Category Archives: Fantasy

Jenkins, David Elias: The First Spark (2016)

The First Spark, Independent (2016)
Cover by David Elias Jenkins

Finding a soul-mate is not a given in life. In Free Spark, David Elias Jenkins introduces us to John and Isabella Gaunt who embody what soul-matedness seems to be all about. At first, their soul-matedness was metaphorical. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it later became literal. Their changing relationship brought heartache and a greater purpose in life. Both knew, without a doubt, that their most important contribution to Free Reign would be to bring down Jonas Reach, Emberdark and their bosses. Getting there demands more sacrifice and heartache for both of them. Those opposing them, find a terrifying pair willing to use any and all tools to get their revenge and stop the precursor artifacts that threaten Free Reign’s way of life.

The Watch is Free Reign’s police force. At first, Free Reign’s best, Maeve fights the couple. She misunderstands what they are about. That probably has to do with the level of devastation left behind them. However, once Maeve herself becomes hunted by the same forces John and Isabella are fighting, she realizes that life is even more complicated than she thought. And Maeve is not a naïve character but knows well that certain people “weigh the law down with gold and influence until it snapped.

“The destructive power of the fire elementals had razed the Longshadow district of Free Reign to the ground two hundred years ago. There were still plaques and memorials to the dead from that disaster in the main square.

Yet the very contraption of cogs and wheels that whirs and rattles me down this mountain is powered by that same magic, harnessed and directed to useful purpose. …

“Three sets of headlights glared at her in close formation like the myriad eyes of an arachnid. They separated slightly as the road widened and Maeve could see riders straddling three Angeldarts.” (loc 3939)

Free Reign is a city where magic (thaumaturgy) and technology intertwine into a type of literature called arcanepunk. The title of the story refers to the thaumaturgy that Free Reign is built on. First Spark bleeds magic into the air, ground and water of Free Reign and has made the city a place where strange creatures feel comfortable. Like all cities, Free Reign is a place where cruelty and succor live side by side in a political system that depends on its leaders being as little corrupt as possible.  I know, I know. Impossible.

The First Spark has enough violence to go around, but it is violence with a purpose. I would find it impossible to believe a story about the dregs of society (be they low or high on the social ladder) without violence. The First Spark pretty much shows this darker side of society as it is. I like the job Jenkins has done in blending law and crime, grief and determination and helpful with destructive. The First Spark is a mystery-thriller with lots of action, some violence and pretty broken characters.

Recommended.

The author gave me a copy of The First Spark to review


The First Spark is available on Amazon

Vaughn, Carrie: Steel (2011)

steel-by-carrie-vaughn
Steel is a historical fantasy about a girl who is thrown into the past and desperately wants to return to what she had not realized she had. It is an action-filled coming of age story set in beautiful Bahamas on the Diana, captained by Marjorie Cooper. It is a story about choices, and how those choices end up defining us. What Steel is NOT is a swashbuckling romance.

A large wave surged under them then, sending the boat rocking steeply. Jill, the world-class athlete who’d never yet lost her balance in a fencing bout, fell. Stumbling back, she hit the side of the boat and went over. Grabbing uselessly for the edge, she rolled into the ocean. ….

Waves pitched her, her sunglasses were torn away, the water was cold, shocking after the tropical air. She couldn’t catch her breath – swallowed water instead. Flailing, she searched for up, groped for the surface – couldn’t find it. Her lungs were tightening. It had been sunny a moment ago – where was the sun?

Someone grabbed her. Hands twisted into her clothing and pulled her into the air. She clutched at her rescuers, gasped for air, heaving deep breaths that tasted of brine, slimy and salty. But she was out of the water. She was safe. She wasn’t going to die.

Many people talk about pirates as if they lived a romantic kind of life. I suppose many historical eras have people longing for them. But there was little romance going on in days that were usually all about survival. Marjorie Cooper is the Captain of the pirate ship Jill ends up on. Cooper and the rest of the crew quickly realize that Jill is completely at a loss about everything that has to do with a pirate’s life. Suspicions about her being a spy for Edmund Blane (another pirate) are soon squashed by her ineptitude. Even fencing, a sport Jill thought she excelled at, was of a whole different caliber in the Bahamas in the late 1800’s.

