The Qwillery | category: Doreen


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer

Sworn to the Night
The Wisdom's Grave Trilogy 1
Demimonde Books, January 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 429 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death.

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Craig Schaefer’s Sworn to the Night is a story within a story, with a kidnapped narrator interrupting at various points to make comments that are intended to help explain some part of the narrative. This was not as effective as it could have been because it seemed to have nothing to do with the main story until late in the novel.

The main story, however, was engaging and fast-paced. Fascinated with knights and their lieges, Marie Reinhart is a NYC detective investigating the kidnappings and murders of call girls and how their deaths might relate to the new drug flooding the streets, Ink. Nessa Roth is a rich society wife and professor who dabbles with magic and wants to be a witch. When the two first meet it is as if they have known each other forever – which they have, since they keep being reincarnated and finding each before dying violently.

While Schaefer’s format of a story within a story was less than successful for me, his characterization of the main characters is well done. Marie and Nessa are well-drawn, and their actions make sense based on their descriptions. The pacing of the story is good. Gun fights and other fight scenes are nicely choreographed and easy to follow.

I rate Sworn to the Night a 7 out of 10.

SPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

We Ride the Storm
The Reborn Empire
June 7, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 444 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson
War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm is a complicated novel, with each chapter focusing on one of three major characters. There is Captain Rah e'Torin, a Levanti warrior and captain of the Second Swords of Torin, who have been enslaved by the Chiltaen. Cassandra Marius is a Chiltaen assassin whore who has a separate person in her head. Finally, Princess Miko is the bastard daughter of a traitor but has been accepted as heir to the Kisian Emperor despite her parentage.

For years there has been peace between the Kisian and Chiltaen empires, and Miko has been offered to the Chiltaen duke in marriage to maintain that peace. But Miko’s twin brother Tanaka decides to take over the Kisian Empire and begins conspiring with the Chiltaens to force a war that will help his coup. Cassandra is hired to kill the Duke before he reaches the Kisian capital, but when they are attacked other Chiltaen, she ends up protecting the Duke. In Kisia, Tanaka’s coup fails, the Empress takes over herself, and Miko and the emperor are forced to flee.

The complexities of the plot are what make the novel so interesting. Each empire is very different from the next, with the Levanti being more free and seemingly primitive, while the Kisians reminded me of Japanese culture. The characters are well-rounded, with Cassandra and her “passenger” being the most complex. I found the conflicts to be genuine and was intrigued to see how it all would end.

I give We Ride the Storm a 9 out of 10 rating.

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

Island of the Mad
Author:  Laurie R. King
Series:  Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 15
Publisher:  Bantam, June 12, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 Pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print);  US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780804177962 (print); 9780804177979 (eBook)

Review: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are back in Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling series—“the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today” (Lee Child).

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

Doreen's Thoughts

In her series about Mary Russell, Laurie R. King has partnered the infamous Sherlock Holmes with a wife that is his intellectual and deductive equal, despite being half his age. When asked by her best friend to investigate the disappearance of an aunt who has been voluntarily living in Bedlam, Mary would like to decline, but both she and Holmes agree that a trip to Venice, where Lady Vivian might be hiding, would be preferable to staying home.

Venice itself almost becomes a character itself, as King describes it. The islands, the waterways, the various inhabitants – all of them are described in great detail and reverence. It is obvious that King has done a significant amount of research about the city, both past and present, and has probably walked down the streets and perhaps attempted to row a gondola as Mary does in this novel.

The timeframe for the novel is the early 20th century, the start of the Roaring Twenties, when both Americans and Europeans gathered in Venice to party and forget the horrors of the Great War and the potential for another. As an added touch of verisimilitude, King adds the character of Cole Porter as a peer of Holmes. The description of Porter, his marriage, and his part in the trick that Russell and Holmes play in the end all jibe with what has been written in history about this musician.

As is usual with King, she has more to tell than just a mystery. She implies her political views by adding the fascist characters and describing their brutal actions and ways, in line with the takeover of Italy by Benito Mussolini. She also reaffirms her feminism by drawing on the ways in which most women were treated during this period, particularly those unprotected single female family members who had little to no money of their own and no place else to go. Including Mussolini’s wife as a patient at the mental hospital that Mary visits was another nice historic touch.

Overall, the mystery that King lays out is complicated enough to keep a reader interested, but she includes enough details that the conclusion makes total sense. The series just keeps getting better and better, with vivid descriptions, wry humor, and interesting history.

