Book Review: Greek Key by K.B. Spangler

 

GK Cover

Buy it HERE from K.B.’S A Girl and Her Fed Store (I imagine she gets more for it here).

Buy it HERE on Amazon (Because sometimes it is simply easier)

So, I have talked about the A Girl and Her Fed universe before. If you read any of my reviews about the Rachel Peng books, then you will be running into some familiar faces here.

We have Speedy and Hope as the primary protagonists this time around. Rachel’s not the focus here and we are, instead, introduced to the universe through Hope’s eyes and seeing her try to solve a mystery that has a lot more to do with the origins of how OACET and the ghosts work in the A Girl and Her Fed universe.

I’m not spoiling much in this review, but if you haven’t read A Girl and Her Fed yet, you might want to back out and go read it before you read on because some of this will go into spoilage as to how the rules of the Universe there work.

SPOILER TAG

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The main mystery revolves around an artifact, a piece of the Antikythera mechanism, that is commented on in both the comic and in the Peng novels. They have a piece of a machine that is out of place and out of time for the development of the period. Hope, Speedy, and the Ghost of Benjamin Franklin (I’m not sure if that’s a title or not…maybe I’ll tweet the author to ask) have been discussing the limits of how a ghost can work and how time flows in the A Girl And Her Fed (AGAHF for short) universe.

It boils down to this: ghosts can move backward and forward in time. However, this requires a great deal of power. A ghost gets its power from his/her effect on the world. Also, a ghosts power appears to be limited to the culture in which it was created. This means that most ghosts are quite limited in their power.  Benjamin Franklin’s ghost is very powerful in the United States (as are the other ghosts of the Founding Fathers. And Lincoln…oh dear lord, Lincoln). However, when Hope travels outside of the U.S., Franklin can’t follow / can’t manifest  (side-note: given his years in Europe, I wonder if he can manifest there as well…).

We already know from AGAHF that Franklin can time travel. He did it to help Hope play the stock market so she didn’t have to focus on gaining money and could instead prepare for the coming of OACET and Sparky and a few other slightly more world shattering elements coming to the U.S. (and the world) than whether or not she could pay the bills.  Of course she originally thought he was a drug induced hallucination, but that would be getting off topic and into AGAHF rather than Greek Key.

Panel Post
I’ll just leave this here as an explanation Image is Copyright (C) K.B. Spangler

 

The point being, his power lets him jump forward in time and, unlike many ghosts, he can bring back elements of what he finds in the future. In the comic, he brings back a ring that is linked to OACET so she can call in help from Sparky whenever she needs it. This takes a tremendous amount of power and the ring is only a small thing.

The mechanism piece? It’s a bit bigger. Which means a lot more power would be needed. Not only that, but we’re looking at a time jump that would make Doc Brown jealous.

And without a DeLorean.

Or a Flux Capacitor.

This machine piece that they have found, however, appears to have come from someone a bit more…universal. Think mathematics. Like Universal mathematics.

It’s Archimedes. Yes, that Archimedes.

I told you it was Universal Mathematics.

This has everyone baffled and a bit worried as it was found in a stash that was being supervised by the main antagonist of AGAHF.

Hope, being one of the few who knows the ghost connection in OACET, decides to investigate and she takes along Mike. The pair are psychic and are able to use that ability to tap into the ghost spectrum – though neither is particularly good at it. You do what you can with what you have.

Then we run into an archaeologist, Atlas, (who’s probably not on the up-and-up) and his sister, Darling (who’s definitely not on the up-and-up) and they get involved in examining the mystery as well.

Helen of Troy also ends up entangled.

It’s…complicated.

The story is also a lot of fun. As a fan of AGAHF, I got a lot of satisfaction out of reading the story. Hope is a fun character and Speedy is a highlight as well. They play their typical roles, but those roles are written quite well.

Hope is a strong protagonist. It is immediately obvious that she is in charge of herself and her choices; there’s no damsel in distress here. No one is ‘letting’ her do the things that she does. She is doing them through her action and through her conscious choice. It’s a good message and one that shouldn’t have to be said, but I’m pointing it out because that message is often lost in other media and stories. Hope’s a character that is strong on her own and she happens to be female.

Speedy is still a hyper-intelligent Koala. I don’t really feel the need to elaborate there, but he is enjoyable. However, I’m a Speedy fan and I hear there are those that disagree with him. That’s your choice – I can assure you that he doesn’t care in the slightest.

The mystery of Archimedes’ machine is the central plot of the story and its practically a character in and of itself. The jumping and shifting of ideas and ‘OK, that didn’t work, next plan’ is a lot of fun.

For me this book had a lot to tell. It establishes quite a bit of the rules for the AGAHF universe. The world building is fascinating and I enjoyed those elements a lot.

