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

The Book of Koli (The Ramparts #1) by M.R. Carey

4.5/5

The Book of Koli is my first book by M.R. Carey. Unlike most of the world, I have yet to read The Girl With All the Gifts. But if BoK is any indicator, I will soon be reading his whole catalogue.

I had no idea what to expect with this book. What I got was a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, with fantasy tropes and a main character who I can’t help to compare to Forrest Gump. I mean that in the best way possible, I LOVED this book.

Koli is a very simple man, with a very simple way of speaking. This isn’t a book full of ten dollar words or flowery prose. But there is poetry in the simplicity.

Koli lives a world full of the half dead technological wonders of a world long past, in a village isolated from the rest of the world. The first quarter of the book building up the daily life of Koli, his friends and the community. Carey does such a wonderful job establishing all this that when it all inevitably gets shaken up, you actually miss the good ol’ days.

Koli is such an endearing voice, I didn’t want anything to happen to him. But, of course, to tell a story, conflict must ensue. It’s a true testament to Carey that he’s created a character I’m perfectly content just reading about his day to day. Don’t worry though, while it may seem a slow burn, it is by no means a boring book.

This is a story of wanting to belong. Of power, consequences and new beginnings. BoK is a fantastic book one to what promises to be a wonderful trilogy.

Black Stone Heart (The Obsidian Path #1) by Michael R. Fletcher

5/5

Black Stone Heart is a dark, fascinating, disgusting, wonderful, nauseating, intriguing, appalling, gripping, fucked-up, heart-felt, gut-wrenching, bloody and brutal character study about the lengths one will go for power and what they tell themselves to justify it.

Khraen digs himself from his own grave with no memory of who or where he is. His obsidian heart has been shattered and scattered across a world he can’t remember. Piece by piece he’ll put himself back together, his heart and the terrible memories it holds. There was a woman. There was a sword. There was an end to sorrow. Khraen walks the obsidian. Will he find redemption? Or just more blood?

This just might be the Fletcher’s best work to date. All the themes of redemption and the line between good and evil come he’s flirted with before come full circle. Black Stone Heart asks hard questions and promises no answers. What unfolds is a cautionary tale of repeating past mistakes and the consequences of rewriting history.

This story gives us the unique opportunity to learn who he is and what his world is like along side him through his own eyes. Because of…things, Khraen has no memory of who he is, where he’s from or where he is. Neither do we. As he explores, we see the world for the “first” time with him. This makes for a truly engaging read.

Though the situations are extreme, the emotions are real and tethered to humanity. Black Stone Heart is an uncompromising character piece more than anything. We deal with personal identity issues, morality, racism and human nature. Dark humor, intense drama, and a plethora of mysteries, Black Stone Heart is a brilliant start to The Obsidian Path trilogy. Or quartet. Saga?

Watch out for the sequel, She Dreams In Blood, available for pre-order on Amazon! Release Date: April 16, 2021. Black Stone Heart available on Amazon on Kindle, Paperback, and a bad-ass matte-black Hardcover!

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

4/5

Storm Front introduces us to Harry Dresden in the action packed, often hilarious and immensely entertaining first installment of the epic Urban Fantasy series, THE DRESDEN FILES.

Harry Dresden. Wizard. Detective. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates. No love potions, endless purses, or other entertainment. He’s the best at what he does. Technically, he’s the only one who does what he does. So when Chicago PD’s Karrin Murphy calls him in on a brutal double murder committed with magic, it’s up to Harry to find the killer…Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Second time through and Storm Front was even better. Maybe it’s because I already love the characters. It was a lot of fun to go back to beginning and see where everyone started. The series has come such a long way but has never forgot it’s humble beginnings.

Storm Front is a small scale, action and laugh orientated urban fantasy. Full of wit and charm, Jim Butcher brings a lightness to Storm Front that balances out some of the truly dark and macabre things that happen throughout the story.

The world is still very young in this book, some things may not feel as fleshed out, some are straight up contradicted or ignored in later books, but there’s enough meat on these bones to get the reader invested and intrigued.

And of course, the characters. What defines The Dresden Files for me is Harry’s relationships and the way they evolve and grow throughout the season. Seeing the beginnings of Harry’s friendship with Murphy, his problems with the council, meeting Toot-Toot, Bob and Susan. It felt like a high school reunion but I actually enjoyed seeing these people.

The Dresden Files is a must for Urban Fantasy readers. Even epic fantasy lovers, stick around a dozen books or so you may be surprised. This is the little series that can, and will, blow you away. Until then, it’s still lots of fun.

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 was 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/

Pawn’s Gambit (Mortal Techniques #2) by Rob Hayes

5/5

Yuu was once a famed strategist until her biggest failure killed the love of her life. Now a drifting vagabond living from one bottle of wine to the next, Yuu is approached by a God to help save the world from unending war. A God of Missed Opportunities.

Pawn’s Gambit, the NOT-sequel to Never Die, is another quest through the world of Mortal Techniques that stands on its own magnificently while building on its predecessor is a satisfying and intriguing way.

We learn a lot about the Gods and how the world works and the magic system is expanded upon and neither disappoint. The world Rob Hayes has created is endlessly fascinating and surprising.

But, of course, the highlight here is the characters, especially Yuu and Natsuko. Yuu’s story is one of pain and overcoming your past. Of redemption and finding yourself. Her arc is beautifully done, full of emotion and believable motivations that make it very easy to relate to her.

And, once again, Rob Hayes pulls the rug from underneath the reader and delivers another fantastic, mind-bending finish. The climax and conclusion to Pawn’s Gambit is truly stunning, full of action and revelations that feel earned.

Overall, Pawn’s Gambit is another fun romp through the world of Mortal Techniques, a world full of heroes, magic, war, and for some, a chance at redemption.