Friday, August 30, 2013

Darkness Rising 4 - Loss, by Ross M. Kitson

Darkness Rising  4, Loss is the long awaited fourth installment in the sweeping  Darkness Rising Series, by Ross M. Kitson.

The Blurb:
Bravery is measured in moments.

In the lands of Nurolia the evils of the past are returning to torment the present. Emelia and her companions traverse the arid desert of Pyrios seeking the red crystal. Its power resides in the grasp of the dreaded Red Emperor, who enslaves the warrior race of Incandians. Time slips away as Vildor, Lord of the Ghasts, begins his dreaded plan and as Emelia’s sanity starts to crumble.

Far to the north, in the hills of Artoria, Aldred Enfarson holds onto life by a thread. His friends flee towards the walled city of Keresh, a dark army on their heels. Yet when the opportunity to save Aldred’s life presents itself, they unleash a force every bit as terrible as Vildor. The Cabal, creators of the Prisms of Power, seek to return to the world—and Aldred may become the key.

The forces of darkness are rising—and tragedy awaits even the most heroic.

My Review:

I've been following this series since book 1. In the Darkness Rising Series Ross M. Kitson has created compelling, wonderfully drawn characters.  Emelia, Jem, Hunor, Marthir, Orla and Kervin are each fascinating on an individual level, each with a real story. In the previous three books they have traveled all over Nurolia, from Goldoria to the swamps of Ssinthor and down into the depths of the earth. Through it all this group of companions has been thrown into many terrifying situations. In the course of their travels into lands ravaged by ancient sorceries and dark secrets they have become a well-oiled, if dysfunctional, team. 

In Book 4 - Loss they are  mature, battle hardened men and women. I like the fact they are not perfect, nor do they behave the way I think they should. Sometimes their decisions endanger the entire group. They always believe their actions are for the best. 

Danger surrounds them, divides them and brings them back together, and all through the first three books I have been really rooting for each these characters. In book four, at times I felt angry with certain decisions made by one of these characters, feeling like a friend had made a bad error in judgement. But bad decisions make awesome plot opportunities, and they really move the story forward. At no point did I want to quit reading--on the contrary, I had to know how this fourth book was going to end.

Vildor, Lord of the Ghasts is vile, filled with evil, and he is as obsessive and unforgiving as any immortal can be. He is one of the best, most evil villains I've come across, but Vildor is not the only villain on the block. Vildor's underlings have an agenda of their own, as do several other characters. Other forces are at work, and other people are trying desperately to gain control of the crystals. Everything comes down to the Prisms, and who controls them in the end. Whether human or immortal, obsessions and madness drive the plot.

Kitson's overall plot for the series is quite original and his world is colorful and intense. This is not a tale that has been told before, not a rehashing of J. R.R.Tolkien or Robert Jordan. Kitson's characters are strong and remain unique and true to themselves, faults and all, through each and every book in the series.  Emelia is not a superwoman, nor is she a fainting lily. She is a woman faced with terrifying prospects, and how she copes is both real and absorbing.

The good news is, there will be two more books in this series, and I will be first in line to buy them when they come out!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This week we are visiting a short fantasy novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman. This book tops out at less than two hundred pages, but it is one of Gaiman’s most beautiful works.  I loved Stardust, and I love The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I know Neil Gaiman is not an indie, and this makes two weeks in a row that I have strayed from the indie path. This is a truly wonderful book, and well worth reading.

The Blurb:

This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real...

My Review

Not much of a blurb, but the wonderful, mysterious title sold me the book.  

The tale that is revealed within the pages of this book stayed with me long after I had finished. The lyrical prose is pure Gaiman at his best. I have frequently felt his work will bring back a new appreciation for the art of beautiful words, neatly crafted and wrapped in wonderful plots. There are no sixty-second sound-bites of action in this book—it is instead a true fairy-tale, taking us to bad places where bad things can happen and good people sometimes suffer terrible consequences.

The main protagonist is never named, so far as I could see. The unnamed protagonist returns to his childhood hometown for the funeral of a close family member, also not named. There he revisits the home in which he and his sister grew up and remembers his friend, Lettie Hempstock, who always said that the pond behind her house was an ocean.

