Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category


“A Wizard’s Forge” by A.M. Justice

   Posted by: amrath

So, I may have mentioned before, I read at a glacial pace, due to any number of environmental issues. (By which I mean day job, writing, children, church, etc.) Worse, when I actually finish reading, getting around to writing a review is another item that I easily procrastinate. I am, at long last, finally putting fingers to keyboard for my review of “A Wizard’s Forge” by A.M. Justice, a work with compelling characters and a very unique setting. In addition to that, the book is well written in general, with plenty of detailed description and world-building.

This tale takes place in a unique fantasy world, one based on a faraway planet inhabited by the descendants of the crew of an ill-fated space ship. The world’s legends and religion still speak of the ‘Elesendar’, and the cultures are shaped by the initial missions their founders undertook after being marooned on the planet. Many treat the old logbooks as scriptures, and our main character, Vic, is an acolyte of such an order.

Vic is, herself, something of odd duck for me, because while I quite enjoyed the book, I found Vic to often be very frustrating, though not in a bad way, more in a ‘I need to throttle this character’ way. Now, in order for that to make sense, I will need to tell you a bit about Vic, I suppose.
She starts as a scholar, one somewhat picky about her men and very focused on her work. Her life is turned upside down when she is sent on a mission for her order and subsequently captured in a slaver raid. Soon after, she finds herself the concubine of a potentate, Lornk Korng, a cruel and hungry tyrant with epicurean tastes in every field, including the sexual. Vic finds herself suddenly thrust into a world she simultaneously hates and is enthralled by. She is both fascinated and repulsed by her captor, who teaches her a variety of hedonistic ways, all in the context of her being his absolute property. He often parades her around as a toy, a sort of decoration to impress others. He is quite open with Vic about his intention to utterly own her, not just physically, but to basically possess her soul as well. He doesn’t just want her to obey out of fear, but to actually crave her position and his company, and he employs a variety of mind control techniques to bend her to his will.

This, as one might expect, does a real number to Vic’s mental state. She realizes what is happening, and wants to escape, but is torn by the knowledge that she does in fact actually desire her captor at times. Faced with impossible choices, Vic takes the only opportunity for escape she can find, one she expects to lead to a quick death.

Only it doesn’t. What it does is set her down a path she never expected, one that will lead her to a career as a ruthless soldier and, eventually, to being a powerful sorceress, but only if she can manage to get out of her own way. It’s a long trip for a skinny, bookish girl, and one with plenty of stumbles along the way.

Vic does a lot of self-sabotage, and her life would be much easier if she just made up her mind about things and charged forward, but then she would be a much less interesting character. Yes, some of that is Lornk’s doing, but Vic is herself a mercurial sort, prone to second guessing anything she can’t actually verify by looking it up in a historical text somewhere. This causes here, in several critical moments, to hesitate when she ought charge forward, and she loses out of some important matters because of this.

If I were dating Vic, I would probably move on fairly quickly. I don’t care for drama in my relationships, but it can be quite compelling in fictional. If you don’t mind the urge to slap the main character at times for being so consistent (which I not only didn’t mind, but thoroughly enjoyed), you’ll dig this book.

5 of 5 stars.

I am going to admit something very geeky about  myself. I often have these little scenarios play through my head where I wonder what would happen if you pitted one mythical or fictional creature against another. How does a pack of werewolves fare in the zombie apocalypse? Could Conan beat Darth Vader in a sword fight? How would Roland fare against either of them? Yeah, I have precious little free time, and this is what I do with it, folks.

So while it’s not my normal thing by a long shot, “I Was a Teenage Weredeer” by Charles Phipps and Michael Suttkus is a mythical and pop-culture mashup that hit my sense of the strange and humorous right where I needed it. After grueling days of code-slinging and bug fixing, I was really ready for something lighter for a change, and this one fit the bill.

How to describe it? In a mixing bowl, combine equal parts “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “True Blood”, and “Twin Peaks”. Mix thoroughly, and garnish liberally with puns, and you’ll have something a lot like “I Was a Teenage Weredeer.”