My major complaint comes from only two elements. My first is Hope’s attraction to Atlas. It seems overplayed and not especially relevant to the plot. I get that it is part of the character of Hope to be easily distracted, but I just did not like the Atlas bit at all. It’s a personal element, but I feel it detracts from Hope’s character to have that be a focus of her distractions. The rest of her jumps, however, are hilarious and/or plot related and I enjoyed them, but the Atlas ones didn’t ping right for me. Maybe it’s my sense of humor.

Which brings me to Atlas himself. As a character and an antagonist (I won’t go far enough to call him a villain) he’s in the gray area. It could be argued that he’s not even really an antagonist so much as a stumbling point. He’s a pretty face and something for Hope to get distracted by given his amazing Mediterranean body and that’s pretty much it. There is some effort at characterization by having him have a rivalry with his sister, but it doesn’t come off as particularly effective. His reveal and subsequent plot related items come off as convenient and/or out of place when reading and that appeared to defeat the purpose of having him in play. He helps the plot along and gives Hope a few things to think about, but it doesn’t really bring out anything new or interesting in the characters and so he falls flat.

On the whole, though, Greek Key is a strong novel with an interesting mystery. Hope, Mike, and Speedy make up for the lack of a traditional antagonist by fighting with the mystery surrounding the Archimedes device. The solution is a fascinating twist and turn as Spangler develops her world and reveals new and fascinating bits about how the world works in her universe of ghosts and government. For AGAHF fans, this will be a lot of fun. For inductees and those new to the universe, it will be an exciting adventure with a strong protagonist and companions that will lead you into a complex and fun world.

Characters: 4.0 / 5
Plot: 5 / 5
Action: 4 / 5
Value: 5 / 5
Writing: 5 / 5

Overall: 4.2 / 5

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – FIERCE: Sixteen Authors of Fantasy

A Short Review of This Excellent Collection

 

BUY THIS COLLECTION. IT REALLY IS THAT SIMPLE!

uy this collection. At $.99 it is a steal and contains some excellent ‘firsts’ of several wonderful series.  At $.99 you are saving more than $20.00 just to buy these e-books. GET THIS COLLECTION.

Below are some short reviews of the individual stories and pieces:

Mercedes Lackey – Moving Targets 4.5/5 stars.

 

The book possesses typical Mercedes Lackey voice – fun characters in an interesting setting. At least, I think it does -it has been a long time since I have read any of Lackey’s work, so I don’t know if there is a larger continuum that the story fits in to, but it stands just fine on its own if it does.

Essentially, this is a short mystery that, very quickly, evolves in to a classic ‘Scooby-Doo’ style hunt – right down to the talking pet and ridiculous conclusions. It is a lot of fun and makes an excellent opening for the collection. There are a couple of confusing notes, but for the most part this is a fun and simple story.

Michael G. Manning – The Blacksmith’s Son – 3.5/5 stars

 

The book starts out slow, but picks up pace after 75-100 pages. The descriptions and characters are enough to keep someone reading, but if they aren’t given a chance the book may come off as somewhat lackluster. Fortunately I found the descriptions of the conflict and Mordecai’s motivations to be a lot of fun and well worth the wait. I especially liked when he finally gets to working against the antagonist (who’s a tad two dimensional) and how he tries to play off of the others idiocy. On the whole, a solid first effort.

K.F. Breene – Chosen 4.5/5 stars

I haven’t read any of Breene’s work prior, but a quick amazon search reveals she has a lot of work out there. That library of work shows in the writing of Chosen.

The hook is a typical one for the fantasy genre (it’s almost a trope!) but Breene plays it quite well. There’s a prophecy that says that a warrior will rise to free the Shadow Warriors to freedom. Typical fantasy, right?

Breene plays with the trope quite well and shows that it doesn’t have to be boring to follow through on such a hook. Her characters are very three-dimensional. Shanti, despite being a bit of a prodigy, comes off as very human. Her concerns are real and her history/backstory actually does come in to play in a reasonable way. The conflicts are not forced for her and they play off as very real as Shanti learns what her role in the future of her people is to be. Or at least is offered some good examples and reasons to consider how she is going to use her skills.

There are some hints of the authors other line of work with romance novels leaking in as well. These characters get naked an awful lot. It’s not a bad thing, but it does seem a little…weird given the conflict that Shanti is supposedly on the run from.

There are a couple of odd moments and some weird language that breaks the immersion of the story – phrases that just feel out of place.

On the whole though, this is a fun read and one you should check out.

Morgan Rice – A Quest of Heroes – 2.5/5 stars

This is one of the few let downs, I felt, in this collection. Compared to other works in this collection, it’s just not up to standard.

We have a boy who wants to serve the king in the way that the rest of his family (all brothers) do – guarding and protecting a powerful artifact (the series’ Sorcerer’s Ring) in the service of the King. Thorgrin is, of course, the youngest son and feels he has a lot to prove to his father and his mother, who largely don’t want him to serve anyhow.  This of course leads to his rebellion and leaving.

