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Review: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland


Dragon Heart
Author:  Cecelia Holland
Publisher:  Tor Books, September 1, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook 288 pages
List Price:  $25.99 (print); $12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765337948 (print); 9781466836495 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland
Where the Cape of the Winds juts into the endless sea, there is Castle Ocean, and therein dwells the royal family that has ruled it from time immemorial. But there is an Empire growing in the east, and its forces have reached the castle. King Reymarro is dead in battle, and by the new treaty, Queen Marioza must marry one of the Emperor's brothers. She loathes the idea, and has already killed the first brother, but a second arrives, escorted by more soldiers. While Marioza delays, her youngest son, Jeon, goes on a journey in search of his mute twin, Tirza, who needs to be present for the wedding.

As Jeon and Tirza return by sea, their ship is attacked by a shocking and powerful dragon, red as blood and big as the ship. Thrown into the water, Tirza clings to the dragon, and after an underwater journey, finds herself alone with the creature in an inland sea pool. Surprisingly, she is able to talk to the beast, and understand it.

So begins a saga of violence, destruction, and death, of love and monsters, human and otherwise.

In Dragon Heart, Cecelia Holland, America's most distinguished historical novelist steps fully into the realm of fantasy and makes it her own.



Brannigan's Review

I was really looking forward to this book. I'm a hug fan of historical fiction and was excited to see how Cecelia Holland would translate her skills into writing a fantasy story. From the back cover description I got the idea that Holland was looking to modernize a fairytale with the talk of a sea side castle, princess, princes and dragon. Sadly, I was disappointed.

Holland does a wonderful job at creating atmosphere and world-building for her story. I enjoyed getting wrapped up in her evocative descriptions--the 'haunted' castle was my favorite part of the book. However, I did find some of her names for people and places a bit boring, almost as if they were placeholders that were never properly named. The best example is Castle Ocean, I cringed every time I read it.

The characters started out interesting and compelling but I quickly lost interest in them as the story progressed. I never felt engaged with their struggles or desires. Holland focused on far too many characters for me to find one that I liked and felt satisfied knowing. There's the Queen, her five children, as well as the antagonist and some villagers. For such a small book, less than 300 pages, I think there were too many POV characters. Even the dragon that starts out strong in the beginning fades away until later, and his relationship with Tirza was far too familiar. It became uncomfortable.

Holland's Dragon Heart is a boring fairytale. She attempted to modernize it and give it a Game of Thrones feel with so many POV characters, but unfortunately it came out weak and strange at times. Although there isn't an issue with language, there are acts of violence and minor sexual situations involving a dragon's tongue so it would only be appropriate for adults.

Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman



Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman


The Left Hand of God
Author:  Paul Hoffman
Series:  The Left Hand of God Trilogy 1
First Edition:  Hardcover, Dutton (June 15, 2010)
Also Available:  Trade Paperback (NAL, July 5, 2011)
     and eBook (May 26, 2010)
Availability:  Online and in stores
ISBN:  9780451231888

Brief History

Retro Reviews: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
Paul Hoffman was born in 1953 in England. He spent his childhood traveling the world as his father was a pioneer in the sport of parachuting. He went to school at New College, Oxford. He had several odd jobs until he became a senior film censor at the British Board of Film Classification. It was there that he wrote his first book The Wisdom of Crocodiles in 2000. The Left Hand of God is his third novel. Five of his books have been published to date.

The Left Hand of God is the first book in The Left Hand of God trilogy, followed by The Last Four Things and The Beating of His Wings.


Description

Raised from early childhood in the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. When he escapes to the outside world, Cale learns that his embittered heart is still capable of loving- and breaking.

But the Redeemers won’t accept the defection of their prized pupil without a fight…


Brannigan's Review

I've been wanting to read this book for a while now, but as we all do from time to time I passed on it for other books. Then, I got the second book in the series to read and review and found the perfect reason to pick up this, the first book in the series.

Right away Paul Hoffman's writing drew me into his story. His characters and world were all very interesting. He has a way of writing that brings in an atmosphere almost immediately. While reading about the Sanctuary filled with abusive clergy and forgotten and abandoned children, I felt a dampness, and in my peripheral vision I saw the fog. Outside of my home, I was surrounded by miles of bogs. This is what I want when I read. I want to feel the environment of the book closing in around me.

