The Qwillery | category: trinitytwo


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Review: The Pariah (The Covenant of Steel 1) by Anthony Ryan

The Pariah
Author:  Anthony Ryan
Series:  The Covenant of Steel 1
Publisher:  Orbit, August 24, 2021
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 608 pages
List Price:  US$17.99 (print); US$9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780316430760 (print); 9780316430777 (eBook)

"A gritty, heart-pounding tale of betrayal and bloody vengeance. I loved every single word." —John Gwynne

The Pariah begins a new epic fantasy series of action, intrigue and magic from Anthony Ryan, a master storyteller who has taken the fantasy world by storm.

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier's life in the king's army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine's rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

"This makes a rich treat for George R.R. Martin fans." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

For more from Anthony Ryan, check out:

Raven's Shadow Trilogy
Blood Song
Tower Lord
Queen of Fire

Raven's Blade Duology
The Wolf's Call
The Black Song

The Draconis Memoria Trilogy
The Waking Fire
The Legion of Flame
The Empire of Ashes
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

Trinitytwo's Review:

The Pariah, book one of New York Times best-selling author Anthony Ryan’s The Covenant of Steel trilogy, opens with murder. Alwyn, is smart, quick with a knife, adept at disguise and a shrewd judge of character. He is also a liar, a thief and the aforementioned murderer, making him a valuable asset to Deckin, the self-proclaimed ruler of the Shavine Marches. Alwyn and his companions carry out their mission with deadly efficiency, to reap the rewards of a royal convoy’s cargo. But Alwyn and his ilk are no ordinary brigands. Deckin’s target has a purpose other than ill-gotten gains; to intercept the royal courier. The messenger carries a missive for the King containing sensitive information about the Pretender’s War; information that Deckin desperately wants. This message tips the scales and events begin to unfold quickly, leading to a course of action that will shake Alwyn’s life to the core.

One of the things I love about The Pariah is how it surprised me. I tend to avoid reading books heavy in gratuitous violence, so the blasé killing in the first chapter rang a warning bell or two. However, I am a huge fan of Anthony Ryan so I kept reading. And I was not disappointed. Ryan is a master storyteller whose every detail is filled with intention. Before I knew it, I was well into the third chapter and couldn’t put the book down. To hell with responsibilities and work, I needed to keep reading!

The Pariah checks off all my fantasy reading requirements. Alwyn is a multi-faceted character that often surprised this reader (and himself) with his decisions. His motivations and his loyalties are complex, which leads him time after time into dangerous and desperate situations. Since Alwyn is always on the move, his roster of companions changes and yet Ryan does a great job of keeping the names and faces memorable. There is never a “who is that again?” moment for which I’m grateful.

Speaking of memorable characters, I really enjoyed the vague likenesses to historical or legendary figures in our own timeline. Take for instance, Lady Evadine Courlaine. This beautiful and courageous noblewoman/warrior inspires and encourages loyalty to which even Alwyn, bent on a road of vengeance, is not immune. Her eloquence and earnestness, coupled with her bravery on the battlefield conjured (for me) comparisons to Joan of Arc. Yet, Evadine is her own person. Tormented by visions of a demonic apocalypse, her insight allows her to see into other’s hearts and capture them. She shines as a commander, both considerate of her soldiers and unyielding in her quest to prevent the Second Scourge.

Another remarkable character is the self-proclaimed Outlaw King, Deckin Scarl. Although the common folk give Scarl a “rob from the rich and give to the poor” reputation, he and his band of outlaws are a far cry from being “merry men.” Scarl’s followers are brutal folk whose warped values and violent natures are kept in line only by Scarl’s iron leadership. Due to Ryan’s mastery of the written word, I can picture him down to his callused and massive hands.

I appreciate how Ryan maps out Albermaine through Alwyn’s travels. Through highly descriptive dialogue and first-person narrative, Ryan transports readers directly into the story. We meet Alwyn in the Shavine Marches and travel to Moss Mill in the northern part of the Shavine Forest. Through action-packed storytelling, we visit Castle Duhbos and spend time in the Pit Mines. As Alwyn navigates his way through betrayal, vengeance, intrigue and the ugliness of war, the reader learns key facts about Albermaine and the surrounding lands’ history and political systems, alleviating the need for tiresome exposition dumps.

Paradoxically, The Pariah is a welcome escape to a world riddled with war and violence. And although Alwyn is a murderer and a thief, his unique brand of loyalty and morality keep him likable. I am fascinated by the hints of the magical system that Ryan has sprinkled throughout the story and want more. Reading The Pariah filled me with adrenaline and excitement and I would highly recommend adding it to your TBR list.

Review: The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan

The Wolf's Call
Author:  Anthony Ryan
Series:  A Raven's Blade Novel 1
Publisher:  Ace, July 23, 2019
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print); US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780451492517 (print); 9780451492531 (eBook)

Review: The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan

Anthony Ryan’s debut novel Blood Song—the first book of the Raven’s Shadow series—took the fantasy world by storm. Now, he continues that saga with The Wolf’s Call, which begins a thrilling new story of razor-sharp action and epic adventure.

Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.

Tracey's Review

Vaelin Al Sorna has served Queen Lyrna, also known as the Fire Queen, as Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches since the end of the Liberation War. Now, word has come of the Stalhast, a powerful enemy rising in the Far West, led by Kehlbrand, who is regarded as a god by his people. Kehlbrand is a man whose lust for domination over all free people knows no limits and who will raise his bloody fist in challenge to the Fire Queen if not stopped. Vaelin may have been content to wait until the Stalhast became a tangible threat, but he soon learns that the healer Sherin, a woman he sent to the Venerable Kingdom to ensure her well-being years ago, is directly in their deadly path. And so Vaelin sets out to assure her safety and assess this new threat first-hand.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Anthony Ryan fan. His first book Blood Song, which I reviewed in 2013, was my favorite read that year. The Wolf’s Call, a Raven’s Blade Novel which succeeds A Raven’s Shadow trilogy, begins a new chapter for Vaelin, the veteran warrior and defender of the Unified Realm. Ryan hits the ground running with his newest installment and I couldn’t be more delighted. Although the first trilogy tied things up nicely, it was very satisfying to learn what befell the characters I knew so well in the aftermath of the Liberation War’s destruction.

Ryan really knows how to create characters that readers can admire, distrust, pity, or fear. In Vaelin al Sorna he has created a character that readers really care about and root for. Vaelin’s no-nonsense reasoning, coupled with his fighting skills, and amazing sense of loyalty to those he loves makes him special. The Wolf’s Call is a great blend of familiar characters and brand-new additions. For instance, Nortah, Vaelin’s Brother of the Sixth Order, hearkens back to his early years, while his niece Ellese has just recently been sent to the Northern Reaches for training. Although Ellese is young, she is smart and her fighting skills are daunting, but it’s her attitude - the perfect balance of insubordination and rebellion - that bring her to life. Vaelin’s newest enemy, the Stalhast, were interesting to learn about. Kehlbrand is arrogant, brutal and a master manipulator which makes him a powerful threat. His sister, Luralyn has gifts and talents of her own and shares her thoughts through her own POV narrative which makes for effective story telling.

The Wolf’s Call comes in the form of a threat and warning from an old enemy. As I mentioned before this time it's personal as one of the few people still alive that Vaelin loves is being threatened. In true epic adventure form Vaelin assembles a diverse, yet trustworthy company to find the healer and protect her from harm’s way. Ryan effortlessly introduces new characters who are almost instantly relatable in the context of his consummate worldbuilding skills. He is also a master strategist, and keeps the adrenaline pumping during this action-packed volume. I really enjoyed The Wolf’s Call; I didn’t want to put it down and certainly did not want it to end. If you are looking for epic adventure, answer The Wolf’s Call.

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward

The Anointed
Red Proxy 3
Wardwords, November 2017
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 489 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith Ward
He's a jerk.

She knows it.

Can they save the world anyway?

Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew -- at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he’s flying a dragon one afternoon and stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before, something that can enable invasions of foreign lands. It is a force so powerful that a ruthless king will kill for it.

Along the way, Xinlas meets a mysterious orange-haired girl on a river. Greengrass is like no one he’s ever met. He tries to woo her, and can’t understand why she doesn’t fall for his charms like every other girl.

But Greengrass is not every other girl. She is, in fact, the key to stopping the ruler who would enslave millions and crush the world under his throne.

Xinlas can’t let that happen, but he'll need help. Help from Greengrass. The problem is that she can’t stand him.

Will Xinlas become the hero he believes he can be, or will he break under the weight of his destiny -- and his own arrogance? The fate of civilization rests on his choices.

Trinitytwo's Review

Keith Ward does an excellent job setting the stage for this story - Book 3 of the Red Proxy series. The Anointed is set in Desnu, a world in which each newborn’s span of life is detected by a Span Seer. This Span Seer can also perform a magical ceremony where that lifespan can be transferred to another individual (usually rich or powerful) thus potentially extending their lifespan indefinitely. The downside is the best donors are 99 days old, don’t have a say in the decision, and die upon completion of the transfer.

I had no trouble understanding Desnu’s rules and its magics. I also thought Ward did a great job in his depiction of the very different places and its inhabitants. Peacewood, for instance, is a community shielded by a magical protection. Its people’s relationship with their environment and each other was quite entertaining and well executed. The Fley-Mors dragon ranch was another landscape that was impeccably laid out. The hierarchy of the family, their staff and the dragons themselves lent fluidly to the rising action of the story. The palace, filled with the treachery and malice of a king who schemed and ruled in a ruthless fashion was filled with palpable tension.

Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I struggled. At face value, the characters seem well-developed. I particularly enjoyed the quiet power struggle between maniacal King DuQuall and his dutiful wife, Queen Plyonia. His cruel ambitions pitted against her desperate determination was one of my favorite mini storylines. It’s the protagonist who is most problematic. As the synopsis indicates, Xinlas starts off privileged and egotistical. While eavesdropping on his parents, he learns of a mystery surrounding a seemingly desolate spot. Shirking his responsibilities, he borrows one of the family dragons and accidentally discovers the village of Peacewood. It’s there he meets Greengrass- a brave and adventurous girl who has escaped the confines of her community’s magical protective shield. Eager to discover the mysteries beyond her world, she sets out with Xinlas. Perhaps the inherent goodness and wholesomeness of Greengrass will begin to rub off on Xinlas thus initiating his arc to redemption? Nope. He simply becomes more pompous and self-aggrandizing. His parents, Kertram and Danak are smart, responsible, and loving. Unlike many of this world’s population, they also have a conscience. So how is it that they pretty much just look the other way when it comes to Xinlas’s shenanigans, allowing his reprehensible behavior with few repercussions? His character development goes from bad, to horrible, to despicable. Miraculously, in the final moments he has a change of heart and achieves near enlightenment. This absolutely did not work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun bits: I really enjoyed the jail-break, the assassination and the action-packed ending. However, the plot device of the Proxy system made for uncomfortable reading. Surely an entire nation (with the exception of one group of people) can’t believe this system to be good and just? Given the synopsis, I felt that the story itself was too dark and that I was misled. That coupled with poor character development left me with feelings of ambivalence and I rate The Anointed a 5 out of 10.

5 out of 10

Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture

Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture

The Qwillery would like to welcome Sandra Botero Mounts of Heroicouture. I met Sandra at Ace Comic Con held in Long Island this past December. The first things I noticed about her was her contagious smile and her killer outfit. I inquired about her Wonder Woman-themed dress and was amazed that she designed and created it herself.

Tracey Maknis: Sandra, could you please tell our readers a bit about Heroicouture?

Sandra Botero Mounts: I’ve been a huge Wonder Woman fan since I was 7 years old and began reading comics, back when girls didn’t do that sort of thing. Fast forward to a few years ago when I started going to Comic Conventions with my husband, Paul Mounts, who is a comic color artist. I wanted to wear clothing that showed my “geekiness/nerdiness” in my favorite fandoms. I didn’t find much clothing that fit my criteria: sophisticated, flattering, and appropriate for a woman in her forties to wear. There is a lot of beautiful nerd fashion out there that meets 1 or 2 parts of the criteria, but not all three. Therefore, I just started making my own clothing. The first con I wore my clothing to, I had a lot of positive comments and requests to make the same items for other women. The next con after that was the same. I finally decided now that I am 50, it is time to take this idea to the public and offer my designs to women who are looking for something different.

TMWhat career path were you on prior to designing Geek and Nerd Fashions?

SBM:  Would you believe that my career is far different than designing fashion? I am a Spanish High School teacher and have been teaching for 20 years. I teach at an online public school for the state I live in and it offers great flexibility instead of being in a brick and mortar school, so I’m able to do both my job and my passion as well as travel to cons.

TMHow big is your current collection and do you take commissions?

SBM:  Due to the fact that Heroicouture is in the inception stage, the collection is quite small right now. I have 5 different dress silhouettes, 2 skirts and 2 tops that I offer right now with a choice in fabric design. I absolutely take commissions!

TMYou obviously have a passion for the entertainment industry; tell us how it helps to spark your creative juices.

SBM:  Growing up in the 70’s, during the Women’s movement and the ERA, I just felt that Wonder Woman was someone I wanted to be like; strong, compassionate, intelligent, and honestly, also pretty. I wanted to learn all I could about Wonder Woman and in doing my research as a young girl, I realized that she was based off of the Roman Goddess Diana in mythology. I started to read all mythology I could find and then realized that there is a strong connection between Ancient Art and Masters Art and mythology. I kept finding correlations between art and mythology and I would see that appear in the comics as well. From then on, I also fell in love with art and even went to Spain to study Art History and Antiquities when I was in my 20’s. Mix all my passions in blender and you get “fandom fashion”!

TMWho are some of your favorite artists and why.

SBM:  This is a tough one! I’m going to stick with the comic world exclusively for this question. I am in constant awe of the work my daughter (Jamie L. Botero) does as an up and coming illustrator. She is truly amazing! She has even designed some fabrics for our collection. My husband (Paul Mounts) is like a sorcerer with his skills. He plainly brings life to black and white drawings. All the nuances he includes are simply incredible. Now, as a fan and a Wonder Woman fan, I must say the José Luis Garcia López is the master! He is the artist of the Wonder Woman of the 70’s that I read in my youth. I even refer to him as “El Maestro”.

TMWhat is your favorite piece to date?

SBM:  No, I can’t choose! Don’t make me!

TMIs there a cool story you'd like to share about a commission or a convention?

SBM:  It wasn’t exactly a commission, but I was fortunate enough to meet Gal Gadot ON my 50th birthday thanks to my husband. I wore a dress that I made just for the occasion. I also made a special one of a kind scarf with hand embroidery to give to Gal Gadot. She was so gracious when I gave it to her and just kept asking me “You made this? You did this; you made this with your own hands?” It was the best birthday I’ve ever had!