Review: In the Valley of the Devil by Hank Early

In the Valley of the Devil
Author:  Hank Early
Series:  An Earl Marcus Mystery 2
Publisher:  Crooked Lane Books, July 10, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$26.99 (print);  US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781683315926 (print); 9781683315933 (eBook)

Review: In the Valley of the Devil by Hank Early
Earl Marcus found new hope after confronting the unspeakable evil unleashed by his father’s fundamentalist Church of the Holy Flame. Now plying his trade as a private investigator in the North Georgia mountains, he’s drawn once again into a dark abyss of depravity, and murder.

Tasked with what seems like a routine job, Earl stumbles into a mysterious cornfield where an old mountain legend appears to have awakened. Just as he begins to hear rumors of a place in the woods behind a dark cornfield where a killer collects human skulls, his partner Mary Hawkins vanishes.

As the litany of terror grows, the poisoned spirits of Earl’s past return to claim their final victims. And on an old train trestle over a swift-running river at the edge of a cornfield Earl will confront his worst fears. Time is running out for Mary—and unless Earl can wrest her from the control of a secretive cabal comprised of some of the area’s most elite—and wealthiest—citizens, she could be lost to him forever in In the Valley of the Devil, the second harrowing installment of the Earl Marcus mysteries by Hank Early.

Doreen's Review

Early’s first book, Heaven’s Crooked Finger, focused on Earl Marcus’s relationship with his father, the preacher of a fundamentalist church that used snakes as part of its rituals. Having been bitten in the face during a ritual, Earl had fled the church and his father and vowed never to return. But that novel found him investigating and then bringing down the crooked institution.

In the second novel, In the Valley of the Devil, Earl has found some peace. He has returned to the hills of his childhood, is plying his investigative skills successfully, and has a girlfriend, Mary, a sheriff’s deputy he met in the first book. In doing a favor for his frenemy, Ronnie, he finds a cornfield where criminal activities may be taking place, and Mary disappears into the corn.

Whereas Early's first book focused on religion and the damage it can sometimes cause, he focuses on racism here, both blatant and subtle. It appears that Mary was taken, not just because she was investigating with Earl, but more importantly, because she is black.

Early’s books always have some touch of the supernatural, whether there is a rational explanation or not. Here, there is a monster called Old Nathaniel, a former Confederate soldier who attacks blacks and takes their skulls as trophies. Earl must discover whether Mary has been taken by this demon or by a group of rich citizens acting out their racist fantasies. This little piece of mysticism adds to the tension and mystery of the story.

Early also could be a poet. His descriptions are lyrical, especially when he is describing the moon, the cornfields, and the overall beauty of rural Georgia. He quickly is becoming one of my favorite mystery writers because of the intriguing mysteries and the poetic language he uses. I cannot wait to see what he writes next.

Also by Hank Early

Heaven's Crooked Finger
An Earl Marcus Mystery 1
Crooked Lane Books, June 12, 2018
Trade Paperback, 330 pages
Hardcover and eBook, November 7, 2017

Review: In the Valley of the Devil by Hank Early
2018 Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner!

Eerie, intense, and masterfully-crafted, Hank Early’s gripping series debut Heaven’s Crooked Finger transports readers to a secretive community in the Georgia mountains.

Earl Marcus thought he had left the mountains of Georgia behind forever, and with them, the painful memories of a childhood spent under the fundamentalist rule of his father RJ’s church―a church built on fear, penance, and the twisting, writhing mass of snakes. But then an ominous photo of RJ is delivered to Earl’s home. The photograph is dated long after his father’s burial, and there’s no doubt that the man in the picture is very much alive.

As Earl returns to Church of the Holy Flame searching for the truth, faithful followers insist that his father has risen to a holy place high in the mountains. Nobody will talk about the teenage girls who go missing, only to return with strange tattoo-like marks on their skin. Rumors swirl about an old well that sits atop one of the mountains, a place of unimaginable power and secrets. Earl doesn’t know what to believe, but he has long been haunted by his father, forever lurking in the shadows of his life. Desperate to leave his sinful Holy Flame childhood in the past, Earl digs up deeply buried secrets to discover the truth before time runs out and he’s the one put underground in Heaven’s Crooked Finger, Hank Early’s thrilling series debut.

Review: Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Brief Cases
Author:  Jim Butcher
Series:  Dresden Files
Publisher:  Ace, June 5, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages
List Price:  USD$28.00 (print); USD$14.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780451492104 (print); 9780451492128 (eBook)

Review: Brief Cases by Jim Butcher
An all-new Dresden Files story headlines this urban fantasy short story collection starring the Windy City’s favorite wizard.

