Friday, February 22, 2013

Shara and the Haunted Village, by Jeffrey Getzin


Shara and the Haunted Village, by +Jeffrey Getzin

I was recently directed to this novella via a casual mention of it on Facebook, of all things. I can honestly say I usually run like the dickens from the deluge of indie books hawked to me via Facebook, as I’ve had some bad experiences with getting suckered into downloading and attempting to read poorly edited drivel that way. I don't ususally find books through Facebook any more, no matter how "free" they are. Sometimes "free" is still too much to pay, unless I know the author's work.

However, this very short book is written by indie author, Jeffrey Getzin, whose work I have enjoyed before. The cover art is nothing less than amazing, and was created by the very talented +Carol Phillips, who also did the art for Getzin’s wonderful epic fantasy, Prince of Bryonae. Once I saw the cover and read the blurb, I was hooked.  Two pages into the tale, I was mesmerized.  I couldn’t sleep until I had finished the tale.
The Blurb:
A Desperate Gamble
An ancient mystery, a legendary wizard, ghosts, magic, a demon … and Shara, an impoverished seamstress.
Shara has fallen on hard times recently. She’s starving, has just lost her home, and she can’t find work anywhere. However, a chance encounter with a sociopathic giant and a charming rogue might just be her escape from her hand-to-mouth lifestyle. All she has to do is guide them to the haunted village she had stumbled upon when she was a child.
But can she trust them?

My Review:
This is a fairytale in the most classic sense - and it most definitely is NOT a riff on an old theme. The plot and the heroes combine to make a completely new and original tale, written for the modern reader.  Fairytales take the listener away to far-off lands, where wondrous, amazing things happen to ordinary people. That is exactly what happens in this tale. This is a truly epic fantasy, in the form of a novella.

The initial setting of the tale, the city of Cerendahl, is a teeming, prosperous city. There, the rich are rich beyond measure and the poor suffer.  A  small, comfortable middle-class exists precariously between the low and the high, and Shara once belonged in that comfortable stata of society, but overnight she has fallen into the lowest station, with no home, not food and no hope. The reader immediately feels familiar with this place, seeing the real predicament Shara will be in if she can’t find work as a seamstress.

Shara is an ordinary young woman. She’s fallen on hard times, but she still has her dignity and the precious sewing box that she has earned her living with since the death of her mother. Shara’s old childhood friend, Gil, reluctantly introduces her to two men who need a guide to a place she and Gil had stumbled upon when they were children. She accepts the job even though she is terrified by the larger of the two men, because she is desperate and also because she has never had an adventure. The two men, D’Arbignal and Gianelli both interest and repel her. Gianelli has the charisma of a walking corpse but he holds the purse strings. D’Arbignal could charm the birds from the trees, and is clearly the sort of man who talks himself into and out of trouble almost daily.

D’Arbignal is a rogue and he knows it, introducing himself as an actor, a magician and, among other things,  the greatest swordsman in the world. Gianelli, on the other hand, is a hulking thug with no redeeming qualities and nothing more. Shara is surprised to find that the intelligent, witty D’Arbignal is not the leader, but is also in the employ of Gianelli who apparently has an endless supply of gold to compensate for his singular lack of common courtesy.

Shara has a keen awareness of her own frailties, seeing herself as unattractive, and na├»ve. She is a fine seamstress, telling D'Arbignal at one point that she is the "quickest stitcher in the world." She has all the confidence in the world in her abilities as a seamstress but outside of her work, Shara is terrified and humbled by the situations she finds herself in. Yet, D’Arbignal continually finds ways to show her that she has more courage and ability than she ever thought she had. The characters of Shara and D’Arbignal are vivid and compelling. Getzin has the knack for creating uniquely individual characters—even the most minor characters are clear in the mind’s eye as the reader progresses.

I loved the plot twists that Getzin puts his characters through. There are no speed-bumps that get in the way of the enjoyment of this fast-paced tale. Even the occasional outbursts of cursing are in keeping with the characters and the situations. Neither Shara nor D’Arbignal ever descend into vulgarity, and that, too, is consistent with their characters.

All in all, Shara and the Haunted Village is a wonderful grown-up fairytale and a great escape. This book is a stand-alone story. I thought the ending was perfect, and actually at one point, I laughed out loud, waking up my long-suffering spouse. The final pages are completely in line with the way those characters would think and I felt the tale had ended well, despite my wish that it wouldn’t end. For the very reasonable price of .99 US you can immerse yourself in a fantasy that will keep you thinking about the characters long after you are done, wondering what happened next.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Elseerian, Ben Hale

Today we are exploring the work of Indie author Ben Hale, and his wonderful book,  Elseerian, Book 1 in the Chronicles of Lumineia.
The Blurb:
The assassination of heroes was once a warning—for an invasion that nearly destroyed the world. On the brink of total victory, the black horde mysteriously vanished, leaving terrified survivors . . . and rumors. As the centuries passed, the holocaust faded into legend, and finally myth. But death is stalking heroes once more, and only a miracle will allow life to survive again . . . a miracle named Elseerian.
The Story:
Taryn Elseerian, half elf, half human and something more, yearns for knowledge of his parents and his family. An orphan raised by a elven weapons master on an island of warriors, on the day he comes of age Taryn sets out, equipped with the magic swords that are all that is left of his his dead parents, on a journey to find the Oracle and discover what he can about his true origins.  His good friends Liri and Mae go with him.
In many ways this first book in the series is a coming of age story.  There is a blossoming romance underlying the story, yet it's not the central theme, and it doesn't come to fruition in this tale.  The many adventures Taryn and his companions have on their way to find the Oracle are both ingenious and immersive. Taryn is a mighty warrior, and none can defeat him. However, during the course of the tale we discover that Taryn has one weakness--he cannot kill.  While he cannot be defeated, he is unable to bring himself to kill an opponent, and there are some who hold this inability against him.
Elseerian is a good escape for a cold winter's day.  While it is admittedly the setup for a series, the ending does not leave you hanging, and I liked that.  This book can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel but I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series, The Gathering.