Book Review: Seer’s Stone by Holly Evans

October 22, 2017 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy | By

Seers Stone (Hidden Alchemy #1)Seers Stone by Holly Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great series opener

I loved this book. Normally, I’ll be in the middle of two or three books at any give time and take a few days to work through them all, but once I started reading Seer’s Stones I just kept going. It was a fast read and lots of fun. The characters are well-developed and their individual strengths and weaknesses mesh nicely to make for a good team. There’s quite a bit of humor in the book and a fair amount of talk about sex, but the few actual sex scenes that are included are quite mild.

Interestingly, there wasn’t really any kind of defined villain to the story, which is about the main characters’ attempts to obtain a valuable artifact. Others are also looking for it, of course, and the dramatic tension comes from our heroes trying to stay ahead of these various rivals. I really rather liked the idea that there wasn’t just one guy who kept throwing blocks in their way nor any grand conspiracy against them as it felt more like how a situation like this might actually play out.

This is a good start to what looks to be a really fun series.

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Book Review: Cursed Sight by TG Ayer

August 24, 2017 | Posted in Alternate History, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology-Based, Urban Fantasy | By

Cursed Sight (Dark Sight Book 2)Cursed Sight by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In this second volume of TG Ayer’s “Dark Sight” series, Pythia Allegra Damascus and her guardian Commander Max Vissarion are headed to Peru where Allegra’s visions have shown her an event of massive destruction is soon to occur. Upon arriving, however, she discovers that not everyone is thrilled with her desire to help, perhaps not even the representatives of her home country’s government who are supposed to assistant her – and she has no idea why.

“Cursed Sight” introduces us to several new characters, including the staff who had cared for Aurelia, Allegra’s predecessor as Pythia. I found Mara, Aurelia’s handmaid, to be a delight. She’s a mischievous and cantankerous older woman who’s as sharp as a tack and hides beneath her gruff exterior a deep devotion for the women she serves. I hope we see more of her in future installments.

We also learned more about Allegra’s enemies and a few breadcrumbs were dropped that point to a possible future betrayal that had the potential to be devastating. I can’t wait to see how that develops!

While there were a number of mysteries that kept me guessing up until they were revealed, there were a couple of cases where the foreshadowing was a bit heavy-handed making their eventual revelations a bit too obvious for me. That said, the book as a whole was very enjoyable and has me looking forward to what happens next.

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Book Review: Dragon Redeemer by Amy Bearce

July 30, 2017 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction | By

Dragon Redeemer (World of Aluvia, #3)Dragon Redeemer by Amy Bearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The third – and, I believe, final – book in the “World of Aluvia” series wraps up the stories of our six heroes – Sierra, Micah, Phoebe, Tristan, Nell and Corbin – quite nicely. While all six are involved, though, this is truly Nell’s story.

In Fairy Keeper and Mer-Charmer (the first two books in the series) we are initially introduced to Nell as an enforcer for the ruthless gang of drug-dealing alchemists who was doing what she had to for her family’s safety, and saw her grow into a new role as the host of a mysterious voice which spoke through her to the people of Aluvia about the need to rebalance magic in the world and maintain that balance so the world won’t be destroyed.

By the time of “Dragon Redeemer,” Nell has gotten somewhat used to the voice taking over whenever it decided a message need to be relayed, but she wasn’t entirely at peace with it, nor with having given up her identity as a warrior to learn how to be a healer instead. While her boyfriend Corbin is thrilled with her transition into a peaceful way of life, Nell feels like she’s setting aside an integral part of who she is.

This conflict – both within herself and between her and Corbin – comes into sharp focus when the group learns that a magic-user calling himself The Dragon plans to take over the world and declare all magical creatures – such as fairies, mer-folk, fauns and dragons – as subservient to humans, who can use them and their magical abilities however they want. To stop him, Nell will have to learn more about the voice that has chosen her as its vessel and find a way to reconcile her healing and warrior sides.

Much of this book, like Fairy Keeper, is taken up by a trek through unknown lands searching for something Nell needs to help her defeat The Dragon. Quest stories aren’t always my favorite, but this one was better than many I’ve read, with a minimum of the side distractions that usually only serve to slow the heroes – and the story – down. And the last part of the book, after they’ve reached their objective is really good. Author Amy Bearce’s descriptions of what is happening and how Nell is reacting are vivid and, in some ways, I almost felt like I could see it unfolding on a screen in front of me.

Nell is probably my favorite of the six main characters in this series. She’s the most complex, and I find her quite relatable – and very likable, too. This isn’t to say that the other characters aren’t relatable or likable – they are – but there’s just something about Nell that makes her stand out even more, at least to me.

