The Qwillery | category: Melanie | (page 2 of 8)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Review: Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews

Magic Triumphs
Author:  Ilona Andrews
Series:  Kate Daniels 10
Publisher:  Ace, August 28, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$26.00 (print);  US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780425270714 (print); 9780698136823 (eBook)

Review: Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews
Mercenary Kate Daniels must risk all to protect everything she holds dear in this epic, can’t-miss entry in the thrilling #1 New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series.

Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.

For her child.

For Atlanta.

For the world.

Melanie's Thoughts

Kate thought it was too good to be true. Over the past two years she has married her hunky shapeshifter Curran and had an adorable son, Conlan, her business is thriving and there is no sign of her megalomaniac father Roland who has tried kill her loved far. However, when an ancient power decides that humanity has lived long enough and wants to purge the world Kate knows she has to make a stand. If she has to ally with the enemy then she is prepared to do what it takes to save everything and everyone she loves. War is on her doorstep and Kate isn't sure she has the power to survive.

I can't believe that it is finally here - Magic Triumphs the - 10th and final Kate Daniels instalment. I have been a fan from the very start and Kate has been one of my favourite heroines. There has been a lot of hype about Magic Triumphs and it doesn't disappoint. This story is almost more of a continuation of Iron and Magic* than it is of Magic Binds with the return of the soldiers and beasts that Hugh D'Ambray fought in the first book of the Iron Covenant series. I thought that this was an interesting re-use of a really scary baddy. Obviously Kate has grown up now  - a wife and mother and while she loves her new life she is desperate to keep her family safe. Roland has always been a threat to her and her family but Neig is the bigger threat and she isn't sure she has the ability to defeat them both. It is this vulnerability that makes Kate even more interesting as a character than she was before.

Andrews brings back so many of the characters that I have loved over the series - Andrea, Derek, Dali, Doolittle and Saiman. Even Grendel, the mutant poodle is back! However, when one of my newest favourite characters makes a dramatic appearance I actually did a fist pump and whooped. I can't really say that there was more character development in Magic Triumphs but there is 'rounding' out of a few of the lead characters - specifically Derek, Christopher, Erra and to a small extent Adora. Andrews uses the action and fight scenes to further establish Kate's relationships with regular characters and helps to setup the new ones. There are quite a few fight scenes and these all lead to the epic battle at the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed Magic Triumphs and thought the ending of the book and of the series was really satisfying. Ten books makes for a long series but this instalment was worth waiting for. Andrews avoided making the ending too sugary and sweet, which I appreciated. The epilogue is a bit of a tease and is creating A LOT of discussion on the blog. It's good that not everything was spelled out for us even though it is a bit of a very small cliffhanger. I am looking forward to see what Andrews has in store for us besides two more Hugh books (hurray!). Magic Triumphs is a great book and even better ending to a great series.

*See my review of Iron and Magic here.

Review: Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence
Author:  Christopher Ruocchio
Series:  The Sun Eater 1
Publisher:  DAW, July 3, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 624 pages
List Price:  US$26.00 (print); US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  ISBN 9780756413002 (print); ISBN 9780756413026 (eBook

Review: Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
Hadrian Marlowe, a man revered as a hero and despised as a murderer, chronicles his tale in the galaxy-spanning debut of the Sun Eater series, merging the best of space opera and epic fantasy.

It was not his war.

The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives—even the Emperor himself—against Imperial orders.

But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.

On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe starts down a path that can only end in fire. He flees his father and a future as a torturer only to be left stranded on a strange, backwater world.

Forced to fight as a gladiator and navigate the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, Hadrian must fight a war he did not start, for an Empire he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.

Melanie's Thoughts:

Hadrian had his life all mapped out. He wants to become a scholiast - one of the learned academics like his beloved teacher, Gibson. However his father, the Archon of Meidua, has other plans. His father is planning to send him to the Chantry where he will become just another soulless minion of the Empire, torturing the poor and defenseless. No one, not even Hadrian, could have anticipated the chain of events that unfold when he defies his father's wishes.

