Fantasy

The Jinn’s Jest

The Jinn’s Jest
Category:
Published: February 23, 2017
Author's Twitter: @Gwen_fntsy_writ
It is the 14th century and Grenada is again under threat thrusting thirteen year old Sultana Ara and her cousin Layla again into danger. As Ara and Layla sail down the Grenadian coast to raise tribute for the Castilians, a magical and mischievous Jinn appears to cause trouble. And worse, a young, arrogant Venetian boy, Tomas, is aboard their ship. The Jinn issues a mathematic challenge to the young people; the stakes are high and none can afford to lose. Ara and her friends must use all their skill to protect themselves and Grenada, but will it be enough to defeat a Jinn? And what happens to the Jinn if he loses?

Approved  

4 Stars

Ara is the daughter of Sultan Mohammed the Sixth, ruler of Granada. A willful girl, she chafes under the restriction placed upon a Muslim girl in the society of the time, especially those applying to the daughter of a ruler. When a series of misfortunes—which Ara suspects are caused by magic—plagues Granada’s trade, and exposes it to possible invasion by its greedy neighbors, Ara and her cousin, Layla, are sent to Africa on a trade mission to reverse the kingdom’s fortunes. Fatima, the sultan’s elder wife, is sent along as chaperone, and they are joined by Tahirah, a Sufi mathemagician, and Suleiman, the court’s senior eunuch. Thomas, the son of an Italian trader, is also sent with them. Thomas, like Ara, has seen the magic, which they learn is coming from a young jinn, who has passed from his realm to the realm of the humans, and for unknown reasons is creating havoc.

The story unfolds as they journey from Granada, with a series of mishaps, magical and mercenary, and Ara, with the help of Tahirah, Layla, and Thomas, confront the jinn. In the process, each learns about themselves and the power of magic, and are transformed, to emerge whole at the end, as they confront the awesome power of the efrit jinni.

The plot is well laid out, with seemingly unrelated events tied together at the end. Readers who have enjoyed The Arabian Nights or The Adventures of Aladdin will find a number of implicit references in this story, and will be pulled into the narrative as it unfolds. The characters are all well developed, and their growth as the story progresses is logical and well-explained.

The book was fairly well edited, with only a minimal number of typos or formatting issues in the electronic version.

I give this book four stars.

A Vampire’s Tale: The Sea of Time

A Vampire’s Tale: The Sea of Time
Category:
Published: December 17, 2016
Author's Twitter: @EdGiambalvo
DON’T READ THIS BOOK! If you’re looking for the typical vampire fare, where creatures of the night are larger than life and sexually irresistible, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re intrigued by the idea that life immortal is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that perhaps at their core, vampires remain delicate and mortal, you may find this unusual love story to your liking.

5 Stars

 

A Vampire’s Tale: The Sea of Time by Edward Giambolvo is an ambitious piece of vampire lit that spans centuries and brings a little bit of the modern upper-middle class rat race face to face with the mystery and intrigue of a world not unlike the one crafted by Anne Rice. This is a book that should appeal most to dedicated fans of literary vampire fiction, but that most readers will be able to enjoy. The narrative is complex, and there is a large cast of characters that help propel the story to a dramatic conclusion.

The most intriguing parts of the novel revolve around Juliette, daughter of a blacksmith and the vampire referred to in the title. Her journey begins with her baptism on August 18th, 1778. The second main character is John, is a family man in the modern era whose seemingly normal life becomes a lot more interesting when he eventually meets up with Juliette. The remaining cast of characters is large and likable, and readers will surely find the world relatable and authentic even with the fantasy elements.

There is witty dialogue, action sequences, romance and intrigue. This is a book that takes the reader on an adventure into the surreal while anchoring them in a believable world. It would be impossible to talk about the ending without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that the characters have appropriate resolution and while a sequel is possible, the ending certainly suggests a finality to some of the characters’ story lines. The book is well-edited and the author has the skills required to craft a complex world full of dynamic and interesting (if not morose) characters like this one. While I wouldn’t recommend this book for children, I feel like this book is more than worthy of being included in Awesome Indies, and give it 5 stars.