TMWhat's new and exciting for 2018?

SBM:  I’m working with some companies right now trying to get licensing to make custom fabrics for our designs. Hopefully that will all work out. If not, then the timing is just off, but it doesn’t mean “no”. We’re still and infant company therefore, there are a lot of aspects that we are working on to really get Heroicouture going.

You can find Sandra and Heroicouture on her website, Instagram @heroicouture, or Facebook page.

Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture
Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture
Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture
Artisan's Avenue - Heroicouture

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis

ConnectiCon XVI was held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, CT on July 12-15. In my opinion, ConnectiCon is not your typical Comic Convention; it is more of a multi-fandom convention that caters to enthusiasts of all things pop culture. This includes anime, manga, video games, board games, role playing games, animation, comic books, speculative fiction, cosplay, and the TV/movie industry.

I always enjoy chatting with the featured guests, and this year Lisle Wilkerson and Steve Blum were definitely the most interesting. Lisle is the voice behind Tekken's "Nina Williams" and "Christie Monteiro" among others. For non-gamers, Tekken is a fighting video game franchise that was created, developed and published by Namco. Lisle also appeared in the Academy Award winning film Lost in Translation as well as playing a principal role in the indie film Kamataki. Lisle is super cool and very personable. She shared tales of growing up in Japan which lead to her fluency in the Japanese language. She currently works as a freelance voice-over actor, and because she is based in Los Angeles, works as a local correspondent for the Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys for Japan. As an interpreter, she's worked with Keanu Reeves, Makoto Shinkai, author Marie Kondo, and Morning Musume. My three favorite things about meeting Lisle were her smile, her behind-the-scenes story of her MMA match and the fact that she toured Studio Ghibli. Not the museum, the actual working studio!

Then there's Steve Blum. Steve is a voiceover actor with hundreds of credits in his career. For instance Steve voiced "Starscream" in the Emmy award-winning Transformers: Prime, "Wolverine" in X-Men animated movies, TV, and games, and recently voiced "Zeb Orrelios" in Star Wars: Rebels. In 2013, Steve was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the Most Prolific Voice Actor in video games, with 333 credited appearances. Steve shared interesting stories about his career, citing the character "Steve Spiegel" from the anime Cowboy Bebop as one of his favorites. He delighted fans by briefly getting into character when signing autographs. For instance, while standing in line I heard "Guilmon" from Digimon and "Reptile" from Mortal Kombat X. He told one fan that "Guilmon" holds a special place for him as he was the first nice character that Steve ever played. I love the fact that Steve was genuinely interested in his fans' stories and memorabilia, no matter how obscure. He was hysterical in his panel with fellow voiceover actors Nolan North and Troy Baker, which was the highpoint of my Sunday.

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Lisle Wilkerson with fan Mitchell Maknis
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Steve Blum

ConnectiCon had a really strong Artist Colony as well as some amazing vendors in the Dealer room this year. One of my favorite things about conventions is discovering artists or catching up on new work by artists I am already familiar with. I may have gone a little crazy, but there were so many great things to choose from. Here are some of my purchases:

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Skull notebook by Dreaming Doe
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
"Owl Prince" by David Woehr of Grinning
Narwhal Industries
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Sweet Creature" Succulent planter
by Soojin "Sandy" Kim of Skimlines
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Wonder Woman & Little Mermaid
Wallet as well as a Disney Villain pouch
by Jolly Otter Studio Shoppe
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Scooter modeling the Marvel's Avengers Dog
Neckerchief by My Nerdy Pet
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Witch Mug and Wonder Woman
pillow by Argama Witch
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Pins and Washi tape from
Maya Kern
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Art by Khelekmir from Quite
Contrary Creations Artist
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Cruella de Vil & Wonder Woman
sketches by Michelle
LaBranche of Chell Studios
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Pins from Kristilyn of Zombie
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Monstah Box created by Jose Souza III
His name is Horny
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Shattuckite necklace created by Skully Kouture

As a voracious reader I am always impressed when conventions have cool authors. Two of my family's favorites at ConnectiCon were Dan Wells and Jason Fry. Both were on hand to autograph their books.

Dan Wells, a Hugo and Campbell award nominee, writes horror and sci-fi and is the author of the John Cleaver series, the Mirador series, the Partials Sequence as well as numerous standalone books. Dan won a Hugo in 2013 for his book Writing Excuses Season Seven that he co wrote with Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson. My son became a fan after seeing the film adaptation of his book I Am Not a Serial Killer starring Christopher Lloyd and spoke with Dan about the John Cleaver series. Dan shared that when he wrote I Am Not a Serial Killer, his publisher asked him to expand it into a trilogy. Dan said that complex characters enable a writer to expand on the original story, so the transition from standalone to a trilogy to six in the series was a natural progression. Dan also took some inspiration from the film adaptation of his book and wrote Over Your Dead Body soon after viewing the movie.