Stranded on a planet far away from home and the future that he sacrificed so much for. With no money, friends or family Hadrian does the only thing he knows - fight. All the years of training have paid off as Hadrian enters the gladiatorial arena. It's not long before he makes a name for himself beating gladiators with better weapons and armor soon becoming a hero of the arena. Once again, politics of the court take him farther away from the life he started to make for himself. He is now firmly on the path to become what the galaxy will remember him as  - the Sun Eater.

Empire of Silence is truly an epic. The story is told in the first person with Hadrian recounting the events that lead up to him becoming known as the world killer. The story starts at the very beginning, with his birth and ends with Hadrian leaving the planet that became his new home. A lot happens to Hadrian in the first few decades of his life and his fortunes change dramatically between the start and the end of book 1. Events before he leaves his home world are very traumatic for him but it seems that his life on the streets of Emesh are what define him as a person.

Ruocchio has an incredible imagination and the worlds that he has built for Hadrian are rich and full of detail. Despite the story only covering the first twenty something years of Hadrian's life a lot happens to him. I liked how the story was told from the first person and and that 30+ years were lost in Hadrian's life as he traveled across the galaxy after escaping his father but we don't find out why. The society, history and social structures are also very detailed, in fact, so detailed that Ruocchio provides us with one of the longest glossaries I have ever seen. Although I didn't find it until I had finished the book which is pretty easy to do when reading an eBook.

My one criticism with Empire of Silence is the pace. There is so much detail and so much dialogue that the story can actually drag in parts but then half a chapter later something would happen so that I could barely put the book down. If I had only two words to describe this book I would say that it is 'topsy turvy' because one minute I was bored stiff with all the detail and the next I was on the edge of my seat. Having said that this was a debut and it was very ambitious. I am very curious to find out what will happen next to Hadrian. I just really hope that Ruocchio evens out the pace and and doesn't unnecessarily drag out the story.

Note: I love the cover. It is one that I spent a lot of time staring at it. And it won the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars for July!

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant

      The following scene from Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant is where Lori first meets Ashbert. She doesn’t yet realise that he’s the man she has accidentally brought to life from a collage that she made as a teenager. We join Lori as she has been baking with her friend Cookie...

