Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Reader Picks: Your favorite posts of 2017

The list of most-viewed items this year is interesting and a bit disappointing in that it's almost chronological for the first half of the year. Usually the entries are scattered, with a few things getting big bursts of interest. Of course, that result is pretty par for the course with the way this blog went this year -- a great deal of traffic early, tapering off late. That's most likely my fault, as work consumed me much of the second half of the year, and I did much less reading and writing than usual. When you go a month between posts, things tend to die.

Still, I'll keep with tradition in hopes that things pick up in the coming year and offer the most viewed posts of 2017.

10. "Son of the Black Sword," by Larry Correia. Published May 2. A bit of a departure from what I'm used to with Correia -- more serious with less humor -- but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

9. "The Death of Dulgath," by Michael J. Sullivan. Published April 11. I waited far too long to visit with my old friends Royce and Hadrian. Not the best of Sullivan's Ryria novels, but certainly not a disappointment.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Review: "Kings of the Wyld" by Nicholas Eames

We’ve all heard the argument that there are no new ideas, and maybe that’s true. But new spins are always fun, and that’s just what Nicholas Eames delivers in “Kings of the Wyld” ($15.99, Orbit).

Eames introduces us to a world where mercenary bands are regarded as rock stars, but their day has faded. Where once-great bands ventured into the Heartwyld to fight hordes of horrible monsters, the bands of the new generation are manufactured stars. They’re all flash as they travel from arena to arena battling beasts that have been raised in captivity or captured and enslaved.

“Slowhand” Clay Cooper, former member of Saga, one of the most legendary classic bands, now lives a quiet life in the town of Coverdale with his wife and daughter. He works as a city guardsman and dreams of opening an inn where he can display his magic shield Blackheart above the hearth and tell tales of his glory days.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: "The Tethered Mage" by Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso’s “The Tethered Mage” ($15.99, Orbit) presents us with an intriguing, if slightly flawed debut novel.

Amalia Cornaro, heir to one of the most powerful positions in Raverran government, would far rather read her books on magic and artifice than play politics. She often sneaks out of her mother’s palace dressed in plain clothes to go in search of rare books in seedy areas of the city. On one such adventure, a chance encounter gives her no choice, but to enter the political arena.

When Amalia sees a group of ruffians accosting a girl, she jumps to try to help. As it turns out, the girl needs no help, unleashing powerful magic, balefire, on her assailants. But she can’t control the magic, and it threatens to burn the city. A young lieutenant in the Falconers, a group that controls all magical individuals in Raverra, convinces Amalia, unaware of her identity, to slap a bracelet on the girl that will stop her magic. Thus, Amalia becomes the only noble Falconer. Her new Falcon, Zaira, proves to be willful, independent and uncooperative, but is also the most powerful weapon the Serene Empire has against the rebelling city of Ardence.

This newfound power thrusts Amalia into the politics she’s avoided. Somehow she must form a bond with Zaira to save her Falcon’s life and the lives of everyone in Ardence.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: "Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers" by Joe R. Lansdale

For some reason, total absurdity piques my interest almost every time, so I couldn’t resist Joe R. Lansdale’s “Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers” ($40, Subterranean Press). I was, of course, familiar with Lansdale’s other tale of monster hunter Elvis, “Bubba Ho-Tep,” from the movie starring Bruce Campbell. Even if I hadn’t been, though, there would have been no way I could pass up the title or description of this book.

“Bubba and the Cosmic Blood Suckers” is a prequel to “Bubba Ho-Tep,” with an aging early 1970s Elvis beginning to lament his choices to make cheesy films instead of focusing more on his music. Part of the reason for that choice, though, is his other occupation as a monster hunter for a secret government organization.

Elvis has been coerced into the role by Colonel Parker, his ruthless manager in more than one business for the purpose of this story. The Colonel holds Elvis’ mother’s soul in a gris-gris bag, keeping her from passing over to the other side and using her to blackmail The King into killing monsters.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Random Rants: Questing for the Dark Tower ... in a Lincoln

I tried writing movie reviews for a while, but gave it up because I’m not really a cinephile. Every now and then, though, I see something so good or so dreadful that I just have to comment.

If you’ve read anything about the adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” I’m guessing you don’t have to wonder long which category this falls in.

