Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystal Matar

5/5

Follow the law and you’ll stay safe. But what if the law is wrong?
Tashué’s faith in the law is beginning to crack. Three years ago, he stood by when the Authority condemned Jason to the brutality of the Rift for non-compliance. When Tashué’s son refused to register as tainted, the laws had to be upheld. He’d never doubted his job as a Regulation Officer before, but three years of watching your son wither away can break down even the strongest convictions. Then a dead girl washed up on the bank of the Brightwash, tattooed and mutilated. Where had she come from? Who would tattoo a child? Was it the same person who killed her? Why was he the only one who cared? Will Tashué be able to stand against everything he thought he believed in to get the answers he’s looking for?

A lot of the time, you’ll read a review that says “I devoured this book.” One definition of devour is, to read quickly and eagerly.” While the definition is true for my experience reading Legacy of the Brightwash, I’m going to use a secondary definition of the word. “Destroy completely.” By that definition LotB devoured me.

Krystal Matar is a master at making you care about her characters. The fact that this is her debut novel is fucking insane. I immediately knew Tashue would be a favorite character of mine when it opened with him calming a friend’s new baby. I’m a new father and a sucker for that kind of thing.

The more you learn about Tashue and the supporting cast, the harder it is to remember this is fiction. The little details make the characters bigger than the page. From running jokes between mother and daughter, to the little interactions of neighbors that grow into so much more. Everyone feels so real and that’s truly a testament to Matar’s grasp of character development and the human condition.

While the greater world is only hinted at, the city of Yaelsmuir is up there with the greats. For a city to feel like a character, it has to feel as though it has its own personality and motivations. Yaelsmuir is fickle bitch with a taste for power and desire to drain everyone in it dry. Whether it’s stealing their magic, heritage, or family, Yaelsmuir wants it all. It’ll chew you up and spit you out into Brightwash like last weeks sewage.

A slow burn mystery, with vivid characters, and a city so real you’ll feel like you’ve been there, Legacy of the Brightwash will make you fall in love and then break your heart without mercy. This is a must read and definite contender for top 10 reads of the year.

Poetry Hour

Here’s something new. I’ve never really had a platform to share these things. I might do more in the future if that’s something anyone is interested in. Here’s a recent piece about my struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

We’re not God’s stepchildren. We’re the cigarette burns in his living room carpet. – Sandman Slim

I used to live in a bottle. And little white baggies, with powder covered straws, sanity was flagging me down take a look. At the damaged you’ve done and sit down thinking about why it isn’t fun anymore.

The city lights are flashing. And I’m out here dashing through the snow and bad decisions. Sobriety in remission and all I can think. Is it’s better to sink then to burn.

So I burn another cigarette and a few more brain cells, wallowing in drugs, drink, depression my own self constructed hell.

Pour me another one. Cut up that coke, I’m dying just to feel something, other than broke and I know this is just filler. A lie I tell myself but I’m wallowing in drugs drink depression. My own self constructed hell.

My eyes are so red, I’m surprised I can even see and there’s no fucking way, conceivably, that I’m ever getting off, this soggy couch. I’ll just cringe and cry and cough. Slip, slide, slouch.

All alone again, with my best friend. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’ve never been dead. I feel to my left. Feel to my right. Found a bottle, a lighter, no dignity in sight.

So I burn another cigarette and a few more brain cells, wallowing in drugs, drink, depression my self constructed hell.

There’s a ring of light, so I know how far I fell while I wallow in drugs, drink, depression at the bottom of a well.

Pour me another one. Cut up that coke, I’m dying just to feel something, other than broke and I know this is just filler. A lie I tell myself but I’m wallowing in drugs drink depression. My own self constructed hell

The truth only hurts, like barbed wire shirts and I can’t change anything without making things worse. Pour me another one, cut up that coke while I go outside and have another smoke. Burn up my lungs, and some more brain cells. I can’t feel my tongue in this self constructed hell.

There’s a ring of light, so I know how far I fell, while I wallow in drugs, drink, depression at the bottom of a well.