      Cookie took the bread out of the oven while I wafted smoke away from the smoke detector in the ceiling. The bread had overcooked a bit while we were putting out the fire, but my stomach still rumbled. The burning smell was unpleasantly sharp and acrid, but it was hard to tell if it was from the bread or the fire in the lounge.
      Cookie tapped the base of the loaf. “You can tell when bread is cooked because it will sound hollow when you do this,” she said.
      It didn’t sound hollow, it sounded dead and solid. I took it off her wordlessly and banged it on the counter to see if it made a better sound, but I was a bit worried that we might shatter the granite.
      “The road of trials is littered with obstacles,” she said with a frown.
      “And rock-hard loaves,” I said.
      “I need to think on this.”
      Cookie took herself into the lounge. I placed the loaf on a plate, found a long, serrated knife and attempted to cut a slice. Five minutes sawing produced a lot of shard-like crumbs but made virtually no impact on the bread. I tried to break the loaf with my hands, but I just wasn’t strong enough.
      Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
      I went through to the lounge. It turned out that having a think meant passing out on the settee. A joint burned in Cookie’s right hand and a glass of raki lolled toward the cushions in her left. I tutted slightly and took them off her, keeping them well apart to avoid igniting the powerful spirits.
      I was wondering whether it was worth trying the bread again when I heard a sound. It was a light creak, coming from outside. I crept over to the window and looked out into the rear yard of the building.
      It was a naked man.
      Definitely a man and definitely naked, his body pale and golden in the streetlights from the next road over. And he was coming up the fire escape.
      I went into the kitchen to look out of the window, turning out the lights as I entered to improve my   view of what was outside. Was the naked guy returning to one of the other flats? Why was he naked? In the moments that it took me to get to the kitchen window he’d disappeared. He’d either climbed up to the next floor, gone down to the ground, or entered the building. I swallowed hard as I realised that the most likely explanation for him vanishing so quickly was that he’d entered the building somewhere.
      The lounge window was open. I had left it open. I had stupidly left the lounge window open. Was he inside the flat? This flat? My flat? I crept back to the door to the lounge and put my ear to it. I could definitely hear some sort of movement. I willed myself not to panic, took out my phone, dialled 999 but didn’t yet press the call button. Cookie was asleep in the lounge. If a crazed naked man was in there, she was in danger. It didn’t really cross my mind that it might be a sane naked man. I’m not sure there are such things.
      I risked opening the door a crack.
      Oh, God! He was there! A white and – oh, yeah – definitely naked torso moving slowly across the room.
      I hit the call button and backed away.
      “I think there’s an intruder in my flat,” I said, when I got through. “I mean, I know there’s an intruder in the flat.”
      In a voice that suggested they received naked intruder calls all day long, the operator asked me for the address.
      “Can you get out?” he asked.
      “No, not without going past where they are,” I said.
      “Try to secure yourself or hide,” said the operator.
      “But my friend is in the lounge.”
      “Secure yourself and hide. We’ll be there very shortly.”
      Secure myself and hide? Even if there was somewhere to hide in the kitchen, could I leave Cookie in the clutches of a nude lunatic? Of course not. I crept back to the door and peeked through the gap. The lounge was empty and there was Cookie’s foot poking over the edge of the sofa. I had to go and wake her. But I needed protection.
      I momentarily considered the bread knife but then the headline ‘LOCAL WOMAN SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR UNPROVOKED NUDE STABBING’ flashed through my mind and I thought better of it. A non-lethal bludgeoning weapon would be much better.
Ten seconds later, armed with a rock-hard loaf of bread, I crept into the lounge. No. No naked men lurking in corners. He must have moved on. My limbs shivering with fear, I took hold of Cookie’s knee and tried to shake her awake.
      She gave a small grunt and shifted position.
      “Wake up, damn you,” I hissed.
      There was the sound of something being dropped. The door to the largest bedroom, which opened directly onto the lounge, was open! There! This was an old building with many of the original features, including interior doors with locks and bolts. All I needed to do was to pull the door closed and lock it and the man would be trapped until the police arrived.
      “You can do this,” I told myself.
      I stole quickly across the room and tugged the door shut. The handle rattled from the other side as I turned the key in the lock.
      “You’re trapped now, mofo!” I shouted and turned away from the door.
      And, as I did, I realised I had trapped my onesie in the door. A section of leg material caught in the gap.
      The man started to pound on the door from the other side. I’m not normally one for whimpering but I let out a trembling cry.
      The pounding continued, shaking me with each blow. It was a solid door, but I could hear a splintering sound coming from somewhere. I had to get away. There was only one solution and I had no choice. Down came the zip and I wriggled free. I headed across the room. I hadn’t gone two steps when the door gave way and the man burst through like that man with the axe in that film. You know the one. I turned to him with my only weapon: the remains of the indestructible loaf I let out a primal roar of pure, bear-flattening rage and swung the loaf with all my might at the attacker’s head.
      The bread connected with his head with deadly, bone-shattering force and he dropped like a stone. My arm even ached from the impact.
      Two thoughts collided in my mind: the first was that I’d surely killed him. The second was that he looked familiar. Bizarrely familiar.
      The doorbell rang.
      His face was one I’d seen in the very recent past.
      There was a thump at the door.
      “Police! Open up!”
      In fact, his face was my own creation. Robert Pattinson’s eyes. Ashton Kutcher’s smile. Channing Tatum’s jawline. He was the man from the picture I had made as a teenager. He was teen Lori’s dream man, so very recently cast into the fire.

Authors:  Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Publisher:  Pigeon Park Press, July 20, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$12.99 (print); US$4.59 (Kindle eBook)
ISBN:  9780995749764 (print);  ASIN:  B07F3X4XF2 (Kindle eBook)

The Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain Grant
Lori Belkin has been dumped. By her parents.

They moved out while she was away on holiday, and now, at the tender age of twenty-five, she's been cruelly forced to stand on her own two feet.

While she's getting to grips with basic adulting, Lori magically brings to life the super-sexy man she created from celebrity photos as a teenager.

Lori learns very quickly that having your ideal man is not as satisfying as it ought to be and that being an adult is far harder than it looks.

Snowflake is a story about prehistoric pets, delinquent donkeys and becoming the person you want to be, not the person everyone else expects you to be.

