magic

Eden at the Edge of Midnight

Eden at the Edge of Midnight
The Vara of Yima, the original Garden of Eden, sealed from the rest of the world and populated with the fittest of men and women. A secret paradise that 150 years ago became ravaged by smog that choked out the skies.   All good stories have a hero. “The One” who arrives to save the realm from darkness and evil. But what if the wrong person takes their place by accident? Now the Vara exists in a permanent state of darkness and its people need a champion, a chosen one to save them from the smog that threatens to fill the realm and poison its inhabitants. That’s what they needed. They got Sammy Ellis instead. She isn’t important enough for her dad to stick around for, never mind saving a realm or junk like that. Her only responsibility was to help the chosen one open the gateway into the Vara, but not only has she entered the realm in their place, she’s also locked them out in the process. Stuck in a twilight land of giant mushrooms, pursued by dark forces and still in her pyjamas, being unimportant back in the real world is starting to seem way more attractive.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 19, 2014

If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.

This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.

Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.

Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.

What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.

At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.

There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.

Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.

Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.

Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.

 

The Sundered

The Sundered
In a world where the water kills, he must decide who lives or dies – humanity, or humanity’s broken slaves. Don’t touch the water, or it will pull you under. Conserve food, because there’s no arable land. Use Sundered slaves gently, or they die too quickly to be worthwhile. With extinction on the horizon and a world lost to deadly flood, Harry searches for a cure: the Hope of Humanity, the mysterious artifact that gave humans control over the Sundered centuries ago. According to legend, the Hope can fix the planet. But the Hope holds more secrets than Harry knows. Powerful Sundered Ones willingly bow to him just to get near it. Ambitious enemies pursue him, sure that the Hope is a weapon. Friends turn their backs, afraid Harry will choose wrong. And Harry has a choice to make. The time for sharing the Earth is done. Either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while, but the Sundered are wiped out. He never wanted this choice. He still has to make it. In his broken, flooded world, Hope comes with a price.

Reviewed 

I won this book in a give away and when the author contacted me asking for my address, I said that since the postage to Australia would be quite a lot of money, I’d be fine with an ebook version, but she said she wanted to send me a paperback. A week or so later, it arrived. I read the blurb, then put the book down, thinking it sounded interesting. I didn’t think I’d get around to reading it for ages, but being a paperback, it sat on the coffee table shouting, read me, read me, so after dinner I picked it up to have a quick perusal of the first few pages and I and didn’t put it down again until I absolutely had to go to bed. You guessed it—I loved it. It grabbed me from page one and held me until the wonderful end.

The Sundered is fabulously different to anything else I’ve ever read—the mark of a strong new voice—and a totally unique story that had me completely enthralled.

The story takes place on a world flooded with black water that is deadly to humans. People share this world with the Sundered, magical creatures humans have enslaved. The Sundered are dying out, but since there is no arable land and they are the only ones who can go into the water, they are the ones that produce food. Once the Sundered are all gone, the humans will eventually die out.

Harry Iskinder is a salvager who paddles around in a small skiff looking for the Hope of humanity, a possibly mythical object that he hopes will save humans from extinction. No one knows what exactly it is or what it does, but Harry discovers that finding it will give him a choice; either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while but the Sundered are wiped out.

The story is written in a snappy way that immediately drew this reader in. Harry is trying to live up to his family heritage of the ones who search for the Hope. He’s tense and terrified of failing to adequately lead his travellers, the gang that travels with him, and when he manages to claim a first tier Sundered, he is as surprised as anyone. Did the Sundered allow himself to be caught? And if so, why? Or does Harry simply have more power than he thought? Either way, Aakesh, his first tier Sundered is an extraordinary being and the conversations between him and Harry are brilliant.

