Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Kingshold – Book 1 of The Wildfire Cycle by D.P. Woolliscroft

Hey everyone, Dave here – it’s been a while, I know!

Being both a reader and writer (why it’s been a while) of Fantasy, I’ve noticed quite a cool trend – at least in the last couple of years, and I think this trend has shown itself because of different, but important, gears clicking into place. The two biggest gears would be the Mark Lawrence-championed Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off – if you don’t know what that is, or who Mark Lawrence is, I despair of one day meeting you and will endeavor to wear a disguise so that you don’t recognize me. But check out this post to get a good idea of what SPFBO is and does. 😉 The other big gear would be the fact that self published SFF is carving out a space for itself (as it should and deserves to do) and becoming more widely talked about, shared and celebrated. I’m not saying that there isn’t still oceans of garbage to wade through, but the writers who are serious about their craft have upped their game considerably, to the point where the ‘big publishers’ are the ones on the back foot and struggling to catch up.

A great example of this exciting and powerful trend is the book I’m reviewing in this post – Kingshold. Not what I expected at all, but better than all my expectations.

I came across this book on Twitter – David had tweeted that he would be giving away paperbacks of Kingshold to a lucky number of folks who RT”d the Tweet – I was one of the people who retweeted, simply because I knew that I have many friends in both the US and UK who would be intrigued by the book and would want to take part. I was one of the winners, (I know; books above the lottery, any day) and I DM’d him, thanked him, and let him know that he might want to draw another winner in my place because I’m in South Africa and postage here is both expensive and prone to the kind of mishaps you’d think a heist-gang was behind… Anyway, David said he’d send me an ebook, which he did, and a couple of months later, here we are. 🙂

The book opens with the king and queen in Kingshold, the capital city of Edland, gazing dully out at their subjects. When you, the reader, find out why the monarchs seem so dull, you realize that this isn’t what you’ve been expecting – and that it also may be the start of something cool. As the tale unfolds, we meet a varied cast of characters (all central to the main- and side-plots) and also get such a wonderful mind’s-eye picture of the city that I didn’t feel the need to flip back to the maps (yes, there are two; kickass, right?). So, I was immediately struck by how well David balanced not only the main plot (which kicks off on the first page; no joke), but the characters and the world building. Seems really effortless, and that’s how I know how damned difficult is probably really was. We meet the different characters in different districts and get to know them a bit as the districts become more detailed and present in our minds, and all the while events continue to keep the plot-threads ticking and twitching.

Swinging back to the characters, we meet a sorcerer, his servant, her sister, an inn-keeper, a bard, three mercenaries, assorted noble-people (mostly rich and few of them nice), the chancellor, the spy master, and a young woman with cool magic who has an important link to the sorcerer. And many others, but that there is the main cast – and another reason why I was really enjoying the book as I was introduced, because reading a book featuring a ‘main’ character invariably means that the character is safe, i.e. he / she won’t die. Of if they do, they come back. Or possess someone. Or something. You know what I mean. So, with many characters shifting into and out of the spotlight, the sense of that safety net isn’t there. At all. Which also means that there’s a constant thread of tension in each chapter, and calls for more investment from the reader because will they all survive?!

And the plot, which keeps rolling on from the point of dull-eyed royal gazes, makes many twists and turns while keeping the tension tight and also offering many moments of laugh-out-loud comedy (or misfortune). There are cool battles and duels, witty comebacks and cutting remarks, cool magic backed by a great magic system, and an ever-expanding sense of ‘this world is biiiig’. In my estimation, Kingshold is exactly the kind of novel which long-time readers of Fantasy will enjoy and which will also reel in newcomers. It’s evident to me that David had a lot of fun writing this novel, and also that, in it, he celebrated much of what makes Fantasy so inclusive, fun and memorable.

Now, what did I expect? Vast battles! Sieges! World-breaking sorcery! Why? (blame that on Steven Erikson). Is that what Kingshold gave me? Nope – and I’m glad, because the novel is so much better than what I expected. Too often we allow ourselves to pushed into a corner by reading almost exclusively in one sub-genre, and yes, I love Epic Fantasy and Grimdark, but those sub-genres couldn’t pull off what David has done in Kingshold. It’s fresh, fun, considered, and an absolute page-turner, joyfully using all that makes Fantasy such a damned cool genre to read – and write in. Seriously, order your paperback and begin reading the ebook while you wait; you’ll thank me. Or not. But I live sufficiently far away from most of you that I’ll be safe. 😉

10 out of 10 – read this!