Melanie's Thoughts

Lori arrives back from her holiday in Crete to discover her parents have moved away without telling her. Now she has to go it alone with only her wits and her brother's luxury flat to keep her safe. Little did she realise that a straw goat, mouldering sausage and a bottle of raki weren't the only things she brought back with her. Lori thought it was just a pretty necklace that she bought in a random store in Crete but it turned out it had the power to bring to inanimate objects to life - like the magazine cut out of her ideal man, a long extinct bug, foxes, and so much more. At the tender age of 25 Lori has some serious 'adulting' to do and there is a lot of trouble she can get into the meantime.

Snowflake by the writing duo of Heide Goody and Iain Grant is another lighthearted romp through the trials and tribulations of being a millennial with a magical necklace. Lori's name should be officially changed to Trouble Belkin because, boy, she gets into enough of it. From almost burning down her brother's flat to chasing a donkey through Ikea Lori has more exploits than the normal 20 something. In fact Lori can barely cross the street without triggering a major disaster. Goody and Grant are experts at getting their characters into ridiculous situations and giving them hilarious lines. One specific scene where Lori and her magically created perfect man Ashbert go to the theatre was very amusing, especially the Iron Man reference. There are a number of English 'in jokes' and I am not sure whether you will get all them if you aren't from the UK but it's worth a go.

This is a very good book if you want a lighthearted read or need to be cheered up. My one tiny criticism is that Lori was a bit too ignorant of almost everything and the number of outrageous situations she got herself into was relentless. I felt a bit exhausted when I got to the end of the book.  I feel this situational 'naivety' worked well with Goody and Grant's former prince of darkness Clovenhoof (funniest books ever!) but with Lori she came across too self-involved and borderline inconsiderate. Some of the jokes make up for Lori's personality quirks so if you are looking for something funny, quite kooky and with a happy ending give Snowflake a go.

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: Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews

Iron and Magic
Author:  Ilona Andrews
Series:  The Iron Covenant 1
Publisher:  NYLA, June 28, 2018
Format:  eBook, 322 pages
List Price:  US$ 6.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781641970358 (eBook)

Review: Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews
No day is ordinary in a world where Technology and Magic compete for supremacy…But no matter which force is winning, in the apocalypse, a sword will always work.

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, Warlord of the Builder of Towers, served only one man. Now his immortal, nearly omnipotent master has cast him aside. Hugh is a shadow of the warrior he was, but when he learns that the Iron Dogs, soldiers who would follow him anywhere, are being hunted down and murdered, he must make a choice: to fade away or to be the leader he was born to be. Hugh knows he must carve a new place for himself and his people, but they have no money, no shelter, and no food, and the necromancers are coming. Fast.

Elara Harper is a creature who should not exist. Her enemies call her Abomination; her people call her White Lady. Tasked with their protection, she's trapped between the magical heavyweights about to collide and plunge the state of Kentucky into a war that humans have no power to stop. Desperate to shield her people and their simple way of life, she would accept help from the devil himself—and Hugh d’Ambray might qualify.

Hugh needs a base, Elara needs soldiers. Both are infamous for betraying their allies, so how can they create a believable alliance to meet the challenge of their enemies?

As the prophet says: “It is better to marry than to burn.”

Hugh and Elara may do both.

Melanie's Thoughts

Hugh is back but this time not as Roland's right hand man. He has lost everything  - his job, his wealth, his power, his immortality but more importantly the man he considered a father. He has nothing and no where to go. Along with his 300 elite soldiers - the Iron Dogs - Hugh is desperate to find a base and a purpose to keep on living. The White Lady, Elara Harper, has almost everything - a community devoted to her, a fortress and a lot of power. What she doesn't have is protection for her people. Elara is about to understand the saying 'better the devil you know' when she agrees to an alliance with the devil himself - Hugh d'Ambray. Their enemies won't know what hit them if they don't kill each other first.

When I first read that Ilona Andrews was writing a book about Hugh I thought that it was a joke. I couldn't believe that Andrews would spend time writing about the biggest baddie who murdered his way through at least three of the Kate Daniels books. I couldn't understand how the authors could make Hugh a credible hero after all of the things that he did to Kate and her friends. However, I dutifully read the sample chapters that Andrews put on their blog and when I saw that the eArc was available on NetGalley I dropped everything and rushed to download it.

