Joshua – A Valkyrie Novel, Book 6 by T.G. Ayer

Joshua (A Valkyrie Novel - Book 6) (The Valkyrie Series)Joshua (A Valkyrie Novel – Book 6) by T.G. Ayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read and am voluntarily reviewing a copy I received from the publisher at no cost.

This is a great companion novel (and start of a companion series) to Ayers’ Valkyrie books. The stories take place during the same time period as the original books, with this one covering the time from the first Valkyrie book. The next one will match the time period for the second original book and so on, but they tell the story from the perspective of Joshua, who was an increasingly important side character in the Valkyrie stories.

Because of the overlapping timeframe, there are some incidents that are repeated – something that will likely increase as the series goes forward – but because they’re told from a different character’s perspective it doesn’t feel like a repeat. There’s a freshness to it and new insights into what happens.

I really enjoyed this book and am eager to read the rest. It’s one I read straight through and immediately wanted more.

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Book Review: Fluffy Bunny by Sarah Buhrman

Fluffy Bunny (Runespells, #2)Fluffy Bunny by Sarah Buhrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy of this book.

Oh so good!

The “Runespells” series knocks its second volume outside the park just like it did its first! When I first read in the description that Nicola was going to have to handle this mission without her friends Mercy and Joseph from the first book, I was worried it might end up being too “flat” of a story because they’d added so much texture to Nicola’s adventures, but I honestly found I didn’t really notice their absence as much as I thought I might, and the new friends she makes are welcome company.

In “Fluffy Bunny” Nicola is called upon to investigate a healing cult that is messing with the natural order of things by saving the lives of people who’s time has come, and the death goddess Hel is *not* pleased. To find out what is going on, Nicola must go undercover as someone hoping to join the cult. Her mission becomes more complicated when she finds the cult atmosphere almost too seductive.

Much of the story takes place more-or-less in Nicola’s head as she finds herself taking refuge in the Astral. I found those to be some of the most interesting parts of the book as I got to know Nicola in ways its often hard to get to know a character and because her adventures there helped me not only see but get a real feel for how the physical and ethereal relate to each other. But don’t think that this is mainly a big noodley mind-trip – there’s plenty of action, suspense and things that hit right in the feels.

This series as a lot going for it. For me, one of the best things is it avoids a number of Urban Fantasy tropes. We learned in the first book “Too Wyrd” that Nicola isn’t some chosen one who was born to solve a problem, nor was she someone who suddenly learned her life is a lie, there’s magic in the world, all the myths about the Old Gods are true and that because she’s reached a certain birthday or a little known relative has died she now has a bunch of powers and has to save the world. She’s known about magic and the Old Gods because they’re part of her faith. She ends up being given her task because of choices she made when she was faced with various challenges – and while she may not have known that making the choices she did would result in her taking on this responsibility, her nature is such that it’s hard to imagine she’d make different choices even if she knew what the result would be. While I do love the more “normal” (for lack of a much better term) UF, reading something that looks at the concept from such a different starting point is just a real nice treat.

I really can’t wait for more in this series!

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Book Review: Too Wyrd by Sarah Buhrman

Too Wyrd (Runespells, #1)Too Wyrd by Sarah Buhrman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy of this book.

This book is great. The characters are a lot of fun, and the heroine, Nicola – a single mother and a witch – had just the right mix of strength, stubbornness, street-smarts and courage tampered with compassion and vulnerability. As the story opens, her best friend, Joseph, is telling her that her sister Muriel is missing and that she may have gotten caught up in a cult Nicola’s ex-boyfriend – and the father of her child – is running. She and Joseph quickly head out to determine what’s happening, and when they find out its nothing they’d expected.

I really liked how the story covered a range of emotions. There are action sequences, scenes that are laugh out loud funny, scenes that are heartbreaking and more. It keeps the story moving along nicely and gives the book a feeling of real life when we can experience all those emotions in any given day .

The main characters are well-developed and believable and many of the side characters – even if they’re only in one scene – are colorful and distinct .

The only complaint that I might have about the book is that the final battle scene has so much going on that it was difficult to keep track of what was happening during that scene. Given how good everything else in the book is, though, that’s really just a minor quibble.

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Book Review: Dead Radience by TG Ayer

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: Gears of Fate by Wilbert Stanton

Gears of Fate (Forgotten Gods #1)Gears of Fate by Wilbert Stanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

“Gears of Fate” is a fun read, but it gets off to a bit of a slow start. The world the story takes place in takes a bit of explaining, and the idea of the Norse and Greek Gods working together felt a bit odd to me – though that may be more a function of my great love for the Norse Gods and their lore than anything else. The biggest hurdle for me to overcome, though, was that the lead female character came off rather spoiled and self-centered, leaving me wondering how enjoyable taking a journey with her would be. Thankfully, once the preliminary “setting up” of the story is done and we’re off to the adventure, we see that there’s much more to her than that initial impression suggested and I quickly succumbed to her charms.

The slow-ish start aside, the only real issue I had with the book is that while the steampunk elements work beautifully in the sky-city setting, there are times when the characters are on Earth that it feels a bit tacked on. So much of the Fae world has a natural and organic sense to it that having a creature need its engine wound or seeing a fairy with metal wings jars a bit, though by no means did it stop me from enjoying the story and the world in which it is set.

I particularly liked the way that the author avoided many of the tropes found in the young-people-on-an-impossible-quest genre, and he does a nice job of providing just enough foreshadowing that when a late-in-the-book twist is revealed, it doesn’t feel like it came from out of nowhere.

While this book is subtitled “Forgotten Gods #1” I was quite pleased to find that the story didn’t leave me hanging, waiting months to find out how things turn out. In fact, I initially thought it was a stand alone book, though there is easily plenty of room left for more stories to be told, and I look forward to visiting this world and these characters again.

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

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

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: “A Plague of Darkness” by Travis Simmons

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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