To order your copies, click here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK. And don’t forget to check out David’s site, either – he goes into his writing process, introduces the characters, explores Kingshold and its environs, and you can also get a free ebook by signing up for his newsletter.

Over at Out of This World Reviews, Nick Borrelli revealed the cover and detailed the line-up of tales in David’s Tales of Kingshold  – a collection which features many of the characters you’ll meet in Kingshold, both before and after the events of the first novel. It’s on my MBR (must-be-read) list, and I’m sure it’ll be on yours once you’ve enjoyed Kingshold. 🙂

Until next time,




Posted by on August 31, 2018 in Reviews, Uncategorized


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Review: Late Whitsun by Jasper Kent

Jasper shouldn’t require any kind of introduction, but for those who haven’t come across his work, here’s that intro:

I first came across Jasper’s work in 2008, and would you believe I passed on a copy of Twelve without reading it… I was lucky enough to receive another copy and read and loved it. Twelve kicked off a sprawling vampire-epic (which I, admittedly, haven’t finished yet – need to remedy that…) and in Late Whitsun, Jasper has given us something different – an investigative mystery taking place in his hometown of Brighton.

Late Whitsun introduces Charlie Woolf, and when we meet him, he’s sketching portraits. He comes across as weathered, roughed up by life, but by pursuing the talent he has he also shows an emotional depth and observant side which give him great depth as a character. (One of the things I simply cannot believe (or like) as a reader is when a character in First Person POV seems to know everything and doesn’t sound normal; I’ve always thought of First Person POV as the reader being a passenger in the character’s head, not the reader reading a voluminous journal written by the character (it’s a personal thing; I like being the passenger more than reading journals). Thankfully, Jasper doesn’t give the reader a journal to read – we are the passengers.) We see what Charlie sees as he sees it, descriptions which are informed by the character’s knowledge or personal connections, and there’s no describing what happens where Charlie isn’t. It left me with the feeling that we were moving through many connected ‘worlds’ instead of just shifting from scene to scene and plot-beat to plot-beat. Also kept the pace flowing nicely and held my focus the entire time.

Plot-wise, things kick off when Woolf is asked to deliver a package by an old acquaintance – this simple request turns out not to be simple at all and launches Woolf into the sights of various people, including some investigating the a murdered man connected to Woolf and others who might know something about the dead man or his killer. What seems like a tried and tested plot is made fresh and exciting by not only the great pacing (Jasper keeps Woolf going and searching and questioning) and the way in which he reveals the Brighton of that time and its people and flavors, but also because the main mystery is not the only mystery – the intrigue builds. connecting various characters and events in clever ways so that when Jasper launches into the climax, the end is satisfying and exciting and memorable.

I’ve never been to Brighton (nor the UK, for that matter), so I can’t say that Jasper captured the feeling and look of the city, but if he didn’t, I’ll be really surprised; I felt like I was travelling through a living, breathing city with one of its best tour guides – a feat which many authors do get right, but at the expensive of their characters and the book’s pacing. Not the case here.

The flavor of the day (speaking as a bookseller) seems to split between three types of books: psychological thrillers (because publishers are still looking for the next The Girl on the Train), the next big Scandinavian crime hit, and something between Thomas Harris and James Patterson – Late Whitsun is a the kind of book you enjoy with a glass of your favorite drink, relaxing and comfortable. It’s a slow, increasing smolder that might give you a blister instead of singeing all your hair away – but that’s why I enjoyed it so much, too. While the pace did kick up, and up, and up as the book reached its climax, I never once felt that I was rushing through it and skipping sentences or paragraphs. It’s the kind of mystery you enjoy, not the kind you feverishly munch popcorn to.

All in all, a really great read and journey, introducing a memorable, layered character whom I look forward to reading more about. Have to give this one a 9/10.


To order this book, click here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK, and for more info on Jasper’s other work (including that vampire epic, The Danilov Quintet), head on over to Jasper’s website.

Until next time, which might be a couple of weeks as I’m heading to Australia for a holiday,


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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Reviews


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Double Review: Cthulhu Armageddon & The Tower of Zhaal by CT Phipps

One of the many things I’ve come to late in life is Lovecraftian fiction. In fact, I read ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (which was my first Lovecraft-read ever) less than a year ago. I know, right?! But while I haven’t read Lovecraft’s body of work in Cosmic Horror, and was introduced to concepts and creatures Lovecraft used by Jonathan Maberry’s The Extinction Machine, I do appreciate a good tale and great characters, and I am beginning to develop a real love and respect for Lovecraft’s work and the mythos he created.