I was a bit more than pleasantly surprised with Iron and Magic. Hugh is everything that I was expecting - arrogant, violent and driven. A brutal killer who seemed to have no moral compass. Through the story and his interactions with Elara we get to see a different side of Hugh and the man he wanted to be rather than the one he was. Hugh doesn't make excuses for his past behaviour which made him a more realistic, genuine character rather than turning into a 'baddie turned hero by the love of a good woman'. Had Hugh been written in any other way the story wouldn't have been as good, in my opinion.

Elara and her people are the newbies in this story that has so many characters from the Kate Daniels' series. She was referred to, not by name, in book 9 of the Kate Daniels series (Magic Binds) as the abomination and I wasn't certain how Andrews was going to weave the two stories together. This was done in a very clever way that both connects Elara to characters in Kate Daniels world but also serves to develop Hugh's character and backstory at the same time. I liked Elara. She was an interesting character that was as dominant as Hugh but in a much more subtle way. I am looking forward to seeing what direction Andrews' will take this character.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book which I think was partly down to the fact I didn't think I would. I like a good surprise and Iron and Magic gives you a few of those. Due to the nature of the main characters this book seemed a lot more violent than any of Andrews' other books. In retrospect, it probably isn't any more violent but just seems that way because Hugh is such a dark and broody character who has murdered his way through the last couple of books on Roland's behalf. It's not as sexy as I was expecting which I prefer. I never like when characters find the time to get all hot and sweaty in the middle of a big battle or in life or death situations. The steamy scenes in this story are fitting to both the characters and the plotline. I won't say that this is a prefect novel. I noticed a couple of lines borrowed from other books and other series written by Andrews which I am hoping will be sorted out before the book is published. This doesn't detract from the plotline but could have had the characters not been so strong. This is a great teaser to Magic Triumphs and I can hardly wait, even more now, for that instalment to come out. While Iron and Magic is billed as it's own series I don't think you will get that much from it if you haven't read at least the first 5 or 6 Kate Daniels' books. These are books you can read over and over so start from the beginning. For die hard fans get Iron and Magic on pre-order now!

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

The Wolves of Winter
Author:  Tyrell Johnson
Publisher:  Scribner, January 2, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  US$26.00; 9781501155697 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781501155673 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)

Review: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
A captivating tale of humanity pushed beyond its breaking point, of family and bonds of love forged when everything is lost, and of a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny. This debut novel is written in a post-apocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

Simultaneously a heartbreakingly sympathetic portrait of a young woman searching for the answer to who she is meant to be and a frightening vision of a merciless new world in which desperation rules, The Wolves of Winter is enveloping, propulsive, and poignant.

Melanie's Thoughts

One could be mistaken thinking that The Wolves of Winter was just another post apocalyptic tale of a small band of survivors trying to eek out a life in a cruel, bleak landscape.  In Johson's war and disease devastated world lives Lynn, a young woman trying to find her place in the small community her family has created in the snow covered landscape of northern Canada. Very few people survived the bombs that rained around the world or the deadly virus that spread in its wake. Lynn along with her mother, brother, uncle and a friend escape to the frozen wilds of Canada in an attempt to outrun the spread of the flu that has killed all of their loved ones. Lynn's 'life before' when her father was still alive, when she went to school, had friends and watched TV have all started to fade away to memory. Her new life revolves around hunting, trapping and snow. When an injured stranger wanders into their camp Lynn knows that everything is about to change. A stranger with secrets that are about to put Lynn and everyone she cares about in danger.

I was halfway through this book when it dawned on me that I was reading a debut novel. I was very pleasantly surprised by the sophistication of the characterization, the world building and elements of the plot. While the overall plot - post world war land, barely anyone survives but a plucky young heroine, mysterious tall dark and handsome and his dog, isn't new and it could have ended up being very bland and stereotypical. Luckily it didn't. Johnson really paints a rich picture of the frozen tundra in which Lynn, and what remains of her family, live. From the whiteness of the landscape to the crunchy hard bite of the snow - all set the scene for what is about to happen to the story's young protagonist. In fact, I thought that the environment (mostly the snow) could be considered a secondary character because of its impact on Lynn and those around her.