Jason Fry appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for the novelization of Star Wars The Last Jedi and has written over 40 books and short stories that are set in the Star Wars galaxy. He is also the author of his own YA sci-fi series; The Jupiter Pirates. I've been a fan of Star Wars since the original movie hit screens in 1977 so I immediately targeted Jason as someone to visit. Jason picked up on my Star Wars vibe immediately and we engaged in a thoughtful and enjoyable conversation about the franchise. We even agree on our top three favorite Star Wars films: (in no particular order) A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One. One thing I really enjoyed learning is that The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson gave Jason access to alternate script versions to expand this official adaptation of the film into something quite unique. His newest offering, Solo: A Star Wars Story: Tales from Vandor will hit bookstores this September.

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Dan Wells
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Jason Fry
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey MaknisConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis

Cosplay is always big at ConnectiCon and this year was no exception. I cosplayed as "Cruella de Vil" on Saturday and was delighted to find my son "Carlos" from Disney's Descendants 1 and 2 among the attendees. My friend "Madame Medusa" and I were fortunate to encounter a posse of Disney villains including another fabulous Cruella! Followed by a few photos from my favorite fandoms:

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Cruella catches up with Uma, Carlos, Harry Hook, and Gil
from Disney's Descendants 2

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers), Cruella de Vil (101
Dalmatians) [x 2], Hades (Hercules), Captain Hook
(Peter Pan), and Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Solaire of Astoria from the role-playing
game Dark Souls
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Marvel villain Doctor Doom
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
DC Bombshell Wonder Woman
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
The Dark Lord Sauron
Lord of the Rings
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
From anime Full Metal Alchemist
ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Gajeel Redfox from the anime Fairy Tail

ConnectiCon XVI by Tracey Maknis
Tales from the Borderlands characters
featuring Hologram Handsome Jack

This small vignette of my experience at ConnectiCon 2018 is really just the tip of the iceberg. If you're interested in attending next year, mark your calendars: ConnectiCon 2019 is scheduled for July 11th through the 14th. You can check out their website at:

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

Artisan's Avenue is a place to showcase fantasy, horror, or sci-fi artists and their creations. As you may have guessed, the name pays homage to Artist's Alley and the wildly talented people I've met at various comic cons. I am continuously fascinated and impressed with their creativity and imagination and I hope our readers feel the same.

Wicked Wall Masks

Tracey/TrinityTwoAs I peruse the vendor sections of comic and horror conventions, I am always on the lookout for new and original artists. This October, I attended Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA and am excited to feature artist Stephen Scholan, whose booth Wicked Wall Masks I found to be wildly original, colorful and exciting.

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks
Stephen, could you please tell our readers a bit about your creative background?

SS:  I had always wanted to be an artist since I was a child. Drawing was my passion in my teens and I started experimenting with clay in my early twenties. All of my sculpting has been self-taught, a lot of trial and error. I still have a lot to learn. The majority of artistic education I've received is through a circle of tattoo artists that taught me about colors and contrast.

TraceyStephen, you obviously have a passion for the macabre. Tell me what it is about this genre that sparks your creative juices.

SS:  I'm fascinated with ancient and extinct cultures, religious deities and the arcane. Most of the wall art I create really doesn't have any true symbolic meaning, my intent is only to spark people's imagination and curiosity.

TraceyWho are some of your personal favorite artists and why?

SS:  Some of my favorite and also the most influential include H.R. Giger, Tim Burton, Brom and Rob Zombie. These artists walked the path less traveled and, like them, I'm always trying to create something spooky, mysterious and original.

TraceyPlease tell us about your current work.

SS:  I am currently working on a set of happy and sad demonic clowns. These are some of the largest pieces I've made and they are a custom order for a collector of mine. After that, I will be creating a traditional Japanese demon. From there, I will be working on another custom order of a Snoopy sculpture hugging a huge heart- that's no joke, though it is a little funny.

TraceyWhat are some of your favorite pieces you have worked on?

SS:  One of my recent favorites is a goat head/raven skull themed clock I created a few months ago. I really enjoy creating clocks as it serves more of a purpose than just a decorative wall mask.

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

TraceyIs there a cool story you'd like to share about a commission or any of your artwork?

SS:  In the early 2000s I had created two wall masks for the rap duo Twiztid. I wasn't able to give it to them directly, but I caught up with them a few months later at an autograph signing. When I inquired about the wall art I had given them, I was informed that it was hanging up in the house of one of their security guards. Come to find out later that they had gotten rid of the art as quickly as possible because they were unable to sleep with it on their tour bus. Initially, my feelings were hurt but over time I actually took that as a compliment. If my art creeped those two guys out, I must be doing something right!

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

TraceyThank you so much for joining us at The Qwillery. If you are interested in checking out more of Stephen's creations, head on over to his Instagram or etsy page. Links are provided below.