The world of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is rife with intrigue—and creatures of all supernatural stripes. And you’ll make their intimate acquaintance as Harry delves into the dark side of truth, justice, and the American way in this must-have short story collection.

From the Wild West to the bleachers at Wrigley Field, humans, zombies, incubi, and even fey royalty appear, ready to blur the line between friend and foe. In the never-before-published “Zoo Day,” Harry treads new ground as a dad, while fan-favorite characters Molly Carpenter, his onetime apprentice, White Council Warden Anastasia Luccio, and even Bigfoot stalk through the pages of more classic tales.

With twelve stories in all, Brief Cases offers both longtime fans and first-time readers tantalizing glimpses into Harry’s funny, gritty, and unforgettable realm, whetting their appetites for more to come from the wizard with a heart of gold.

The collection includes:

    “Curses,” from Naked City, edited by Ellen Datlow
    “AAAA Wizardry,” from the Dresden Files RPG
    “Even Hand,” from Dark and Stormy Knights, edited by P. N. Elrod
    “B is for Bigfoot,” from Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Republished in Working for Bigfoot.
    “I was a Teenage Bigfoot,” from Blood Lite III: Aftertaste, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. Republished in Working for Bigfoot.
    “Bigfoot on Campus,” from Hex Appeal, edited by P. N. Elrod. Republished in Working for Bigfoot.
    “Bombshells,” from Dangerous Women, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
    “Jury Duty,” from Unbound, edited by Shawn Speakman
    “Cold Case,” from Shadowed Souls, edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie Hughes
    “Day One,” from Unfettered II, edited by Shawn Speakman
    “A Fistful of Warlocks,” from Straight Outta Tombstone, edited by David Boop
    “Zoo Day,” a brand-new novella, original to this collection

Doreen’s Thoughts

It has been a while since a Harry Dresden novel has been published and the next one scheduled, Peace Talks, is still is a long time off. Thankfully, Butcher writes short stories with his main character and others. Better yet, he collects them into a complete anthology like Brief Cases. As a completist, I appreciate that I do not have to purchase multiple other anthologies to ensure that I have every Harry Dresden story, including a new one that has never appeared before.

In his introduction to “B is for Bigfoot,” Butcher explains that he researched monsters from all around the world when he started writing his series, but it was not until after several books, that he thought about America’s Bigfoot. The three related stories actually focus on a Bigfoot’s son, Irwin, and some of the problems he faces as a Bigfoot/human hybrid.

Butcher does not just write about Dresden in his short stories; he also writes about some of his other characters, which not just fleshes them out more fully for character development, but also gives us some different perspectives on Harry himself. Three of the stories are about his apprentice, Molly, both before and after she becomes the fairy queen, Winter.

The last story here, “Zoo Days,” is my favorite in the bunch, not just because it is new, but because it is about Harry and his daughter. Here the story itself is split into thirds, with each main character (Harry, Maggie, and Mouse) taking lead as narrator for a section. As a reader, this is my first introduction into Maggie’s narration, and it is eye-opening. It makes me wonder what Butcher may have in store for the future of his characters.

Interview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 Reviews

Please welcome Jonathan French to The Qwillery, as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Grey Bastards was published on June 19th by Crown.

Interview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 Reviews

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Jonathan:  Let's see...It was a fantasy story I wrote in 4th grade. I was living in England at the time and my teacher, Ms. Carlsen, was an amazing Dutch woman that read The Hobbit to her class every year as a tradition. I'd already read it, but I loved hearing her read it aloud because she had such love for the story. She encouraged me to read The Lord of the Rings, to draw scenes from the book, and to write my own fiction. I ended up writing this multi-chapter short story that was more akin to Dragonlance and the Golden Axe video game than to Tolkien. But she was still unbelievably supportive to the point that she had me read it aloud to the class, which was simultaneously awkward and exhilarating.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jonathan:  I'm a hybrid who leans heavily to the pantsing side.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jonathan:  Consistency. I don't defend my writing time very well. My son is 5 and the stuff he is doing is just so much more fun than staring at a screen and thumping at keys. I also hate trying to describe architecture. And physics.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jonathan:  Living abroad as a kid was a major influence. I was this 9-year-old from Tennessee that had recently discovered Dungeons & Dragons and comic books, and the next thing I know I'm living in a place where medieval castles and cathedrals can be visited after school. And it all compounded from there. The interests spread to military history, weapons/warfare, wargaming, art history, all while beginning to absorb book after book: Middle-earth, Prydain, Discworld, Redwall, Conan. Those trends have continued almost uninterrupted as I've gotten older, but have also been supplemented by new pursuits like fatherhood and an interest in wilderness survival.

