The Qwillery | category: review | (page 3 of 52)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Review: The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa

The Garden of Blue Roses
Author:  Michael Barsa
Publisher:  Underland Press, April 17, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 248 pages
List Price:  US$16.99 (print and eBook)
ISBN:  9781630230616 (print)

Review: The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael Barsa
A car lies at the bottom of an icy ravine. Slumped over the steering wheel, dead, is the most critically acclaimed horror writer of his time. Was it an accident? His son Milo doesn't care. For the first time in his life, he's free. No more nightmarish readings, spooky animal rites, or moonlit visions of his father in the woods with a notebook and vampire make-up.

Or so he thinks.

Milo settles into a quiet routine―constructing model Greek warships and at last building a relationship with his sister Klara, who's home after a failed marriage and brief career as an English teacher. Then Klara hires a gardener to breathe new life into their overgrown estate. There's something odd about him―something eerily reminiscent of their father's most violent villain. Or is Milo imagining things? He's not sure. That all changes the day the gardener discovers something startling in the woods. Suddenly Milo is fighting for his life, forced to confront the power of fictional identity as he uncovers the shocking truth about his own dysfunctional family―and the supposed accident that claimed his parents' lives.

Deb's Review

The Garden of Blue Roses, a stylish Gothic debut by Michael Barsa, has a pitch-perfect uneasy atmosphere and is peopled with complex characters whose motivations slowly unfold, like grainy time lapse photography. As one character says over the course of events, the secret to creating fear is planting belief. Seeds of belief are sown in The Garden of Blue Roses, but they are scattered amongst plentiful seeds of doubt. The result is an enigmatic tale, reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In the Castle, but with its own strong and unique voice.

Klara and Milo Crane, the adult children of celebrated horror author, John Crane, live on an isolated estate in rural Vermont. As the story opens, their father’s car skids off the road in a suspicious, fatal accident that also claims the life of their alcoholic, mostly-absentee mother. Klara, the older sibling, is left as caretaker of hearth and home, under Milo’s attentive gaze.

The tenuous peace in the house begins to unravel when Klara hires landscape artist Henri Blanc to transform the grounds into an elaborate memorial garden in honor of their parents. Milo doesn’t trust Henri and his vague credentials. He finds the gardener to be slick and manipulative, and thinks Klara, who has long-struggled with relationships, may be willfully overlooking signs that Henri is after more than her flowerbeds.

From the beginning, we share headspace with Milo, a classic but still fresh-feeling unreliable narrator. Milo spends his days constructing painstakingly accurate historical models of military vessels. His encyclopedic knowledge of his father’s most popular character, the monstrous serial killer Keith Sentelle, paints Milo with a dark brush. Everything we experience is run through the filter of Milo’s very precise, somewhat paranoid outlook. Is he protecting his sister, his father’s legacy, and the family home, or is he simply imagining a menace that isn’t there?

All the while, John Crane’s presence hangs over the house, his deep-rooted influence over his children slowly revealing its dark nature. As Henri insinuates himself between Klara and Milo, the story becomes a frantic pas de trois between the siblings and the man who may be just a humble gardener or something far more sinister.

This is a strong debut. Barsa’s skill with metaphor makes the story a very visual one. Klara and Milo come across as authentic, though warped by their very non-traditional upbringing. They both present as decisive and vulnerable, bright and naive. There are unexpected sparks of humor, passages of brilliant and curious introspection, all delivered by an author who clearly loves wordplay. The start was a little slow for me, but this was probably because it isn’t easy to cozy up to Milo at first. Once hooked by the narrative, though, I remained hooked.

I’d recommend The Garden of Blue Roses to fans of unreliable narrator stories, intricately plotted Gothics, and quirky character studies. While the story isn’t a splatter-fest, you should expect some well-telegraphed gore. Enjoyed the story, loved the characters, and felt the conclusion was a very satisfying end to a well-told tale. I occasionally re-read books to appreciate how they’re constructed, and this one has been added to my “to be re-read” list. I’ll definitely be watching for Barsa’s next work.

