Novel Review: Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix

Sovereign's Wake (In The Absence of Kings, #1)Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens a High Fantasy series without need of fantastical races and creatures [elves, fae, dragons etc] nor magic. It’s more Medieval meets Les Miserables. The rogues are properly roguish without being too-too clever. Indeed, there’s a refreshing naivete to the working class people in their quest to rebel against the dystopian oppressors who’ve taken hold since the death of the king months prior.

The POV mostly flits between 3 main characters, though a limited few others are allowed a narrative perspective. Garreth and son Novas are the undisputed heroes. Garreth grew up a farmer’s son, but worked up the ranks of the former king’s Crown Aegis before retiring into the deep forest to raise his infant son in seclusion. Novas learns a simple forest life of hunting and gathering without influence of any other humans. Their idyll is shaken when men come to chop down the protected forest.

The heroes embark on a quest to the capital to question the surviving Queen on the ensuing destruction of the land and robbing of all travelers by the company run by the queen’s brother, Lord Vyse. Their path soon crosses that of Kayten, an able smith and daughter to a Mastersmith killed by Vyse’s men. The 3 find the unrest in the capital calling to them. And, Garreth makes for a reluctant leader . . .

Garreth’s style of heart over wile is refreshingly novel, if not without secondary problems to the plot. Also enjoyable is the last chapter’s opening up of the world beyond the narrow caste system to which Garreth and Novas have ever known.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Black Hole by Michael Robertson

The Black Hole (The Shadow Order #1)The Black Hole by Michael Robertson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Filtered through the lens of a selfish, short sighted man-child, the world-building for this series fails to engage. This, despite the great world-building provided by a precursor short story to this world called “The Arena” which accomplished much and to great effect.

Seb Zobo is a self-absorbed fighter by nature with the remarkable–if not superhero–ability to slo-mo his perception of time and to spot the ultimate weaknesses in any challenger’s body. It doesn’t matter if he’s never met a species of alien before, he can discern the one spot that will bring them down with a single punch. Conveniently, every species of alien has that one spot. Nearly every species is also taller than humans, smells of feces and has bad breath.

The redundancy of every encounter is taxing. And the plot, while driven, doesn’t satisfy or grow the hero to a likable level.

The strength of “The Arena” is utterly missing here. All other series by this author are recommended over this galactic tale. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
The Alpha Plague–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
“The Arena”–5 stars
Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Rat Queens, Volume 1: “Sass and Sorcery” by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & SorceryRat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl-Power, high fantasy comes to vivid realization under Roc Upchurch’s fun, compelling art in Wiebe’s graphic series Rat Queens. The Queens are an irreverent band of mercenaries dealing in death, mayhem and hedonism. With a bounty on their heads.

Betty, the shroom-popping drunken smidgeon [think: hobbit], is busy chasing women when not thieving and skulking. Dee, the atheist healer human, is the daughter of squid-worshiping zealots. Violet, the hipster battle-dwarf, seeks her own destiny despite her male twin’s best efforts. And, finally, Hannah, is the goth-elf mage with the heart of an S&M madame.

Money, vengeance and pleasure guide their lives in what proves to be a romp of a series.

Recommended.

 
 
 
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Novel Review: Xan & Ink by Zak Zyz

Xan and InkXan and Ink by Zak Zyz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This highly imaginative fantasy novel develops in unexpected ways taking what seems to be a fairly typical quest by a ragtag quartet and wending the plot into depths from which there’s possibly no return. Both a strength and weakness to the novel is the original quest, saving the kingdom from invading monstrous arthropods, being so sidelined that resolution sits off the horizon. One can only assume that there are planned sequels. Or the entire quest was a red herring, which might yet be the case even with subsequent chapters in this saga.

The original quartet [mage and warrior brothers, a female slave, and warrior-priest religious zealot] are turned out of a kingdom’s prison to regain honor by clearing the land of a growing menace. Their back stories are left under-explored with the exception of the slave. Their quest sends them in the direction of the deadly valley of insects whence the scourge emerged. They also find themselves in areas influenced by two separate mysterious but powerful people: Xan the ranger and Ink the dark wizard. Between these two influences, the quartet ricochet pulling them further from their original quest.