Jill could only shake her head – no, she’d never fought for blood. Not real blood. Only ranks, medals, and maybe a college scholarship. She bowed her head, embarrassed, when tears fell. She wiped them away quickly. Her still-wet hair stuck to her cheeks. Salt water crusted her clothing. However much she wanted to sit down, pass out – or drop the rapier, which she wouldn’t have been able to raise again if Henry came at her in another attack – she remained standing before the captain, as straight as she could, which wasn’t very at moment.

“What’s your name, lass?”

“Jill. Jill Archer,” she said, her voice scratching. She only just noticed that she was thirsty.

“And, Jill, how do you come to be adrift in the wide sea so far from home?”

The tears almost broke then, and she took a moment to answer. “I don’t know.”

Slowly, Jill learns what it means to be a pirate and also what it means to be an adult. Basically, that meant work. The kind that left her little time and energy to plan, to regret or to think about her family. Wood had to be kept free of mold, sails had to be mended, ropes had to be spliced, the ship had to be emptied and barnacles removed and repeat. Slaves were rescued, battles fought, magic rapier tips followed and lives were put on the line. All the time the Diana kept on chasing Blane and Jill became more and more part of most of the crew. But not all of it, the Diana‘s prisoner included.

On board, the pirates have a Doctor Emory. When Diana was landed to clean off barnacles, he tried to signal his friends in the hopes that they would see and come rescue him and kill the pirates. Having signed their articles, Jill does not feel the same.

Often, Jill finds herself thinking that she should tell her siblings Tom and Mandy about her experiences. She wonders if her family misses her. She regrets her moping, when, really, there was nothing to mope about. Slowly she goes from being an unaware, privileged, white, middle-class girl to learning some of life’s more difficult lessons. One is that very little in life can be taken for granted. A difficult lesson to learn is that when you feel helpless it is easier to follow orders you do not understand rather than to disobey. What happens when a point that seems like one of no return appears? What then? Jill learns what obsession looks like and how it brings danger to others. She learns about the dire consequences some choices have and how some of those consequences reach far into the future to bring a 16-year old girl into the past to right them.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Steel can be found at Amazon

Carr, Patrick W.: A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword I) (2013)

A Cast of Stones, Bethany House Publishers, 2013
I think A Cast of Stones fits the Harry Potter age range. Patrick W. Carr’s writing is technically excellent. The story is well-edited and the text flows from sentence to sentence. As far as plots go, A Cast of Stones is stereotypical epic fantasy and much of it reminds me of other stories. Readers should be able to tell how the trilogy will end after finishing A Cast of Stones. At times Carr fell for the temptation to moralize. In spite of this, I recommend it for readers who need clear HEROs. Errol is definitely that, although he does not start as one.

Cruk grunted and grimaced his imitation of a smile. “The boy’s got the right of it. He is pretty useless.”

Errol nodded with satisfaction. “See?” (p.103)

That uselessness is due, for the most part, to his alcoholism. A few years earlier, when he was 14 years old, Errol experienced something traumatic enough to drive him to drink. Being an orphan made it easier to go down that road. Because he is our HERO, we know he must find his way to a heroic personality. One of his tools for staying away from alcohol is fighting with a staff.

The only person who remains as he was at the beginning is Liam.

“We’re all the same,” Liam said. “I just concentrate and try really hard at everything. Anyone can do it if they just try hard enough.”

Errol stared. Did Liam really believe that?

“Now,” Liam said, “recite the vowels and consonants.”

He really did. (116)

Liam does most things by working hard and by having a heap-load of talent. In spite of being near-perfect, Errol admires him. And so does every other person Liam meets. Especially women. But Liam is not affected by this adoration and seems not to notice it.

Errol and Liam are joined by Martin, Luis and Crux. All three have secrets they hide from the “boys” (19 years old) and pasts they need to pick up again. Martin and Luis are meddlers and Crux a protector. He is also a tough teacher to Errol who lacks most “civilized knowledge”.