TQDescribe The Grey Bastards in 140 characters or less.

Jonathan:  #TheGreyBastards is a raucous tale of half-orcs riding huge war pigs. It’s been hailed as one of the filthiest books ever written. It’s now available!

TQTell us something about The Grey Bastards that is not found in the book description.

Jonathan:  Halflings in this world live underground, but instead of nice cozy hobbit-holes, they dwell in the ancient tomb of a fallen human god, sending out pilgrims to endlessly search the world for every last relic of the deity's time as a mortal warlord.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Grey Bastards? What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?

Jonathan:  My wife was the one that insisted I write the story as a novel. Originally, the story was a half-formed idea for a Dungeons & Dragons game. I had painted a bunch of cool half-orc models that I wanted to use for my next game and I always like to provide my players with an element that firmly connects their characters out of the gate. Sons of Anarchy gave me the notion of a mounted gang, so I figured on having that gang be “half-orcs only.” My wife suggested I use hogs instead of horses, though I was concerned it was a little too obvious. She also said, “Forget the game. Write the fucking book.” That pretty much set the tone for the entire thing!

Far as Epic Fantasy goes, it’s always called to me as a reader and I write what I want to read. The possibilities are endless and, for me, it only gets better when married to elements from our own world history. Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age as an alternate version of our own past, Tolkien's use of Anglo-Saxon folklore, even the original Old World of Warhammer, I find all of that to be such a wonderful gateway into learning about real world events. I would love for The Grey Bastards to spark some young reader's interest in medieval Spain. So many people find history to be dull, but fantasy can be the sugar that helps the medicine go down.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Grey Bastards?

Jonathan:  I did a massive amount of reading about Reconquista-era Spain. S.S. Wyatt's translation of Daily Life in Portugal in the Middle Ages by A. H. de Oliveira Marques was invaluable. I also had to do a fair amount of internet research about different species of swine in order to make the riding hogs believable.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Grey Bastards.

Jonathan:  The cover was designed by artist and photographer Larry Rostant, along with Little, Brown Book Group creative director Duncan Spilling. It depicts the POV protagonist, Jackal; a young, cunning half-orc rider and member of the Grey Bastards.

TQIn The Grey Bastards who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jonathan:  Oats was probably the easiest. Mostly because he never gave me any problems. I always knew what he was going to say and how he was going to react. Plus, he’s both overestimated and underestimated at the same time; he’s pretty vulnerable despite his size and strength, and also far from stupid despite initial appearances. My inspiration for him was a mix of Jayne Cobb (from my favorite TV show Firefly) and the late, great MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, so I had a solid foundation to work with when writing him.

The most difficult to write was definitely Starling. I knew having a female character that was seemingly helpless through most of the book would cause trouble for some readers. But I was (and still am) playing a rather long game with her, so I kept the course despite second-guessing it on many, MANY occasions.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Grey Bastards?

Jonathan:  It was never a conscious choice. I didn't have that moment where I thought: "I'm going to address X issue!" However, I don't see how they can be avoided in a believable world. They exist, period. Bigotry, racism, and sexism are certainly a part of real life, and I could not avoid their inclusion in a book about mixed-race characters living in a male-dominated society. As a pantser, the issues came to the page organically, so I was forced to face them down. Or rather, the characters were. I tried to keep my opinions out of it and not preach or come down on any side. The characters are flawed, but they are also products of their experiences and there were opportunities that allowed them to evolve. This shit is complicated and messy in real life, so I hope that's what came to the page.

TQWhich question about The Grey Bastards do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Jonathan:  The question would be: Do you ever dream about The Grey Bastards being adapted into a tabletop wargame? And the answer is: Yes! Everyone raves about A Song of Ice & Fire getting an HBO show, but I think GRR Martin's real victory was getting a miniatures wargame. I daydream all the time about a gorgeous line of models: half-orc hog-riders, centaur marauders, orc raiders, noble and low-born cavaleros, Unyar scouts. I write up army lists for each of the hoofs and mull over a rules set for a game focused on mounted combat.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Grey Bastards.

Jonathan:  Oh, these are always tricky because my memory is awful! Here goes:

1) Jackal likened religion to madness. He had heard that in the north, in the great cities of Hispartha, there were more temples than well-fed children, that a hundred faceless gods received the wealth of the nobles and the fearful pleas of the peasants. He found that difficult to imagine, but Delia, Ignacio, and others had assured him it was true. Thankfully, such belief was all but unknown in Ul-wundulas. Perhaps the badlands were gods-forsaken, but Jackal preferred to think that the Lots were home to those who had no need of invisible old men, dog-headed demons, and sour-faced crones. Here, faith was better placed in a strong mount, a loaded stockbow, and a few solid companions.