It all feels very typical and, while there is some world building and characterization, it never really stands out or makes a major impression. Maybe it is the​ lack of significant development on the characters. They all feel very two dimensional and fairly straight forward. The other problem is that the book is short. You reach the end and go …wait? What? What happened? It leaves a dissatisfied feeling. I know there are more in the series – it consistently appears in my ‘More from Kindle’ feed of recommended reading, so it’s probably a set up for more books, but I can’t help but feel it was a bit of a let down.

Michael James Ploof – Whill of Agora 4.5 / 5 stars.

So, we have the titacular Whill and his party of companions – a dwarf, an elf, and a justifier.  No, seriously, it’s a fun party with a lot of dynamics to it.

In all reality, this book feels like the beginning of an ‘epic’ series – there is a lot of world building. We have remenants from an old war -5000 years ago – and a country long at peace since then. Similarly, we have a king who wants to change that by invading another continent. At the same time we have a dark elf with some half-dragon hybrids who also want to cause trouble.

Will and Company have to stop it. There is a lot of world building in this novel which makes it a LOT of fun. I enjoyed reading and the one trouble I had with the novel came in the characters. While the world takes a lot of detail and complexity, the characters were very easy reads. Someone is either GOOD or EVIL. There is no in between and there is very little examination of the morals of their decisions or character.

Daniel Arenson – Requiem’s Song 4/5

Had a chance to read this one while on a trip in the car. Glad I had my tablet.

Requiem’s song is an excellent mix of detail and character. Here we have a world where we have a group who can transform in to dragons that are in hiding. We get through a lot of gory detail and precise description of the oppression the dragons have experienced. In very specific detail.

But, the world is compelling and the characters complex. I had a lot of fun reading this and enjoyed having a lot to mull over as I read. It helps that the story is interesting – I like their rise up and the ‘rebels’ recognizing that their actions will have actual consequences. My only qualm with the story is that I sometimes lost track of who was who and the person I was supposed to be excited for in the shifting mass of characters that were thrown at me.

Kate Sparkes – Bound 4/5

An interesting, if used premise with some well done characters.

In this world magic is banned and hunted down. One of our main characters hunts magic users, the other is a young lady who has always had a fascination for magic but knows better than to trust it. When she manages to save a sorcerers life things get complicated.

The fun part of this story comes in the characters. You’re going to get images of the tragic parts of Romeo and Juliet when you get to know Rowan and her betrothed – and not in a good way. It becomes clear that this is a central plot element and you get to ride out the shifting pulses of Rowan’s feelings as she tries to make both her new perspective and her old fit in to one unified vision.

It’s a fun romp, if a bit predictable. I wish there had been more world building, but the author was focusing more on relationships and character than on the environment in my opinion.

David Adams – The Pariahs

This is still on my to read list, but if it is anything like Adams’ other works, I am certain it will be excellent.

Amy Raby – The Fire Seer  4/5

I read this and had flashback to NCIS. It was GIBBS. If Gibbs had magic. That’s a good thing.

We have our main character, Taya , who is sent to investigate a series of murders. The trick? Her old nemesis, Mandir, is her bodyguard. To her it feels rather like a setup. Despite this, she launches her investigation and starts to discover things about her companions, and her world, that she just wasn’t prepared for.

The Fire Seer is a lot of fun and it’s the characters that really sell it. I love a good mystery and this story has all of the elements – suspense, curiosity, a believable ‘bread crumb’ train. But most of all we have a charming and charismatic narrator who sells us on the story. Taya is a lot of fun to read and to follow and she is what makes the Fire Seer a joy to read.

  1. Greenwood – Magic of Thieves3.5/5

This one shows up in my ‘You might also like’ feed a lot as well. I love the cover.

Anyhow, we have a decent opening – magic has been banned and Ilan has been born with the gift. To keep from being prosecuted and killed, she hides with a group of thieves lead by the brigand Rideon.

There is a lot of potential in the story. It opens up fabulously with a lot of excitement and interesting detail. Then it just…kind…of…peters off. It’s not that it is a bad story. There just isn’t a lot to keep you reading and certainly not enough to make me want to go back to the story and re-examine it. I like Ilan OK, and the plot is similar. It’s worth a read, but I don’t know that it’s one that I would go back to on a rainy day when the kid is asleep.

There is a lot of potential and I know there are some sequels out there. Grab this one and treat it as an introduction. If this is the first part of a greater world, then that world definitely deserves a chance.

David Dalglish – The Weight of Blood 3.5 / 5

There is a lot here that could have been great, but the devotion to violence and gore sort of lost me.

I love the concept of the story – a pair of half-orc brothers want to escape poverty so they join up with a powerful mage who makes him commander of his undead legion. They get their wish – but with a twist! It could make for a lot of fun given that the protagonists  Harruq and Qurrah are half-orcs – a traditionally evil race in most fantasy fiction.