‘Cruk’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to learn on the way. I’ll teach you. First lesson, don’t ever annoy your teacher.”‘ (p.82)

At times, the methods employed by meddling Martin and Luis are highly questionable. They,  appear to believe that “the ends justify the means”. For churchmen and believers, they do not have much faith. In fact, that could probably be said of most of the church people we meet in this trilogy. Faith in their deity’s power is low.

The religion we learn about in A Cast of Stones is similar to the Roman-Catholic faith. Three-in-one godhead, celibate priesthood, rituals and hierarchies are close to identical to the RC church. Except for the magic bit that its Readers employ. Any magic but Reader-magic is forbidden and magic-users are usually killed. Rulers inherit their power but each ruler is invested with his (yes, his) powers. The old King has no heirs, which is why a new one must be found. Errol and Liam play an important role in picking the new ruler. No wonder people want to stop them.

One of the people who tries to hinder Errol from fulfilling his heroic destiny is Abbot Morin. He also believes that “the end justifies the means”. Some of those means carry a high price for both Errol and himself.


Reviews:


Cast of Stones is currently free at Kindle

Art based on “The Luggage” @Terry Pratchett

My blogs terrypratchettandme and zanegreyandme are what often happens when an Aspie has an interest. We immerse ourselves and want to share. This collage is an example of that immersion. The Luggage is a great writing tool whose antics I have enjoyed immensely.

Terry Pratchett and me

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Charish, Kristi; Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015)

The world of Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish, is dominated by antique thief extraordinaire, Owl, previously known as Alix Hiboux. Alix’s transformation from archaeology grad student to thief is in part a result of one of the laws we get to know in this urban fantasy. The International Archaeological Association (IAA) operates outside the law of the land in certain cases. Not all archaeological discoveries can be shared with the public. Also, the IAA takes care of their people in the know. Unfortunately for Alix, she fell victim to one such person.

“In exchange for saying, “No, I was wrong, none of the data in that report was falsified, the postdoc and supervisor still remain god apparent, I’m a bad grad student,” I had been verbally promised funding for the next four years and a coveted transfer to the lost city dig site in Ephesus, Turkey. Right after I had signed the paperwork that had legally absolved the university and my supervisor of any wrongdoing, all my funding had been terminated and my transfer had disappeared.”

All of a sudden, Alix was persona non grata in academia. Her reputation was ruined, and she needed to make a living. Turning thief was a matter of getting back at her old university and utilizing her outstanding understanding of the authenticity of antiques and antique languages. She chose her clients carefully (she thought), made sure they never met face-to-face, and paid a courier well to deliver the orders. All went well. Owl made loads of money. And then – poof – vampires. Once the lid is off Pandora’s box, there is no putting the monsters back. When we meet her, Owl is on the run from said vampires.

“I turned around slowly and looked up at the tallest Japanese man I’d ever seen, wearing a pair of designer sunglasses. He wore a tailored suit with diamond cuff links – real diamond cuff links – and matching shoes, but that wasn’t what got the kid. A tattoo of a dragon wound its way around his neck and disappearing underneath his shirt. It was striking, and a stark contrast to the expensive outfit. It was also a signature.”

One does not refuse Mr. Ryuu Kurusawa. Owl has done jobs for him before but never met him or his people.  That is about to change.

“Ryuu Kurosawa, a Vegas mogul known for his Japanese Circus-themed casino, looked up from a white couch and smiled that business smile you come to expect from professional sharks. Not the ones that take your money, the ones that eat you while you’re still screaming.”

In return for retrieving the missing contents of a magical egg, Mr. Kurosawa will hold off the vampires. Or else.

Like most humans I have met, Owl is incredibly inconsistent and willfully blind to her own fears. And, as is the case when we are willfully blind, she does not learn from her mistakes. Even though she now knows that there are supernaturals, she never spots them. For one so focused on the details of archaeology, Owl misses the details of people around her. This leaves her with room for growth.  Quite naturally, she also has huge trust issues. Along with those come a tendency to self-sabotage anything that might lead to friendship. Her tools are language and running away. However, there is some hope.