Thomas Cale and his two friends, for lack of a better word, have a wonderful dynamic. None of them truly like each other or even trust each other, because they were taught never to trust another person, but somehow they are able to work together and escape only to find a stranger world outside of the Sanctuary. I immediately latched onto Thomas and felt sorry for his past. He's strong and I love a strong hero, but he's leery of helping and trusting others, so he has his faults.

Hoffman's setting is odd. It's obviously set in a European-type middle ages. He borrows from familiar cultures like England, Rome and even Japan. The Materazzi reminded me of Samurai at times with their sense of honor in battle. Then, at the oddest moments he uses cities and countries and even religions from our world. Memphis, Kiev, Jerusalem, Norwegian, Jesus of Nazareth, Rabbis. So I'm still confused if it's our actual world but in a future where something apocalyptic sent us back into a dark age, or if his world is an alternate Earth that never left the middle ages and kept going for thousands of years. I wouldn't mind either, but I sure would like to know which one it is, so I wasn't being thrown out of the story each time he brought in another city or person from my world.

The last thing I want to mention is the pacing of the story. It's not slow as in when will this end, but it's definitely not fast. I enjoyed the pacing and took my time with the book as I enjoyed Hoffman's world and characters. However, I do feel it's worth mentioning, since I know a lot of readers that only enjoy reading books that grab you by the neck and drag you kicking and grinning.

The Left Hand of God is an intriguing first book in a trilogy. Nothing is as it appears. The pacing can be slow at times and it has an odd setting, but the protagonist Thomas Cale is too interesting to give up on. I'll be reading book 2 next and seeing if some of my questions can be answered, but at the very least I'm sure to enjoy spending more time with Cale. There is violence, language and minor sexual situations. I would recommend it to adults only. As of right now I would recommend you borrow the book from a friend or library. This recommendation might change once I've read more of the series.

Review: Faces by E. C. Blake


Faces
Author:  E. C. Blake
Series:  Masks of Aygrima 3
Publisher:  DAW, July 7, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $19.95 (print); $9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780756409395 (print); 9780756411473 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Faces by E. C. Blake
The spellbinding third novel of The Masks of Aygrima is set in a land where people are forced to wear spell-imbued Masks that reveal any traitorous thoughts they have about their ruler, the Autarch.

Mara Holdfast is a young woman gifted with the ability to see and use all the colors of magic. Two other people share this talent: the Autarch, who draws upon the very life-force of his subjects to fuel his existence and retain his control over the kingdom; and the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire, the only person who has ever truly challenged the Autarch’s despotic reign.

After a devastating battle that takes a dreadful toll on both the rebel unMasked Army and the forces of Prince Chell, their ally from across the sea, Mara and her fellow survivors have no one to turn to for help but the Lady of Pain and Fire.

As the Lady leads them to her haven beyond the mountain borders of the kingdom, Mara feels that she has found the one person who truly understands her, a mentor who can teach her to control and use her power for the greater good. Together, they may be able to at last free Agryma from the Autarch’s rule.

Living within the Lady’s castle, cut off from her friends in the village far below, Mara immerses herself in her training. Still, she can’t entirely escape from hearing dark hints about the Lady, rumors that the Lady may, in her own way, be as ruthless as the Autarch himself.

Yet it is not until they begin their campaign against the Autarch that Mara discovers where the real danger lies. Driven by the Lady’s thirst for revenge, will Mara and all her friends fall victim in a duel to the death between two masters of magic?



Brannigan's Review

E.C. Blake's Faces, the third book in the Masks of Aygrima series, closes out a spectacular story arc. I believe this won't be the last time I read a story with Mara as the protagonist, which is a wonderful prospect.

Blake has done a marvelous job of creating a very sympathetic protagonist in Mara, a teenage girl discovering she has the power within her to overturn the villainous ruler of a small nation. The only
problem is her gift seems to do more harm than good to the people she cares about. In the third book she finally learns to control her power, but with the control comes a darker problem. The supporting characters are all fully fleshed.

My one and only complaint with this series is never resolved, as I never get to truly know or understand the villain. He remains a mystery and frankly a very minor role in the series. A second villain, that from the start of the series seemed minor at best, takes on a more prominent role in this book, which was nice. I would have preferred if the main antagonist was treated in the same way. It would have made the ending more powerful.