I loved Gorish, the cute little Sundered. His simple ways were endearing and his love and loyalty for Harry, more than anything else, made me empathise with the Sundered. Aakesh was drawn so well, I could almost feel this incredibly powerful, noble and mysterious character. Other than these two, the only other character we really got to know (or needed to know) was Harry, who quickly became out of his depth. Sometimes I wished he would calm down a bit, and it would have been nice to have seen some kind of maturing in his character over the period of the story, some of Aakesh’s calm intelligence could have rubbed off on him. Also, I didn’t quite get why Bek was blowing up cities or how his weapon worked, so maybe that could have been clearer.

I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the perception of the Sundered and the concepts behind it, and the interrelational politics between Harry, his friends, his Sundered and his mentor were very well done. All in all an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy.

Eternal Destiny

Eternal Destiny
Ariel and Nick face their deepest fears and their greatest challenge as they search for the Master Demon who holds the key to the future of mankind. Slay him and the world goes free; fail, and it falls irrevocably into violence and chaos. Guided by a wisdom master of a mystical tradition that uses mind power as the basis of powerful magic, the assault party travels from the ancient granite walls of the Hermitage, up the Steps of Death, and through a labyrinth of shifting gorges to the Palace of Skulls. Even if Nick wins his struggle with the scars of his past and defeats the green-eyed head of the Cogin clan, they still must cross the scree slope, where the bones of Ariel’s father lie, to get to the ice caves beneath the summit where the Master Demon awaits. The journey is extraordinary, the enemies are deadly and the ending is mind-blowing.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

We reach the top of the climb, having started up the `spiritual’ mountain of Newland’s metaphysical creation in the first book in the Diamond Peak series. Life’s path is never easy for anyone if they are to fulfil their potential, the greater our gifts the more that others’ normally expect us to give. So it is with the heroine, Ariel. In the end, this was not so much of the story of Ariel’s struggle to conquer the blackness threatening her and the lives of those she cared about, but rather about her determination to help the `all’ of humanity. The serpentine Ariel has to destroy is just as binding in landscape we all know as it is on her mythical mountain; a massive peak which seemingly buds from some part of urban Australia. There is a true moral theme, the idea of a saviour, the dream of resetting the clock back on all corrupting evil. This work draws on the powerful allegory of writers like C.S. Lewis, whilst remaining free of his well chiselled, establishment, religious tow.

This is a superb read, in which for me the true peak of creativity was in the all too brief return of Ariel to the `real’ world. In this section we are rewarded by glimpsing the very dark childhood shadows from which Nick, Ariel’s ever closer friend, had to emerge. Of course, the fulfilling of the prophecy was most certainly the summit of excitement. Perhaps the `homecoming’ chapter had a particular resonance for me as it brought to the fore the inventive speculative fiction angle of the book to a degree not seen since the opening chapters of book one.

In my opinion, a perfect rounding of Newland’s `Diamond Peak’ project would be an omnibus addition, an amalgam of all four books in one fat volume. This would allow a huge amount of stripping of retold background and re-established character traits. Going over old ground in each book of the series is so necessary to readers’ understanding in any true serial with a defined `quest’. All four of these books work very well as standalone reads. However, written as one script of perhaps 300,000 words, even if still split into `books’, this could become a modern classic of YA fantasy.

Mystical Mountain Magic – Deceiver

Mystical Mountain Magic – Deceiver
An infant girl is rescued and raised by giant eagles and is commissioned by a living volcano to restore Hope back into the world before the Deceiver can assassinate her. Set in early North America, evil fell from the stars and exploded against the mountain. Enticed by this three-legged master musician – the Deceiver – treasure seekers from all over the world come to this unspoiled country in search of their lust’s desire. As they create mayhem on this continent, an infant girl – Mariah – is rescued and raised by giant eagles that nest high on the cliffs of Elysium where she is commissioned by the mountain to restore Hope to a world without hope and save mankind from its disastrous effects before the Deceiver can assassinate her.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

This story had everything I could ask for.

The world has become a harsh and hopeless place, and the only hope for it lies in the mountain of Misty.