I used to dread movie versions of favorite books, but I have to admit that, in recent years, Hollywood has done a better job of it. Beginning, I think, with Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” (we won’t talk about the hot mess that he turned “The Hobbit” into), movie and TV versions started to get more right and less wrong, at least on occasion. Most adaptations still won’t please hardcore book fans, but they’re better. So, I was actually looking forward to this, despite my misgivings.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: "Faithless" by Graham Austin-King

Normally I wait until finalists in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off have been announced before I start reading, but Graham Austin-King’s “Faithless” managed to catch my attention. I now have an early favorite.

Raised on a farm, Wynn finds himself sold into service to the church of the Forgefather after a drought ruins his family’s fortunes. But the church is a broken thing. Their god has abandoned them, and the last remaining remnants of the faith hide in their temple hoping for a miracle and his return.

Wynn soon learns that “service to the church” actually means backbreaking work in the mines of Aspiration, below the temple. It’s a grimy place, at least the part Wynn experiences, where workers often have to defend their finds from other crews and are expected to make their monthly tally or face the lash. Though the church tries to provide hope that the residents of Aspiration can rise to Novice and enter the temple, only a very lucky few actually pass the test, but Wynn may get that opportunity.

Kharios is one of those lucky few, but discovers that life in the temple, while better than in Aspiration, is certainly not much easier. He’s chosen by a surly but powerful priest named Ossan, who drives his novices hard and has a habit of bringing them to his bed. Kharios will have to make some unpleasant choices if he is to move up, but Ossan seems impossible to escape.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: "Red Sister" by Mark Lawrence

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

If you’ve heard anything about Mark Lawrence’s latest book, “Red Sister” ($27, Ace), you’ve probably seen that line. The reason that you’re seeing it so much, and that I’m repeating it here, is because it sets the tone for the book and tells you that you’re in for a very interesting ride.

After an incident in her home village, Nona Grey’s mother and neighbors give her to the child-taker, a man who collects children that may have special talents to sell them to the places that look for those abilities. She shows traces of Hunska heritage – one of the four great tribes of Abeth’s past – which makes her potentially valuable as a warrior and lands her at a training facility for gladiators. But after another incident, she finds herself in prison and scheduled to hang. At the last minute, the Abbess of the local convent intervenes, saving Nona at the cost of making an enemy of the powerful lord that sent her to the gallows.

Once at the Sweet Mercy convent, Nona shows exceptional speed and fighting skills and quickly begins her training to become a Red Sister, the warrior sect of the nuns. In order to become what she’s meant to be, though, she’ll have to fight off enemies both outside and within the walls of her new home.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Memory Lane: "Mort" by Terry Pratchett

I continue my travels back through the Discworld with a book that I still believe is one of Terry Pratchett’s funniest outings, “Mort” ($9.99, HarperCollins).

What happens when Death decides he needs a vacation? Well, he hires an apprentice, of course. Enter Mort, a farmer’s son who thinks way too much for life on the family farm, and his father is only too happy to send him on his way.

His apprenticeship starts rather mundanely in the monotone lands of Death. He meets his new master’s daughter, who seems none too happy to have him around, and his strange servant, Albert. He soon discovers that Death has plans for him.

Things begin to go very wrong, though, when Death turns the Duty over to Mort for a night, and the young man must take the life of Princess Keli of Sto Lat, destined to be killed by an assassin. Smitten with her, Mort changes her fate, causing a ripple in the fabric of reality on the Disc.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld" by Patricia McKillip

Even after 30-plus years of reading fantasy, there are still a few icons in the genre that I have not read. One of those was Patricia McKillip. With her World Fantasy Award-winning novel “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” ($9.99, Tachyon Publications) up for its first e-book release in the near future, I took the opportunity to fix that oversight.

The sorceress Sybel has lived an isolated life in the mountains of Eld, with only the group of legendary beasts that she’s called to her and a nearby medicine woman named Maelga as family. Then a visitor, Coren of Sirle, shows up at her gate with a child. He is believed to be the bastard son of the Queen Rianna, a child that started a war between King Drede of Eldwold and Coren’s kingdom of Sirle.

Sybel takes in the child Tamlorn, who is later discovered to be the rightful son of Drede, and sets off a chain of events that will change her life and the lives of everyone that she touches in a whirl of love, betrayal and vengeance.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Review: "Sins of Empire" by Brian McClellan

Brian McClellan’s latest, “Sins of Empire” ($26, Orbit), takes us several years past the Kez-Adran War and the events of his outstanding Powder Mage Trilogy. The world has changed, but some things stay the same.