 

 

Jack Of Souls

Jack Of Souls
Category:
Published: December 20, 2014
Author's Twitter: @stephenmerlino
In the tradition of the Shannara Chronicles and the Witcher series: A Rogue & Knight Adventure   Harric, an outcast rogue, must break a curse on his fate or die by his nineteenth birthday. As the day approaches, nightmares from the spirit world stalk him and tear at his sanity. To survive, he’ll need more than his usual tricks. He’ll need help—and a lot of it—but on the kingdom’s lawless frontier, his only allies are other outcasts.   One of these is Caris, a mysterious, horse-whispering runaway, intent upon becoming one of the Queen’s first female knights. The other is Sir Willard—ex-immortal, ex-champion, now addicted to pain-killing herbs and banished from the court.   With their help, Harric might keep his curse at bay. But for how long?   And both companions bring perils and secrets of their own: Caris bears the scars of a troubled past; Willard is at war with the Old Ones, an order of insane immortal knights who once enslaved the kingdom. The Old Ones have returned to murder Willard and seize the throne from his queen. Willard is on the run and on one final, desperate quest for his queen.   Together, Harric and his companions must overcome fanatical armies, murderous sorcerers, and powerful supernatural foes.   Alone, Harric must face the temptation of a forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he’s ever loved.

Assessed 

March 20, 2017

5 Stars

tephen Merlino’s Jack of Souls marks the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure that is thrilling, suspenseful and emotionally appealing enough to set it apart from others in the genre. This is a book where the characters are on a clock and the stakes are high. Comparisons could easily be drawn between this book and the works of Tolkien or Martin, and readers can use those comparisons to see whether or not they would find this sort of story appetizing. From there, Merlino weaves a tale of swords and sorcery that somehow finds new ways to take readers down the well-worn path of fantasy literature. Tolkien’s influence can be found in the beautifully described environments of the story and the depth of the cast of well-developed characters. This is a story with class systems, religious beliefs, magical discrimination, governmental hierarchies and societal infrastructures that the author has taken great care to explain in interesting detail. The comparison to Martin is mostly drawn because the Tale of Fire and Ice series is often acclaimed for its interpretation of real-world, human stories through the lens of fantasy. Merlino is a master here, and whether its familial infighting, drug addiction or governmental overreach, the author does a fantastic job of depicting contemporary struggles in a world of curses and rogues.

The story focuses around Harric, a cunning trickster who is set on a quest to break a curse, or else he will die on his 19th birthday. He is joined on his journey by the fierce and determined Caris and the wise but addled Sir Willard. The trio are met on their adventures by a well-developed and diverse cast of tertiary characters, and while the tragic flaws of many of the denizens of this world are evident, the author does a good job of sprinkling wit and humor throughout their sometimes bleak exchanges. The perspective in the book shifts from time to time, but it’s done in a well-structured way and the pacing of the novel will make for a smooth ride from beginning to end. That’s not to say that the book isn’t without scenes of delicious action that will get your heart racing, they are many, and readers should also be aware that this is a complex tale. Luckily, the characters that inhabit this world are easy to relate to and root for, and I think most readers will find one or two that they empathize with on a personal level.

The conclusion is exciting and satisfying, and I don’t think it’s spoiling too much to say that many of my favorite characters made it through the final confrontation. Jack of Souls is book 1 of The Unseen Moon series, so the adventures of Harric and friends are far from over. If you’re an epic fantasy fan who likes sword and sorcery series, this should be a no-brainer. I would go further and even say that even if you’re not a big fan of epic fantasy, there will be things that you like about this book. This is the kind of story that I could see drawing in new people to the genre, and could easily be adapted for other mediums. The action sequences and dramatic tension would translate well to the silver screen. This is a book that should absolutely be included in AI and is well-deserving of 5 stars. 

 

 

 

 

Kalanon’s Rising

Kalanon’s Rising
Category:
Author:
Published: October 15, 2016
Author's Twitter: @DarianWordSmith
Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world. Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal. As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape? The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon – and the world – will descend into darkness.