2) Roundth was standing in his stirrups, balanced perfectly, and windmilling his exposed cock around in one hand as he passed. The damn thing was as thick as a floppy tankard.

TQWhat's next?

Jonathan:  The sequel is next! More Bastards are coming in March 2019. Sex! Violence! Vulgarity! Half-orc! Hogs! For those that wish to return to The Lots, it'll be a fun ride!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jonathan:  Are you kidding? It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me!

The Grey Bastards
The Lot Lands 1
Crown, June 19, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages

Interview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 Reviews
“A dirty, blood-soaked gem of a novel [that reads] like Mad Max set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. A fantasy masterwork.”Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Live in the saddle.

Die on the hog.

Call them outcasts, call them savages—they’ve been called worse, by their own mothers—but Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard.

He and his fellow half-orcs patrol the barren wastes of the Lot Lands, spilling their own damned blood to keep civilized folk safe. A rabble of hard-talking, hog-riding, whore-mongering brawlers they may be, but the Bastards are Jackal’s sworn brothers, fighting at his side in a land where there’s no room for softness.

And once Jackal’s in charge—as soon as he can unseat the Bastards’ tyrannical, seemingly unkillable founder—there’s a few things they’ll do different. Better.

Or at least, that’s the plan. Until the fallout from a deadly showdown makes Jackal start investigating the Lot Lands for himself. Soon, he’s wondering if his feelings have blinded him to ugly truths about this world, and the Bastards’ place in it.

In a quest for answers that takes him from decaying dungeons to the frontlines of an ancient feud, Jackal finds himself battling invading orcs, rampaging centaurs, and grubby human conspiracies alike—along with a host of dark magics so terrifying they’d give even the heartiest Bastard pause.

Finally, Jackal must ride to confront a threat that’s lain in wait for generations, even as he wonders whether the Bastards can—or should–survive.

Delivered with a generous wink to Sons of Anarchy, featuring sneaky-smart worldbuilding and gobs of fearsomely foul-mouthed charm, The Grey Bastards is a grimy, pulpy, masterpiece—and a raunchy, swaggering, cunningly clever adventure that’s like nothing you’ve read before.

About Jonathan
Interview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 Reviews
Photo by Casey Gardner
JONATHAN FRENCH lives in Atlanta with his wife and son. He is a devoted reader of comic books, an expert thrower of oddly shaped dice, and a serial con attendee.

Website  ~  Twitter @JFrenchAuthor  ~  Facebook

Melanie's Thoughts (during the 2016 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off)

If you take the orcs, the elves and the dwarves from Middle Earth, mix in some rampaging centaurs with a big helping of not very nice humans, quite a bit of swearing and a multi-layered plot then you have The Grey Bastards. Set in the bleak landscape of ‘the Lotlands’ The Grey Bastards, an elite group of half orc militia. protect their community from almost everyone else. The hero of this tale is not a tall dark and handsome knight on a white charger but rather, a greyish green half orc named Jackal who thunders onto the battle field on enormous multi-tusked hog. That doesn’t make him any less heroic. When Jackal discovers that elvin women are being held captive by a sludge monster, that the leader of Bastards might be involved and there are more and more incursions of full blooded orcs killing his friends and community then Jackal decides to take a stand….and one he might not survive.

I tentatively started The Grey Bastards as I wasn’t completely sure I would like it. I am not normally a fan of this type of fantasy so when I found myself staring at the cover I decided to give it a go. I loved it. This isn’t a book if you are sensitive to blood, guts and swearing so be warned but the plot is soo engaging. Despite Jackal’s penchant for prostitutes, overuse of certain misogynistic words used by some presidents and the fact he had tusks, he was very much the traditional hero – tall, handsome, fights the good fight and protects the innocent.

French has crafted an ambitious but intricate plot. I never knew what was going to happen next or whether Jackal would live to tell the tale. This is a sign of a good book in my view. I could very easily recommend this as one of the best books of SPFBO 2016 and potentially one of my favourite books of this year.

Doreen's Thoughts (now)

When I first started reading The Grey Bastards, I knew it was an homage to the television show, “Sons of Anarchy,” but when discovering the names of the main characters, Jackal (Jax), Oats (Opie), and the Claymaster (Clay), I thought they were a little too close to the real thing. Then I discovered that these half-orcs rode hogs – real, animal hogs – and I almost gave up reading what I thought might be a spoof. I kept reading, and despite my misgivings, I started to get caught up in the story.

