona, Rorick and Daphne on The Singer’s Trail as they travel through the Fey Forest in search of the elf city and the community of Harbingers that they hope will help Abigail learn how to control the Wyrd powers that accompany the plague. Celeste, the Light elf who had been guiding them has been recalled to the elf city. With Celeste gone and the others new to this world, Daphne is their only guide. The further they travel, however, the harder it gets to resist the pull of the darklings along the sides of the warded trail.

Simmons continues to develop the characters, with each of them facing difficulties that challenge them in unique ways and force them to make choices for which they may not truly be ready. And while Abigail is undergoing a transformative change due to the plague she carries, in many ways, it is little Leona who faces the greatest hurdles. In the first book, she had to sacrifice her beloved doll, Skuld – who frequently spoke to her and gave her guidance –  in order to save her sister and their friends – killing the attacker in the process.  Now we start to see how the experience is weighing on her.

The story had a lot of action to it and moves at a nice, steady pace. We learn more about Agaranth, get a chance to see the elf city, catch a glimpse into the politics between the dark and light elves and meet a few new characters, including Daniken a dark elf who causes trouble between Abagail, Rorick and Leona.

The middle book in a trilogy is usually the trickiest. We’ve already been introduced to the main characters and had the world established in the first volume, and the its ending is really only a resting point, since the third book contains the climax and denouement. As a result, middle books can sometimes feel flat.  Simmons has managed to avoid that here. The characters experience a number of gains and setbacks, while the tension slowly builds to lead us into the final episode. I’m really curious to see how it all turns out!

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Book Review: “Circleborn” by Lor Hasse

April 10, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Circleborn (Solomon's Circle Book 1)Circleborn by Lor Haase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

At first glance, Lor Haase’s “Circleborn” – the first book in his “Soloman’s Circle” trilogy – may sound a bit reminiscent of the “Secret Circle” series (at least the TV version – I’ve not read the books) in that it features a group of families bound together by magic and the magic is passed from one generation to the next.  That’s where the similarity ends, however. 

In Hasse’s story, each family wields a different type of magic, and types gain their power from different sources. The circle is structured in an intricate hierarchy based on how much power a certain type of magic has and the order in which power can be shared between circle members.

 I found the book to be quite enjoyable. He sets up the main conflict nicely, and the characters are likable. The book is fairly short and makes for a quick read, but it’s full of action, making it a lot of fun.  It’s a dark story, though – a couple passages left me pleasantly creeped-out.

There are a couple things that bothered me a bit, which is why I gave it 3 stars. The first is that there are quite a number of typos throughout the book, and while they’re not so serious as to make any part of the book difficult to understand, they did slow down the flow of reading and had a tendency to pull me out of the story for a moment.  

The other is that for much of the first half of the book, Hasse has the characters drop a lot of hints and clues about different story elements by having their thoughts and conversations referencing an unspoken common context without letting the reader know exactly what that context is. This is a tactic many books use to build suspense – and it’s very effective in doing so – but usually it doesn’t seem to take quite as long for the author to reveal the secret to the audience, and it usually only involves a couple characters.  Here, Hasse suspends information from at least 5 different characters, and there were times I found myself flipping back a few pages to refresh my memory on what I’d learned so far. 

That said, I do recommend “Circleborn” for lovers of urban fantasy. There are a lot of surprises in the book, and Hasse has some interesting ideas in play. I found the power-sharing idea intriguing, and really liked the power-learning technique he devised for one character, among many other things, and I’m really looking forward to reading the next installment. 

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Book Review: “A Plague of Darkness” by Travis Simmons

April 1, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based

A Plague of ShadowsA Plague of Shadows by Travis Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Travis Simmons has put together nifty combination of Norse mythology and his own imaginative world-building, creating a unique universe in which to spin tales with familiar touchstones and wholly new ideas. He has taken element of the Noise cosmos and given them original names, which I found was a nice way of signalling that while this universe may be inspired by the Eddas, Epics and Sagas, it was not a retelling of any of the older stories.

“A Plague of Shadows” is the first book in the “Harbinger of Light” trilogy, in which we meet Abigail – a young woman who has found herself having to step into a more adult role of caring for the home and honey farm after her father is injured in an accident – along with her younger sister, Leona, and their neighbour Rorick. They live on the world of “O” which has been under attack from darklings – shadowy creatures capable of performing evil magic and tend to leave death wherever they’ve been. Touching or otherwise coming in contact with a darkling puts a person at a high risk of being infected with the darkling’s shadow and become a darkling themselves.

When Abigail shows symptoms of the plague, her father decides it’s best to send her to Agaranth, the world he originally came from and where his brother and sister still live. That world is also beset by darklings, but unlike O – where the Light Guard “cleanses” anyone who comes down with the plague and punishes people for even talking about the magical or mystical – people on Agaranth have learned to control the plague and even make use of the magic abilities it brings. Because Leona it’s showing signs of becoming a budding seeress, which is, of course, heavily frowned upon by the Guard, and Rorick’s parents are dead, Abagail’s father sends them with her on the journey.

Of course, things don’t go quite as planned, and that’s where the meat of the story kicks in. I was actually surprised how fast the book went. At one point, I’d thought I was no more than maybe a third of the way through, only to find is been reading longer than I’d thought and was nearly 3/4ths done. It’s a truly engrossing story.