The story unfolds both in real-time and through Lynn's memories of her life before everything went to hell. Memories of her father, who is dead from the flu that killed so many others, are replayed through every chapter and give context to current events and provide the narrative for events in the past. Fans of this genre may not be surprised by most of the big reveals but it isn't the surprises or plot that draws you into this is Lynn. This is a character driven story and Lynn is an authentic character who acts like what you would expect any young woman to act. She is neither brave nor a coward, she lives in the present but it is the past that steers her future.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wolves of Winter. I can't say that it was perfect but I found it difficult to put down and difficult not to like the somewhat abrasive, imperfect Lynn. I can hardly wait to find out what other stories Johnson has to tell.

Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Author:  Sue Burke
Publisher:  Tor Books, February 6, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$25.99 (print); US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765391353 (print); 9780765391377 (eBook)

Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke
Human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance in Semiosis, a character driven science fiction novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke.

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Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches...and waits...

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet's sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools.

Melanie's Thoughts:

Its hard to decide whether the first colonists from Earth on a planet far far away were brave or foolish. Only the rich can survive on earth and a group of adventurers decide to take their chances to establish a colony on another planet. Crash landing on a different planet they find landscape that's lush and where the sentient plants produce delicious fruits...until one day they don't. One day they turned and started to poison the colonists. Only a few survive and Burke tells their story. The story of the original colonists and the following generations trying to survive among planets that are beautiful and deadly in equal measure. Things change when the colonists discover they share the planet with another alien species. The fragile balance of the ecosystem is in jeopardy and it's the plants who are really calling the shots.

The story of the colonists on Pax is told through POV chapters which span five generations. Each new generation struggles to survive alongside the sentient plants that hold their very existence amongst their green leaves, twisted roots and razor sharp thorns. The story really starts to take a turn when two things happen. First, the colonists discover they share the planet with another alien species who may or may not be friendly. The second big twist occurs when one of the plants - a colourful bamboo - starts to communicate with them, warning them of dangers and enlisting other plants to help them survive. The bamboo even has its own POV chapters and this is where the story gives us a mini botany lesson. Through these chapters it is clear that the colonists are not the dominate species on the planet.

I think that the concept of Burke's story is very interesting. Sentient plants who treat humans as slaves is new and fresh. However, I found that the story dragged, particularly in the middle. I didn't find the human characters that engaging and therefore, it was a bit difficult to be that invested in their fate. In fact, it was Svetland (the bamboo) who I thought that was most well developed and interesting. As a debut this demonstrates that Burke has an amazing imagination but a little more attention developing engaging characters would have moved this book from the 'ok' category to the 'awesome' category for me.

Review: We Care For You by Paul Kitcatt

We Care For You
Author:  Paul Kitcatt
Publisher:  Unbound Digital, November 14, 2017
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 240 pages
Price:  US$20.47 (print); US$2.99 (Kindle eBook)
ISBN:  9781911586296 (print); ASIN:  B077H4LGHK (eBook)

Review: We Care For You by Paul Kitcatt
Margaret Woodruff is slowly dying in a care home. When her son is presented with the chance of exceptional care in her final months, he finds the offer hard to resist.

Winifred is assigned to Margaret’s care. She’s a Helper: a new kind of carer that’s capable, committed and completely tireless – because she’s a synthetic human being.

Under Winifred’s care Margaret’s health improves beyond everyone’s expectations, and Winifred begins to learn from Margaret what it means to be alive. After all, she has a lifetime of experience to pass on – and in a world where youth is the ultimate prize, perhaps it takes a robot to recognise the value of old age.

But how will Winifred use what she learns from Margaret – and what does she truly want from her?

Melanie's Thoughts

I wasn't entirely sure what I was expecting when I requested We Care for You by Paul Kitcatt from NetGalley. I was immediately drawn to the cover which didn't really do the contents justice. Inside is a reflection on life, love and the quest for knowledge.