SS:  All of my current work can be found on my Instagram page. Any art that I have available for sale can be found at my Etsy store @WickedWallMasks

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

Artisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall Masks

Review: The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan

The Legion of Flame
Author:  Anthony Ryan
Series:  The Draconis Memoria 2
Publisher:  Ace, June 27, 2017
Format:  Hardcover and eBook,  576 pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print); US$11.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781101987896 (print); 9781101987902 (eBook)

Review: The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan
Empires clash and a fell power stakes its claim in the second in a new series from the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow Trilogy.

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood—and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed—to fuel and protect its empire. But now, a fearsome power has arisen—a drake so mighty that the world will tremble before it.

Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and ironship captain Corrick Hilemore embark upon perilous quests to chase down clues that offer faint hopes of salvation. As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few are the last hope for the empire and for all of civilization.

Trinitytwo's / Tracey's Review

Review for The Waking Fire (Draconis Memoria 1) here.

The Legion of Flame, the second book in the Draconis Memoria series, picks up in the aftermath of the destruction wreaked upon the people of the Corvantine Empire by the ruthless White Drake and its army of lesser drakes and Spoiled humans. Unlike its kin, this legendary dragon is enormously powerful and has the ability to transform the humans it takes as captives into slaves by compelling them to stare into mysterious crystals. The slaves, called the Spoiled, remain humanoid in appearance but their yellow eyes and the scaled ridges on their faces make their presence easy to identify. The White is able to command the Spoiled nonverbally, and although a portion of their individuality remains, they are largely a collective mind. As the Spoiled army systematically wipes out settlement after settlement, it also amasses more recruits. Their assimilation results in shared knowledge and abilities that the White plans to use to for its goal of permanently subjugating humankind.

In this action-packed, quest-driven sequel to The Waking Fire, author Anthony Ryan focuses each chapter on the exploits of one of the four main characters. Each POV storyline successfully navigates the balance of adrenaline-filled action with eye-opening exposition. Sirus, a new POV character, gives the reader the opportunity to understand the mutated Spoiled's perspective. Sirus' quick intellect and ability to lead make him a valuable asset. And although he is filled with self-loathing, he is consistent and very successful in furthering the White's plans. Sirus' chapters were the most difficult for me to read. It was unsettling to watch him devise ingenious methods to kill and capture humans. But although it was uncomfortable, I also found it illuminating and fascinating. Through Sirus, Ryan is able to share the very alien nature of the drakes and the White in particular, in a very natural and uncontrived setting.

Corrick Hilemore and Clay Torcreek set sail to the frigid southern isles with the purpose of discovering the true nature of their enemy and perhaps a means to destroy it. Although Hilemore and Clay begin their journey together, they soon become separated, which leads both protagonists through harrowing experiences. Though Hilemore has an important role to play, it is Clay that provides the back-story of the White's origins. Similar to The Waking Fire, Hilemore is relegated to the position of secondary character and although he is extremely earnest and likeable, I'm beginning to wonder if his sole purpose is to fill in some of the series' blanks. Clay's travels are much more vital and quickly take an unexpected turn. His subterranean passage is especially exhilarating and extremely informative.

Lizanne Lethridge and her mission engaged me the most. Seeking a fabled weapons inventor, she must infiltrate the virtually impenetrable prison city of Scorazin. Lizanne's skill set as a spy and assassin are sorely tested in a fortress city whose only inhabitants are hardened criminals. Most admirably, Lizanne never quits no matter how many obstacles are thrown in her path or how many detours she is forced to endure. Hands down my favorite character, her foray in Scorazin and her interactions with its denizens kept me turning pages late into the night.

Always impeccable, Anthony Ryan's world building skills do not fail to amaze. In the Draconis Memoria series, he completely immerses his readers in a steampunk-esque world where the struggle for survival is palpable against an emerging army of ferocious drakes. I especially appreciated the premise of short-sightedness by the power-hungry. Mirroring current world events, this theme is resoundingly appropriate.

The Legion of Flame pits human perseverance and ingenuity against the brute force and intellect of a race vying for its own place in history. Pure and simple, it is brilliant story-telling. This series is top notch and not to be missed.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter
Author:  Theodora Goss
Publisher:  Saga Press, June 20, 2017
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
List Price:  US$24.99 (print); US$7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781481466509 (print); 9781481466523 (eBook)

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

Tracey's / Trinitytwo's Review

Mary Jekyll has led a sheltered life, even for a woman in the late 1800's. Her father, Dr. Henry Jekyll, died over a decade ago, leaving his wealth mysteriously inaccessible to his family. Although appearances were maintained, the truth behind the facade is that Mary was forced to sell almost everything of value over the years in order to retain a few key members of the household staff and hire a nurse to help care for her mentally-ill mother. After her mother's death, Mary realizes she is quickly running out of funds. She begins to investigate her mother's legal papers in the hope of discovering a way to provide for herself and her faithful housekeeper. Mary is astounded to learn her mother had a secret bank account with a monthly withdrawal earmarked "for the care and keeping of Hyde". Could this be a reference to the notorious Mr. Hyde who is still wanted for the brutal murder of an elderly gentleman? And if that is the case, would the authorities still offer a reward for his whereabouts even though the crime was committed so long ago? Mary visits the famous detective Sherlock Holmes for advice, hoping this information might lead to some financial security. Instead, Mary finds that nothing in her mundane life is quite what it seems.