Review: Embracing The Demon by Beth Woodward

Embracing the Demon
Author:  Beth Woodward
Series:  A Dale Highland Novel 2
Publisher:  Rare Bird Books, June 19, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 360 pages
List Price:  US$16.95 (print); US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781945572845 (print); 9781947856820 (eBook)

Review: Embracing The Demon by Beth Woodward
Dale Highland never wanted to be a demon, never wanted to go back to the supernatural world, but now she has no choice.

A militant anti-supernatural group called the Zeta Coalition is trying to kill Dale, and a mysterious illness ravages angels and demons throughout the world. As the death toll rises, and the Zetas get closer and closer to Dale, she starts to realize the two things are connected.

To save them all, Dale will have to team up with John Goodwin, the man she once loved. The man who destroyed her.

But by the time Dale and John figure out the Zetas’ real intentions, it may be too late…

Zombie Joe's Review

Let me start off by telling you this is the second book in the series. You shouldn't have too much trouble getting into it, but there will be a touch of backstory you will be missing out on. What you really need to know about Dale from the first novel is that she has demon blood due to being a half-demon. And now that she is aware of this, she has been forced into a conflict between angels and demons that she never asked for.

Dale is the progeny of Amara, a leader among the demons. As such, there is a certain amount of influence she could exert. Should she choose to. The issue is that it feels as if she is unwilling to do so. In spite of her brooding and turbulent manner, she has an empathetic, human heart. One of the key elements she has from her human half.

Full transparency, Dale can be a little tough to relate to as a reader. If you are looking for that likable protagonist, she might not be your cup of tea. For me, I prefer the protagonists that others refer to as unlikable. They seem far more interesting. Of course, I have been described as unlikable before as well. So there is that.

In this novel, the world of angels and demons becomes revealed to humans. And it isn't a welcoming exchange like you might think. Which definitely leave Dale stuck between two worlds. And while you might root for her human heart, there is so much that can be done with those demon blood powers.

You are also faced with the challenge of shifting narrators. John, her love interest from book one, takes the mic from time to time. And by challenge, I mean an opportunity to truly see the situation from a different point of view. Which, honestly can be either an excellent tool, or pull you straight out of the story. I was definitely not pulled out of the story.

As for the story as a whole, it was definitely worth the wait. An excellent addition to her ongoing narrative. The ending alone sold me on the book, but to tell you too much would be to give away the experience. As I finished the last page, I definitely found myself already starting the countdown to the next in the series.

I'm going ahead to give this one 4.5 demons out of 5. Not the perfect storm, by damned near close to it.


The Demon Within
A Dale Highland Novel 1
Rare Bird Books, April 5, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 360 pages

Review: Embracing The Demon by Beth Woodward
Heaven is hunting Dale Highland.

For ten years, she’s been on the run, plagued by violent blackouts and increasingly baffled by a growing array of superpowers—mind control, super strength, enhanced healing abilities.

What Dale doesn’t know is that Heaven’s greatest bounty hunter, John Goodwin, has been on her trail the whole time. When John finally corners her in New York City, he reveals the source of her powers: her mother was a demon.

They forge an unlikely connection and go on the run. In pursuit are his fellow bounty hunters, a deadly guild of angels known as the Thrones. Their goal: eradicate all demons—which includes Dale. As they flee across New England, Dale delves into the mystery of her own heritage and discovers that she’s a key figure in an ancient war between angels and demons.

Only this time, the angels are the bad guys.

Headlong and action-packed, The Demon Within is the first of the four-volume Dale Highland series.

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.

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 and Giveaway: The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher

The Night Dahlia
Author:  R.S. Belcher
Series:  Nightwise 2
Publisher:  Tor Books, April 3, 2018
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
List Price:  US$18.99 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765390127 (print); 9780765390141 (eBook)

Review and Giveaway: The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher
Laytham Ballard once protected humanity as part of the Nightwise, a secret order of modern-day mages dedicated to holding hellish supernatural forces at bay, but that was before a string of sadistic ritual murders shook everything he believed in—and sent him down a much darker path. One that has already cost him most of his soul, as well as everything he once held dear.