These two titular characters, Xan and Ink, become the focus of the novel, if not the main characters. Again, this calls into question whether the quartet was also a red herring. Yet, these two characters remain enigmatic despite becoming focal. Their motives and histories never become clear to the page.

The great pleasure of the book is in rich, organic descriptions that verge on poetic.

Meanwhile, the depth of detail in erotic scenes worthy of smut zines is not for the prudish. Nor are they critical to the plot.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Two Paupers by C. S. E. Cooney

The Two Paupers (Dark Breakers Book 2)The Two Paupers by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many things hold true power in this world and in others just beyond the Veil: love, kindness, and creation [as in honest, unfettered artistic creation]. But none of these is necessarily the easiest path, and that is the crux of their power.

With a rogue’s tone not unlike Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards and a convoluted relationship between this realm and a Fae realm, such as in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, this novella presents a stand-alone sequel [indeed, I haven’t read the first, but will now . . .] in which two talented but struggling artists dance around some very grave issues. Gideon, the well-heeled sculptor, has been cursed to carve statues that come to life like warrior golems. He destroys them almost as soon as he makes them. Analiese, the farm-born writer living next door, sees one not yet destroyed the moment its eyes open. Knowing its fate, she steals it away to save it.

She hides the golem away at her newly married friend Elliot’s house. He’s a talented painter and married to the ex-Queen Nix of the Fae Realm. It’s one of the usurpers in Nix’s absence that has cursed Gideon to make warrior golems in order to build an army and secure secession to the throne.

Loyalty to each other, wit, talent and artistic vision all play an intricate role as each tries to secure the best outcome for all the players involved and keep the others safe from harm . . . In a word, this tale is brilliant.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Damfino Plays for Table Stakes” by Ben Solomon

3 of 5 stars.

A literary rogue is a character that bends rules around themselves, acting independently and often cleverly or with a uniquely manipulative quality. Examples include: Robinhood, The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, any lead character in a tale by Patrick Rothfuss or Scott Lynch. Often found in fantasy, they can pop up in all genres.

This tale depicts a high stakes poker game between a rogue, Damfino, and a mafia boss. Damfino relentlessly wins and raises the stakes to include the lives of the mafioso’s henchmen. The tale is clever in Damfino’s game, but vague in his method. He denies luck plays a part. But clearly, he’s playing more than just cards . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Jack of Souls” by Stephen Merlino

5 of 5 stars.

Building on the tradition of the rogue in fantasy literature, this short story creates as colorful and canny a protagonist as can be found despite the economy of words. The world-building holds its own as representatives of multiple castes–noble, free and slave alike, gather amid the gambling inns. Just enough of the cultural differences between West Isle and East Isle inhabitants and the use of color to denote social station tints the tale to suggest the deep cultural underpinnings binding the characters.

Harric is a rogue, a free bastard-child to be exact, and on the precipice of his 19th birthday. Unfortunately, he’s also cursed to die on that day thanks to his deceased, magically powerful and insane mother. He admittedly cheats and steals to his pleasure, but with a moral conscience guiding him in an unfair world. Like Lynch’s Locke Lamora, Harric has learned to play the various levels of society, turning their inclinations against them. He cannot see a way out of his death sentence. So he plans his own wake in the form of a huge party for all of the less privileged. He just needs to cheat enough money in one last hurrah to pay for the wine.

An ugly boatman [his nose cut off in some untold history] secures his invite to the wake, but suggests to Harric that only catching the eye of the gods could save him now. Harric barely gives stock to the advise, but does take the opportunity to try his hand at getting the money for the wake from a cocky West Isler who parades his colors and 14 y.o. bastard slave-girl around. Harric aims to take him for his money and give the girl her life back before he loses his if he can help it.

Highly recommended, this tale strikes every right note with cleverness and quirkiness in balanced portions.

This contest-winning tale appears in Writers of the Future 32 edited by David Farland. It’s illustrated by contest-winning artist, Maricela Ugarte Pena. I received this new anthology from Netgalley.

 
 
 
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