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

Wrong Hands on history

Wrong Hands by John Atkinson is one of the funniest cartoons I have read. Atkinson way of making fun of life is to the point yet gentle. When I feel hit by one of his arrows that gentleness makes it easier to actually think about what he is trying to point out than to become ornery.

Grey, Zane: Raiders of Spanish Peaks (1931).

My review dated 14th June 2018:

“Raiders of the Spanish Peaks” first saw light of day in December 1931 as a serial in the recently established magazine “Country Gentleman”. It ran as a six-part story until May 1932. Then, in 1938 it was published by Harper & Bros. Later it reappeared in Zane Grey’s Western Magazine 4(5) in 1950 and as a Dell picturized edition called “The Rustlers” in 1954.

Zane Grey always has a theme for his historical romances. He tries to keep them true to the times, using historical people and places to emphasize his messages. Charles “Buffalo” Jones conveys the importance of understanding stories from its time and place in history. He also tries to convey the idea that all stories have two sides to them. “Raiders of the Spanish Peaks” is set to the 1880s in Kansas and Colorado. At that time Comanchee, Ute, Kiowa and Arapaho tribes were still being removed from lands wanted by cattle ranchers into reservations. Jones refers to one of the darkest times in the history in the US, a time described well in Zane Grey’s “The Thundering Herd“.

The rest of the review can be read on my Zane Grey blog

Adair, Liz; Trouble at the Red Pueblo (Spider Latham IV); Kanab, Century Press, 2014


Trouble at the Red Pueblo is a fun murder-mystery with a  “Christian-literature” style that is probably most interesting for adults.

“ALL SPIDER LATHAM wanted to do was get home. He wanted free of the choking black necktie, free of the memory of his mother in a cheap casket. If he was a drinking man, he’d head right to the whiskey. Instead, he thought he’d fix the fence that ran along the south property line. It’d been on his to-do list for a while, and the work would be hot, hard and demanding.”

Instead Jade Tremain turns up at the Latham’s door-step with an offer from his father, Brick Tremain, that Spider cannot refuse. Times are difficult and Spider’s job as a deputy detective pays less than it used to. He and Laurie have cut back on anything possible. When asked to look into a situation at the Red Pueblo Museum in Fredonia, he does not hesitate. Laurie tags along and the two of them leave for Kanab.

After settling in, they of them drive to their appointment with Martin Taylor, the museum’s director, only to discover him being taken away to the hospital. A tale of woes needs investigating. Some time ago a false law-suit left the Taylors broke. As if that wasn’t enough, another law-suit was then made to claim a cache of artifacts Taylor had found on his land. The only thing of monetary value in the cache was a piece of paper with Abraham Lincoln’s signature and the text:

“Sgt Oscar Goodman, as noted in Archibald letter, take Oath of Dec 8 and be discharged. Jan 16 1864.”

Plaintiff is a woman by the name of Alyssa Goodman, who claims to be a direct descendant of the above Oscar Goodman. In spite of being in the right, the Taylors cannot afford a trial and are desperate for a solution in their favour. Piece by piece the Lathams unravel a crime of greed.

Apparently “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” is the fourth mystery in the Spider Latham series. I had not read any of the previous ones, yet had no trouble understanding who Laurie and Spider were. At times the story suffered from sentences such as:

“When he was finished, he looked at his watch and debated whether to wait for Leona to return, but in thinking about how she had described the door locking behind him, he figured she intended for him to go.”

Spider’s jealousy of Laurie’s third cousin detracted from the rest of the story, and interactions between the three would have been better without.

There was no sense of being preached to. I enjoyed Adair’s nudge with regards to Muslim-hysteria and also noticed a certain blindness regarding white/Native-American issues. If you want a light read that deals with shady characters, strange car-brands, murder, property deals and artifacts, then “Trouble at the Red Pueblo” could be a story for you.

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

Use public libraries

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