Which proves to be its downfall.  Harruq and Qurrah are definitely protagonists, but they certainly don’t feel heroic. And their motivations and thoughts don’t really pull them in to anti-hero either. No matter how I looked at them as I read, I never really felt connected to them (Heroic) or understood their plight and sympathized (anti-hero). Maybe it was because I was busy counting femurs and gallons of blood – I’m not sure.

I do like that there is a conflict set up and that the brothers, ultimately, are faced with coming in to conflict with each other. It would have been nice if there was some more development there but it felt kind of rushed and a little bit too ‘simple’ initially. This is clearly set up for a series, so I see why it is ‘simple’ initially – I am sure there are more layers for later, but there should have been some more focus here in novel one to keep a reader interested. The concept has a lot of possibility in it – there’s no reason to hurry through and ignore the potential.

K.J. Colt – Bear Heart 5/5 stars

OK…it’s Klawdia! One of my favorites from Concealed Power and the Meligna series.

Once I realized that, I was super excited. I won’t say this is an unbiased review because Klawdia is a fun character that I enjoy in Meligna. That we have a story explaining her origin and some fun details of Meligna was enough for me.

Even without that though, we have a fun story with some interesting details about a complex character.  Again, I can’t be sure how much of this comes from Meligna and how much of it is straight from Bear Heart, but Klawdia as the protagonist sells us on this tribal world. That she is forced in to a conflict that relates to her personal honor and passage is fitting and her feelings regarding the help, and cheating, she is offered are complex but understandable. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and strongly recommend it.

Shae Ford – Poison 4/5

An interesting concept – I like how the title sort of wraps everything together.

This is a prequel to a larger world that I have not heard of, so I apologize if I miss some of the details.

Our protagonist is Olivia who doesn’t quite work with the rest of her people. She is separated by her powers as well as her personality – as I read her I kept having flashbacks to Hotaru Tomoe from the Sailor Moon franchise – which doesn’t help matters as the situation within the kingdoms devolves.

I find her inner conflict to be the central ‘villain’ of the story and Ford, through Olivia, makes a good battle of it. There are several forces on the outside as well, but they don’t play up as much as the Olivia vs Herself conflict does – and it is a fight she is slowly losing.

Which, while it is the central conflict of the story, feels a bit predictable. I never got the sensation that Olivia would ever be able to win the fight against ‘the Poison.’ Usually in a story like this we are given some inkling of hope – and indeed Ford does place a few inklings like this – but none of the proposed solutions ever comes off as possible or even truly considered as options through Olivia.

Having a protagonist lose is fine – it can make for a fun and interesting conflict, but the conflict felt so pre-destined that I didn’t really believe any of Olivia’s attempts or other items. Which is a shame, because Ford clearly likes his character and was having a fun time trying to create an interesting protagonist. It just doesn’t come off as something that ultimately was going to work out.

Endi Webb – The Maskmaker’s Apprentice 3.75/5

We have a rebel, Elu, who pushes against his role in his community and ultimately plunges the world in to danger. Majora’s mask style.

And really, I could have swapped Elu in with Link and his companion Thora in for Skull Kid and we’d have the basics of the plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the added elements to it certainly make this a better story than Majora’s Mask (please note – I am not someone who enjoyed Majora’s Mask. I was a Skyward Sword fan – yup I’m *that* Zelda guy) was. That I am comparing this to a Zelda game is a compliment in and of itself – there is no franchise in gaming I enjoy more than the Legend of Zelda.

The trick here is that there wasn’t enough development to the world to make me care that Thora was going around destroying things and unleashing evil. I wasn’t attached to the setting or the characters and that made it a less interesting book.

One big saving grace is Elu and Thora though – they are interesting and Elu’s personal considerations and conflicts are a high point of the storytelling here. They make the story interesting and sell it even with its weaker world development and lack of sympathetic population.

Michael Wallace – The Dark Citadel  3.75/5

There are wizards, griffins, and bad guys OH MY!

No, seriously. That should sell you on the story right there.

The Dark Citadel is a grisly fantasy with a huge cast of characters. Which is probably its greatest strength and its biggest failure. There are a number of protagonists and the antagonists they deal with only make it harder to track everyone. It’s kind of like Game of Thrones, only not as compelling. The violence combined with the sex and grisly scenes just are not my cup of tea.

This book was not designed for me as a reader. It’s not something I would grab off of the shelf, but it is well constructed and there is a lot of good character development if I could just keep the characters straight and the violence down. While I did not enjoy it immensely, this is a big genre at the moment and something there are probably a lot of readers out there for.

Terah Edun – Blades of Magic 4.5/5

The story is fairly simple – we have Sara, the daughter of a disgraced imperial commander. Her father was killed for deserting and, given what she knows of her father, this has always bothered her. This leads her to develop her sword skills and make some living wages to support herself and her mother for much of her early life.

