Category Archives: Fantasy

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey. Season 2. Self-published.

As with Thoma‘s Season 1 collection, I bought the entire Season 2 of the Boreal and John Grey serial. Once again, I really enjoyed the five novellas that make up Season 2: The Threads (73p), The Snare (77p), The Warp (96p), The Loop (99p) and The Weave.

When we left Season 1, Ella’s boss changed his mind about killing Finn – as much as a Duergar/Guardian of the Gates is able to. Lots of blod had been shed, much of it by the two main characters (Ella and Finn). Now it was time for recuperation and a sort or regular life. As much as a John Grey and his Stabilizer could hope for.

Insistent ringing roused Ella from sleep, shattering a dream of Finn talking to her earnestly about lollipops.

Lollipops? Seriously?

Damn ringing continued. Had to be the alarm clock, Ella thought fuzzily and made a grab for it, upturning the lamp on her bedside table and catching it a second before it crashed to the floor.

Not the alarm clock.

Phone. Blindly she groped for it and rolled on her back to answer, her arm flopping to the side. (p. 1)

Of course, recuperation and rest are not on any hunter’s schedule. Their short leave comes to an end with the sighting of a white flying creature. All land creatures from Aelfheim are white, a necessity on a frozen world. A very long time ago Ljosaelfar made their way to Earth/Midgard through Gates created by John Grey to pierce the veil between worlds. Earth was ripe for the taking, warm and willing, while Aelfheim was frigid and stormy. Primitive Viking leaders were no threat. What the Boreal had forgotten was that invaders cannot only watch the invadees but should also watch their backs. Their attempt was thwarted by the Dokkaelfar.

Because gates have once again started appearing, that means that John Grey must exist. In Season 1 we found out that John Grey is not a single individual but rather a title bestowed on people with the ability to open Gates. As we know, today that person is Finn.

He tensed, his back arching. “Asmodr,” he gasped out. His hands curled into fists and an image hit her like a bullet between the eyes.

A blinding form, humanoid, the face dark but the rest sparkling as if made of broken mirror shards — and there was pain, bowing her spine, splitting her head, until she couldn’t breathe. The light intensified, searing into her retinas. (Kindle Locations 441-445).

However, Finn does not operate in a vacuum. For some reason his abilities require a Stabilizer, and that Stabilizer is Ella. We are about to find out what on earth a Stabilizer is and does.

Something zipped by her head. She waved a hand at her face with the vague idea it was an insect — then that something slammed into the wall of the rooftop entrance, cracking the concrete. (Kindle Locations 492-494).

There are many who want to control John Grey and his Stabilizer, for those “who control the Gates, control everything”. Hopeful puppet masters hunt the couple using their weaknesses against them. Our own history is full of successful puppet masters whose mantra is that “the end justifies the means” and are perfectly willing to kill their potential puppets if they cannot gain that control.

I really like this about Seasons 1 and 2 of Boreal and John Grey. Thoma is a Greek-Cypriot, and if anyone knows anything at all about puppet masters it is they. Even now they are victims of the breed. Maybe that is one reason the author writes so vividly and realistically about the topic.

This time, the collected novellas ended in a true cliff-hanger. If I had thought that was how the entire serial was ending, I wouldn’t have minded it as much. However, as is the case, everything about the ending points towards a Season 3.

Once again, Thoma’s writing is excellent. Rhythm, flow, and plot-tightness is maintained until the last period is written. Point of View is third person told through Ella’s eyes. Again, the story is full of action, betrayal, strange creatures, agencies, and magic, i.e. all the elements required for a great fantasy thriller. There is swearing, violence and sex (Euro-Vanilla on all three/maybe US age 16). If this does not bother you, then Boreal and John Grey ought to be a great read. It certainly was for me.


My review of:

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

Pratchett, T. (1990). Faust Eric (Illustrated). London, Gollanz.

Another review about the wonderful Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, this time regarding “Eric”, 1990.

Terry Pratchett and me

“Eric” is mainly about who has power, who wants power and who will suffer from it.

The demon King of Hell, Astfgl, has been waiting for Eric Thursday to open a summoning circle.

(his) brand of super-intelligent gormlessness was a rare delight. Hell needed horribly-bright, self-centered people like Eric. They were much better at being nasty that demons could ever manage.