Vlora Flint leads the Riflejacks mercenary band, finding her current work in the Fatrastan countryside, putting down Palo uprisings for Lady Chancellor Lindet of Landfall and her enforcer Fidelis Jes, the Grand Master of the Blackhats spy organization. She is summoned back to the city for an unusual job. Vlora and her army are hired to root out and apprehend a revolutionary known as Mama Palo who is sowing discontent in the Palo area of the city, known as Greenfire Depths.

Her liaison with the Blackhats is accomplished spy Michel Brevis, in a much more public role than he prefers. Brevis has risen through the ranks of the organization, and may claim his prestigious Gold Rose through this assignment. That is, if he doesn’t earn a sword through the gut from his psychotic taskmaster Jes first.

Last, but not least, is Mad Ben Styke, a hero accused and convicted by Jes of war crimes. He’s believed to have been executed, but he survived the firing squad and now lives in a labor camp, hoping in vain for his parole. When he doesn’t get it, a mysterious lawyer named Gregious Tampo makes him an offer. All he has to do to earn his release is get close to Vlora and be prepared to do whatever is necessary.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: "Owl and the Electric Samurai," by Kristi Charish

In her third adventure, “Owl and the Electric Samurai” ($18, Simon and Schuster), things get even more sticky for Kristi Charish’s antiquities thief Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl.

As the book opens, Owl finds her loyalties divided and about to be divided further. She’s trying to retrieve artifacts for her dragon boss, Mr. Kurosawa, being pressured by the IAA to find the two creators of the World Quest game and being tempted by the possibility of stumbling into the fabled land of Shangri-La.

All of those things come together when she’s called home and given a new assignment by Kurosawa, to retrieve an ancient and magical suit of armor last worn by one of Genghis Khan’s generals. Dubbed the Electric Samurai by Owl, the suit has been missing since that time, and the faction that now wants it raises concerns about the stability of supernatural society.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tell-Tale Thoughts: Ligeia

If ever there were a Poe tale that I almost gave up on in my youth, it was “Ligeia.” As I started this story for the first time, I remember asking myself where was the Poe that I knew and loved. Where was the neurotic and deranged narrator? Where were the creepy horrors? Why was this guy spouting pages of praise for the beauty of his now-dead love? Romance has no place in my tales of terror.

Of course, I came to realize over the years that there was more depth to Poe than creepy-eyed old men, deadly diseases, living burial and the like, and while “Ligeia” still wouldn’t be my favorite story by a long shot, I came to appreciate it more.

The story tells the tale of a man who loses the love of his life. While he was singing the praises of her beauty and presence, though, the younger me failed to notice that, indeed, this subject does have some of the deranged tendencies of Poe’s unfortunate narrators. If nothing else, he’s certainly obsessed with his lost love, yet for all those lavish details, he claims to be unable to remember how they met and isn’t sure that he ever knew her surname.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: "The Grey Bastards" by Jonathan French

I started reading Jonathan French’s “The Grey Bastards” a few days before it was named the winner of this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off. Like its predecessor in the contest, it’s a most worthy recipient.

Numbers-wise, “The Grey Bastards” scored impressively in the second year of Mark Lawrence’s contest. It pulled down an average rating of 8.65 of 10, and scored the only perfect 10 awarded by any blog in the two years of the contest. If I awarded stars or scores here, mine would definitely be in that range.

The book follows the story of Jackal, a member of the half-orc hoof known as The Grey Bastards. After the last incursion of full-blood orcs, the hoofs, formerly kept as slaves, were granted the barren lands known as the Lots for their service to the kingdom of Hispartha. They exist to serve as the last line of defense against another orc invasion.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Review: "Son of the Black Sword" by Larry Correia

I’ve enjoyed Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter novels quite a bit, so I decided to give his more traditional fantasy, “Son of the Black Sword” ($8.99, Baen), a go. It’s a bit different from what I’m used to from Correia, but still highly entertaining.

Ashok Vadal is perhaps the most fierce Protector that the world has ever seen. His devotion to the Law and its caste system is unrelenting and unquestionable. Unusual among the Protectors, Ashok wields the ancestor blade Angruvadal, a semi-sentient sword that retains the memories of all of the warriors who have ever carried it. The black steel ancestor blades can only be used by those that they find worthy and dishonoring the blade can destroy it. That’s why their numbers are dwindling, and they are highly valued by the houses that own them.

Ashok has never questioned his orders and never flinched from doing his duty, no matter how brutal, but a deathbed confession from the Lord Protector of his order could shatter all that he has ever known.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: "The Death of Dulgath," by Michael J. Sullivan

It’s been too long since I traveled with Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, so it was good to see them again in Michael J. Sullivan’s “The Death of Dulgath” ($14.95, Riyria Enterprises).