The world building, like the characters, is pretty much established with little to no new developments or details added to strengthen the world. I felt this could have been improved on as it would only add to strengthen future books. It is however understandable as the majority of the story was spent resolving issues and revealing secrets.

I felt satisfied with how the story was resolved. There are still minor things left unexplained, but in no way did it hinder the overall story. It gives the story a realistic feel, by leaving some mystery. I particularly enjoy how Blake set up a possible future for the series.

Blake's Faces is a wonderful story with some great characters and world-building. I was completely satisfied with how Faces ended and can honestly say I hope Mara returns. There are descriptive acts of violence, minor language and minor sexual situations, so I'd recommend it to older teens and adults. Anyone who started the series or have been waiting to see how it ends needs to finish it. You won't regret it. Fans of realistic heroines will love Mara.


See Brannigan's review of Masks (Masks of Aygrima 1) here.
See Brannigan's review of Shadows (Masks of Aygrima 2) here.

Retro Reviews: The Baalbak Quest by David J. Kelly



Retro Reviews: The Baalbak Quest by David J. Kelly


The Baalbak Quest
Author:  David J. Kelly
Original Publisher and Date:  American Art Enterprises, 1980
   Carousel Science Fantasy # 70039
Still in Print:  No
Format and Length: Mass Market Paperback, 159 pages
Availability:  Used


Brief History

David J. Kelly is my first officially forgotten author. I can't find anything on him. Amazon has him tied to a David James Kelly, but without a second source to confirm it, I won't state it here as fact. Even the press Amazon mentions doesn't have a working website. I can say for certain that David J. Kelly wrote a second book that is a sequel to this book entitled Tower of Despair. I wish I had more to share with you about this author, but for now it remains a mystery.


Back Cover Description

ERON KILLSTAR. Fighter, lover, thief... ERON KILLSTAR. Created from the body of a murdered prince... ERON KILLSTAR. Hero of the sword-and-sorcery school of survival... ERON KILLSTAR.

His destiny is to locate the coveted Book of Baalbak, a volume of knowledge and magic as old as time, then use its power to destroy Sargon Arcturion, the murderous Sorcerer-Emperor of the many Earths.

But Sargon, too, quests for the book; he pursues Killstar with awesome evil spells and the military might of the deadly Dred Elite. The Killstar-Sargon conflict explodes in an exiting mixture of fantasy, magic, and heavy-metal blood violence-with the fate of mankind to the whim of the victor!



Brannigan's Review

I was first attracted to this book because of its amazing cover by an A. Bennett. It presumably shows Eron Killstar atop a boulder carved into a skull. Eron is wrapped up a lot like Mumm-Ra, and on the back of the book it mentions “heavy-metal blood violence” so how could I not get it. Damn those clever marketers.

The Baalbak Quest is a true blend of Science-Fiction and Fantasy. We have a multitude of worlds sharing a galaxy with aliens and humans alike, all of them ruled by a king on Elder Earth. The worlds are connected by gateways of both science and magic. The king we discover is killed by his eldest son, Sargon, and some aliens. The other children of the slain king rise up against their evil brother, but are killed. One of the brothers, Grendel Eron, tells a wizard that if he should die the wizard is to cut his hand off and take it to a different earth and use it to make a clone. It would be that clone's duty to kill Sargon. Eron Killstar is that clone, however something goes wrong, which makes him unable to fulfill his mission. We speed forward a thousand years to find Eron Killstar and his companion Merecastle living as thieves and scoundrels. They are sent on a mission to find a book by the name of Baalbak, which promises to unlock Eron Killstar's destiny and save a village enslaved to a blind wizard.

Kelly shows some amazing talent in world building and creating some interesting characters, excluding their names. There are some genuinely cool ideas in this book and I really love the way he mixes the two speculative genres together. The only problem is he doesn't seem to know what to do with all of these great ideas. The setups have a lot of promise, but everything falls apart quickly. Eron is unlikeable as a character and his sidekick Merecastle is left undeveloped beyond his desire to steal things and lay with women. The world is ignored and the things that showed the most promise at the beginning are soon lost as the story takes on a very generic quest.

The book ends with the capture of the book, but then it is quickly lost again and we are left with Eron Killstar on his own. We can only imagine that the next book takes up the quest, but now that I know there is only one other book I don't have enough faith that the story will find any overwhelming completion or satisfaction to continue on.