Now a powerful faerie mob boss has hired Ballard to find his lost-lost daughter, who went missing several years ago. The long-cold trail leads him across the globe, from the luxurious playgrounds of the rich and famous to the seedy occult underbelly of Los Angeles, where creatures of myth and legend mingle with street gangs and sex clubs, and where Ballard finds his own guilty past waiting for him around every shadowy corner. To find Caern Ankou, he will have to confront old enemies, former friends and allies, and a grisly cold case that has haunted him for years.

But is Caern still alive? And, perhaps more importantly, does she even want to be found?

Qwill's Thoughts

What can I say about Laytham Ballard, the anti-hero of the Nightwise novels by R.S. Belcher? He has a great capacity to do bad things. He's a powerful wizard, god-like in his strength. He's brilliant, selfish, egotistical, often violent. He's made terrible mistakes. He keeps everyone at arm's length preferring not to let anyone know that he is capable of any tender emotions. He's someone that will do whatever it takes to survive. He knows all of this about himself. And yet, he often does the right thing; often for the wrong reasons. In The Night Dahlia, Belcher dives deeply into Laytham's psyche and past while telling a fantastic story of Laytham's hunt for Lord Ankou's daughter, Caern, who disappeared years ago. He takes the job for selfish reasons - so can he reverse a mistake he made in the past.

The novel is primarily set in Los Angeles, California. Laytham is not welcome in LA. He was expelled from the Nightwise (supernatural police) in L.A. years ago though he claims he quit. He is haunted by a case he could not solve and the love he could not except and had abruptly left. There is a huge trail of hurt and pain Laytham has left behind. He is accompanied on this job by a retainer of Lord Ankou - Vigil Burris. Burris is there to make sure that Laytham does the job.

Belcher introduces a fascinating and wonderfully developed cast of characters from Laytham's past in L.A - Dragon, Anna, Dwayne and his dog Gretchen , and members of the Nightwise. Grinner, who we've met before, returns. Laytham gives us a tour of L.A.'s supernatural community while working to solve the mystery of Caern's disappearance and ditch Vigil Burris whenever he can. There is much dark, seedy and violent in this novel. That's Laytham's world and where he is most comfortable.

The novel moves at an almost breathtaking pace as Laytham tries to find the missing woman. He has a deep and eclectic understanding of magic which makes for some exotic rituals and incredible magical fights.  

The Night Dahlia is wonderfully written. It's a sheer pleasure to read - even the parts that are bloody and rough. This is a deeply layered novel on many levels. The mystery of Caern's disappearance is as tangled and intricate as Laytham himself. He still does things he shouldn't. He still makes bad decisions. However, he has a capacity to do good that I think may rival his capacity for evil - if only he'd believe it.

Laytham Ballard may not be the hero we want, but he is certainly the badass anti-hero we need. The Night Dahlia is a fabulous, entertaining and intricately wrought novel. Outstanding!

Read R.S. Belcher's post: The Night at the Edge of the Road: Where the Nightwise and Brotherhood of the Wheel Series Intersect here.


Nightwise 1
Tor Books, January 16, 2018 (New Cover & Additional Content)
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Trade Paperback, September 20, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, August 18, 2015

Review and Giveaway: The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher
R.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series set in today's seedy occult underworld in Nightwise.

In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It's said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher's Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he's also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.

Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places-and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the Devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to backwoods hollows and truckstops, while risking what's left of his very soul . . . .

See Qwill's review here.