In the forests around Misty live two refugees and their baby girl who will play a key role in the mountain’s plans. Yes, the mountain has plans, along with his unusual friend. The natives who live at the base of the mountain and even the animals will all play a part in the plan, because a terrible creature has invaded their home. With its beautiful, haunting song it will lead them to destruction purely for its own enjoyment. This monster and its unknown plans threaten to destroy the only chance for hope in to return to the world.

Deceiver is a delightfully whimsical story, reminiscent of a Native American folk tale. The vibrant characters drew me in and pulled me through a story that kept me guessing what could possibly happen next. With so many reboots and formulaic novels out there, it is really refreshing to be able to enjoy a story that keeps me wondering.

I especially enjoyed the character of Misty. Seldom have I read about a living mountain and I loved to hear how Guy brought a geological formation to life. And he certainly did!

Aside from a little bit of poetry that worried me a little, this story had everything I could ask for. The story is written as the beginning of a series, not so much a stand-alone story. The ending made me impatient to see how the characters fare after their fantastic adventure, so I am excited to read and review the second book next.

 

A Matter of Perception

A Matter of Perception
Publisher:
Published: October 31, 2011
This collection of imaginative and entertaining stories about ghosts, sirens, light spectrum mages, realm-hopping gods, alien monsters and ordinary people will warm your heart and make you smile, shiver, and maybe even wonder about the nature of reality itself. The theme of individual perception as a result of our assumptions, beliefs and emotional experience bind these otherwise diverse stories into a unified whole.

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

4 Stars

Tahlia delivers another solid book, this time by way of a mix of short stories.

I loved the little intro, A drop from the well of creativity. I loved the way the stories where characterised like children, it made me smile, especially this line:

Inspiration falls like a drop of mercurial silver into the vast depths of my open mind. It hovers in space, then collects and merges with a gaggle of ideas and images until it hangs pregnant and heavy with a pressing need to deliver.

I just adore that imagery! What a welcome intro!

Now, the content… While some of the short stories weren’t really my favourite, I can’t fault Tahlia for producing a flawlessly written book, it was. The subject matter was uplifting and inspirational in each piece, dealing with self exploration of your mind and understanding perception, dealing with death and even the dangers of making assumptions.

By far, my favourite story was ‘The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice’ I felt the most connected with the characters, even though it was probably the most far-fetched in terms of plot.

In closing, if you are after a delightfully uplifting and exploratory adventure that is easy to read, well crafted and inspirational too, all while galloping through romance, YA, drama, science fiction and fantasy genres, pick this one up!!

Demon’s Grip

Demon's Grip
At the University of Sheldra, Ariel discovers that her travelling companion, Nick, is a respected translator with little time to spare. Now that he isn’t at her side all the time, she wishes he was, and when she finally admits her love, powerful emotions sweep her away. The demon lord Emot takes advantage of her inexperience in matters of the heart and preys on her desire, setting off a struggle with addiction that threatens to break Nick’s heart and turn Ariel into the demon’s mindless slave. She must reach deep into her soul and find the mystical power she needs to kill the one who promises pleasure but delivers only pain. Fail, and she will lose the one she loves and spend an eternity in the demon’s grip.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

July 25, 2013

5 Stars

Demon’s Grip is the third (of four) books in the Diamond Peak series, and it is the best so far, both in terms of the action-packed storyline and the quality of the writing. I had the impression throughout the book that the main characters (Ariel and Nick) had grown up a bit since the previous book. This was probably because they were dealing with issues of greater importance (greed and craving, their developing romance, deceit and honesty and more besides). The emotions of the characters as they struggle with these is very well-portrayed, particularly with regards to addiction.The main story is counterpointed nicely with updates on the predicament of Nadima, Ariel’s mother, who is trapped in the demon’s lair (quite literally, at times, in its grip). The demon in question is developed as an important character in its own right, and the interactions between the demons themselves are quite amusing.It is more than a standard YA fantasy story, though; the characters’ internalisations and dialogue, and the progression of the plot itself, lead the reader to be more contemplative, even meditative, about the emotional issues involved. So it is certainly for readers who want greater depth in a novel.