When she comes of age, and a few tragedies, she finds herself working with the Mercenary Guild and beginning to unravel what really happened with her father and the Emperor. There are a number of sub plots and loose threads introduced and expanded on and it’s well balanced between resolution and mini-mystery.

I’ve always enjoyed Edun’s work and this is no exception. Sara is a fine main character and fun to follow along with. I also enjoyed Ezekiel as a bit of a challenge to Sara and her developing skills. That a `Battle Mage’ can transform in to a Berserker – like a classic Berserker – is also interesting and makes her accessing her abilities feel like there is some actual consequence to her magic use.

The other secondary characters felt a bit more static than I generally enjoy, but it comes off to me more as her getting things established than any kind of laziness on her part. To put it simply, this is a new aspect to her world and she is getting it prepared for the future. That static-ness makes it so that she can focus on Ezekiel and Sara and the mystery of Sara’s father while introducing elements that can grow in the future. Sara and Ezekiel are charming enough that I’m willing to be patient with those characters and I look forward to grabbing the sequel when I have a chance.

The world and society that Edun has built is interesting. It appears to be linked to her Courtlight series (which I am a huge fan of (I still need to finish the last book)), but this area and part of the world feels unique and distinct in comparison to what we read in the other series. It’s much more Roman/Greek-ish (for lack of a better phrase) over in these cities and for Sara. I also like the Mercenaries and their role and reaction to Sara. I don’t want to spoil it, but it makes significant sense given the world and the way Edun has established their purpose.

On the whole, this is an excellent new world from a great author. I encourage everyone to give it a shot when they have a chance. It’s completely worth the price asked at $2.99. I see there is a print price and, if Edun ever comes to my area for a convention or something, I’ll probably grab a print copy to get it signed.

 BUY THE COLLECTION HERE!

Book Review – Sworn to Ascension

Sworn

Click HERE to buy a copy of Sworn to Ascension on Amazon.com

Please note, I was given a copy to read on my Kindle for a Review

Book Six of Courtlight continues the drama and characters that we have grown to love.

So, I won’t bore you all with character details or bits and pieces on the major trinity. If you’ve been reading Courtlight, then you know the three major names and the secondary characters as well. So I won’t go through the introductions of everyone and assume you know them by now. If not…maybe you should check out a different review. I have reviewed them all so far, so feel free to check mine! 🙂

Anyway, this picks off almost immediatly after Sworn to Defiance. Ciardis Weathervane is struggling to balance out the bond she has formed with her two significant males – Imperial Heir Sebastian and Kith daemoni Thanar both of whom she is soulbonded to. One soulbond is rare enough but two of them is starting to strain Ciardis’ abilities. Given that Sebastian and Thanar both want her attentions and cannot manage to agree on much doesn’t really help matters. The struggle within the trinity is the major character conflict within the story and Edun does a fantastic job of using it to add stress to the characters and allow for growth as the three explore their limitations and understandings of each other.

Outside of the three is the mission to the fabled city of Kifar – a city lost to the empire in that no one goes there anymore. It doesn’t help matters that it is on the other side of a desert and that, within that desert are marauders that, you know, murder imperial citizens to keep them away from the city (or so it appears). Add in a rather irate dragon and the fact that the ‘Emperor’ wants Sebastian dead (or so it is speculated) and you have a setup for a good plot.

And Vana has a major appearance in the story. As I said in a previous review, I really like Vana and the growth she causes in Ciardis. Sworn to Ascension is no exception to that rule. Vana provides some excellent insight for Ciardis to consider AND moves forward several elements from previous books that were left unresolved. And, you know, she gets to be Vana and that’s just awesome.

It is clear that Edun has some very detailed ideas of where she wants her characters to be within the plot and the events. Furthermore, it is also clear that she is having a *lot* of fun playing with her characters and allowing them to bounce off each other in unique and interesting ways. The main trinity (Ciardis,Sebastian, and Thanar) are all given excellent opportunities to grow by the secondary character trinity of Terris, Christian, and Raisa. The interactions within the characters are more complex than in previous novels, but it doesn’t feel forced. Terah Edun seems to have a real talent for characterization and interaction and it is in full force for Sworn to Ascension. I often didn’t realize how far I had read in the book until after I turned off the app to go to bed – that’s how much fun I was having with the characters.

The only major flaw in the story is that it doesn’t feel like much is resolved. The conclusion is a bit weak in that it doesn’t feel like there was any major progress on the ‘outside’ conflict related to Kifar. We get several major details dropped (I won’t spoil them) and then a big ol’ smasher and the story ends. It practically screams ‘SEQUEL COMING’ – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it falls under the flaw category because it does feel more ‘hanging’ than any of the previous Courtlight novels.

Still, Sworn to Ascension is an excellent book with some amazing character writing. I was swept up in to it and lost track of time so well that I had to brew 3 cups of tea and only drank one of them hot – I’d forgotten the other two times. Grab this baby up.