The Baalbak Quest is a perfect example of a cool idea that Kelly needed to spend more time developing or editing to truly develop. I wish I could say that my first true forgotten author deserved to be rediscovered, but now it makes more sense why I can't find anything about him, which is a stark reminder to all of us who wish to write to do it right the first time. We only have one chance to make a first impression, or at least to leave a lost treasure worth discovering in the future. There is minor violence, language and only implied sexual situations. It's a safe read for teens or adults, but I would recommend you pass on this book if you find it at your local used book store.

Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes



Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes


Thunderworld
Author:  Zach Hughes
Original Publisher and Date:  Signet, January 5, 1982
Still in Print:  No
Format:  Mass Market Paperback, 151 pages
Availability:  Yes (used) and online
ISBN:  9780451112903


Brief History

Retro Reviews: Thunderworld by Zach Hughes
Zach Hughes is a pen name for Hugh Zachary. Zachary was born January 12, 1928 in Oklahoma. He went to school at University North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He ran a book factory with his wife Elizabeth in North Carolina. He also worked in radio and TV broadcasting, and as a newspaper writer, carpenter, charter fishing boat, commercial fishing, and served as a mate on an anchor-handling tugboat in the North Sea. He quit working full time in 1963 and focused on writing. As far as I can tell his first book was One Day in Hell published in 1960, and the most recently published work is Munday in 2003. Besides using Zach Hughes, he as also written under the names of Peter Kanto, Peter Danielson and Evan Innes. He's published at least 50 books that I could find under his pen names.


Description

When the crew of the four-person scout ship Santa Maria first sighted the new life-zone planet, they dubbed it “Worthless.” A little too far from its mother sun for comfort, caught in the grip of conflicting gravitational pulls, Worthless was a planet in constant upheaval, not at all the sort of world fit for human colonization. Still, time was running short for the people of Earth to fine a new home, and this was the first place that even approached livable conditions, So Don, Zees decided to do a close-up study of the planet's surface while Breed and Ellen stayed in orbit overhead. But shortly after they landed, there was a cataclysmic upheaval, a worldwide convulsion that brought death to many of the primitive life forms and left Don and Zees stranded. Forced to go native and live off the land till their shipmates could find them, neither of the humans could guess that the next meal they ate would change the future of a planet...



Brannigan's Review

I'll admit that the cover is what grabbed me while shopping at my favorite used book store. It's full of action and tension with an awesome retro rocket. I also love the title, THUNDERWORLD. It really demands all caps. I was ecstatic to discover the story inside was both entertaining as well as engaging.

Zach Hughes (I'll use the pen name) is an author with great skills. With only 151 pages he doesn't have a lot of room to waste time, and he doesn't. From the first page, I was sucked in and immediately caught off guard by an odd entity known as Goroin Melt of Roag, an alien creature of some kind that is looking for a new body. Even though this was not how I expected the book to start, I was fascinated. Hughes doesn't give a lot of clues about Goroin at first and when he does he sprinkles it out over their first 50 pages as he searches for a new body and his desire for revenge. Intermixed with these chapters I was on mission with the four-person crew of the Santa Maria. They've been on a deep space mission for over two years looking for a new livable planet. Earth is overpopulated and constantly on the brink of war.

Out of the crew, Don and Zees are the two characters that Hughes focuses on the most. He also doesn't spend a lot of time giving a very complex back story for the characters, but once the action starts I learn all I need to know about them by their actions, which is a great way to develop character when there aren't a lot of pages.

I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that Goroin, Don and Zees find themselves interacting. I won't give to much detail about this as it was the most enjoyable part of the story for me. Goroin is the most unique and fresh take on an alien I've ever read. Granted, I'm still pretty new to Science Fiction novels, but I couldn't get enough of him and his community once he finds them. Don, Zees and Goroin soon find a working relationship and help the survivors of a massive earthquake prepare for the next big stage in the planet's evolution. Then, just as everything appears to be wrapping up in a nice little bow, Hughes completely sideswiped me and didn't stop to trade insurance information. He just took the story in a completely different direction that I didn't see coming and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Along with everything else that's great about this book, Hughes finds time to delve into some great topics regarding population control, freedom, human relations and environmentalism. He handles each of them so gently you won't even notice if you don't want to, but for those of you who like to see different perspectives and philosophy, you'll get a little treat.