When this long-awaited event finally happened, the King’s best demon, Vassenego, was supposed to materialize in the magic circle and bend Eric to Astfgl’s will.

We last left Rincewind running away from the Thing in the Dungeon Dimensions after telling Coin to run towards the light and not look back over his shoulder no matter what he heard. One of Rincewind’s greatest strengths is running. He does not care where, as long as it is away from trouble. Somehow, Eric’s summoning brought him back from his marathon in the…

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Braden, J. (2014). Tempt the Devil. (The Devil of Ponong III). Wayzgoose Press.

Cover design by DJ Rodgers

As with the first two novels of this series, I enjoyed “Tempt the Devil“. Braden kept up the good work all through the story.

…. she showed him the slums of Old Levapur, and forced him to look at the bodies of executed prisoners hanging from the fortress walls. Nothing he said would stop her from revealing horrors. (p. 5).

In Kyam’s opinion the Island of Ponong is the prison from which he desperately hopes to escape. But grandfather Zul wants the rule of it so badly that he forced the situation in “The Devil Incarnate“, and, with the unwilling help of QuiTai and Hadre, Kyam was left with no option but take over governorship from Turyat. One year later, the depressed and hopeless Kyam finds himself incapable of fighting back or taking an interest in his new role.

QuiTai craned around as if she’d lost sight of someone. The hairs at the nape of Kyam’s neck rose when her gaze fixed on a shadowy warehouse doorway. He didn’t see anyone, but there was a subtle shift in her face. She turned back to appraise Nashruu, as if suddenly finding her interesting. Her gaze dropped to Khyram. Kyam’s heart caught in his throat. He knew that expression. It was the most frightening look he’d ever seen, and he knew it all too well. QuiTai was thinking.  (p. 11).

On top of those struggles, Kyam’s wife, Nashruu, and her son, Khyram, are sent to join him. Kyam had not seen her for eight years and is worried they won’t get along with each other. She was chosen by grandfather Zul as his wife and grandfather Zul had also chosen the biological father of Khyram. Grandfather Zul thinks he holds Nashruu’s obedience in the palms of his hands.Her loyalty to him will be tested in “Tempt the Devil“. She discovers that he might not be the omniscient person he understands himself to be.

Since Kyam had been named as Turyat’s replacement, the avuncular man had turned from a causal user of black lotus into a vapor ghoul. His belly no longer filled his jacket. Pale skin made his addict’s red lips seem brighter. QuiTai unlocked the typhoon shutters as Turyat advanced on her. Her shoulders tensed. Turyat smoothed a lank strand of hair across his balding head. He had the look of a kicked dog. As QuiTai opened the shutter, she shook her head in one, firm motion. Turyat shouted. He gripped the shutter so she couldn’t close it. (p. 8)

Denying Turyat black lotus from herself or any other seller is the perfect revenge for his ordering of the killing of her family and herself.  Just she rewards crimes with horror, she rewards Vorus’ aid. QuiTai has paid the renowned teacher, Mityam Muul, to teach him how to interpret Thampurian laws.

On the surface “Tempt the Devil” is regarding saving QuiTai from the hang-man. Looking slightly below the surface the story is, as the first two previous novels were, about the consequences of imperialism. Investigating the murders of Ponongese is not done while all stops are pulled if a Thampurian is killed. Usually, a Ponongese is blamed and hung without due process. Except Kyam and Voruus have vested interests in QuiTai’s survival. When she demands to be arrested for the death of Thuryat they both find themselves facing ugly truths about Thampurian rule on Ponong.

Braden’s three stories mimics real world issues with frustrating accuracy.  I’m one of those who thinks that if groups of people can possibly mess things up for themselves, they will do so. There are plenty of examples of a situation like the one the Island of Ponong finds itself in. Desperately clinging to their blinders several characters have to make difficult choices about their world. If you are a fan of strange worlds similar to our own, then Braden is an author for you.


My review of:

  1. The Devil’s Concubine
  2. The Devil Incarnate

Braden, J. (2013). The Devil Incarnate (The Devil of Ponong II). Wayzgoose Press.

As I’m sure you noticed, I loved “The Devil’s Concubine“. Braden begins the second installment of “The Devil of Ponong” series with this sentence:

The morning QuiTai awoke completely sane, she knew Petrof was dead.