Overall, a nicely-paced novel, well-written, with memorable characters and the chance, perhaps, to reflect more deeply on life while enjoying the story.

 

Reviewed by Clive S Johnson

5 Stars

A most exemplary work, a real joy to read. The colour, depth and vitality of both the writing and the narrative is stunningly good: the exploration of motives, outlooks and hopes of the characters quite intoxicating. It ranks as a true work of literary accomplishment.

 

Stalking Shadows

Stalking Shadows
In order to find the key to her mother’s release, Ariel must negotiate a forest of evil spirits, escape a mind-numbing city of sparkling towers, travel through the treacherous gullies of Minion Hills, and avoid an attack by a demon lord intent on killing her. Ariel hopes that the great library at Sheldra holds the key to rescuing her mother. But in order to get there, she must negotiate a forest of evil spirits, escape a mind-numbing city of sparkling towers, travel through the treacherous gullies of Minion Hills, and avoid an attack by a demon lord intent on killing her. At the same time, a battle rages between her heart and her mind. A relationship with her travelling companion, the enigmatic Nick, is just too tempting, but can they be together without Ariel losing her focus and falling to the demons? Her life is at stake, but also her heart. She risks encasing it in stone and denying herself the very sustenance she needs. Will they make it to the safe haven of Sheldra, or will Ariel die at the hands of the yellow-eyed demon?  

Reviewed by Evie Woolmore

June 16, 2013

5 Stars

This second volume in Tahlia Newland’s YA series picks up just where the first volume, A Lethal Inheritance,

The will-they-won’t-they of Nick and Ariel’s relationship is well written, and we see the situation from both sides. Ariel worries, as many girls her age do, that having a boyfriend will distract her from what she needs to do to succeed, but will also turn her into someone who is less able to focus on what’s important because they are always worrying about how they look. In Ariel’s case, Newland makes it easy to sympathise with her worry about being distracted – rescuing their mother is the most important goal anyone might have – but she also shows well how contradictory our feelings can be, when we are inching into a new relationship. Nick himself is confused about how he feels, managing the conflict in his own feelings and his life before Ariel with the tension she brings. He wants to impress her, protect her, look after, but he also is overwhelmed at times by how she makes him feel. Often YA fiction sees things from only the girl’s point of view, so this is a welcome addition to the novel.

This novel has a much stronger romantic element to it than the first volume but it doesn’t overshadow what is, once again, a well-driven, well-plotted voyage through well-drawn, well-imagined worlds. Twitchet, the talking cat, is wonderfully expressed, and although the sage Walnut is absent for the first part of the novel, Twitchet more than makes up for his absence in his cleverness and his mischief. There are new friends and enemies made, and some whose allegiance is not clear. Tension is steadily built as the novel progresses and we also learn more of the metaphysical vision of this world, of how infectious darkness and self-doubt can be, and how compelling and difficult to escape too. It is impossible to talk in any detail about the plot without giving it away, but suffice to say after a steady beginning, life gets increasingly more complicated and Ariel must test herself again and again and again.

If you enjoyed the first volume of the series then this will not disappoint and will leave you eagerly anticipating the next stage of their journey.

5 stars

 

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

5 Stars

Great stuff! I would suggest reading Lethal Inheritance first, though it is certainly not essential. This really is a pure fantasy book, written with an older teenager as the target audience. I’m 57, and don’t really believe that I would have enjoyed it any more or less at 17.