So, while I might not be the best judge on what ‘Lovecraftian’ is, I can assure you that CT Phipps really seems to know his stuff, and is a great writer and storyteller, too.

These books are set in a world in which the Great Old Ones emerged or rose and basically destroyed civilization and society. We as the readers aren’t shown this uprising, but we are shown what remains of the world and its people – and that’s not much, admittedly. There are strongholds where the military rule and towns and villages, peopled by the descendants of the folks who managed to survive, are to be found out in the wilderness. Much of society is focused on trading goods and services, and some places have even struck up agreements of a kind with some of the creatures who came with the Great Old Ones. This makes the world CT Phipps created rife with danger and intrigue, but also very interesting – and not only because of how mankind has tried to adapt to this new world. The main character, John Henry Boothe, lives in one of the larger, more secure settlements, is married and has children, and is a veteran of many clashes against not only creatures intent on easting him, but also people who have thrown in with the aims and beliefs of the Great Old Ones in order to survive. When John and a group of other veterans are sent on a mission to investigate the disappearances of children, they find the Black Cathedral – and the battle which occurs there completely changes John’s life.

John as a character is brave, stoic, no-nonsense and stubborn, and surprisingly unafraid to show fear – surprisingly, I say, because I didn’t expect a person as capable as him to show fear; which lends him an authenticity and creates a connection with the reader when he does. He starts off as the archetypal weathered soldier and becomes the kind of man who learns to think beyond his judgments, and to look critically at himself in an effort to not only become a better soldier but also a better person. John’s back-up cast are equally interesting and memorable, ranging from a priestess of a cult John was an unwilling member of, to his squad of fellow soldiers, to his wife, and even reaches further out to friends and acquaintances John made during his many travels. Each character has their own place, backstory and beliefs (whether religious or not), which makes them stand out as individuals – and in the world they inhabit, this also makes them refreshingly different to the kinds of characters we’ve met before. There are soldiers, but they’re not just soldiers; there are healers and scholars, but they’re not just healers and scholars. The uprising shaped and affected entire generations, and the psychological effects of their currently reality and the events their ancestors survived has left an indelible and permanent mark on the remainder of humanity – but never the same mark. Everyone was affected differently and grew up differently, which means that there are many different points of view the reader is exposed to.

The world which CT Phipps is weird and wonderful and terrifying and familiar. There are places in which sentient creatures live alongside humans, places where the boundaries between the worlds of the Great Old Ones and ours are thin or blurry; there are age-old holdouts such as casinos; there are gangs and mercenaries, scholars and students, politicians and soldiers, etc. Remnants and ruins of the old world are everywhere, not only buildings but books and cars and even beliefs. The sense I got of the world was one even deeper understood by the creator of the world (Phipps) than the folks behind the Mad Max movies – not just broken, rusted, cobbled-together stuff but reasons and causes behind everything.

And there are plenty of Great Old Ones who make their presences known – and they are as powerful and terrifying as you’d expect. Especially Cthulhu itself. Old tentacle-face makes an appearance in the second book and I admit to being really worried when I heard we’d be meeting Cthulhu, but Phipps did and amazing job there, too.

In short, these novels are entertaining, exciting, terrifying and human – the author’s love of respect for Lovecraft’s worlds and creations infuses these books, and it seems that he had massive fun writing these books. High adventure, weird and horrifying terror, stand-out characters and engaging, fast-paced plots make these books unputdownable and memorable, and if you are a fan of Lovecraftian fiction, I hope you’ll check these out. 🙂

8/10 for both books!

To order these books, click here for book 1 and here for book 2, and for more info about the author and his work, check out his website here.

Until next time,



Posted by on February 27, 2018 in Reviews


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Review: Clade by James Bradley (Titan Books)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂 I’m back with a review of a very special book, which I hope will make you curious enough to get a copy and read for yourself.

Despite years (nah, decades) of data and conversations regarding climate change (and just so you know, I’m firmly in the ‘the climate is affected by what Man does’ camp), it’s a subject which remains important and is still being widely discussed. One day no-one will talk about the Kardashians anymore, but we’ll still be talking about climate change, and we (or our descendants) will be living through it. That’s basically the focus of this book – climate change and its effects over the course of many years.

But this isn’t an overtly SF look at climate change, and as such, is a standout book among Titan Books’ catalogue of novels.