Thunderworld is a one of those finds that reignites the adventurous spirit in me to continue to dig deep in the used book store or library to find hidden treasures. I can't recommend this book enough. There are a few minor moments of violence, and only implied adult situations, so I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. If you're a fan of thoughtful, imaginative science fiction, go find a copy of this book or buy it online.

Review: The Dangerous Type by Loren Rhoads


The Dangerous Type
Author:  Loren Rhoads
Series:  In The Wake of The Templars 1
Publisher:  Night Shade Books, July 7, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 296 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781597808149 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Dangerous Type by Loren Rhoads
Firefly meets La Femme Nikita in this action-packed, audacious SF debut.

Entombed for twenty years, Reana, one of the galaxy’s most dangerous assassins, has been freed, and the first thing on her mind is revenge. At the top of her list is Thallian, the insane war criminal who enslaved Reana, turned her into a killing machine, and then ultimately left her for dead. When Thallian discovers that she has not only survived but also has escaped, he’s willing to risk everything—including his army of cloned sons—to bring her back under his control.

Gavin saved Reana once . . . only to lose her again to the clutches of Thallian. Since then he’s been alternately trying to forget her and desperately searching for her. Now that she’s free, he must come to terms with the fact that she might not be his, and perhaps never was.

Reana’s adopted sister, Ariel, is a child of wealth and privilege, as well as a gun runner who chose the right side of a galaxy-wide war that destroyed a human empire. She sent Gavin on his mad quest to find Reana in the first place, and now that she’s been found, Ariel doesn’t know if she can face either of them, or the truths she’s been running from since Reana was left for dead.

A brutal race to see who will kill whom first, The Dangerous Type is the explosive opening to Loren Rhoads’s action-SF-meets-space-opera trilogy.



Brannigan's Review

The Dangerous Type is the first book in a new sexy science fiction trilogy by Loren Rhoads. We meet shady heroes attempting to find and save Reana from a long forgotten tomb in the hopes of rekindling long lost memories of the past. Somehow, after being entombed for twenty years, Reana looks as if she hasn't aged but quickly begins to fade and wither away only to find a reason to live, revenge. If it sounds a bit corny, it's because it is. From the start, this is a story that demands you suspend almost all belief.

The characters are all stereotypes without anything new to offer, and they're all sexy beyond belief. In fact, things got so steamy in this novel I began to feel dirty just from reading it. I couldn't make any connection to any of the characters, which made it hard for me to enjoy a good revenge tale.

There are some good action sequences but not enough to really make up for the shallow characters and the world building was nil to none, which made it impossible for me to get lost in the world. Rhoads mentions several times that the human race is the minority, but after reading the book I couldn't describe one of the countless aliens that supposedly inhabits her universe. There were plenty of things that could have made this a really great first book, but none of them were developed to the degree they should have been. For example, the idea of the Templars sounded cool, but she didn't explain it enough to build on it. The idea of humans being a minority could have been a cool idea, but I never felt like it was true. Even Reana, the main character who was supposed to be a deadly assassin and bodyguard that everyone was scared of, didn't really do anything to deserve all of this respect and fear until the end of the book, and by then it was too late.

The Dangerous Type is the perfect science fiction novel to give to your friend who loves to read hot and heavy romances. It could be a great gateway book to entice your friend who never thought they'd read science fiction. If you're like me and prefer your science fiction to focus on character depth and world building, I'd steer clear of this one. Due to the violence, use of adult language and holy cow amount of sexual situations, I would recommend it to adults only.

Review: The Machine Awakes by Adam Christopher


The Machine Awakes
Author:  Adam Christopher
Series:  Spider Wars 2
Publisher:  Tor Books April 21, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
List Price:  $25.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780765376404 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Machine Awakes by Adam Christopher
Adam Christopher's The Machine Awakes is a far future space opera set in the universe of Burning Dark. In the decades since the human race first made contact with the Spiders—a machine race capable of tearing planets apart—the two groups have fought over interstellar territory. But the war has not been going well for humankind, and with the failure of the Fleet Admiral’s secret plan in the Shadow system, the commander is overthrown by a group of hardliners determined to get the war back on track.