Assessed by Awesome indies

December 29, 2016

4 Stars

The story was engaging from the beginning, well written with complex, well-rounded characters with believable interactions, dialogue, motivations and reactions. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. 4 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King’s Table

King’s Table
Category:
Published: February 28, 2015
Becoming a Thane—an elite rebel spy trained to deceive, manipulate and kill—was Timothy’s life. He was driven. Obsessed. Fanatical. Then, in a moment, he lost everything. Now Timothy fights for survival and revenge in the Huctan death rings. When his recklessness and skill take him all the way to the Huctan capitol, he finds himself enmeshed in a deadly game of lies and deception. While his brother leads a last desperate rebellion in Botan, Timothy must rub shoulders with the Huctan princess, match wits with the man who betrayed his country, and navigate the plots, duplicity, and tests of loyalty that could decide the fate of his nation. The thrilling conclusion of the Everknot Duet.

Awesome Indies Assessment

5 Stars

I knew from the very first chapter that this was going to be a brilliant, deceptive romp through a richly detailed no-magic fantasy setting, and I was not disappointed. When the first book in your series is about training a secret band of Parkour masters proficient in deceit, disguise and assassination, the second book could only keep that strong momentum flowing. I was not disappointed.

The story revolves around three main characters in two and a half strong plot threads: the first is an attempt to resurrect the betrayed and defeated Band, and spur on a rebellion in the tyrannous Huctan Empire. The second revolves around the Huctan princess, and the time she begins to share with a poor Botani rebel and pit fighter.

Though the book opens with several characters getting rooted out, captured and tortured by the Huctans, it really picks up after a quarter of the way through. From there, the story is impossible to put down.

The book is a deep psychological exploration of trust and lies, manipulation of the weak by the strong and the foolish by the clever. Along the way, battles are fought, men are made, others are broken. The lead up to the Botani insurrection and the pushback by the Huctan Empire is fully believable, and overall superb.

In general, most readers like some amount of sorcery with their sword, but the Everknot Duet has zero magic at all, unless you count the magic of clever wordplay or superb plotting and pacing.

Overall, there are zero bad things to say about this book, so long as brutality and truthful storytelling aren’t too difficult to handle. Awesome Indies proudly awards this book five stars.

 

 

 

Quest For The Holey Snail

Quest For The Holey Snail
Author:
Published: April 4, 2016
Author's Twitter: @RobJohnson999
WANTED: Gainful employment of an adventurous nature but without risk of personal physical harm. (Can supply own time travel machine if required.) When Horace Tweed places an advertisement in a national magazine, the last thing he expects is to be commissioned to travel back through time in search of the long extinct Holey* Snail. But this isn’t just any old snail. The helix pertusa is possessed of an extraordinary and highly desirable property, and Horace’s quest leads him and his co-adventurers to Ancient Greece and a variety of near-death encounters with beings both mythological and not so mythological. Meanwhile, Detective Chief Inspector Harper Collins has her hands full trying to track down a secret order of fundamentalist monks whom she suspects of committing a series of murders – the same monks who are determined to thwart Horace in his... ...Quest for the Holey Snail.

November 14, 2016

4 Stars

Fans of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy will enjoy Quest for the Holey Snail. The story starts off with a rather average, if somewhat dimwitted, main character, Horace Tweed, in search of a common item—a Swiss Army knife. He needs the knife in order to unsnarl the tape that he’s bollixed up, in order to reconstruct the letter that his dog has ripped to shred. In his search for said item, he encounters a number of other equally bizarre characters, and ends up on a quest to find a holey snail—that’s correct, not holy as in spiritual, but holey, as in a creature with hundreds of tiny holes in its shell—which is also being sought after by several others; among them, an order of homicidal monks, a strange man who hires Tweed and his companion, Norwood Junction, to find the snail, and a pharmaceutical company. And, why, you might ask, are they doing this? Because, said snail possesses an extraordinary and highly desirable property.