Jane Doe (Yes, it starts right in on the puns) has just turned 18. Also, she is a weredeer, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that she identifies as a Baratheon, and her werewolf best friend Emma is team Stark.  Oh, and her brother, who is not a weredeer or were-anything-else, has just been collared for the murder of Emma’s sister.

Thus begins a pun and popculture filled trip into a world where disliking vampires and werewolves is “kinda racist”, and solving mysteries might require a literal trip to Hell and back. Armed with a big mouth and little control over what comes out of it, and the ability to read impressions from objects, Jane is ready for action to prove her brother innocent.

He is innocent, right? As she uncovers the seamy side of what she assumed to be an idyllic refuge for werefolk, she begins to have her doubts, and not just about her brother.

A lot of what makes “Weredeer” really cute are the cameos and tips of the hat to other media, so I’ll not go into that deeply, but lets just say you could make an unwinnable drinking game out of this book.

One caveat. Despite what you might think, this is not really a Young Adult book. It seems like it is, but as I mentioned, there is a fairly seamy side to this tale, so if one is expecting kid-friendly, it ain’t. (Yes, it’s ok to say “ain’t”  when you’re making a point. Tell them I said so.)

5 of 5. I’ll have the cherry pie, please.



“Where Loyalties Lie” by Rob J Hayes

   Posted by: amrath

Let me start by saying that as a former member of the US Navy, I have strong opinions on pirates. No, I have never actually dealt with any, but that is because those who served before me held the same views I do. The notable lack of pirates in our modern world (with a few exceptions) strongly influenced my adopting of said philosophy, which is: pirates have their proper place, and that place is hanging from the yard arms, working on a proper form of rigor mortis and having their dead eyes properly pecked by seagulls.

Yes, that’s right. Not only do pirate lives not matter, they are actually of negative value. The world is a better place for each filthy, scurvy, peg-legged, eye-patched miscreant sent to Davy Jones, preferably by way of a cat-o-nine and then being drug along the keel or processed through the bowels of sharks.

I know, I know, “Tell us how you really feel, Matt!”

That being said, fantasy pirates can be rip roaring fun, and Rob Hayes has achieved that in spades with “Where Loyalties Lie”. Since I started reading this book, Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off for 2017 has wrapped up, and Rob has managed to win the thing, and it’s a well-deserved victory. “Where Loyalties Lie” is well written, damned entertaining, and (as a former sailor, I really appreciate this part) won Esme’s coveted “Most F-bomb’s given”. How can you not go for that? As Hammerlock says in Borderlands 2, “Would you like to do battle with a midget riding piggyback on a bullymong? If the answer is yes, please proceed to the Southern Shelf and defeat Midge-Mong for me. If the answer is no, you are sad, and I’ve no desire to speak with you further.” Well, after you switch the midget and bullymong with F-Bombs and Pirates.

You know what I mean.

The Five Kingdoms are sending their navy to Kill All Pirates™, a perfectly understandable, reasonable goal, unless one happens to be a pirate. In that case, it’s a big problem.

Drake Morass is a conniving, back-stabbing, but happy-go-lucky fellow who wants to get drunk, laid, and become King of the Pirates. He plans to make lemons from lemonade, and use the attacks from the Five Kingdoms to rally the buccaneers and their folks under his banner, but he can’t do it alone. He knows he will need Keelin Stillwater.

Stillwater is something of a nice-guy pirate who rocks double cutlasses of ass-kicking, but only murders folk now and then. He also has a terrible problem choosing women, but that’s practically a requirement for the job.

Both of these guys have some big secrets, some big plans, and the common sense not to trust one another, but they are united in their fear and loathing of the Five Kindoms.

Well, and also Tanner Black. He’s a very UN-nice guy. In fact, he’s the poster child for my above stated position on pirates, yardarms, and rigor mortis.  I would note, for the record, that most people in this novel share my opinion on pirates as applied to Captain Black.