He stops at the house where Lettie had lived with her mother and grandmother and encounters her mother. He begins to remember long-forgotten incidents from the past. He recalls a time when he was a child of only seven years old. A man he and his family knew stole his father's car and committed suicide in the back seat, having gambled away his friends' money. Somehow, his suicide allowed a supernatural being to enter our world.

The Hempstock women have magic, but they aren’t witches.  They are much more than that, and the magic they do has its roots firmly based in the solid physics of the universe, in quarks and electrons and time itself.

The atmosphere is dark and frightening in this tale, but it is also comfortable, like a fire on a chill night. The contrasting moods of the boy’s struggling home life and the old-fashioned, cozy farmhouse Lettie lives in are woven into the story with delicacy, flowing naturally and forming the background of the protagonist’s memories of a terrifying time in his life.

This is a stunning, harsh tale, frightening and yet comforting in a strange way. There is beauty here among the sometimes ugly facts of a lonely young boy’s life.

I confess I did pay $9.99 for the Kindle download, and then I read the book in one day. It was well worth it, and I will do it again for his next book!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Volume One of Bobby Dollar, Tad Williams

Today I am taking you into the world of the paranormal once again, with The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Volume One of Bobby Dollar, by well-known author, Tad Williams. The underlying concept of Bobby Dollar is a real departure as far as paranormal fantasy goes, and Williams does it well.

The Blurb:
Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren't all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn't trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth. When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad.

Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them. You've never met an angel like Bobby Dollar. And you've never read anything like The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Brace yourself—the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed. 

My Review:
I bought this as something light to read on my vacation, wondering in what direction Tad Williams would go with a paranormal fantasy. I knew the man who wrote works as diverse as Tailchaser's Song, the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy,  and the Otherland series would never take the tame path if he decided to dip into the paranormal. I was not disappointed! Williams never takes the easy road.

The blurb is absolutely correct--this is most definitely NOT your little sister's paranormal fantasy about angels and demons. It's a hard-boiled murder mystery that just happens to be set in the realm of the paranormal.  Bobby Dollar is a genuine bad-boy (my favorite sort of a character) but he's on the good guy's team. His cynical attitude is both aggravating and hilarious, making him one of the more interesting characters in the genre of paranormal fiction.

Bobby Dollar's Heaven is seedy and a bit rundown. He is a hard-boiled detective-type, speaking on behalf of those recently deceased souls who're caught between Heaven and Hell, and who must be judged worthy of Heaven, or Hell, or at least worthy of being sent to Purgatory. 

The other characters in this tale are just as sleazy, and those are just the Angels.  Bobby has enemies within his own world. In many ways the demons are more likable! It makes sense, after all Lucifer started out in Heaven, and look how he turned out. 

Williams has a knack for getting the atmosphere of a tale just right, and he nails it with book one of his Bobby Dollar series.  It reads as fresh and non-conformist as a good genre-twisting indie book. That refusal to fall into formulaic writing just because a particular type of book or series is wildly popular is what I like the most about all of Williams's work--he's not afraid to walk on the wild side. 

I will definitely be reading the next volume, Happy Hour In Hell when it comes out!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cobweb Bride, Vera Nazarian

Every now and then I come across a book that is sure to be an instant classic, and Cobweb Bride   by Vera Nazarian is definitely a book that falls into that category. And dare I say it? The cover is to die for.

The Blurb:
Many are called... She alone can save the world and become Death's bride.
COBWEB BRIDE (Cobweb Bride Trilogy, Book One) is a history-flavored fantasy novel with romantic elements of the Persephone myth, about Death's ultimatum to the world.

What if you killed someone and then fell in love with them?

In an alternate Renaissance world, somewhere in an imaginary "pocket" of Europe called the Kingdom of Lethe, Death comes, in the form of a grim Spaniard, to claim his Bride. Until she is found, in a single time-stopping moment all dying stops. There is no relief for the mortally wounded and the terminally ill....

Covered in white cobwebs of a thousand snow spiders she lies in the darkness... Her skin is cold as snow... Her eyes, frozen... Her gaze, fiercely alive...