The Giveaway

What:  1 Trade Paperback copy of The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher. US / CANADA ONLY

  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Ballard“ with or without the quotation marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning address is used only to mail the novel(s) and is provided The Qwillery only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.
Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a United States or Canadian mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on April 13, 2018. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

SPFBO 2017 Review: Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S. Pembroke

Pilgrimage to Skara
AuthorJonathan S. Pembroke
Publisher:  Self-published, July 28, 2016
Format:  Kindle eBook, 289 pages

SPFBO 2017 Review: Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S. Pembroke
Finalist in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest!

It has been nearly two decades since Pell Wendt abandoned the power and prestige of Collum. Ruled by the semi-divine Ajudicar, the city had been his home all his life, but no longer. Spurned by the woman he loved, the former pathfinder, adventurer and criminal walked away from his life of escorting promising youngsters to the shrines of power, and retreated to his farm in the Sogras, to live a life of bitter and brooding rejection.

Now, House Kettiburg has reached out with a an offer he can't refuse: a pilgrimage to Skara, a mythical and dangerous shrine far out in the barbarous Outlands, for the supplicant Keilie - the daughter of the very woman who rejected him.

Trapped by the love his heart cannot deny, Wendt agrees to the pilgrimage and finds himself embroiled in intrigue and betrayal, with far-reaching implications for himself, Keilie, and the tattered remains of the human race.

Qwill's Thoughts

Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S. Pembroke centers on the journey to Skara that Keilie, the daughter of the Baroness Kettiburg, must undertake. Baroness Kettiburg, Vyma, lives in the Hightown part of Collum and is extremely politically powerful among the other Hightown families/factions.

Pilgrimages are led by Pathfinders. In this case Vyma wants Pell Wendt who, though retired, is the best Pathfinder that ever lived. Vyma and Pell have a history - they had a multi-year relationship that ended badly and left Pell deeply shattered and heartbroken. He gave up the pathfinding life and became a farmer far from Collum. Pell still has not gotten over his love for Vyma.

Pell agrees to take Keilie to Skara - a place that no one has been to in decades. If they survive the fraught trip across dangerous lands, facing unknown challenges, dangerous monsters, and uncivilized tribes, Keilie will receive her gifts at Skara. The gift giving and the shrine at Skara are more SF-ish than Fantasy. There is quite a lot of SF in this novel.

Keilie for me was an undeveloped character. In the novel she very quickly changes from the spoiled rich girl to a much more grown up and wiser young woman... who falls in love with Pell. This despite the fact that Pell is still in love with her mother and he is old enough to be her father. In fact Pell thinks at one point that Keilie should have been his daughter. She doesn't care about his prior relationship with her mother. I have to say that this disturbed me a bit. You'll have to read the novel to see if Pell ever returns her affections.

Of all the characters Pell has the most complete backstory. He's the typical anti-hero with a bit of heart. As messed up as he is by his past and lost love, he does want to get Keilie safely to Skara and then home again. He mostly left his unsavory past behind when he began to study be a Pathfinder. However his ruthlessness has never left him and is on display throughout the story.

Many of the other characters were vaguely portrayed, but I viewed them simply as backdrop for the pilgrimage. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened to the world in novel to make it the way it is. It occurred to me (and I could be wrong) that a highly advanced human civilization destroyed itself most likely with weapons that cause radioactive fallout - journeying outside the protected areas causes the Boiling Death, which, when finally described in the novel, sounds a lot like radiation sickness. An area that abuts a huge ocean is glass (nuclear weapons tested in desert areas turned sand mostly comprised of quartz to glass, etc.). I found the worldbuilding very interesting and would have loved to learn a bit more about what happened in the past to create this post-apocalyptic world.

Nonetheless, the pacing is quite good and there are several well done battle and fight scenes. There are some intriguing political machinations that take place in Hightown but are given too short shrift for me. Pilgrimage to Skara is a novel with a lot of promise and is a mostly enjoyable and quick read. 5/10
Review: The Garden of Blue Roses by Michael BarsaReview: Embracing The Demon by Beth WoodwardInterview 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 BishopReview: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell JohnsonReview and Giveaway: The Night Dahlia by R.S. BelcherSPFBO 2017 Review: Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S. Pembroke

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?