When the deposed Fleet Admiral is assassinated, Special Agent Von Kodiak suspects the new guard is eliminating the old. But when the Admiral’s replacement is likewise murdered, all bets are off as Kodiak discovers the prime suspect is one of the Fleet’s own, a psi-marine and decorated hero—a hero killed in action, months ago, at the same time his twin sister vanished from the Fleet Academy, where she was training to join her brother on the front.

As Kodiak investigates, he uncovers a conspiracy that stretches from the slums of Salt City to the floating gas mines of Jupiter. There, deep in the roiling clouds of the planet, the Jovian Mining Corporation is hiding something, a secret that will tear the Fleet apart and that the Morning Star, a group of militarized pilgrims searching for their lost god, is determined to uncover.

But there is something else hiding in Jovian system. Something insidious and intelligent, machine-like and hungry.

The Spiders are near.



Brannigan's Review

The Machine Awakes is a dark space opera by Adam Christopher and the second book in the Spider Wars series. This book takes an interesting turn as it doesn't really have anything to do with the events and characters from the first book. They're mentioned, but a reader would do fine jumping on board with this second book without missing a beat. I like this in a world building standpoint. It gives the universe a bigger feel. It helps that this book covers more locations than the first book. I also like this because I sometimes get bored with one main hero that seems to have so many amazing adventures, it's just so unrealistic. It's refreshing to meet new people and see new places.

For the most part, Christopher does a better job with his characters in this book than the first. They are more interesting and feel more developed. However, he could have made better use out of Caitlin, a capable character who doesn't need to be a constant victim. The psi-marines are very cool and I look forward to learning more about them. I also have to give him credit for making a very cool villain that he hasn't overused throughout the series.

One aspect of the first book that I missed in this one is the fear factor. I felt Christopher did such a great job with that and in the second book there is more of a sci-fi cop/conspiracy tone that I was fine with but didn't love as much as the horror in the first book. I also didn't care for the weird religious aspect of the story, but I rarely enjoy that part of books as I feel most authors make religious people sound crazy.

The Machine Awakes is a world-builder's dream. Christopher's universe keeps getting bigger, and I'm interested to see where he goes in book three. I would only recommend this book to adults because of its strong language, violence and adult situations. This series is perfect for those of us who like to see a whole universe come alive with an interesting villain who wants to destroy it all.

Review: Storm and Steel by Jon Sprunk


Storm and Steel
Author:  Jon Sprunk
Series:  The Book of the Black Earth 2
Publisher:  Pyr, June 2, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 515 pages
Price:  $18.00 (print)
ISBN:  978-1-63388-010-8 (print)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher

Review:  Storm and Steel by Jon Sprunk
An empire at war. Three fates intertwined.

The Magician. Horace has destroyed the Temple of the Sun, but now he finds his slave chains have been replaced by bonds of honor, duty, and love. Caught between two women and two cultures, he must contend with deadly forces from the unseen world.

The Rebel. Jirom has thrown in his lot with the slave uprising, but his road to freedom becomes ever more dangerous as the rebels expand their campaign against the empire. Even worse, he feels his connection with Emanon slipping away with every blow they strike in the name of freedom.

The Spy. Alyra has severed her ties to the underground network that brought her to Akeshia, but she continues the mission on her own. Yet, with Horace's connection to the queen and the rebellion's escalation of violence, she finds herself treading a knife's edge between love and duty.

Dark conspiracies bubble to the surface as war and zealotry spread across the empire. Old alliances are shattered, new vendettas are born, and all peoples-citizen and slave alike-must endure the ravages of storm and steel.



Brannigan's Review

Storm and Steel is the second book in a gritty fantasy series by Jon Sprunk. Like the first book, the story takes place in a North African-like setting, with plenty of desert scenery. The Akeshian Empire has hints of Egyptian and Babylonian cultural influences. Much like the first book, I have a love-hate relationship with this book. Overall, the plot is well developed and I enjoyed what he put his characters through and how the world building continues to expand. I even liked the few deaths that occurred and felt they helped give a sense of doom to the story.

Two of the areas I feel Sprunk shines in are character development and story pacing. There is some great character development in this second book. The love triangle that was hinted at in the first book is thankfully gone while there is still plenty of romantic tension between the three main characters and their love interests.