The scene where Abigail and friends travel from O to Agaranth is remarkable in describing the World Tree and the rainbow bridge connecting to each of the nine worlds and a heavenly-like plane (with hints of something much darker below.) A guide they meet on the bridge tells them (and us) about this universe and some of what may lie ahead, but because the information is presented while the characters are also exploring this core of the cosmos, it flows more naturally than such expository passages sometimes can.

I have to admit part of the fun for me was in recognizing where’s he’s included Norse elements in somewhat different guises and under somewhat different names and how the old and new mesh together – but he’s done this smartly so that even if you’ve never heard of the Norse, you can still enjoy this tale.

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Book Review: “Erato” by Sharon van Orman

March 28, 2015 | Posted in Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy

Erato (The Sophia Katsaros Series # 2)Erato by Sharon Van Orman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erato by Sharon van Orman

The last time we saw Dr. Sophia Katsaros, she had just returned from a trip to Greece – where she’d gone to find her missing brothers – only to discover an entirely unwelcome guest waiting in her apartment. She soon learns that she’s been targeted by the Enforcers of the werewolf pack who have come after her because no one who learns the secret of the pack is allowed to live.

When she begins finding gruesome messages being left for her as warnings, she decides to go to the pack alpha and get him to call off the dogs, as it were. There she learns that her situation is even more precarious because someone has been killing wolves from the pack and Sophia is the number one suspect. She offers the alpha a deal – if he’ll call off the Enforcers, she’ll prove she isn’t the killer, and use her scientific skills to help him find out who is. So begins a uneasy alliance and a trip back to Greece to track down a killer.

As in “Lykaia,” the story is told from multiple perspectives, with Sophia as the main narrator, written in first person. We also follow one of the Enforcers, see a few scenes from the killer’s point of view, and learn more about the Dryad and Dryad magic in general. I found the system that van Orman has set up for the Dryad magic to be quite interesting. I also liked that as skeptical as Sophia was to start with, as she becomes more excepting of the magical world, you can sense a greater openness in her in general. 

Something I really appreciated was that even though it was obvious that the pack alpha and Sophia found each other attractive, there was no insta-romance to be had here.  They were working together out of necessity and each had very good reasons not to trust the other. While their relationship warmed up some throughout the course of the book, it would have felt cheap to have them jump into bed with all of the questions that is still lingered.

We also spend more time with Illyanna, the girlfriend of one of Sophia’s brothers and mother of her soon-to-be-born niece. The friendship between Sophia and Illyanna is a lot of fun, especially as they learn more about the magical world. There was a natural easiness between them that carried over from the first book as they bonded over their mutual love for Sophia’s brother, and I hope that we are not done with their story.

“Erato” does a great job of wrapping up the story begun in the “Lykaia,” and the pair make for a very satisfying tale. Dr. Sophia Katsaros is an easy character to like and the world van Orman has created has a great balance of the fantastical and the realistic. There are some nice threads that could be easily woven into additional stories – and I sincerely hope they are.

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Book Review: “Lykaia” by Sharon van Orman

March 26, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Urban Fantasy

Lykaia (The Sophia Katsaros Series #1)Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lykaia by Sharon van Orman

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I love werewolves. When it comes to paranormal creatures only witches hold more interest for me than our short, dark and furry friends, so when I had the chance to check out a series with a new take on their origin, how could I pass that up?

Lykaia actually tells several stories. The main story is that of Sophia Katsaros, a medical examiner from Ohio whose younger brothers had gone to Greece for the summer and are now missing. Another tells us about Stavros, a young boy being trained to serve as the high priest for the werewolf pact. A third tells us the true history of how werewolves came to be, and not the myth that has been circulating for centuries. And I the fourth, we learn about a Dryad whose daughter was instrumental in the werewolves’ origin – and who may still have a role to play in their future. 

The book alternates between the four stories in a fragmented fashion that can be a bit tricky at first. While the changes in perspective only happen at the start of a new chapter, we’re not told when the perspective is changing or whose perspective we’re changing to. I soon got a feel for the different voices making the changes much less jarring. All of Sophia’s story is told in first person, the rest are in third, but each has a distinctive voice and tone.  There are also two short vignettes which provide a glimpse into the life of two people who wind up on Sophia’s morgue table. Why these vignettes were included isn’t clear, but they’re both quite short and don’t really detract from the story as a whole.

In spite of the unusual presentation of the different stories, I found the book to be a fairly quick read and quite enjoyable. I’ve always loved the idea that myths came about as ways to explain things mankind couldn’t quite grasp, and Van Orman uses that concept to good effect, especially in the way scientifically-minded Sophia find her beliefs challenged as she searches for answers to the disappearance of her brothers.

The only real complaint I have about the book is that there are several Greek words used throughout the story – and many of them are variations on the title – Lykaia – but there’s no guide as to how the words are pronounced. For me, seeing these similar strings of letters without being able to mentally differentiate then by how they sound left me feeling at times like I was listening to a storyteller who kept mumbling. It wasn’t enough of a problem to keep me from thoroughly enjoying the book, but it did occasionally send me looking pack a few pages to refresh my memory on what a particular term referred to.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, setting up the next volume, “Erato,” but even if it hadn’t, I found the story and the characters enjoyable enough that id want to spend more time with them anyway.

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