Riyria has drawn one of its strangest assignments yet. After three failed assassination attempts, Royce and Hadrian have been hired to protect the Lady Dulgath, who rules over a strange and prosperous land where it never rains during the day and crops never fail.

Well, not protect, exactly. Royce has been hired to find the best way to assassinate her so that the local officials can prevent it.

The Lady Dulgath, though, turns out to be quite a bit more than Royce and Hadrian expect. She seems to have knowledge beyond her years, and she’s also seemingly unconcerned about the attempts on her life.

Add to that the fact that Royce and Hadrian don’t exactly endear themselves to the local public upon their arrival, and you have a very uncomfortable situation for our favorite thieves.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Celebrating 20 years: The top 10 posts and SPFBO thanks

The year was 1997, and I had just logged on to the internet. After a few months of cruising around and checking things out, I came up with some big plans. I'd always wanted to be an entertainment writer and own a bookstore, and the internet put those possibilities in front of me.

On the World Wide Web, I could reach an audience that would appreciate my reviews of heavy metal music and fantasy books like the readers of the newspaper that I was writing for at the time never would. Associates programs gave me the opportunity to have a book and music store without a lot of the hassle of actually running a book and music store. It was the perfect storm, so I thought.

That led to the launch of two sites on the old servers, The Hall of the Mountain King (viewable via the Internet Archive), which served as landing page and music site, and The Bookwyrm (also viewable via the Internet Archive), which housed my book content. In my mind, these two sites would eventually become go-to hubs for content on fantasy fiction and heavy metal. As you can see, that didn't work out quite as I'd planned.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: "They Mostly Come Out at Night" by Benedict Patrick

With “They Mostly Come Out at Night” ($3.99 ebook, $8.99 paperback), Benedict Patrick gives us something of a fairy tale that’s more than just a bit Grimm.

Lonan lives as an outcast, blamed for a long-ago incident that was not his fault. His village is terrorized by creatures known as the Wolves, who come in the night. As a result, every home has a basement with a sturdy door and every family is locked behind those doors when darkness falls. The night in question, Lonan shouted to try to warn people about the real culprit, but it was his shouts that were blamed for the violence that took the lives of several villagers, including his father, and severely scarred the love of his life.

He’s not only shunned because of that incident, but because he is Knackless, never having found his gift in life. Now an adult, Lonan is barely tolerated in the village, and only welcomed by a few – his younger sister, the healer Mother Ogma and her invalid house guest.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: "Stone Cold Bastards" by Jake Bible

How could I pass up a book called “Stone Cold Bastards” ($15.95, Bell Bridge Books) with a hero that’s a cigar-chomping gargoyle, umm, I mean grotesque, charged with saving humanity from a demon invasion?

I couldn’t, of course. So that’s why the latest from Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jake Bible leapfrogged to the top of my to-read list.

The situation is dire. The Gates of Hell have opened, and most of the humans in the world are husks, walking around possessed by the demons that escaped. Think “The Walking Dead,” only the zombies are far more malevolent.

Humanity’s last hope may lie in a small sanctuary that was transplanted to the Appalachian mountains years ago. Inside lives a ragtag group of gargoyles and grotesques who woke at the same time demons began spilling into the world. They were imbued by their creators, the Stonecutters, with one goal, protect the wards within their sanctuary from harm. So far, the Gs, as they call themselves to avoid confusion, have held strong, but Hell is coming.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: "Miranda and Caliban" by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey fills in some of the gaps of Shakespeare with her latest novel, “Miranda and Caliban ($25.99, Tor), based, of course, on “The Tempest.”

Carey imagines what life might have been like on Prospero’s island during the years of his exile, before the events of Shakespeare’s famous play.

We find Prospero and Miranda living fairly happily, at least Miranda thinks, in an old castle on the island, their everyday needs tended by elementals that the magician has bent to his will. Then Caliban enters their lives.

Prospero suspects he is the son of the witch Sycorax, and holds the key to unlocking the spirit Ariel from the tree where he is imprisoned. He captures the wild boy for the information, but Miranda convinces her father to give her a chance to tame and civilize him rather than using magic to take the information by force. It is the beginning of a friendship that will change the way that we see Caliban.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Review: "Arm of the Sphinx" by Josiah Bancroft

It’s a rough life, but former school teacher Thomas Senlin is finding that piracy suits him somewhat in Josiah Bancroft’s “Arm of the Sphinx” ($14.99, self-published), the follow-up to “Senlin Ascends.”