The cast of characters spring from some of literature's most well-known horror stories. The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter features not only Dr. Jekyll's daughter, but also the daughters of doctors Frankenstein, Moreau, and Rappaccini. Each character is well-formed and has her own unique voice. Although introducing the offspring of iconic fictional figures is nothing new, author Theodora Goss offers an original plot and an engrossing mystery that keeps the story appealing and fresh.

Another unique feature of the book is an intriguing story within the story. The daughters are reading a written account of their exploits, much like Dr. Watson's documentation of Sherlock Holmes' adventures. Each chapter features conversations between the women, commenting on the authenticity of the writer's interpretations, giving more accurate and often amusing insights into their personalities. This commentary allows each of the daughters' fascinating backstories to blend seamlessly into the action. For instance, through this plot device it becomes obvious that the insults directed at the incorrigible Diana Hyde actually come from a place of love and indulgence.

Goss does an expert job of clearly exposing who the real monsters are, as well as exploring the idea that the bonds forged from friendship can be the strongest of all. Other strong themes included are those of sisterhood, loyalty and feminism. Goss left a few mysteries unsolved, and hopefully they will be addressed in her next book. Overall, her formula of monsters, mystery, and the macabre is highly entertaining and I definitely recommend The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter.

Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Author:  Brian Staveley
Series:  Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne World
Publisher:  Tor Books, April 25, 2017
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  US$25.99 (print); US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765389879 (print); 9780765389893 (eBook)

Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess-assassin for the God of Death.

“Brilliant.” —V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author

From the award-winning epic fantasy world of The Emperor’s Blades

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer—she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre isn’t sure she’s ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

"A complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets." —Library Journal, starred review, on The Emperor's Blades

Tracey's/Trinitytwo's Review

Pyrre Lakatur must kill seven people in fourteen days or she will die. Pyrre however, is not afraid of death- rather, she is troubled by the thought of failure. Killing seven people would be easy for Pyrre, who belongs to a religion known among the populace as Skullsworn. She is accomplished in the many ways a life can be offered to Ananshael, the God of Death. However, to become a priestess, she must adhere to certain requirements; one of which is to kill the individual she loves. Love is something Pyrre has never experienced, so in desperation she has chosen Dombâng, the city of her youth for her Trial. There she will attempt to rekindle the passion she shared with former lover, Ruc Lan Lac, who now presides as constable over the troubled city. Accompanying Pyrre as witnesses are vivacious and deadly Ela, a legendary priestess of her order, and Kossal, a gruff older priest. Her Trial hinges on the hope that Ruc will let her get close enough so they can fall in love. Then she can kill him.

Skullsworn is set in the world of Brian Staveley's Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. Although Pyrre had a part to play in that trilogy, this standalone novel takes place years before those events. I like that Pyrre tells her own narrative in first person. It allows the reader to fully appreciate her history, motivations, and inner workings. She is a distinctive protagonist who is definitely more comfortable with her blades than her emotions. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with Ela, whose lessons are a delightful combination of philosophy, humor, and combat.

The city of Dombâng plays an integral role in the story. It still seethes under the martial law imposed upon it by the Annurian Empire centuries ago. Worship to its fierce gods is outlawed, but its people still believe in the forbidden sacrificial rituals, which leaves it ripe for rebellion. The deadly deltas and marshes that surround it are rife with a plethora of creatures that survive by preying on the weak. I really enjoyed the political intrigues and colorful, yet lethal locations that kept the action progressing in unexpected and exhilarating ways.

Because of her devotion to her deity, Pyrre's heartfelt journey of self-discovery is unlike any that comes to mind. Skullsworn kept me mesmerized from start to finish. I love the story's epilogue; it took me by surprise and left a smile on my face. Brian Staveley is both a master of the English language and an accomplished storyteller which makes this book a pleasure to read. Unique, bold, and exciting, Skullsworn is not to be missed.

Review - Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3) by Chuck Wendig

Aftermath: Empire's End
Author:  Chuck Wendig
Series:  Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3
Publisher:  Del Rey, February 21, 2017
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages
List Price: US$28.99 (print); US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781101966969 (print); 9781101966976 (eBook)
Review Copy:  Reviewer's Own

Review - Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3) by Chuck Wendig
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Following Star Wars: Aftermath and Star Wars: Life Debt, Chuck Wendig delivers the exhilarating conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy set in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.


As the final showdown between the New Republic and the Empire draws near, all eyes turn to a once-isolated planet: Jakku.

The Battle of Endor shattered the Empire, scattering its remaining forces across the galaxy. But the months following the Rebellion’s victory have not been easy. The fledgling New Republic has suffered a devastating attack from the Imperial remnant, forcing the new democracy to escalate their hunt for the hidden enemy.