I’ve noticed with a few series in the last couple of years that sometimes the author keeps escalating things until they become so big and out-of-control that by the last book (or books, in longer series) the situation has gotten so preposterous that I don’t even want to finish it. That is most certainly *not* the case here. Bearce has done a great job over the three books of raising the stakes enough to keep things interesting and make the adventures important, without turning it into a metaphysical Gordian Knot that makes you want to turn your brain inside out to see if that helps it make more sense, and for that, I heartily thank her.

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Book Review: Mer-Charmer by Amy Bearce

July 23, 2017 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction | By

Mer-Charmer (World of Aluvia, #2)Mer-Charmer by Amy Bearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The second installment in the World of Aluvia takes place 4 years after “Fairy Keeper” and focuses on Phoebe Quinn, the younger sister of “Fairy Keeper’s” main character, Sierra Quinn. As the story opens, Phoebe has largely recovered from the ordeal she underwent in the previous book, but not entirely, and has found a great deal of comfort hanging out under the sea with her Mer friends, Tristan and his twin sister Mina. While Sierra is off traveling, she has asked Phoebe to stay close to home and not go to the sea, but being 14 and lonely, Phoebe goes anyway. Her defiance nearly gets her into serious trouble, however, and her only escape is to go with her friends to their village under the sea – a town filled with Merfolk who aren’t too fond of humans and, unbeknownst to them, about to face an ancient threat that has recently re-emerged.

Unlike “Fairy Keeper,” “Mer-Charmer” doesn’t involve a small group undertaking a quest to far-away lands in search of something, which gives the book a faster pace and the action seems more relevant to the actual goal than the various hazards a questing group can run into, and it made for nice contrast with the first story. Bearce has created a well-developed culture for the Merfolk as well as a history that explains why they tend to be wary of humans – even a human like Phoebe who clearly only wants to help.

I really enjoyed this book and read it pretty much in a single sitting. Bearce provides clear descriptions of the underwater world she’s created and I felt like I could see the Merfolk, their village and the events taking place there. Phoebe, Tristan, and Mina are very likable characters, and the friendship they share is portrayed strongly enough to justify the risks they’re willing to take for each other.

All-in-all, “Mer-Charmer” is definitely a worthwhile read.

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Book Review: Dead Radience by TG Ayer

June 29, 2017 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Mythology-Based, Urban Fantasy | By

Dead Radiance (Valkyrie, #1)Dead Radiance by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a great love for books that use Norse lore as a basis, so checking out this series was pretty much inevitable for me – and I’m glad I did. It’s one of the better ones I’ve come across. Author TG Ayer mines the rich treasure that Nordic myths provide and keeps the main core of the various characters reasonably close to the source material while giving them a unique spin to make them her own. She gives Asgard and its denizens the sense of ancient grandeur and magical wonder they deserve interwoven with the culture and technology of today, giving the series depth and relatability.

Ayer also does a nice job of keeping the story fresh by subverting some of the tropes that are all too common in the Urban Fanfasy genre. There were a number of times throughout the 5-book series where I thought I knew exactly where something was heading only to be surprised when it played out in an entirely different way. That’s something I appreciated so much, I’m now checking out some of her other series in the hopes that they, too, will provide such freshness (and in the case of Dark Sight – the only one I’ve finished so far – that’s been the case.)

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Book Review: Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce

May 21, 2017 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction | By

Fairy Keeper (World of Aluvia, #1)Fairy Keeper by Amy Bearce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Fairy Keeper is a good story. It tells the tale of a young teenager, Sierra Quinn, who has a special connection with the fairies of her world. Her cruel father has her collect the nectar the fairies make to use in poisons and highly addictive potions. When Sierra discovers a problem with her fairies, it threatens her father’s business and puts her beloved little sister in danger. Sierra, accompanied by one of her father’s enforcers, undertakes a quest to find a solution. As is usual in stories such as this, other companions join in the journey, creating an interesting mix of personalities that play nicely off of each other.

One problem I ran into is that there are times where Sierra will sort of get “stuck” thinking about a certain topic and even if her thoughts on the matter were gradually evolving, the author would reiterate them frequently enough that they’d become overly repetitious. While the point may be to show that she’s preoccupied with the topic, the point could have been made with fewer repetitions.

Aside from that, though, the book is enjoyable. The characters develop nicely and in ways that feel realistic. There are some nice twists and turns to the plot and the book gives you a complete story. There’s certainly plenty of room for further adventures with Sierra and her friends in the world of Aluvia (and there are two more books in the series, “Mer Charmer” and the forthcoming “Dragon Redeemer,” but you’re not left hanging at the end, something else I appreciated.

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

September 29, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology-Based | By

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: “Bitter of Tongue” by Cassandra Clare

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

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, Fantasy, Mythology-Based | By

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, Fantasy, Fiction | By

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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