Pour me another one. Cut up that coke, I’m dying just to feel something, other than broke and I know this is just filler. A lie I tell myself but I’m wallowing in drugs drink depression. My own self constructed hell

I used to live in a bottle. And little white baggies, with powder covered straws sanity was flagging me down take a look. At the damaged you’ve done and sit there thinking about why it isn’t fun anymore.

Gunmetal Gods by Zamil Akhtar

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers. Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry. To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing. When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.

Set against a Middle-Eastern inspired backdrop, the world of Gunmetal Gods is incredibly well realized and feels very lived in and believable. Full of dark magic, mysterious gods and warring religions, Zamil Akhtar shows us a world where there are no right answers and being good is all a matter of perspective.

The story is told through the dueling POV’s of Kevah and Micah, who are on opposite sides of a war, each motivated by the loss of loved ones. Their similarities and differences will be the fuel for a fire that threatens to engulf the entire world. Who they are at the start of this story and who they become are vastly different and their growth is both believable and heartbreaking.

Gunmetal Gods is a story of love, loss, hate, war and hope for redemption in bleak world. Zamil Akhtar piles on the dark but never smothers hope entirely. I throughly enjoyed this and will be reading Conqueror’s Blood very soon.

Dragon Mage (The Rivenlands #1) by M.L. Spencer

Dragon Mage is epic fantasy, through and through.

5/5

Aram isn’t like the other kids. He has trouble communicating with them, doesn’t understand how to connect with other people. He’s content with his mom and his knots. But all of that is about to change. Aram has a secret hidden from even himself. A power to take hold of the fabric of the universe itself and bend it to his will. With his best friend, Markus, Aram will have to embrace his destiny, lest it be stolen from him.

What worked for me the most in this book was Aram. Aram displays many attributes of autism and ML Spencer portrayed him with a realism and understanding I haven’t seen before. As an autistic male, this meant so much to me. Countless times I would stumble across little lines that spoke volumes to me. Never did it feel like Spencer was writing Aram as dumb, he is a very smart character. It’s in the little details, the social misunderstandings, the internal debates and self berating. The lack of confidence and anxiety over possible embarrassment. I could go on forever. So I would like to slip in a little thank you, to ML Spencer, for taking such care with your portrayal of Aram.

Markus is the friend I wish I had growing up. He understands Aram in a way no one else does and they’re platonic love for each other is the backbone of this story. Both characters go through so much believable growth over the course this thick book, and it pays off in spades.

The world is vividly realized and celebrates all of what epic fantasy amazing. Secret lineages, forbidden magic, other worlds, magic schools, big bad mysterious baddie, oh, and BIG ASS FREAKIN’ DRAGONS!

The quality of the hardback is stunning. It survived me reading with no real wear and tear. The art under the jacket is beautiful and the print never faded. I’m truly blown away with the production quality of this book.

I swear, I must’ve been smiling the whole way through Dragon Mage. Everything about it made me happy. Spencer nails the tropes, the world, the story. But for me, the clincher was Aram. I’ve never felt so close to a character or related with one so much.

Purchase this version signed! http://mlspencerfiction.com/

The Headlock of Destiny by Samuel Gately (Titan Wars #1)

4.5/5

Some say titans are descended from giants. Others say they are risen from men. But there’s never any debate about where to find them. They will be in the center of a roaring crowd, beating the hell out of each other. From contenders like the Savage and Scott Flawless to pretenders like Richard the Living Portrait and Troll-Blooded Thom, a titan’s lot in life is the same: To wrestle for dominion and glory in the squared circle.Van, a quiet titan from the brewery town of Headwaters, wants no part in this. He’d prefer to be left alone with a beer. But destiny has him in a headlock, and it is prepared to drag him into battles that will shake the land and change his world forever.Step into the ring with this one-of-a-kind novel, brewed special for fans of epic fantasy, fans of professional wrestling from the Golden Era and beyond, or simply fans of a good tale.