For her role in the deadly ambush, Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is the most wanted Imperial war criminal—and one-time rebel pilot Norra Wexley, back in service at Leia’s urgent request, is leading the hunt. But more than just loyalty to the New Republic drives Norra forward: Her husband was turned into a murderous pawn in Sloane’s assassination plot, and now she wants vengeance as much as justice.

But Sloane, too, is on a furious quest: pursuing the treacherous Gallius Rax to the barren planet Jakku. As the true mastermind behind the Empire’s devastating attack, Rax has led the Empire to its defining moment. The cunning strategist has gathered the powerful remnants of the Empire’s war machine, preparing to execute the late Emperor Palpatine’s final plan. As the Imperial fleet orbits Jakku, an armada of Republic fighters closes in to finish what began at Endor. Norra and her crew soar into the heart of an apocalyptic clash that will leave land and sky alike scorched. And the future of the galaxy will finally be decided.

Trinitytwo's / Tracey's Review

Star Wars: Aftermath: Empire's End, the stunning conclusion to Chuck Wendig's Star Wars: Aftermath series, tidily wraps up the adventures of an unlikely group of New Republic heroes. In the wake of the devastation caused by the bloodbath on Chandrila, Norra Wexley, leader of a team of "Imperial Hunters", uncovers information that Grand Admiral Rae Sloane has fled to the desert planet of Jakku. For Norra, bringing Sloane to justice, is personal. Her husband was one of the released Imperial captives that was programmed, via implant, to assassinate high ranking New Republic personnel during the Liberation Day celebrations. Norra is determined to make Sloane pay for the pain and anguish that was inflicted on the innocent.

But Norra and the New Republic are wrong: Sloane was not responsible for the terrorist attack. She's tracked the organizer of the slaughter, Gallius Rax, to Jakku. Sloane's agenda is simple: for his perversion of her beloved Empire, she will find him and kill him. Norra and her squad are hot on Sloane's trail, but as they drop out of hyperspace they are alarmed to discover that what's left of the Imperial fleet is orbiting this remote planet. But to what purpose? Will this discovery set off a chain of events that will lead to the Empire's ultimate end?

Empire's End is a beautifully written finale to the Aftermath series. Wendig meticulously ties up the multitude of story arcs into a neat package. Fans of the film will definitely appreciate how the final battle sets the stage for Episode VII. But by laying the necessary groundwork for the film, I felt the main characters' stories suffered slightly. I got the feeling that Empire's End was much more of a staging area for the film than Aftermath or Aftermath: Life Debt. This doesn't necessarily make the story bad, in fact, it's pretty darn good. I really enjoy Wendig's characters and feel that they were a bit short-changed.

For instance, I simply did not get enough of ex-Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus. I always enjoy Sinjir's exploits; whether he is extracting information from an unwilling bounty hunter, or on a covert mission to expose corrupt senators. I especially like his interactions with bounty hunter Jas Emari, Chancellor Mon Mothma, and his relationship with tech slicer Conder Kyl.

The modified B1 battle droid, Mister Bones, is always a favorite. Although Bones is a supporting character, he is totally unforgettable. I am seriously excited because Wendig tantalizes readers with a few of the maniacal droid's memories; proving that there is much more to Mister Bones that meets the eye.

Who doesn't love reuniting with old friends? Wendig's story is peppered with interludes, some of which feature the suave scoundrel Lando Calrissian retaking Bespin, a certain infamous Gungan on Naboo, and the ongoing struggles on Kashyyyk featuring Chewbacca.

Aftermath: Empire's End is an exciting and entertaining book. It seems to have been given the momentous task of taking a galaxy of loose threads and tying them together. Wendig does this brilliantly. Lovers of the Star Wars Universe shouldn't pass up the book, or the series; it provides tons of insight into future events and succeeds by being both appealing and exhilarating.


Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 1
Del Rey, March 29, 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
Hardcover and eBook, September 4, 2015

Review - Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3) by Chuck Wendig
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Aftermath [reveals] what happened after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. It turns out, there’s more than just the Empire for the good guys to worry about.”—The Hollywood Reporter

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Read Tracey's Review here.

Aftermath: Life Debt
Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 2
Del Rey, March 28, 2017
Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
Hardcover and eBook, July 19, 2016

Review - Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3) by Chuck Wendig
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Set between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the never-before-told story that began with Star Wars: Aftermath continues in this thrilling novel, the second book of Chuck Wendig’s bestselling trilogy.

It is a dark time for the Empire. . . .

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee’s homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire’s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush—resulting in Chewie’s capture and Han’s disappearance.

Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the Millennium Falcon’s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can’t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them—or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.

Read Tracey's Review here.

Review:  The Pariah (The Covenant of Steel 1) by Anthony RyanReview: The Wolf's Call by Anthony RyanSPFBO Finalist Review - The Anointed by Keith WardArtisan's Avenue - HeroicoutureConnectiCon XVI by Tracey MaknisArtisan's Avenue: Wicked Wall MasksReview: The Legion of Flame by Anthony RyanReview: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora GossReview: Skullsworn by Brian StaveleyReview - Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: The Aftermath Trilogy 3) by Chuck Wendig

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?