Of Blood and Fire by Ryan Cahill (The Bound and The Broken #1)

4.5/5

Born in fire. Tempered in blood. Epheria is a land divided by war and mistrust. The High Lords of the South squabble and fight, only kept in check by the Dragonguard, traitors of a time long past, who serve the empire of the North. In the remote villages of southern Epheria, still reeling from the tragic loss of his brother, Calen Bryer prepares for The Proving – a test of courage and skill that not all survive. But when three strangers arrive in the village of Milltown, with a secret they are willing to die for, Calen’s world is ripped from under him and he is thrust headfirst into a war that has been raging for centuries. There is no prophecy. His coming was not foretold. He bleeds like any man, and bleed he will.

Building upon the foundation set by greats such as Robert Jordan, George RR Martin and, of course, JRR Tolkien, Ryan Cahill lays the groundwork for what will surely be a truly awesome adventure. With his influences on his sleeve, Cahill’s debut pays loving homage to his roots while forging a path all his own.

Calen, Rist and Dann make up our core group, Calen the prominent POV throughout. I really appreciated was that all three felt very real and their friendship, genuine. Cahill doesn’t just tell us they’re friends, he shows us with their banter and their actions. We also spend sometime with Calen’s sister, Ella, who’s story isn’t the best one here but promises a very intriguing future.

The world has a very well thought out history and lore stretching back thousands of years. Elves, dwarves, dragons and more populate this magical world alongside humans. Cahill’s vision is full of wonder, intrigue and danger.

With plenty of twists and turns, epic fight scenes and a wonderful cast of characters, Ryan Cahill has created a world both familiar and new, much like John Gwynne and Michael J Sullivan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Advertisement

Creation (Why Odin Drinks – Part 1) by Bjørn Larssen

In the beginning there was confusion.

Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Your brothers keep creating mosquitoes and celery and other, more threatening weapons. What can your ultimate answer be – the one that will make you THE All-Father and them, at best, the All-Those-Uncles-We-All-Have-But-Don’t-Talk-About? “FML! The answer’s why I drink!” – Odin

A short story with a lot to say, Creation is a laugh-a-paragraph tale of how tough it really is to be a god. Emerging from nothingness with the need to create but no idea what to create, Odin and his brothers’ struggle and compete in an escalating series of hilarious events that inspire some truly confounding questions about life, existence, life, death and everything in between.

With tongue held firmly in cheek, Larssen has crafted a satire that would make Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett proud. My face is sore for smiling the whole time through this hour and half or so read.

I can’t say much else for fear of spoiling anything, but this is a definite recommend from me for anyone wanting a quick, fun read that will stick with you.

A Ritual of Flesh (Dead Sagas Vol. II) by Lee C. Conley

5 STARS

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.
Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.
Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.
In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night. The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.

Never have I seen such an improvement between books. Not to say I didn’t like A Ritual of Bone, I did, but there were little editing things that bothered me and it felt a bit like an epic prologue. Not the case here, A Ritual of Flesh is a tour de force of epic zombie action in a beautifully realized Norse inspired world.

A Ritual of Bone served as an introduction, an appetizer, for what was to come. Flesh is the 5 star caliber main dish. Here, we really get to know the characters, becoming invested in their journeys as well as the mystery of just what is making the dead rise. The mysterious apprentice gets a name and some surprising developments, Arnulf’s quest for vengeance picks up some steam, Bjorn and Tung make their way to Arn, and Nym and Co. continue their struggle to survive poverty and disease. All of this leads to an explosive finale where all the different threads finally tie together to rival John Gwynne’s battles.

The biggest improvement between books is Conley’s prose. While the prose in Bone was fine, here in Flesh it’s damn near beautiful at times. I feel Conley really found his voice here and it is wonderful. I can’t wait to see how he’s grown between Flesh and Vol. 3 (A Ritual of Blood, perhaps?) The voices of characters are distinct and Conley’s descriptions of bloodshed and violence are gruesome, intense and wonderful.

Before I read fantasy, I was (and still am) a huge horror fan. Conley has managed to combine horror and fantasy in such a brilliant way. He balances the two genres near perfectly, the intrigue, world-building, mysteries, all balanced on a knife’s edge.

When reviewing A Ritual of Bone, I said it was First Law meets Evil Dead. I’ll have to amend that now, as politics isn’t much of a focus anymore. I’m going to declare this, John Gwynne meets Evil Dead. A Norse inspired fantasy world full of demons, zombies and who knows what else, I’d love horror, you owe it to yourself to check out this most unique take on the zombie genre. Move over Kirkman, there’s a new zombie king in town and his name is Lee C. Conley.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e832e988111/?

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!