“You made me nervous the last time I was here. I didn’t know what to make of it, and personal conversations make me uncomfortable, so I did something stupid and decided to avoid you.” I ran my hand through my hair. “I’m a hell of a lot better with inconsequential conversations about vampires and RPGs,” I added, hazarding a look at him. He was still watching me and sizing me up from the doorway. Then he walked back to the outdoor bar and took the seat beside me. “All right,” he said. “We can go back to talking about RPGs and my vampire problems?” I said, maybe a little too hopefully. “No. We can have the conversation you didn’t want to have three months ago, and then I’ll decide whether I still want to be friends with you.”

One relationship Owl would never dream of sabotaging is her relationship with her Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. He goes with her everywhere. At first, I thought that would be a problem because of all of her traveling and her line of work. After a look at the various cat carriers out there, traveling was no longer an issue. When it comes to her line of work, Captain is a potential liability. Traveling with a cat in a carrier makes it easier to be spotted once that detail leaks. However, he is also a vampire alarm. Plus she loves him and he gives her balance.

Owl’s best, and oldest, friend is Nadya. The two met while at grad school. About six months before trouble hit Alix, Nadya suspected something nasty was going on and left for Tokyo. She advised Alix to do the same, but as we know, Alix ended up as Owl. Nadya is extremely smart and business savvy. She lives in the Shiyuba (sp?) district of Tokyo, owns a night club called the Space Station Deluxe and is Alix’s go-to-person when there is need of hacking.

Owl and the Japanese Circus was a fun YA urban fantasy with long-term potential. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


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Available at Amazon

Hernandez, Jessica: Capering on Glass Bridges (Hawk of Stone I)

Capering on Glass Bridges, 2015
On Fiaru Island, in the Kingdom of Greylandia, on the world Acu lives the Stone family. We first meet them at the Pairing ceremony of the youngest daughter. Meeting your canonipom and bonding with it is the most important day in the lives of Greylandians. As far as the people we meet know, Kaia Stone (16) is the only person who never did so. The Stones are humans. Canonipoms are not.

A canonipom is about a foot tall and humanoid in appearance, the same gender as its human and similar in nature and looks. Being a companion seems to be its sole purpose. Once a Pairing is complete, the two have a bond that allows telepathic communication.

Soon after the family returned from the bonding, a flird appeared with a message from the Speaker Council on Zavonia. A flird is a type of shape-changer. One form functions as a flying messenger capable of conversation and memorization. Its other form is flower-like. Travel for a flird must be instantaneous because the time it took to go back and forth between Zavonia and Fiaru was, at most, a couple of hours.

The Council invited the Stones to appear before them. Speakers are human magicians whose words, or Utterances, manifest. As with most magicians, talent and work ethics differ between Speakers. To get to the secretive island, the Stone family had travel overnight by ship. The Council of Speakers asked Kaia to go on a mission to the cursed Kingdom of Mar.

Ten years ago, Marians slaughtered the Tivmicians and, thereby, into conflict with one of the Speakers’ utterances:

“Should a group ever seek the extermination of another group, … let Acu’s skies cry blood on that day. Let the plagued realm know only misery, and let it offer escape to none.”

And so the Marians were cursed forever. Or so it seemed. Recently, the Utdrendans (one of the first three races) told the Speakers there was a chance the curse could be lifted. To do so, Kaia Stone of Greyland and Sir Pelliab Blackwell of Darlbent must go to Mar and report the Utdrendan message to King Richard of Mar and discover a cure. Kaia and Pelliab would not have to travel alone. The Council promised to send along two Speakers and five of King Robert’s (brother to Richard) sons. Mr. Stone refused outright to let his 16 year old daughter traipse off into unknown territory. Kaia felt this quest would, finally, give her life meaning and felt devastated by her father’s refusal. However, just as she was about to enter the return vessel, one of the Councillors pushed a flird bulb up her sleeve. If she chooses to go, it will have to be without her family knowing and that worries her.