The Headlock of Destiny by Samuel Gately was a completely blind read for me. All I saw was the cover, title and that it had wrestling and was in.

There was some fear that this book would read like a bad spoof movie, but luckily that was not the case. THoD is full of heart, humor and love for both wrestling and fantasy. On a scale of Pratchett to those awful Scary Movie wannabes, Gately lands firmly on the Pratchett side.

As with any good book, what truly shines here are the characters. All the wrestlers start off as caricatures but the ones with more page time than one match get deeper development that really makes you feel for and understand them.

Our protagonist, Van the Beer Man, falls into the farm boy trope a bit, but with enough personality and muscles to separate him from the herd. Watching him struggle with who he was and who he’s becoming was very relatable and grounded this story of giants and demi-gods.

The Headlock of Destiny has the feel and a passion project and the author’s excitement is palpable. This is what happens when someone writes the book they want to read, damn the naysayers and it pays of immensely. And the ending had me buying the sequel right away.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON!

Norylska Groans by Michael R. Fletcher and Clayton Snyder

5/5

ARC provided by Michael R. Fletcher in exchange for an honest review.

Martin Scorsese-esque crime story meets Russian inspired grimdark with a dash of cyberpunk make up this bloody, brilliant noir collaboration between Michael R. Fletcher and Clayton W. Snyder.

Norylska Groans…

with the weight of her crimes. In a city where winter reigns amid the fires of industry and war, soot and snow conspire to conceal centuries of death and deception.

Norylska Groans…

and the weight of a leaden sky threatens to crush her people. Katyusha Leonova, desperate to restore her family name, takes a job with Norylska’s brutal police force. To support his family, Genndy Antonov finds bloody work with a local crime syndicate.

Norylska Groans…

with the weight of her dead. As bodies fall, the two discover a foul truth hidden beneath layers of deception and violence: Come the thaw, what was buried will be revealed.

What. A. Fucking. Book. I was enthralled, engaged, appalled and disgusted. Flyder (or Snytcher) have crafted a dirty, gripping, noir, sorta-cyberpunk, very Russian masterpiece of crime, law, identity and bodily fluids galore.

Norylska is the name of the city this story takes place, and feels like a character itself. Norylska Groans isn’t just the title, but those words repeat like a chorus, setting the tone and never letting the reader forget where they are. It is a bleak city, full of the worst of humanity. And yet I couldn’t look away.

There is a running theme of memory and identity. Do memories make you who you are? What happens when those memories are manipulated? How far can you drift from who you used to be before you even notice? If you could be anybody, who would you be?

The characters completely drive this story. Every major beat comes from character development. That’s not to say there isn’t action. There is. And it’s BLOODY. The detail in some of the violence is so vivid at times, it felt like watching a Lucio Fulci movie. And I don’t know what Dyrk Ashton did Snyder and/or Fletcher, but DAMN! Poor, poor Dyrkles.

I’ve been a Fletchhead for a while now, and thanks to this book, Snyder has made a fan of me. There’s two POV’s, Snyder writing one and Fletcher the other. Both stories were gripping and while they fit together perfectly, especially when they collide, they also showed off each authors unique voice. The story greatly benefited from this, providing each character they’re own distinct tone.

If you like your fantasy bloody, violent, character-driven, with a dash of noir and full of twists and turns, Norylska Groans is right up your filthy fucking alley.

Release Date: May 10, 2021. Available on Amazon!

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire

5/5

I was a grown man, damn it, and a mage of Agatos. Armies fled before me. Demons quaked in fear. Small animals gave me a wide berth. Babies cried when I smiled at them.

Mennick Thorn is a broke mage for hire with an attitude problem and a tendency to make all the wrong enemies. So when one of his few friends comes to him for a favor, of course he’ll help out. But when a simple heist escalates to him being framed for magical murder, Mennick is going to have to get serious…or die trying.