Characters – 5.5/5
Plot: 5/5
Action: 3/5
Value: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Total Rating: 4.7/5

Book Review : Sworn to Conflict (Book #3 in the Courtlight Series)

Sworn to Conflict

Click HERE to buy this book
OR click here to buy the first 3 books in the series in a set!

Click HERE for my review of Book 1 in the series

Click HERE for my review of Book 2 in the series.

Notice: I was provided a copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

When last we left off, Ciardis Weathervane had fought with some pretty terrifying monsters, discovered she had a brother, felt betrayed by…well, a lot of people (it seems to be a consistent issue for her), and had drained her powers pretty well.

We pick up in a completely new area of the Empire – the Northern Border. This is the same border that is referred to in the first two books in the series as the place where the Empire’s soldiers have been fighting for decades. Ciardis isn’t sure how she got there and things go downhill from there. Physically, she pretty much collapses from materializing there sans appropriate clothing; mentally she’s out from being power drained, and emotionally she’s out of juice as well. The end of Sworn to Transfer (sorry, no spoilers) has left her in a very vulnerable state.

That vulnerability comes in to play several times throughout the story.

Essentially, she meets some of the Kith (monsters as other books would call them, essentially non-humans) that have been aiding the humans in their war in the North, and gets dragged in to the politics between these Kith (I’ll get to their commander, Inga, in a second), the General of the Imperial Army, Prince Sebastian, and, believe it or not, her Brother.

To say that the situation is murky and somewhat tense would be an understatement.

Anyhow, there is a great deal of conflict going on for Ciardis in this book. The primary conflict that drives it is her internal questioning of who to trust when stories don’t match up between the various factions. She also has to reconcile what she sees with what she has been taught in the Empire about the North and the Kith. Her brother and Prince Sebastian aren’t helping matters. Both of them strike at her when she is vulnerable (or at least when she perceives herself to be vulnerable) in different ways and the contrasts in how they treat Ciardis are extremely telling about their characters.

Now, in my last review I said that one of the flaws present was a lack of development on the part of the secondary cast. I am happy to say that this is not the case in Sworn to Conflict. Prince Sebastian is given several interesting times to shine that show different aspects of his personality and ability to handle conflict. I think that putting General Barnaren in as a contrast to Sebastian was excellent on Edun’s part – it really gives Sebastian some excellent contrast to show off against. He is also contrasted with Ciardis’ brother – a sort of Khan style antagonist – whom Ciardis is extremely curious about. This is not to say she immediately trusts him (that would be foolish on her part), but there is some definite development and reaching out there on the part of Ciardis which is contrasted well with her relationship with Prince Sebastian.

And then there is Inga. I am in love with Inga. She is a Frost Giant who leads her Kith in the War. She is also herself – regardless of the situation. Even in situations where ‘herself’ is going to cause more conflict than good. She brings out opportunities for Ciardis to question why she is making the personal choices that she is and, similarly, gives plenty of opportunities to show why those questions should be asked. And answered as Inga sees fit. Inga gets her own character arc here as well, which is interesting in its own right (and would probably have made a great ‘companion’ novel to boot).

The only “flaw” (and I use the term flaw here loosely”) to Sworn to Conflict is that there is a LOT of worldbuilding and history explored in its short pages. I had to, occasionally, take breaks to let my brain process everything that was being thrown at me. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting (it was); it just came at me so fast that I am truely hoping that I did not miss anything for next novel.

Sworn to Conflict is a fantastic continuation of an already excellent series. Pick it up – you won’t regret it. (If you haven’t already gotten the first two, they’re on sale as a group pack now!).

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Flow: 4.5/5
Value: 5/5
Total rating: 4.9 / 5

Book Review – Maker Space (Rachel Peng)

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Click HERE to buy Maker Space

(I’ve already written once about K.B. Spangler’s authorial efforts. Check out my review of “The Russians Came Knocking” to find out a bit more about this excellent writer and her universe.)

Maker Space picks up pretty quickly in the universe of ‘A Girl and Her Fed’ as well as Digital Divide. Digital Divide is the first of Spangler’s books in the series and takes care of the majority of world building necessary to understand the intricacies of her universe. Allow me to sum up:

Essentially the United States Government decided to input chips in to people’s heads that allowed them to interact with machines. ANY machine that uses electronic processing –from cell phones to power stations to laptops – can interact with this chip. It’s an amazing piece of technology and the Government wanted to use it as a sort of secret weapon. Instead the users who didn’t go insane banded together and outed the effort forming OACET – the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies – without asking permission. Things go steadily interesting from there.

Rachel Peng is one of these OACET agents and she seems to get stuck with all of the ‘fun’ jobs. This time she is investigating a bombing that occurred in our nation’s capitol – an investigation that seems to be pointing at our own military as being responsible. Throughout the book we follow Rachel’s investigation as well as her thoughts and interactions with the community. Spangler does an excellent job of conveying the different personalities and interactions that people have with their ‘new’ cyborg brethren.