There is some tremendous world-building here. I loved the description of the kiln, their hideout, where the walls can be heated to kill any intruders. Then there was the Hogback, which is a ramp that can be raised and lowered to let the hogs and their riders out over the walls. There are the sludges, gelatinous creatures that can envelop and suck the life out of a creature, and the Rohks, flying predators who could carry a whole hog. The magic is different, created out of smoke and sparks.

Given the nature of the show, I expected the sex and violence to be more graphic than it is; however, many of the other descriptions are just as graphic and gross as can be.

Just as in “Sons of Anarchy,” this hoof (club) is being run by a corrupt tyrant whose time has come. Jackal has discovered that the Claymaster is making deals and paying for them using elves, a violation of the treaty they have which could lead to war. As he comes closer to taking over leadership of the Bastards, he discovers that perhaps they are not the fierce proctors of the Lot lands that they think they are; perhaps they are simply the dregs of humanity left to survive on scraps. Along with his backups, Fetching and Oats, and the wizard, Crafty, Jackal will find out about the Bastards and their place in the Lot Lands, even if it kills them all.

Review: Torn by Rowena Miller

Author:  Rowenna Miller
Series:  The Unraveled Kingdom 1
Publisher:  Orbit, March 20, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
List Price:  US$15.99 (print);  US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:   9780316478625 (print); 9780316478618 (eBook)

Review: Torn by Rowena Miller
TORN is the first book in an enchanting debut fantasy series featuring a seamstress who stitches magic into clothing, and the mounting political uprising that forces her to choose between her family and her ambitions, for fans of The Queen of the Tearling.

In a time of revolution, everyone must take a side.

Sophie, a dressmaker and charm caster, has lifted her family out of poverty with a hard-won reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly embroidered spells. A commission from the royal family could secure her future — and thrust her into a dangerous new world.

Revolution is brewing. As Sophie’s brother, Kristos, rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement, it is only a matter of time before their fortunes collide.

When the unrest erupts into violence, she and Kristos are drawn into a deadly magical plot. Sophie is torn — between her family and her future.

Doreen’s Thoughts

Rowenna Miller does an excellent job portraying the balancing act that her protagonist, Sophie, performs between the haves and the have-nots. Seemingly based on the French Revolution, Torn focuses on a young dressmaker who also can cast spells into the clothing that she sews. As a shopkeeper, Sophie deals with the upper class and the aristocracy and employs two other shopgirls. However, her brother, Kristos, is one of the leaders of the growing disenfranchised who wish to overthrow a government that fosters such great inequities as currently exist between the rich and the poor.

Viewed as an artist for her charm skills, Sophie is invited by a member of the aristocracy to join an intellectual and artistic salon. Sophie is intrigued by the intelligent discourse and the artistic works they celebrate. She meets Theodor, who happens to be in line as an heir to the throne. She also learns more about the aristocratic world and why/how they happen to think, making her more convinced than ever to remain neutral.

To force Sophie to utilize her spell-casting skills on behalf of the revolution, the group kidnaps and threatens her brother’s life. She is forced to support a cause that she understands but does not embrace, twisting her gift to cast curses rather than positive spells. As revolutionary talk sparks into violence, Sophe is trapped with Theodor and her salon friends as the palace itself is attacked. She is forced once again to choose between continuing to help the revolutionaries or confessing to her new love and endangering her brother’s life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, especially the touch of magic added by the spell-casting through sewing. Miller does a terrific job of making each side in the conflict equally compelling and sympathetic, leading the reader to understand Sophie’s reluctance to take a position. The characters were well written, and the twist at the end is perfectly believable. Torn is a strong beginning to The Unraveled Kingdom Trilogy.

SPFBO 2017 Review: Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black

Devil’s Night Dawning
Author:  Damien Black
Series:  The Broken Stone Chronicle 1
Publisher:  Damien Black, July 2016
Format:  Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 650 pages
List Price:  US$17.99 (print); US$4.99 (Kindle eBook)
ISBN:  9780995492806 (print); ASIN: B01J5WHFVU (eBook)

SPFBO 2017 Review: Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black
As a kingdom teeters on the brink of war, two witch hunters fight to stop a warlock before he unleashes an ancient evil…

For centuries, the Argolian Order has protected the mortal vale from the dark forces of the Other Side. Now the barrier between worlds is breaking down, and two monks must survive a civil war before they can stop the wizard responsible.

When Adelko is assigned to legendary exorcist and witch hunter Horskram, he expects an adventurous life. Death by adventure isn’t what he had in mind – but it seems the only outcome when they learn of a sorcerous theft that threatens the world.