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire reads like the best urban fantasy out there. The twist? It’s set in an original, high fantasy world with dead gods, ghosts and fascinating magic. Samphire manages to balance the world building and the suspense of the ever-escalating murder mystery perfectly.

Mennick Thorn is the central character, it’s told in first person through his POV. Very quickly, you’re sucked into his world and can’t help but be intrigued and like him right away. Mennick has all the charm and sarcasm of the giants in Urban Fantasy but never sounds like an imitation.

Mennick doesn’t get the whole spotlight, though. Benny, his best friend, and Sereh, Benny’s daughter, feature throughout quite a lot of the novel. Benny’s friendship with Mennick feels very authentic and believable. The dialogue between them is quippy and often hilarious. Sereh is an odd one, I feel the less known about her going in, the better. But she does offer some moments for Mennick to show some heart, as well as scare the shit out of him. Dammit, I’ve said too much.

We spend the entirety of the novel in one city and by the end, you’ll feel like, if not a resident, you’ve vacationed there a few times. The layout and breakdown of classes is explained as we explore the cities and unfolds in a very natural and organic way. Never does it feel like info-dump, and never does it feel like you’re lost.

Other than UF, I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoyed Luke Arnold’s The Last Smile in Sunder City. Shadow of a Dead God is a fast-paced, laugh-a-minute, whodunnit set in a rich fantasy city steeped in lore and dirty politics. Nectar for the Gods is now in my top anticipated reads and Mennick Thorn has serious potential to become a favorite series of mine.

Get it now on Amazon!

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter

4.5/5

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter is a grimdark diamond in the rough that I’m surprised I don’t see more people talking about.

During times of war, no one goes unscathed. By Ultner, even in times of peace, few can escape suffering. Ardia is on the brink of civil war, though most citizens are woefully unaware of this fact. Fenrir de Trenton, a disgraced guardsman-turned-ineffective-criminal, is accustomed to taking orders. So much so that, despite the danger, he finds himself neck-deep in the politicking of his current superiors as well as the rulers of the country. The fact that Fenrir’s father would rather see him dead doesn’t help matters. Emma Dram, a handmaiden of the great Lady Escamilla, hates Fenrir with a fiery passion and with good reason: he lopped off most of her hand. Nonetheless, she finds herself in close proximity to her former lover as she seeks to serve her lady liege in fomenting her own rebellion. Hafgan Iwan is a Wasmer, a race reviled by humans, who serves the same masters as Fenrir. His efforts to assimilate with human culture only earn him the derision of his own race, and he seeks to find belonging amidst the escalating conflict. Meanwhile, Merigold Hinter, a serving girl with an unusual power, lives a simple existence, hoping for love, adventure, and to see the world. Her life should be untouched by political maneuvering and war. However, her world becomes a crucible—how much can one woman bear before breaking? A story of love lost and family destroyed, of bigotry and belonging, of suffering and strength, and of religion and magic, SOLACE LOST grows from a character-driven tale to something grand in scale, perhaps even involving the gods, themselves.

First and foremost, this is a character driven book. That’s not to say there isn’t action, there definitely is, but the drive of the narrative is definitely the characters. Very reminiscent of The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, Solace Lost spends a majority of its time setting up Fenrir, Merigold, Emma and Hafgan.

Every character has their own distinct personality. You can tell who’s POV you’re in before a name is mentioned because of how strong their voices are. While all their backstory is not revealed, you get enough to understand why they are who they are and the choices they make never stray from what Sliter established throughout the story.

The stand out characters for me were Merigold and Fenrir. Merigold goes through an immense amount of trauma throughout the story, but it never feels cheap or degrading. The way she develops from there, in my ignorant opinion, was believable and heart-breaking. Fenrir’s story is very different from Merigold’s. His is a story of the dangers that come with blindly following orders and the dark road self pity can take you down. We follow him as he struggles with physical and mental problems while fighting with his selfish instincts to be a better man.