The novel is an interesting one and Peng is an interesting protagonist. While Digital Divide offered an interesting premise, I would argue that many of the characters involved, including Peng herself, were a bit on the flat side and, occasionally, repetitive. This has been fixed tremendously in Maker Space. Now that Spangler has established the universe, she gets to play with the characters and their morals.
That play is where the majority of the novel takes place. Yes, it’s a procedural story, but the characters and their interactions are at the heart of it and those interactions are fascinating. You have Peng as our filter to see the world through and the irony of her being blind is not lost on the reader. We’re only seeing what she can see, and what she can see is, in many ways, more intimate than what a sighted person can – even though many organizations would not see it that way.

We also meet a number of her colleagues in the police department (she’s a liaison between OACET and the DC police) and Spangler does a good job of differentiating the different officers and agents that Peng interacts with. Of special interest is Peng’s partner in the police. He is one of the few people that Rachel has trusted with her secret of being blind and also one of the few that she listens to an has direct admiration for. He’s also a maker, a term I haven’t heard before but appears to be based on actual spaces spread around the country. That Spangler has found this community and woven it in to the story. It is done with a great deal of respect, but not fawning – a delicate balance for a creator to reach and make feel authentic. Spangler’s authenticity comes through quite well. It helps to have a charming person like Santino to experience the community with and through.

There are also a number of ‘extras’ that pop in and out throughout the investigation. It’s the usual group of suspects, informants, and plot developers and each is interesting in their own ways. They don’t get the full on development that Santino and Peng get, but they each have their motives and personalities. They aren’t supposed to be as well developed as Santino and Peng, but they can be just as entertaining and interesting as the pair.(A few of the ‘cameos’ from her webcomic are slighted slightly in development, but that makes sense – they are supposed to be cameos and their development is left to Spangler’s webcomic.)

On the whole, this is an excellent book and is a fascinating read for fans of ‘A Girl and Her Fed’ and an even more exciting read for those that are not. It stands excellently on its own and is a great investigation novel. I enjoyed it tremendously and look forward to the next installment.

Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Plot: 4.5/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5
Total rating: 4.85/5

Click HERE to buy Digital Divide (Book 1 of the Rachel Peng Novels)
Click HERE to buy Maker Space (Book 2 in the Rachel Peng Novels)
Click HERE to buy The Day the Russians Came Knocking (A Side Story to the Rachel Peng Novels)

Book Review – Soul of Flame

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Click Here to buy Soul of Flame from Amazon.com

Soul of Flame continues the Imdalind Series tradition of amazing characterization and complex motivations.

The book starts out almost immediately after where Book 3 left off – which is good considering the events of that book. I’ll try to make this review as spoiler free as possible.

Here, Joclyn has to work through her motivations, fears, and personal faults in order to move forward toward her destiny as described in the sights. Unfortunately, what Joclyn has seen in the sights does not bode well for her or her companions – something that Joclyn must struggle with as she discovers where she belongs and cements who she belongs with. And that’s just Jos.

The other major characters – Illyan, Ryland, Thom, Cail, Wyn, Sain, all of them are present and accounted for. And each of them gets their own bits and piece. Illyan must determine how to make his continued future with Joclyn work, Wyn struggles with what has happened to her love, Ryland is…without spoiling too much, going through Hell, and Sain? Sain gets to struggle with Illyan and Joclyn and his own personal beliefs regarding the sight and what it is/how it works in a way that will make you wonder if the man spits arsenic.

Many of the emotional scenes in the book are wonderfully described and entirely immersive. Ethington’s imagery and focus on feeling is so well connected and well flowing that you don’t realize that several pages have passed while you watch the characters interact. One of the most enchanting ‘love’ scenes that I have read in a very long while is contained within this novel. If you are looking for spectacular emotion, grab this book.

In other words, Ethington’s spectacular character development continues to shine in the novel. Joclyn and Illyan are the major ones, but everyone gets a few moments in the sun that really round out the character arcs. There are a few minor questions left regarding each personal journey, but, on the whole, a lot of the characters feel ‘accomplished.’

There is not a lot of ‘plot’ advancement in the book. We know about Edmund and his evil and that our friends/lovers/horrible father figures have to stop him from moving forward and attacking others to conquer the world in darkness and pain. Only a few days, however, actually pass in the course of the novel. Instead on focusing on the action of the battle and the confrontation, the physical side of it, Ethington focuses on what it means TO the fighters and the future. The opening salvos are fired, yes, but it’s clear that Ethington is saving the major stuff for the concluding novel (due out sometime this year according to her website). Rather than make a reader feel ripped off or disappointed, Ethington’s pacing simply makes you hungry for the conclusion. The conclusion of the novel is spectacular and sets us up perfectly to see the confrontations that are sure to happen in the final volume.

On the whole, Ethington continues to shine. The Imdalind series is a shining example of excellent characters with a complex plot. If you haven’t started reading it, go grab the first three and Soul of Flame and prepare yourself for an amazing journey.