The first few chapters were very poignant for me. The elderly Margaret, who is slowly fading away in a nursing home, who can't feed herself and who doesn't recognise her son John reminded me of my own Mom. There were so many similarities between this character and my own Mom that I found it a challenging read at the start. However, when Winnifred the Helper comes into the story all similarities faded away

The owners of Evergreen Care Home, the nursing home in which Margaret lives, believe they have solved the problems of an aging population. They introduce synthetic humans to take over roles normally carried out by humans with the aim of improving the quality of life of their charges. Winnifred and her fellow Helpers look and act completely human - they look like humans, they sound like humans and they almost act like humans. The perfect workforce for manual tasks as they don't need to sleep, take breaks or get paid. Evergreen Care Home has turned into a veritable old aged utopia with the introduction of the Helpers. Every resident now has a dedicated Helper to take care of them and ensure they have the best life possible. Life takes a big change when nanobots are introduced into the elderly residents, curing their illness and handicaps, returning them to healthy active lives.

At first, Margaret feels that she has woken from a hazy dream as she comes out of the fugue of dementia. Winnifred has brought so much to her life. She now recognises her son John and can laugh and play with her grandchildren but it almost seems too good to be true. Winnifred looks human and acts human but isn't really....she isn't really alive. She wants to be though and Margaret and the other patients in the care home may provide the one thing that they need the most.

It's not until the very final chapters when this tale turns a bit more sinister and the ending was chilling indeed. Kitcatt combined a very personal story and layered on a bit of Bladerunner combined with Star Trek's The Borg. This is Kitcatt's first novel and I really enjoyed it even though it made me quite sad in parts. I will look forward to reading more from this author.

Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci

Black Star Renegades
Author:  Michael Moreci
Publisher:  St Martin's Press, January 2, 2018
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:  US$27.99 (print); US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN: 9781250117847 (print); ISBN 9781250117830 (eBook)

Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci
In the tradition of Star Wars, a galaxy-hopping space adventure about a galactic kingdom bent on control and the young misfit who must find the power within before it’s too late.

Cade Sura holds the future of the galaxy in his hands: the ultimate weapon that will bring total peace. He didn’t ask for it, he doesn’t want it, and there’s no worse choice to wield it in all of space, but if he doesn’t, everyone’s totally screwed. The evil Praxis kingdom is on the cusp of having every star system under its control, and if that happens, there’ll be no contesting their cruel reign. Especially if its fanatical overlord, Ga Halle, manages to capture Cade and snag the all-powerful weapon for herself.

Cade can’t hide from Praxis, and he can’t run from the destiny that’s been shoved into his hands. So he only has one option:

He has to fight.

Cade’s not going to let destiny send him on a suicide run, though. With some help from his friends—rebels and scoundrels alike—Cade’s going to use this weapon to chart a new destiny for the galaxy, and for himself.

He just has to do so before everyone around him discovers that he’s a complete and total fraud.

Blending the space operatics of Star Wars and the swagger of Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Star Renegades is a galaxy-hopping adventure that blasts its way from seedy spacer bars to sacred temples guarded by deadly creatures—all with a cast of misfit characters who have nowhere to go and nothing to lose.

Melanie's Review:

Within a few life changing minutes Cade goes from being a young man with everything to live for to being on the run as the alleged saviour of the galaxy. A single weapon - the Rokura - has the power to bring peace to the empire if wielded by the Paragon. The problem is Cade has it and even he knows he isn't the true Paragon. Someone has to try to defeat the evil Praxis who have taken control of the galaxy by destroying planets and ruthlessly killing civilians. It's up to Cade and his friends to try. Good vs evil, powerful super weapons, and the heroes that wield them - Black Star Renegades has it all.

Michael Moreci's solo debut novel really packs a punch. Set in a vast galaxy where the evil Praxis empire is going for broke to stamp out the few remaining rebels gives the perfect backdrop for the story. Moreci created a great environment for Cade and his motley crew of renegades and machines. Cade himself is a likable character although I feel that Moreci could have spent just a little more time rounding him out. He was a tiny bit one dimensional as his reaction to certain life changing events in the first few chapters should have affected him more than they did. At least Moreci resisted the temptation to dilute the plot with too much romance with Cade and his sidekick Kira.

I like this book and think it was a solid debut. The thing that I think was slightly off putting is the comparisons to Star Wars. The reason I say this is that as I was reading I kept second guessing whether the plot and/or the characters were too similar to Star Wars. Although after a few chapters I forgot about that and just enjoyed Cade's story. This is an action packed read from page one all the way to the end. Well done Michael Moreci!