Senlin, under the name of Capt. Tom Mudd, and his small crew navigate the skies around the Tower of Babel, finding ever more creative ways to rob his quarry and escape what passes for the long arm of the law in the Tower. Still, he searches for a way to find his lost wife, even as her ghost haunts his steps.

He’s learned that she’s in the Ringdom of Pelphia, a tightly-guarded aristocratic port where his ship, the Stone Cloud, was almost shot down the last time he tried to dock. To make matters worse, his crew is running out of places where they’re welcome, and Tom is running out of ideas.

Desperation leads them to the top of the Tower, to a being that many think is a myth – the Sphinx. Edith, now known as Mister Winters aboard the Stone Cloud, knows well that he exists. He created the fantastic mechanical arm that replaced her lost one. She also knows well what making a deal with the creature costs, but Senlin and his crew may have no other choice.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: "The Bone Witch" by Rin Chupeco

Rin Chupeco delivers a promising beginning to an interesting story in “The Bone Witch” ($17.99, Sourcebooks Fire).

Tea’s world is shattered when her brother, Fox, dies fighting a daeva, dark magical creatures that plague the land. She is so distraught at her brother’s funeral that she does something quite remarkable – and dangerous. In her grief, her hidden magic manifests, and she raises her brother from the dead.

That’s how she learned that she was Dark Asha, a necromancer, known and reviled by most of the public as a bone witch. Luckily, an experienced necromancer is nearby when she performs the feat, and rushes in to whisk her away from danger – at least of one sort.

Tea soon finds herself among the world of the asha, a geisha-like society of female magic users. But even among her own, her dark power makes her something of an outcast. It also may allow her to change the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tell-Tale Thoughts: "Alone"

I thought it only fitting that I celebrate Edgar Allan Poe's birthday by sharing some thoughts on my favorite poem, not just by Poe, but by anyone.

By the time I was in junior high, I was pretty well familiar with most of Poe's work. I had several collections that touted themselves as "complete," including a leatherbound volume that was the pride of my bookshelf at the time. Still, every time I got an American literature textbook in school, I went immediately to Poe, hoping to find something new. Eventually, I did, and it was a piece that spoke to me like no other piece of poetry had before or has since.

"Alone" is, in equal parts, melancholic, majestic and sinister. It appealed to the weird teenager who discovered it, and though the weird adult I am now is quite a bit different than that kid, it still hits very close to home.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Review: "Paternus" by Dyrk Ashton

Why just play with one mythology, when you can play with them all? That’s the way Dyrk Ashton sees it in “Paternus,” a finalist in this year’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.

Fiona Patterson lives with her Uncle Edgar, an eccentric but kind man, and has a relatively normal teenage life. She has insecurities and love-life problems. She works as an intern at a local senior care center, where she seems to be the only person who can get through to an invalid named Peter. She’s managed to determine that he likes flowers and figs, and she’s been the only person at the facility able to get a smile out of him.

When she’s confronted by a menacing beggar in a freak rainstorm on her way to work one morning, she thinks it’s strange, but she has no idea just how strange things are about to get for her. She’s about to learn that nothing around her is what it seems.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

My favorite reads of 2016

This past year was a busy one for me, so I didn’t get to read nearly as many books as I would have liked. Such is life these days, though, for many people, so who am I to complain?

Of the books I did get to read, there were some fantastic selections. Some of my own reading prejudices were also challenged in 2016 (actually, beginning in late 2015), and you’ll see more self-pubbed authors than ever before on my list of favorite reads.

As I do every year, I want to remind anyone reading this that it is not a “best of 2016” list. I read far too few books to make such judgments, and a number of the books that you’ll find on the list were not released in 2016. It’s simply a list of the books that I most enjoyed this year, and though I’ll admit the first few are my favorites, there is no particular order after that, so don’t read in any “rankings” that aren’t there. If you asked me to rank them 10 times from 1 to 10, you’d probably end up with 10 completely different lists.

“The Shepherd’s Crown,” Terry Pratchett. Published May 16. I’ll admit that this is a very sentimental pick for my favorite read of the year, but it will be my last visit to a world that I’ve been a regular tourist in for more than a quarter of a century. I waited a long time after Pratchett’s death to read this, not wanting to say goodbye, but I decided the time had come about mid-year. It was a fitting farewell, and fitting also that one of his most beloved characters went out with the author and the Discworld.