One aspect of the character development that I felt Sprunk dropped the ball on was Horace's magical ability. I praised him in the first book by taking it slow and not allowing the hero to develop into a master magician. However, now after reading the second book and seeing Horace continue to seem to have no clue on how to use his magical gift, I'm getting annoyed. He doesn't need to be a master at the arts, but it would be nice if he understood how to control and use his magic with more confidence. I feel like by dragging this one out Sprunk is making Horace turn into a dunce.

I also feel the pacing in the story could use some help. I usually love how Sprunk sprinkles in enough action to keep me reading and excited in between the slower introspective periods, but the beginning of the book just dragged along far too slowly for me. The end is great classic Sprunk, but it seemed a little too late in the game.

Storm and Steel falls flat for me in what was a promising new series. I'm still invested in the characters and the overall plot of the series to read the next book, but I hope the pacing is faster and Horace finally figures out how to use his powers. If you've already read the first book and liked it, I would say continue on with the series as the characters are still great. But, if you haven't started the series, I'd wait to see how book three turns out. Due to the violence, use of adult language and sexual situations, I would recommend it to adults.

Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs



Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs


The Lost Continent
Author:  Edgar Rice Burroughs
Original Publisher and Date:  Street & Smith Publications, Inc., 1916
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, and eBook
Availability:  Online and in book stores
ISBN:  various including 9781600961502 (Waking Lion Press, August 17, 2006)


Brief History

Retro Reviews: The Lost Continent by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875 and died in Encino, CA on March 19, 1950. His father was a civil war veteran. In 1911, Burroughs was working as a pencil-sharpener wholesaler when he began to write fiction. In 1912, Burroughs had his first story, Under the Moons of Mars, serialized in The All-Story from February to July 1912. Tarzan is his most famous character with John Carter close behind. There is a Tarzana, California and a Tarzan, TX both named after the character. Burroughs has written over 80 books in many different genres, including Science-Fiction, Adventure, Westerns, Romance and even Historical. Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs in The Paris Review Spring 2010 No. 192, “I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special. That’s what we have to do for everyone, give the gift of life with our books.”

The Lost Continent was originally published in the February 1916 issue of All-Around Magazine and titled Beyond Thirty. In 1955, the first book edition was printed by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach's Fantasy Press fanzine. In 1963, ACE printing published the book as The Lost Continent. Bison Books published their own edition in 2001 under the original name. The copyright of this book has expired and is in public domain.


Back Cover Description

For two hundred years, a civilized America had cut off all contact with the war-ruined Eastern Hemisphere until such places as Europe and Great Britain had become mere legends.

Then Jefferson Turck dared take his U.S. Aero-sub across the 30th longitude west on the mission of a new Columbus, and a fascinating voyage of discovery.



Brannigan's Review

I've read Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes and loved it. I've been eying the Barsoom (John Carter of Mars) series, but then at this year's WonderCon in Anaheim I sat in on a Burrough's panel and they mentioned The Lost Continent and it grabbed my attention. I was happy to find it at my local used book store. It's a short book, but it holds a rich story.

The back cover is a little misleading, so I'll give a quick story recap. The book is what we now refer to as an Alternate History story, which is a sub-genre under the Science Fiction genre. It explores the idea of what would happen if America didn't get involved in Word War I, and, by staying neutral, England, Germany, and most of Eurasia is completely destroyed. In fact, America is so neutral they close off any contact east past the 30th longitude west and west of the 175th longitude west. This isolation lasts for 200 years, making the current year 2137. Jefferson Turck is the captain of an Aero-sub that's on patrol in the Atlantic when a nasty storm leaves his ship with no power, and it drifts past the 30th longitude, which is strictly illegal and in enforced with a death penalty. Turck and a few sailors, after several misfortunes, get separated from their ship and are left with no choice but to take their smaller boat to England in search of aid. Then, the real adventures begin.

Burroughs is a master of creating suspense and giving a sense of wonder to his world. He's able to quickly breathe life into his world and main characters. He has a gift of knowing just how much backstory and personality he needs to give a main character to help the reader connect to them. That being said, all the supporting cast of characters are only names and sex, but I didn't care as I knew they weren't important—in fact, they knew it as well and stayed out of the way, only popping up to deliver bad news or offer minor support. I have to give Burroughs some credit for his female character, Victory. She was a very strong and independent female character for a book that came out in 1916. She still has some of those basic stock issues of being a little helpless at times and needing the love of a strong man, but she does wield a wicked dagger with skill several times, so props to Burroughs.