SPFBO 2017 Review: Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman

Chaos Trims My Beard: A Fantasy Noir
Author:  Brett Herman
Publisher:  Self Published, March 2017
Format:  Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 460 Pages
List Price:  $14.99 (print);  $3.99 (Kindle)
ISBN:  9781517008307 (print): ASIN: B06XTD7C9N

SPFBO 2017 Review: Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman
Edwayn Sattler is a half-dwarf with a beard and a dead end job. One night when serving drinks to the city's rich and famous, a fiery playboy loses control of his magic and goes on a burning rampage. After some ill-advised heroics aided by the magic that lives in Edwayn's beard, he finds himself unemployed and socially exiled. With no other job or friends to fall back to, he signs on with an inscrutable ratman sporting a badge and a fetching hat, and together they dive beard and whiskers first into a magical murder conspiracy that threatens to consume the city.

Armed with sub-par wits, a dry sense of humor, and a handful of magical tricks, Edwayn encounters conflagrating cops, smooth-talking trolls, shadowy corporate enforcers, and an air-headed vixen with a fatalistic streak. When his easy-going life spirals into a thrilling, darkly hilarious tale of intrigue and deception, Edwayn will find out just how close this newfound chaos will trim his beard.

Melanie's Thoughts

For Edwayn it's just another night in his crappy low paid job. As a half breed - half dwarf, half human - his career options are limited. Edwayn lives in a society where half breeds are the bottom of the social pile while the Fae and mages are the elite. Edwayn can hardly wait for his shift to finish. Collecting glasses at a wealthy fae's party is just a way to pay the bills but when one of the guests turns into a living torch Edwayn steps in to try to save the day. What he doesn't realise is that this act heroism means that he is on someone's hit list but he doesn't know whose....all he knows is that he has to lay low. It's not too long before he gets approached by dapper ratman, a rat with a badge no less, who offers him the opportunity to discover what is going on. With the help of his luxurious beard Edwayn, the ratman and a not so friendly ghost set themselves up against the establishment to try to uncover what is going on and to stop anyone else from dying. There is only one thing between Edwayn and the chaos around him....his big luxurious beard....will it be enough? Read it and find out for yourself.

I read Chaos Trims My Beard as one of the finalists for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2017 but had I come across it myself I would have wanted to read it. The description reminded me a tiny bit of Tee Morris' Billibub Baddings series which I loved, although the story itself was very different. Edwayn was an approachable character and, bad hygiene aside, he was almost likeable. Herman creates a world for Edwayn that seemed almost as much science fiction as it was fantasy. Poor Edwayn really gets put through the wringer and this is a story with a lot of action. I have to say almost too much action. Oddly, despite all of the action, the story still drags in the middle for several chapters. I was quite engrossed at the start, liked Edwayn, and liked the start of the mystery and who wouldn't like a rat wearing a fedora with a jaunty feather? However, I got the impression that Herman wanted to make the story longer than it should have been so added in more chases, fight scenes and near misses than were needed to fulfill the plot. I have to admit I was skimming a bit in the middle but by the final few chapters Herman had created an excellent and exciting ending to the story.

While I found the pace to be a bit off Herman's ability to make interesting characters is spot on. Edwayn was well developed, as were his relationships with a few of the secondary characters. The thing that I found the most interesting about this book was Edwayn's beard. Herman describes the beard in such a way that it could almost be considered a character in its own right. I thought this was quite unique.

Overall, I liked Chaos Trimmed My Beard but didn't love it. I feel that it could have been a bit more polished had it been beta reviewed or proof read a few more times before it was published. I give Herman's Chaos Trimmed My Beard a solid 7/10. Best of luck to Herman in the finals.


Note: We've been informed that Chaos Trims My Beard has been edited so those of you purchasing now will receive a more polished copy than what was provided for the SPFBO.

Review: Magic Triumphs by Ilona AndrewsReview: Empire of Silence by Christopher RuocchioThe Snowflake Blog Tour - Excerpt From and Review of Snowflake by Heide Goody and Iain GrantInterview with Jonathan French, author of The Grey Bastards - And 2 ReviewsReview: Iron and Magic by Ilona AndrewsReview: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonReview: Semiosis by Sue BurkeReview: We Care For You by Paul KitcattReview: Black Star Renegades by Michael MoreciSPFBO 2017 Review: Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman

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