While kings and emperors send expeditions to search for a suitable Bride for Death, armies of the undead wage an endless war... A black knight roams the forest at the command of his undead father... Spies and political treacheries abound at the imperial Silver Court.... Murdered lovers find themselves locked in the realm of the living...

Look closer -- through the cobweb filaments of her hair and along each strand shine stars...

And one small village girl, Percy -- an unwanted, ungainly middle daughter -- is faced with the responsibility of granting her dying grandmother the desperate release she needs.

As a result, Percy joins the crowds of other young women of the land in a desperate quest to Death's own mysterious holding in the deepest forests of the North...

And everyone is trying to stop her.

My Review:

This book grabbed my imagination at page one.  Percy is a genuine, caring girl. She is practical, and is brave. She uses her common sense to good advantage. She is compassionate even to those who would harm her, but she is no pushover.  She is a memorable, strong female character. Beltane Chidair, the Black Knight is also strong, loyal to a fault and is caught up in the plans of his undead father, Duke Hoarfrost, because of his faithfulness, and his high code of honor that demands he honor his father’s wishes, no matter if his father is dead or alive.

Vlau Fionmarre is also a wonderful character as is the Infanta, Claer Liguon whom he murders in cold blood at the beginning. They are tied together with bonds that are unbreakable and their story is quite touching.

Duke Hoarfrost is a fabulous villain. The intrigues of the court, the open rebellions, all combine to make a rich tapestry against which the story of the group of would-be brides and their terrifying journey to Death’s Keep is played out.

The atmosphere of this tale is deep and brooding. There is no happiness waiting for the girl who is chosen the Cobweb Bride, but each girl is determined to save the world by offering herself to Death as his bride, and despite their wishes to the contrary, the men are committed to helping them evade those undead who would stop them.

Vera Nazarian is an author whose work I will be following, and I will be reading the next volume of this trilogy on my vacation this week as my secret, selfish bit of yumminess in my Kindle.

Friday, August 2, 2013

LOST UNDER TWO MOONS, Lindsay Schopfer

LOST UNDER TWO MOONS, by Lindsay Schopfer is an intriguing debut novel by an indie author. I was up until 2:00 am reading it--I found it that compelling.

The Blurb:
Alone. Stranded. Richards Parks, a college student from Washington State, finds himself on Other World, a place of fantasy and horror. With no companion but a makeshift journal, Richard must quickly learn the unfamiliar dangers around him as he struggles daily to survive. From the approach of winter to eerily intelligent packs of nightmarish creatures, each entry details another trial of life or death. But when Richard finds the remnants of an ancient civilization, he begins to wonder if he is truly alone, and whether or not the lost people of Other World still hold the secrets that could return him home to Earth.

My Review:
Lost Under Two Moons is an unusual science fiction adventure. It is a castaway tale, with a real twist. There are only two characters, which is an intriguing notion in itself. The majority of the novel is comprised of journal entries written by the protagonist, Richard. His frank observations and wry commentary are impossible to put down. There are also journal entries written by an alien archeologist, and this juxtaposition is quite well done.

It soon becomes clear Richard is never going home. Despite the weight of severe depression and loneliness he is unwilling to die. He finds the strength within himself to do many things he never thought himself capable of through trial and error, using only the things he has available from his crash landing. The author never resorts to conveniently placed items. Richard has to craft what he needs and his tools and his efforts are crude, but he is able to survive by using his creativity.

There is a great deal of action, as Richard must deal with alien wildlife and learn what plants and animals he can eat, and which beasts he should fear. Shelter and reliable sources of water remain a struggle for him, and what works one day often does not work the next. His basic resources are limited, though his difficulties are not.   Richard must adapt or die.

The tale is exceedingly well-crafted, not at all a rehash of Robinson Crusoe gets lost in another dimension, as it so could easily have become.  Schopfer weaves the story in such a way the reader experiences Richard’s triumphs and tragedies as he recounts them in his diary.

I found myself thinking about Richard Parks long after I finished the book—a sure sign of a great tale.

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Lindsay Schopfer is also the author of The Beast Hunter, an online fantasy serial and has had numerous short stories and articles published.  Since 2011, he has served as the Sci-fi/Fantasy category chair for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's annual literary contest.