The story itself was very interesting. Burroughs came up with some great ideas on how a world might look after a devastating war. The story took a couple turns I didn't see coming, and I was drawn into it quickly and stayed invested until the end.

The Lost Continent is a perfect break from epic overload. It makes me wish we still had authors putting out short novels that still held a quality story. I'd recommend this book to youth and adults. There is minor violence, no language and only implied sexual situations. If you're a Burroughs fan, I'd recommend you buy a copy. Otherwise, I recommend you borrow the book from a friend or library. It's the perfect book for fans of Alternate History and anyone who likes a quick adventure.


Favorite quotes from the book

“To remain at sea is to perish. None of us ever will see home again. Let us make the best of it, and enjoy while we do live that which is forbidden the balance of our race---the adventure and mystery which lie beyond thirty.” Turck, page 31.

“[T]hough I had no wish to die, I must confess that I rather wished the ordeal over and the peace of oblivion upon me.” Turck, page 74.

“Those who did not fight were the only ones to reap any of the rewards that are supposed to belong to victory. The combatants reaped naught but annihilation. You have seen—better than any man you must realize that there was no victory for any nation embroiled in that frightful war.” Chinese Emperor, page 140.

Review: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher


The Burning Dark
Author:  Adam Christopher
Series:  Spider Wars 1
Publisher:  Tor Books,  March 25, 2014
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  $25.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780765335081 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher
Available in Trade Paperback (March 3, 2015)

Review: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher
Adam Christopher's dazzling first novel, Empire State, was named the Best Book of 2012 by SciFi Now magazine. Now he explores new dimensions of time and space in The Burning Dark.

Back in the day, Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland had led the Fleet into battle against an implacable machine intelligence capable of devouring entire worlds. But after saving a planet, and getting a bum robot knee in the process, he finds himself relegated to one of the most remote backwaters in Fleetspace to oversee the decommissioning of a semi-deserted space station well past its use-by date.

But all is not well aboard the U-Star Coast City. The station's reclusive Commandant is nowhere to be seen, leaving Cleveland to deal with a hostile crew on his own. Persistent malfunctions plague the station's systems while interference from a toxic purple star makes even ordinary communications problematic. Alien shadows and whispers seem to haunt the lonely corridors and airlocks, fraying the nerves of everyone aboard.

Isolated and friendless, Cleveland reaches out to the universe via an old-fashioned space radio, only to tune in to a strange, enigmatic signal: a woman's voice that seems to echo across a thousand light-years of space. But is the transmission just a random bit of static from the past--or a warning of an undying menace beyond mortal comprehension?



Brannigan's Review

The Burning Dark is a dark atmospheric Science Fiction Horror novel by Adam Christopher.
I'm a big fan of novels that make outer space horrific and Christopher does just that. He picks the perfect setting, a decommissioning space station with a skeleton crew next to a purple star pulsing out radiation that can kill in five minutes of exposure. To make things even better, Christopher uses the shadows and sounds of this environment with outstanding skill to haunt the characters.

Christopher does a wonderful job of using the space radio. I love the idea of this juxtaposition between what is essentially a ham radio amongst future tech and the horror it unleashes and the physiological damage it causes.

With everything I loved about the book, I still had an issue with two things. Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a bizarre protagonist for me. At the beginning of the story, he's saving worlds and fighting off spiders and then he's getting beaten up by marines and acting nerdy. I never felt like 'Ida' was a concrete character I could engage with. Even with his haunted past and weaknesses, I had a hard time empathizing with him. I also really got distracted by the amount of adult language that was used throughout the book. I understand it's dealing with men and women in the military and there's a lot of creepy things going on, but it threw me out of the story a lot. I'm not squeamish by any means. I grew up with a father who was in the military and worked in the oilfields, so I'm used to hearing plenty of swearing, but it seemed a bit much for me.

The Burning Dark is a wonderful blend of Science Fiction and Horror with a perfectly developed world that is used to enhance the horror and stress of the events in the book. Even with a weak protagonist and more language than I like, I plan on reading the next book in the series. Christopher's ability to create a standout setting and interesting story demands it.

I would only recommend this book to adults because of its strong language, violence and adult situations. This series is perfect for those of us who like science fiction horror genre blends.

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