Writing – 5/5
Characterization – 5/5
Setting – 5/5
Story – 5/5
Flow – 5/5
Value – 5/5

GET IT NOW!

Book Review – Forever His (Stolen Bride Series)

Forever His – Shelly Thacker
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Click HERE to purchase the title from Amazon.com
So, I’m not typically a romance fan. Let’s put that out there from the start. I’m not saying I don’t like romantic elements to stories, but I have trouble with a lot of the precursors to what is portrayed as a stereotypical romance novel – bustling muscles, heaving chests, long sighs, and a lot of glancing. It’s not necessarily that these things are bad but they are simply not my cup of tea.

Forever His, however, had such excellent reviews and the cover was so attractive that I had to grab it while it was free. I am glad that I did, since reading the story has dissolved many of the delusions I hold about the romance genre. A romance novel can be done well and have interesting characters and dilemmas beyond what I had considered the primary dilemmas of most romance stories. But enough about me – let’s take a look at the book.

This is a historical fiction romance with a twist of time travel. We have a modern woman thrown back in time to historically important time and place. Our out of time woman has some issues with both history (WHERE AM I?!) and historical truths (women just don’t do a lot of what she does). At first she thinks she’s delusional and ‘the man’ thinks she’s nuts, but things start to settle out and play through events. There is a lot of political intrigue and consequence set up as a part of the novel and it is played with very well.

The characters are fantastic. Our heroine is spunky but with a good sense of humor. She manages to rationalize things fairly well, all things considered, and has a fiery personality to deal with her ‘man.’ The ‘man’, on the other hand, is similarly well humored. At first he is portrayed to be rather cruel and cold, but that changes slowly through the novel. He doesn’t defrost extremely quickly and more than once the two have to patch things up between them to make things function. He makes an excellent counterpoint to our heroine’s spunk. For all of her movement, he is a solid hold; for all of her excess energy, he is a calm place. They make great foils. The only non-foil interaction that they have is in their passions – BOTH are passionate.

The story is well put together and reasoned. There are a few slow spots – but I call them breathing rooms. The pacing makes sure you can process each development within the time travel mystery – something the ‘slow’ parts take care of. I needed them to catch up and make sure everything was adding up correctly as I read. There is a lot of meat to the story and I needed those times to chew.
This is an excellent story at any price, but when I grabbed it, it was free! Give it a read when you have the chance. I’ve even, gasp, spent some real money to pick up more in the series.

Overall Rating: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Characterization: 5/5
Setting: 5/5
Story: 5/5
Flow: 4/5
Value: 5/5 (Free), 5/5 (Standard Listing)

Book Review: Kiss of Fire

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Kiss of Fire is an excellent novel to begin a series.

BIG BONUS: NO VAMPIRES, NO WEREWOLVES!

The story is a fairly simple one – one we have all heard before. A child of a single parent is left trying to understand why her father left while her mother struggles to make ends meet. Luckily her Mother is employed by the local rich guy and his son happens to be near her age. Thus, they become best friends. This is well-tread territory, but Rebecca Ethington manages to make it all feel fun and exciting.

There is a bit of world-building to the novel as well. There’s a war going on. Said war is happening in the shadows and in secret and our heroine is caught in the middle of it. Ethington does a bang-up job of building the world and not losing the characters along the way. There isn’t a lot of extra text explaining things to a 16 year old girl – several of the characters just tell her “That’s the way it is” which makes sense given who they are speaking to. The consistency and interest of the characters carries the novel a lot of the way and separates it quite a bit from other similar novels.

The action is well paced and interposed with opportunities for rest and reflection. The beginning is a bit of a drag, but after about 20-30 pages it really picks up and is completely worth wading through to get to the meat of the story. There is a lot to track and not all of it is answered within the first volume of what is set up as a trilogy. EDIT: I am informed that the Kindle Store was inaccurate and that this is the first in a series of FIVE novels, not a Trilogy. My apologies for missing this.

The greatest strength of the novel, however, is the characters. Even the minor characters are given enough attention that they are not flat, but the main characters are expanded upon tremendously. Joclyn and Ryland are typical teens – despite their disparate upbringing – and they ACT like them. Not in the prejudiced, more common media way, but in the ‘hey I really am a Teen and I’m going to do stupid things and forget about it the next day’ kind of way that most of the teens that I work with behave in. The characters are the strongest part of the book and make it worth the read alone.

On the whole, I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking to start a new series and enjoy themselves with an excellent start that is complex enough to maintain interest but simple enough that you don’t get lost. A Kiss of Fire is an excellent beginning to a strong series.

Writing – 4/5
Characterization – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Story – 4.5/5
Flow – 5/5
Value – 5/5

Check it out here on amazon.com – http://www.amazon.com/Kiss-Fire-Imdalind-Series-ebook/dp/B009ZF5SLM/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top