I didn’t like it quite as much as the first book. This is mainly because I’m eager to reach the end of the quest, thus find the middle somewhat of a frustration. The books overall quality is top draw, with a good pace and easy style. Unsurprisingly, some of the fantasy elements are very familiar to anyone that has read any of the genre but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good deal of originality as well.
We can see all the classical elements of the moral quest, the long road searching for the magic that will allow evil to be defeated. The dark forces are embedded in the suffocating, black serpentine. Ariel, the heroine is growing in skill, becoming immersed in the magic of her inheritance, whilst fighting her instincts to run, or fall into the strong arms of her worldly lover, or even to sink into the smothering, beguiling, evil. Arial is as determined to defeat the Rasama as I am to reach the end of book three. I don’t think Ariel really found anything but frustration in this difficult middle road either, all sorts of frustrations in her case, especially when this book started with her realising that her personal quest had so far failed.
I really need to move on from Sheldra, and Arial and Nick really need to get together with the job done. There are so many cravings that need ending, so Tahlia Newland, please don’t keep us waiting too long. Don’t give the serpentine over much time to grow, or else Arial will need a forth book in order to bring things to a head. Would Newland do that to us?

 

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

3 Stars

Stalking Shadows is the second book in Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak series.

It picks up right after the ending of book one, so really should be read in order. Having said that, the book could still be enjoyed (if a little confusing in parts) even if you hadn’t read the first.

 

This one didn’t seem as smooth as the first. There were passages that overwhelmed me in a spirituality sense, too much focus on inner light and radiance. There were only a few points where this happened, but it was enough to pull me out of the story.

The adventure was just as exciting as the first book, with intricate twists and turns sporadically placed so as to keep the reader guessing.

I look forward to seeing the relationships between the characters grow in the next book in the series.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review***

The Christmas Dragon

The Christmas Dragon
All Katie Lin wants is to get away from her family: from the magic, from the mayhem, and from the never-ending war. Unfortunately, running away doesn’t always work as planned.   Katie Lin is special, but she really doesn’t want to be. Descendent of one of the few families of “humans” who can use magic, Katie long ago grew tired of the constant fight over magical heritage, land rights, and power struggles with other members of the magical Mythos.  Unfortunately, she didn’t run far enough: one day, a box appears on her doorstep. A box with a just-hatched baby dragon.  The baby dragon inside is a magical mess, and Katie flees to the only family member she trusts: the only and only legendary Merlin. It figures he’s gone missing, and with the Wild Hunt on the baby dragon’s trail, Katie runs amuck of dragon royalty, the Crow King, and at least one reluctant elf prince.  So much for escape. Sometimes, running away just doesn’t work as planned.    

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland

This is a great little story. I really enjoyed it.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic
Colleen is a normal girl. She loves shoes, chick flicks, and cute clothes. The only thing abnormal about her is that she’s just become a magician; not the disappearing bunny kind, but the power-shooting-out-of-your-hands kind of magician. Her problem now is that she doesn’t believe in magic. Well, she believes in it. She’s seen it shoot out of her own hands, but she opposes it in a moral sense; no hexes, no spells, no incantations, no potions, no amulets, no tomes, no casting circles, no eye of newt, none of that. She has to be very clear because people pressure her about it. Whatever they say about “how it’s done,” this is a morality issue for her and she will not cave in to their pressure. Join Colleen at Seattle Pacific Regional University, where she becomes a part of The Convergence. She’ll learn the freaky side of Work Study, Financial Aid, and Vyxhepiocht. Seriously, she’s never seen so many hot guys. It’s going to be wild!

Reviewed by Meredith

This was an enjoyable book for the most part – it made me laugh and smile a fair amount. It’s very light – not for someone looking for deep subject matter.

This story at first reminded me of K.M. Shea’s “My Life at the Magical Beings’ Rehabilitation Center” because of the age of the main character, the light/witty inner commentary, and having to learn the rules of a magical society. But that similarity only lasted so long – my one complaint about the book is that it quickly becomes focused almost solely on which guy the heroine will choose….there’s not much else driving the plot. Which is disappointing because I think there’s a lot that could have been made of this set up. That said, I truly did enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next one or not.

Note – I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.