Capering on Glass Bridges is a hero’s quest story, and that means we know what Kaia will decide. She is our main character and it would be strange if she stayed home. So. We get to meet five princes of King Robert’s 1000 children (busy man), two speakers and a kingsman along with the various people who are part of the adventure. Kaia and Pelliab’s challenge lies in getting to the Kingdom of Mar, then getting to King Richard, then finding out what they and the kingdom need to do to lift the curse. A solution is not found in book one of the duology.

Capering on Glass Bridges is Hernandez debut. It has a good story-line. Genre betas and/or editor would have improved it. Terminology is important and there were inconsistencies. However, there very few spelling/grammar problems, and the plot and creatures fit the “hero’s quest” genre.


Reviews:


The author gave me a reviewer’s copy of Capering on Glass Bridges.


Capering on Glass Bridges is available at Smashwords

Cheek, Kater; Parasitic Souls (2016)

Cover art by: Fiona Jayde Media and Kater Cheek
Cover art by: Fiona Jayde Media and Kater Cheek

About five years before the beginning of Parasitic Souls, the Earth experienced a magic apocalypse. As a result of the apocalypse, some people became magical. The strangest form of magic is SL (spontaneous lycanthropy), in this case to coyote . More common is magical talent. Those who had practiced magic before the apocalypse, like brujas/brujos and witches/wizards, had a head-start. The magically talented are able to use their energy to set wards, make charms or influence people. Scientists study magic in hopes of understanding its underlying principles.

One of the magics discovered is a fountain of youth. Not a particularly ethical magic, but one that might potentially earn the inventor loads of money. Many people would be willing to use this highly questionable form of magic and pay almost anything. However, before this fountain of youth could be sold to the wealthy and unscrupulous, it needs testing. Which is how we meet Lenny.

The apartment was dark except for the streetlight shining rudely through the curtains. Since she had a raging thirst and an urgent need to pee, Fiona got up. She managed to find the bathroom without shinning herself too badly on the birch Ektorp coffee table, and she only had to open four cabinets before finding a cup to drink out of. As she was downing her third glass of water, she heard a non-human voice creak at her through the kitchen window.

“Let me in!”

She dropped the glass on the floor. It bounced and rolled under the table, spilling water everywhere.

Fiona gets called to Clementine, California, by her step-mom’s assistant, Sophie. Fiona’s step-mom, Carlotta, had done a disappearing act. There was little the two girls could do to find her, except wait and hoped that the only thing wrong is a severe hangover. Turns out, Carlotta’s problem is a bit more serious. In fact, her whole demeanor changed from warm and kind to cold and mean. At least towards Fiona and Sophie. Something is up, and the two of them know it has to be bad.

Fiona is 24-years old and born to a messed up mother and father. One of her father’s marriages had been to Carlotta. Carlotta was everything Fiona needed, and she was there for Fiona even after she divorced Fiona’s father. So Fiona has reason to expect Carlotta to, at least, let her sleep on the couch. Instead, Fiona has to shack up with Sophie.

Sophie is 18-years old and the adopted child of adoring and overprotective parents. Because Carlotta is related to her mother, Sophie was able to move to Clementine and apprentice with Carlotta. Up until the personality change, Carlotta had treated Sophie kindly. Now neither Fiona or Sophie has a job, and they certainly have no idea what to do about Carlotta. Should they go back or stay and try to fix things?

Parasitic Souls would be a terrible, and probably realistic, story if they chose to give up. However, the two do not. Things happen, and through them we meet Marcello and Xavier. Marcello teaches magic theory at Clementine Preparatory Academy for Magic and Technology. Xavier is apprenticed to his grandmother, the bruja, Luna. Luna is a woman you do not want as an enemy. The two men are in their early twenties and both of them are interested in the two women. So. Some romance.

Parasitic Souls is a Young Adult story with three types of stories in it. Coming-of-age, romance and “what if”. There is plenty of action, some of it rather unusual. Kater Cheek also manages to thrown in her odd, but cool, sense of humor. I liked it and recommend Parasitic Souls.


Parasitic Souls is available at Smashwords


Kater Cheek gave me a copy of Parasitic Souls in exchange for a review