The thief wants to silence them – permanently. And so Horskram and Adelko flee from one danger to another as the Jarl of Thule leads a rebel army against the King of Northalde, plunging the realm into conflict.

And on the Other Side, demonkind reawakens…

The Broken Stone Chronicle is a riveting tale of war, quest, magic and horror for fans of medieval fantasy, sword and sorcery, dark fantasy and epic fantasy. Buy a copy now!

Finalist in the Mark Lawrence SPFBO 2017 competition

Doreen’s Thoughts

In Damien Black’s world, an evil witch ensorcelled a hero into performing a number of tasks to increase her power, including the creation of a headstone to store that power. Once freed from the enchantment, the hero defeated the witch and broke the headstone into several pieces. Each piece was taken separately and hidden far away, to prevent the headstone from ever being reunited. However, a master monk, Horskram, discovers that the piece being guarded by his abbey has been stolen, and he and his acolyte, Adelko, set out to the next hiding place to see whether the theft was a fluke or the first in an effort to reunite the headstone.

The trials and tribulations faced by the monks in their journey are only as small part of this novel. Divided into three sections of about 15 chapters each, the story has about 10 other characters, some of whom interact with the others. In particular, I liked Lady Adhelina, the earl’s daughter being forced to marry against her will, and Vaskarian, the reckless squire with the fiery temper. Each of the characters are well-rounded, and their actions and words all support the characterization given to them.

Set in something similar to medieval times, Black does a terrific job describing the architecture as well as the armature of the knights. He even uses archaic terms that I had to look up to ensure the correct meaning. The fight scenes were dramatic without being too graphic. Overall, this added to the atmosphere of the novel.

In some regards, Devil's Night Dawning reminded me of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, with its multiple character perspectives spread across a large worldview. But I think Black would have benefited from a good editor. Sometimes his chapters seemed to go on too long. He used a lot of exposition from Horskram to Adelko to outline the history of the world as well as that of the missing headstone. The first time it took several pages of quotes from their spiritual books to defeat an evil possession; however, each subsequent attack seemed to take longer, which could make sense, because the entities were stronger and more dangerous. In the end, it just made it feel longer to read.

I give Devil's Night Dawning a 6 out of 10.

Review: Dark Queen by Faith Hunter

Dark Queen
Author:  Faith Hunter
Series:  Jane Yellowrock 12
Publisher:  Ace, May 1, 2018
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
List Price:  US$7.99 (print);  US$7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781101991428 (print); 9781101991435 (eBook)

Review: Dark Queen by Faith Hunter
Jane Yellowrock used to hunt vampires, but now she must fight–and win–beside them.

As Enforcer to the vampire Master of the City of New Orleans, Jane Yellowrock stakes her reputation and her life on keeping her territory safe. But Leo has been issued a blood challenge by the emperor of the European vampires, who seeks to usurp all of his power and possessions. If Leo loses the match to the death, the city will be forfeit, and the people of New Orleans will suffer the consequences. Jane can’t let that happen.

Preparing for the duel requires all of Jane’s focus, but with so much supernatural power in play, nothing goes according to plan. She has to rely on herself and the very few people she knows she can trust to stand and fight. Only two things are guaranteed: nothing is sacred, and no one is safe.

Doreen’s Thoughts

When I saw another Jane Yellowrock book available through NetGalley, I could hardly wait until it was approved and loaded onto my Kindle. As one of my favorite authors, Faith Hunter is now writing two series, but this is the one that I loved first. I do have to say, I did start reading cautiously – in the last several novels, Jane and the New Orleans vampires have been preparing for a visit from the European mithrans (vampires). I worried that when the meeting finally came about, it would not live up to the hype set in the previous several books. My worries were quashed when it became apparent that this was less a visit and more an invasion, with a series of formalized fights set up between the oldest and strongest of the American vampires and their people and the oldest and strongest of the Europeans. At risk was the freedom of humans and paranormals throughout the United States – the stakes were set high.

Because the European vampires were typically aristocrats used to pomp and circumstance, there is still some negotiating rules and requirements in the first part of the book, which might have seemed a little boring if Hunter hadn’t dropped a bomb in the form of a new character, Jane’s full-blooded brother, Ari.

One of the best aspects of Hunter’s series has been Jane’s need and search for family. Having come out of the woods as a supposed orphan child, Jane had gone through the foster care system, and it had not been kind to her. Since coming to New Orleans, she had accepted her housemates, Eli and Alex Younger, as business partners and family members. Along the way, she also acquired a vampire primo, Edward, and a werewolf, Brute. But she had been certain there were no other blood relatives of hers out there. With Leo, king of the American vampires and Jane’s boss, to confirm Ari’s DNA, Jane has a lot of mixed feelings about this new brother – ecstasy that he is alive; anger that it took so long for him to contact her; joy that there are other relatives; and fear about what it all means for her.