The story then takes off from there, switching from Tweed and his search to the murderous monks, to the police officer investigating a series of unusual murders. These seemingly unrelated events, despite their macabre nature, are narrated in a style that elicits chuckles at first, that quickly morph into guffaws, as one improbable event after another—with the occasional digression to give the author’s satirical take on historical events—unfolds, the reader is sucked deeper and deeper into the thread of the story.

There is, however, method to this meandering, as the author pulls all these disparate threads together at the end into a conclusion that satisfies. The universe, which has been twisted into unimaginable shapes, is put back into a semblance of orderly disorder.

I give this title four stars.

 

 

Indiana Belle

Indiana Belle
Published: April 14, 2016
Author's Twitter: @johnheldt
Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the "time-travel professor," and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, INDIANA BELLE follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.

Approved 

Assessment:

The cover, with a simple sepia photograph of a woman from the era of the 1920s is effective and evocative. It sums up the story and the main character’s motivation without giving away the plot.

The story starts off a bit on the slow side, with a description of Cameron Coelho’s attraction to the woman in the photograph, and background information on his work on a PhD thesis about the social life in Middle America during the Roaring Twenties. The time travel aspect is introduced through his discovery in Candice Bell’s notes and diary (sold to him by her elderly niece) of references to a mysterious cave that holds the secret to time travel. It’s difficult to know which motivates him more, his attraction to Candice’s beauty or his fascination with the prospect of time travel being real. The author goes into more detail than absolutely necessary as Cameron takes action to find more information—details of him moving through a room, sitting, or taking a drink, don’t really add to the story.

This tendency to map out a character’s every move lessens significantly as Cameron meets the ‘time traveling’ expert, Geoffrey Bell, and travels from 2017 to 1925. A seemingly impossible task is set our hero; he knows that Candice will be murdered, and he is forbidden to try and prevent it because doing so might irreparably change the future, in particular the fact that Geoffrey Bell is the great-grandson of her cousin, who, distraught after her murder, wanders into a destitute part of town where he finds the woman he will marry, and who is Geoffrey’s great-grandmother.

From Cameron’s arrival in 1925, the story picks up the pace. The reader is introduced to all of the major supporting characters, including Tom, the black custodian at the newspaper where Candice worked as a social page reporter, who was wrongly accused of her murder and executed.

The story from the point that Cameron knows that he’s in love with Candice and that there are evil, corrupt men in the small Indiana town where she lives and works, is the strongest section of the book. The author skillfully plants clues and the tension mounts as he has to choose between fulfilling his commitment to Geoffrey Bell or saving innocents from death. While a few of the resolutions felt a bit contrived or were not explained to full satisfaction; such as how the town’s major drug dealer was finally caught and convicted, or what happened to the crooked lawyer who was Candice’s former fiancé, these are minor issues.

The author makes references to previous time travelers that Geoffrey Bell has sent into the past, including a father and son who traveled to Texas, which was the subject of an earlier novel. At one point, reference is made to ‘numerous’ travelers, but it’s never explained.

Finally, Cameron finds a way to avoid tempering with the timeline, things are set on the proper path, and the reader is treated to the news that Cameron is somehow related by blood to Geoffrey’s wife—but, this is also never explained in any detail.

The denouement is, except for the aforementioned unanswered questions, satisfactory. Justice prevails and true love overcomes insurmountable obstacles.

With the exception of the previously mentioned excessive detailed descriptions of character actions, and the few unanswered questions, this is a solidly plotted novel. Action (in a thematic sense) moves forward, characters encounter obstacles and overcome them, and this reader at least was left with the feeling that things worked out the way they should.

I give this book four stars.

The Mighty

The Mighty
Published: February 3, 2016
He's not crazy. Honest, he's not. He's just Wyatt. Wyatt the Mighty. Fifteen-year-old Wyatt has been sent to a treatment center for "disturbed youth." No one understands him. He wants nothing more than to escape from it all. And he does. Through a magic he doesn't understand, he finds himself in Hagion, a realm of fantastical creatures and immense wonder. He quickly finds himself in the company of a runaway warrior and two Children--a strange race of underground creatures that seem forever joyful. They claim Wyatt is a Druid, a powerful figure of myth and legend, sent to restore peace to all of the Realms. He doesn't bother correcting them. Finally, he can be the hero he's always dreamed of. But claiming to be a hero and actually being a hero are two different things. And it's a lesson Wyatt may have to pay dearly for.