Hafgan and Emma I feel got a little less development, but their stories were gripping none-the-less. Emma’s relationship with Fenrir is very interesting and their interactions lead to some of my favorite scenes in the book. Hafgan, a Wasmer, which I envisioned as a Sasquatch, is trying to blend in with human society and ends up scorned by both his people and the humans. His story will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t belong and had to fight for acceptance. 🙋‍♂️

The magic is a bit on the light side, but with promises that in the future it will become more prominent. The story starts very small, intensely and intimately focusing on the characters and broadens it’s scope slowly until the end when everything explodes. The magic is very intriguing and I can’t wait to learn more in the coming books.

Solace Lost is brutal character study in the vein of Abercrombie, but very much it’s own thing. The world and characters are original and the action scene are captivating. Sliter’s prose is simple and beautiful, never distracting from the narrative but always engaging. If you like your fantasy dark, bloody, and with believable characterizations, what are you waiting for? Pandemonium is rising…

Available on Amazon, Paperback and Kindle. Read for “free” with Kindle Unlimited!

She Dreams in Blood (The Obsidian Path #2) by Michael R Fletcher

5/5

I was given an e-ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. Dyrk Ashton offered me $1.00 to give it one star. I don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Let’s take a minute to admire Felix Ortiz’s work. He is a gift to the fantasy community and his covers are second to none.

Drawn by the shards of his obsidian heart, Khraen follows the path south. The islands, largely ignored by the Wizard’s Guild, have become a refuge for the unwanted of the world. Necromancers and sorcerers rule over warring tribes haunted by the ghosts of savage and primal gods. With each fragment Khraen discovers more of the man he was. There was an Empire. There was a god. And she dreamed in blood.

Michael R Fletcher has done it again. With She Dreams in Blood, he raises the stakes higher than ever and I honestly have no clue where he’s going from here.

Khraen continues to war with himself and is given even more to think about with the introduction of the a new character, Brenwick.

Brenwick provides Khraen with a more human connection not based on love or lust. Bren provides much of the humor and even softens Khraen up enough to crack a few jokes. Their friendship is the backbone of much of this book, as it forces Khraen to examine himself in way he had yet to consider.

The world continues to grow as we explore the southern islands. The world building is fascinating and gruesome and I loved it. This is an area that is impossible to expand upon without spoilers so you’ll just take my word for it.

There’s not much else I can say for fear of spoilers. The Obsidian Path books are better the less you know going in. She Dreams in Blood does what every great sequel is supposed to do and so much more. And for long time Fletch-heads, keep your eyes peeled.

Release date: April 16, 2021. Available on Amazon for preorder now!

The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn #1) by John Gwynne

4.5/5

E-ARC provided by Orbit via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Varg, the thrall with a secret. Orka, the mother with a past. Elvar, the princess with a dream. Spread across The Banished Lands, a land near-destroyed by the war, and death, of the gods, they must fight for what they love. In the shadow of the gods lies dark magic, revenge and The Bloodsworn.

John Gwynne already wrote a near-perfect quartet (The Faithful and the Fallen) and trilogy (Of Blood and Bone) in the amazing Banished Lands saga. Can he do it again? If Shadow of the Gods is any indication, the answer is HELL. YES.

The Viking influence is as strong as it gets and fully displays Gwynne’s love for the culture. The lore is rich with detail and homages while adding enough to make it feel wholly original.

Where John Gwynne truly shines though, is in his characterizations. The characters burst from the page with personality. Varg’s journey of revenge and acceptance is touching and relatable, Elvar’s need to stand out from her family is believable and exciting. And Orka’s quest to save her family is brutal, heart-pounding and action-packed. Okra is bound to become a new fan favorite, up there with Maquin of Faithful and the Fallen fame.

Is this John Gwynne’s best book? No. Is it his best book one? Maybe. What I can say is that The Bloodsworn Saga promises a heart-pounding/breaking adventure with the potential for absolute greatness. I eagerly await book two, tentatively titled Dead Gods Rising. TRUTH AND COURAGE!*

*yeah, yeah, wrong series. Sue me.

RELEASE DATE: MAY 4th, 2021