But there is little time to deal with this new relative. The Conclave is on, and the fights are brutal and to the death. Several characters who have held secondary positions in the series for quite some time are killed. This definitely amped up the level of tension, especially when Jane’s adopted brother, Eli, is called to fight. It appeared that no one was safe, and this was especially true with the ending. Suffice to say, I cannot reveal more without giving away spoilers. What I can say is that Dark Queen ends on a high, if totally unexpected note.

Review: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

Lake Silence
Author:  Ann Bishop
Series:  The World of the Others 1
Publisher:  Ace, March 6, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook
List Price:  US$27.00 (print); US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780399587245 (print); 9780399587252 (eBook)

Review: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop
In this thrilling and suspenseful fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, an inn owner and her shape-shifting lodger find themselves enmeshed in danger and dark secrets.

Human laws do not apply in the territory controlled by the Others–vampires, shape-shifters, and even deadlier paranormal beings. And this is a fact that humans should never, ever forget….

After her divorce, Vicki DeVine took over a rustic resort near Lake Silence, in a human town that is not human controlled. Towns such as Vicki’s don’t have any distance from the Others, the dominant predators who rule most of the land and all of the water throughout the world. And when a place has no boundaries, you never really know what is out there watching you.

Vicki was hoping to find a new career and a new life. But when her lodger, Aggie Crowe–one of the shape-shifting Others–discovers a murdered man, Vicki finds trouble instead. The detectives want to pin the death on her, despite the evidence that nothing human could have killed the victim. As Vicki and her friends search for answers, ancient forces are roused by the disturbance in their domain. They have rules that must not be broken–and all the destructive powers of nature at their command.

Doreen’s Thoughts

While Lake Silence is not part of Bishop’s Others series, it is set in that world and does include some of the Others (shape-shifters, vampires, and other Elemental beings) peripherally. Instead, it focuses on a completely new character, Vicki DeVine, a middle-aged, overweight, prone-to-panic-attacks divorcee who received a rustic resort as part of her divorce decree. Since her divorce, she has lived quietly, remodeling and upgrading the various buildings and facilities on her property and trying to recreate her life with reading. She discovers that her first tenant, Aggie Crow, is a shifter member of the Crowguard just as Aggie discovers a dead body. Unfortunately for Vicki, this is just the first of many bodies as it becomes obvious that her ex-husband is trying to steal back the resort.

Vicki is a charming character – sweet and kind to nearly everyone – with some significant body and confidence issues that can lead to panic attacks. She is joined by several other distinctly drawn characters, including Wayne Grimshaw, the aloof highway patrol officer asked to lead the investigation who somehow becomes Chief of Police without him even realizing it; Julian Farrow, owner of the book store entitled “Lettuce Reed” who is a former police officer himself with PTSD issues; Ineke Xavier, the fierce matron who runs the town boardinghouse and befriends Vicki; and Aggie Crow, the young Crowguard who is Vicki’s first tenant and the one who discovers the first body. Bishop ensured that each of these characters had their own distinct voice, which made the story really come alive.

In Bishop’s world, humans are not the apex predator; instead, the Others – shape-shifters, vampires, and deadlier Elementals such as Winter and Fire – rule the world and allow the humans to exist so long as they follow specific rules. When humans break those rules, then the consequences are severe, with ice storms, tornadoes, sinkholes, and giant unseen killing creatures. Bishop’s other series ended with humans suffering these types of catastrophes, so one would think that Yorick Dane, Vicki’s ex-husband, and his partners would have known better than to risk offending the true rulers of the land. Regardless. reading about their comeuppance was a lot of fun.

Lake Silence overall is a great read, with lots of humor and small moments that touch the heart. There were times when I laughed out loud and times when I teared up. This probably is one of the best books that I have read all year. While it can be read as a standalone, this is a time when I highly recommend reading the entire the prior series, because some of the humor is enhanced by knowing what happened in the Others series.
SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig SchaeferSPFBO Finalist Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin MadsonReview: Island of the Mad by Laurie R. KingReview: In the Valley of the Devil by Hank EarlyReview: Brief Cases by Jim ButcherInterview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 ReviewsReview: Torn by Rowena MillerSPFBO 2017 Review: Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien BlackReview: Dark Queen by Faith HunterReview: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

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