If any first sentence is an indication of the quality of its novel, this one is. In “The Devil Incarnate” Braden continues to weave her words together into sounds and images that brought me to the Island of Ponong and its inhabitants. Cultural gaps between the Thampurians and Ponongese are shown, not told, and I have no problem understanding the depths that must be bridged. The greatest one has to do with respect.

Thampurians respect only their male elders. When grandfather Zul states something as fact, younger generations are not allowed to gainsay him nor to disobey him even if their knowledge is greater than his. The Ponongese, however, are not bound by such rules. Age or gender do not automatically buy a person respect. Instead, titles are given on the basis of power and understanding. While speaking with people, QuiTai is called “grandmother”, “aunt”, “daughter” and “little sister” depending on the issue at hand. Even little children may be called “grandmother” if they are the most knowledgeable about a something. Even though QuiTai is a very powerful woman, her employees may call her “aunt” if the topic at hand denotes equality or if there is a close relationship. Oddly, enough, the Thampurians seem to fear this system. Or perhaps it isn’t all that strange after all.

In this story, QuiTai wants to find out who hired Petrof to kill her, Kyam Zul desperately wants to leave the island, and grandfather Zul plays games with deadly consequences.

Grandfather Zul is too much of a coward to speak directly to Kyam about what he wants to do.  Despite having articles of transport signed by Governor Turyat and Chief Justice Cuulon, grandfather Zul has pressured Thampurians into denying Kyam transport back to Thampur. In spite of his cowardly ways, Kyam cannot find fault with the old man. He claims “It is not our place to question him” even when  Hadre tells Kyam

He gave me a direct order not to tell you that he was here. He didn’t have the balls to tell you the bad news to your face, so he ran away and left it to me.”

In a sense, this is a “coming-of-age” story for Kyam. His blind devotion to Grandfather Zul is challenged over and over. Fighting facts, Kyam mostly blames others for the choices he is forced to make, and one wonders whether Kyam has the courage to face the truth about the old man.

Kyam is not the only one who has a difficult time removing his blinders. Major Voorus was hit hard when he discovered the truth about the slaves on Cay Rhi. Slowly he realizes that “honor” is just a word used by those in power to control the behavior of the masses.   “Honor” must be redefined into something he can live with. He and Kyam have a defining moment when Voorus expresses his doubts. Both of them are forced to make a choice. Sadly, both judge the Pongonese on the basis of what a Thampurian would do.

They’re just waiting for any excuse to slaughter us, and she has that excuse, Zul.

Fantasy and science fiction, more than any other kind of fiction, allows the reader to relax and look away from what their socialization has told them to think. Stories like “The Devil of Ponang” opens the door to issues like racism, culturalism, genderism and classism without telling us what to think about them. My own ideas of right and wrong have changed thanks to such literature, even when facts were not able to get through my noggin.

QuiTai grieves. Petrof killed her daughter, her family and had tried to kill her as well. In “The Devil’s Concubine” he killed her spouse, Jeezeret. “The Devil Incarnate” continues her grieving lessons as even more essential parts of her life cease. Yet she is not allowed time to grieve. Instead people demand more and more of her. Once a person manages to pull a miracle out of their sleeve, such as freeing slaves, even more unlikely deeds are expected of them. As the new incognito Devil, she also has obligations to the Ponong underworld.

You’re running out of black lotus.

I envy none of these three for what they go through in this novel, but I did enjoy reading about them and the rest of the characters in “The Devil Incarnate“.


My review of “The Devil’s Concubine

Braden, J. (2013). The Devil’s Concubine. Wayzgoose Press

Cover design by DJ Rogers

With “The Devil’s ConcubineBraden blows a breath of fresh air into fantasy literature that seems swamped with poorly edited stories. I am having a difficult time trying to find fault with it. You seriously need to get this story. Right now (6th May 2018) you can get it for free on Amazon.

The Devil’s Concubine” is part of a series called “The Devil of Ponong“. Currently there are three books in the series. I want more of them They all have proper endings without cliff-hangers and the “problem” is resolved during the novel. The over-arching story is a political drama set in a fantasy world that carries a Far East spirit. It deals with some of the consequences of having your country stolen from you. Braden seems to have done her homework with regards to what it means to be “the protected” and “the protectors” in a protectorate. Dehumanization, corruption, blinders, hopelessness and courage are all topics that are shown, not told, in the story. In fact, “The Devil’s Concubine” is delightfully free of preaching, and manages to put a face to both sides.