It’s a really fun tale, with lots of intrigue, and a surprising amount of humor considering it falls within the grimdark genre. One of my favorite, laugh out loud moments was Drake, in a very bad spot, screaming an incoherent, rambling stream-of-consciousness rant of curses, some of which he was making up on the spot. I literally had to call my wife in and read it to her because It Had to be Shared.

Five of five, would read again. I’d give bonus points for the creative cursing (I did mention I was a sailor in another life, right? I appreciate a fine curse as much as a fine whiskey) but this ain’t Spinal Tap, and five is the max.

Go buy it. You know you want to.



“Darkmage” by M.L. Spencer

   Posted by: amrath

I finally finished “Darkmage” by M.L. Spencer. As I may have mentioned, I am an epically slow reader due to way too many demands on my time, so as usual this took me much longer than it should have. I was supposed to take part in a discussion about the book, but ended up dodging the conversation because I was only halfway through the book and didn’t want to be spoiled!

“Darkmage” reminds me favorably of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire series. I imagine I may have even seen a few tips of the hat in that direction, though it’s hard to say if that is merely wishful thinking on my part.

This is a story about a man who loses everything, which is the sort of tale that has always been dear to my heart. I enjoy exploring good and evil, and how pain and loss might tilt one’s choices in either direction. It’s one of the themes I explore in my own series, so it was of immediate interest to me, and Spencer delivers well on the concept. Darien Lauchlin, our protagonist, quite literally loses everything he loves, and at the same time finds himself possessed of tremendous power. That’s just the sort of crucible to refine a character.

Without getting spoilery, I can assure you, Darien is in for a world of pain. Some of it is admittedly of his own doing, but by and large he’s had a really bad hand dealt to him, and none of his choices in responding are very easy. We’re talking about the sort of choices like “Should I just lie here and bleed out, or jump off a cliff so I suffer less, and if I aim well, also land on my enemy and kill him too?” It gets even more difficult as he encounters companions, whose fates then become entwined with his, and become part of his calculus.

“Darkmage” hit on all cylinders for me. It was well written, well paced, and well told. Five of five stars, and I’m adding the rest of the series to my To Read list.


“Art of War” anthology

   Posted by: amrath


Art of War: Anthology for Charity

Art of War: Anthology for Charity

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of this anthology. It’s edited by Petros Triantafyllou of Booknest, and contains forty dark and bloody tales of war from an outstanding field of authors. The proceeds are to be donated to Doctors Without Borders, so you can get your grimdark war fix and actually contribute to some good in the world!

I don’t get a lot of time to read. Between five kids, a full time day job, trying to finish my novels, working on my adventure gfx game engine, and church, I barely have a spare moment. I seriously read just a few pages in the evenings before bed, and it takes me ages to finish anything. I had forgotten how much I liked short stories, because they fit into my schedule better. I can usually finish one in a single sitting. It’s a shame the art form isn’t more popular.

That’s how I slowly worked my way through Art of War, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As with any anthology, there were stories that really resonated with me, and a few that didn’t grab me. All of the stories were at least ‘ not bad’, but a few left deep impressions.

My favorite was “This War of Ours” by Timandra Whitecastle, a surreal tale of a desperate conflict between forest creatures that reminds one of children’s fables. Imagine the characters from Henny Penny or the Fox and the Grapes taking up weapons of war and destructive magic and going at one another in an organized manner, with all the fear, pain, and misery that entails. I highly recommend it.

I also especially liked “The Hero of Aral Pass” by Mark Lawrence; “The Best and Bravest” by M.L. Spencer, “The Two Faces of War” by Rob Hayes, “Warborn” by C.T. Phipps, “Valkyrie Rain” by Dyrk Ashton, and “The Cost of Power” by Ulff Lehmann.

Overall, 4/5, well worth the price, and you’re helping a worthy charity. And people say grimdark is all grim and dark….