Reviewed 

5 Stars

The Mighty, Book 1 Of The Druid’s Guise is one of those rare fantasy tales that takes you to another plane while keeping you firmly grounded in our reality. Most fantastic tales, even the best ones, often take characters from our reality and plunge them into a magical world, separating them from their normal lives entirely, only to return them at the end having completed their quest. The Mighty takes you on the journey, but plants your feet firmly in the present, real world. While the character grows and accomplishes the tasks set in front of him, it is clear from the outset that this is an introduction to a sprawling universe that has much more to give us. This is a book that will scratch the adventuring itch as well as remind you that the world we come from is itself a broken and unjust place. Wyatt is a hero in both of these planes.

The story begins with Wyatt as a new patient/student at a school for children with special psychological needs. To Wyatt, he alternates existence in this world and the land of Hagion, where he is believed to be a powerful wizard and combat tactician, and not just a boy without a home who likely lies somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Wyatt’s journey can be taken as a coming-of-age tale for those who see themselves in captivity. It is a bildungsroman that takes place in the mind, and the depth and reality of Hagion is indeed seen almost entirely through the eyes of our protagonist, who we are shown from the outset might not be entirely in control of his cognition. This allows the reader to give as much credence to the fantastical elements as they like. Is Wyatt really a transplanar avatar, imposing his will across vast distances of time and space? Or is he a young and unwell child, abandoned and coping by escaping from reality? The book will pull you in both directions, and Wyatt’s story hits all of the emotional notes.

The supporting cast of characters compliments both worlds. In the children’s home of Shephard’s Crook, Wyatt is antagonized by bullies, managed by a staff of volunteers and social workers and befriends a girl with a troubled past named Athena. In the fantasy realm, he is beset upon by all manner of fantastic beasts, ranging from half-flora/half-fauna fern wolves to the undead Fallen and the ominous Regents. He makes friends in the form of Mareck and Gareck, two golem-like beings who call themselves Children, in service to the Mother. He also meets a character that is very much like Athena in the Draygan (a half-dragonlike race) Rozen. At the beginning we are told that the world of Hagion is a vast and fantastic place, and a map Wyatt wields (albeit poorly) reveals locations like The Barren Plains, The Endless Sea, Krémnos, The Wastes, The Shadow Forest, Ouranos, Mesos, and the Peaks of Servitude. Fans of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien will find lots to like about the main quest, punctuated with gritty action sequences that will have you imagining them taking place on the big screen. The pacing is good for an adventure tale, and the dialogue is sharp and funny. The book is well-edited overall and great care has been taken to shape the world of Hagion.

The Mighty, Druid’s Guise Book I sets up a series with a lot of room to grow. The characters we are introduced to are quirky, but have a lot of depth. The places we are brought to are brilliantly realized and the author’s attention to detail is reminiscent of the great classics of fantasy. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and give this first adventure of Wyatt, The Mighty 5 stars.

 

Feast of the Epiphany

Feast of the Epiphany
Publisher:
Published: November 7, 2016
Author's Twitter: @KathrynMHearst
Immortal and a member of the Sinistra Dei, a secret order designed to eliminate threats to the Vatican, Giovanna was created to do the dirty work of the Church. This requires creative thinking and the ability to tap dance on the line between right and wrong. As the commander she loves slowly sinks into insanity, she learns that dark immortals—the Execrati dedicated to destroying her kind— have snuck into New Orlean’s legendary French Quarter to hunt her friends. With the further discovery that one of Rome’s own has faked his death, and the unexpected evolution of her supernatural powers, Gia is no longer able to play by the rules. How can she defy the man she loves, break the trust of a close friend, and explain the new set of wings on her back? The answer is simple… she can’t.