The Ponong island chain lies between the Sea of Erykoli and Te ‘Am Ocean, a strategic position that grandfather Zul took advantage of. When he was younger, he invaded Ponong and laid her under the Thampur as a protectorate, with Levapur as the capitol. As with many protectorates in the real world, the Thampur sent their unwanted riff-raff to Ponong. They made up the militia, the government and the bureaucracy. The Thampur consider the Ponongese to be uncivilized and barely human. What that means, in practical terms, is that the Ponongese lost all of their rights. They were not allowed to grow crops, to hunt, to teach their culture or language to the young, or to hold any important positions. When we meet them, anger is simmering under the surface. Some readers belong to cultures that have invaded and some readers belong to cultures that have been invaded.

Pongon is a jewel of an island consisting of many people, but mainly the Ponongese who are shiftless humans with fangs and slitted eyes. Being shiftless is looked down upon by shifters. Top dog in Levapur are the Thampurian human/seadragons. There are also the violent Rujicks who are human/werewolves,  and the Ingosolians who shift between genders. We meet two other shiftless races on Ponong. The Li Islanders are cattish human and the Ravidians have a bony neckruff and a dewclaw for gutting.

QuiTai is our main character and my favourite person of the story. I would love to see more women like this in literature. She has one handicap, being a woman in a man’s world – much like our own, and is not taken seriously by the extremely misogynistic Thampurians and Rujicks. She is probably the most intelligent person on the islands, but has only been allowed roles as acolyte, actress, prostitute, and mistress. Even though she is considered the Devil’s concubine, QuiTai is the reason the Devil hold top “dog” position of the island’s criminal world. She is feared, despised and hated – even by those who should be grateful for her interventions.

Like a school of jewel-toned tropical fish on the reef, the crowd in the marketplace suddenly veered away as QuiTai stepped off the veranda of the sunset-pink building into the town square. They cringed back as she sauntered through the stalls, as if instead of her bright green sarong she were clothed in poison. She’d decided long ago it was their guilt that made them unable to meet her gaze, not judgment. The Devil’s concubine had nothing to be ashamed of.

Against her plays the Thampurian male Kyam. He is an intelligent male who wears the blinders of the conqueror. As a disillusioned exile he is unable to accept his place in life. He refuses to face the political realities of Ponong and he despises the Ponong for being “less than”. Both of them fight for what they believe. QuiTai fights  for the rights of the Ponong while Kyam fights to retain his belief in the ways of the world. A lot of walls must fall for any real change to happen. Where Kyam can use might to retain status quo, QuiTai has to use her wits against the Devil, the Thampur and even the Ponong to even stay alive.

While at first glance it seemed a simple enough request, QuiTai and Kyam Zul both operated in a world beneath the surface. She found his note rather cryptic. Normally people begged her to plead with the Devil on their behalf, but he’d called for the Devil’s arrest too many times to dare beg for that kind of favor. No, Kyam Zul wanted to discuss something with her. How intriguing. If he’d resorted to asking his biggest enemy in Levapur for a favor, he must be desperate.

This is such a great story.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

My review of Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! from my Terry Pratchett blog.

Terry Pratchett and me

Guards! Guards! begins with an Ankh-Morpork brought to her knees by the fiascos of its previous rulers and the manipulations of its present Patrician, Lord Vetinari. Lord Vetinari has worked hard to subvert any thought of traditional social contract between ruler and the ruled. He has created organized crime/intricate guild system and subverted Ankh-Morpork’s police force/Watch. Its officers are no longer considered a threat to those who break the “law”.

The city wasa, wasa, wasa wossname. Thing. Woman. Thass what it was. Woman. Roaring, ancient, centuries old. Strung you along, let you fall in thingy, love with her, then kicked you inna, inna, thingy. thingy, in your mouth. Tongue. Tonsils. Teeth. That’s what it, she did. She wasa … thing, you know, lady dog. Puppy. Hen. Bitch. And then you hated her and, and, just when you thought you’d got her, it, out of your, whatever, then…

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