Clade uses a single family and their close friends and acquaintances as the character focus for a novel which explores how climate change could possibly begin affecting society and then, eventually, changing the planet. It’s a deeply personal novel, in that it delves beautifully into the personalities driving the strange narrative – these are characters which -although mostly met and explored in what I would call snapshots (in that Clade doesn’t feature a ‘main’ character, but rather many connected characters and narratives)- live and breathe and emotionally react during their lives and the events affecting them. They are obstinate and caring and passive and volatile and hurt and amazed, and much, much more. When I think about Clade, the only novel which is even slightly similar (regarding the mechanics of how James does what he does) is Max Brooks’ ‘World War Z’, because that novel was also myriad snapshots of characters as they related what they had lived through while also showing the reader how the world had changed. It’s a bold way to tell a story, even as the overall tale consists of many smaller tales which connect, but James did a wonderful job of it all. Not one character feels useless or extraneous, and each character not only explores the continuing effects of climate change but also reveals more about the central family and everyone connected to that family. So, you as the reader will be following a family through decades of climate change effects on the planet while also exploring issues such a autism and refugees, to name but a couple.

The novel flows steadily and beautifully and is filled with beautiful, concise passages which are deeply affecting and, as such, cross that very personal barrier directly into the reader – well, it’s how I was affected, in any case. This isn’t a race-against-time story, and yet the narrative is pervaded with a sense of time running out – but not in the way the reader would expect. Instead, because the focus is on a connected familial cast, the changes wrought by climate change force these characters to find ways and means to live with the new world, instead of fighting against it. So, please don’t expect a science-heavy SF thriller.

I am deeply impressed by this book, and by James’ willingness to focus on people rather than the crisis – it made the novel beautiful and sad and exhilarating to read and when I eventually set it down, I knew I had found a writer who sees deeply into what it means (and how much it hurts) to be human while also being able to explore important scientific questions. I absolutely hate the term ‘literary’, but Clade is beautifully literary and accessible without coming across as pompous or highbrow. A really damned good book, and massive thanks to Paul Gill for making a copy available to me to read. Beautifully done, James – much respect to you.

10 / 10

For a bit more info about the book, check it out on Titan’s website, and add it to your Goodreads shelves.

Until next time,



Posted by on February 23, 2018 in Reviews


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Review: The Ghost Club – Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror by William Meikle (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well – to the review!

Once thing that needs to be made clear before I delve into my thoughts on the stories – the only authors represented in this collection which I’ve read are Mark Twain, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, and those when I was still in grade school. So I won’t be looking at this collection as a comparison to the styles of the authors. 🙂 I can hear some of you reacting incredulously – put it this way: I went from Enid Blyton and Franklin W Dixon to Stephen King; that should explain it. 😉

The premise of this collection is simple and yet so damned cool – a long-forgotten trove of literary treasures is found, featuring tales of a supernatural nature from many of literature’s greatest lights.

First up, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wee Davie Makes a Friend:

The tale is sparsely told, almost as if it was written with a holding back of emotions -suitable to the time, I suppose; I haven’t read enough to be able to have a proper opinion- but this kind of telling makes the story have an even stronger emotional impact. It is melancholic and yet some events shine with exuberance and joy, while spiced with just enough strangeness to leave the reader wondering if the events related really occurred… It’s an excellent tale and a suitably engaging story to open the anthology with.

The High Bungalow by Rudyard Kipling is a chilly, creepy tale which would have sent me packing from the location it takes place in. It’s also an oddly captivating look at obsession, and the kinds of things we leave behind when ensnared. I loved how the story begins layering aspects of dread and fear with the descriptions of myriad sounds, and how that creepiness builds.

The Immortal Memory by Leo Tolstoy has an almost tragically comic edge to it (the kind of edge which cuts without pain, but is only noticed much later) as the main character struggles to do what has been asked of him, and becomes an endearing ghost story which also manages to paint a vivid picture of its location (guess) and supporting characters. The end is where the cut is felt – not really a twist, but a revelation of sorts which is further affected by the sadness connected to it.

In the House of the Dead by Bram Stoker was an excellent character- and grief-study, while also giving the reader a glimpse of a place (and choice) which many of us would choose to visit and make. We are all the main character, simply trying to help a friend and being drawn in despite our misgivings. It’s serves as both a lesson and an exploration of where grief can take someone.

Once a Jackass by Mark Twain reads like it would make an awesome movie if directed by Guy Richie. It has flavours of humour and brutality and pulls the reader along into an unavoidable spiral – really good stuff!

Farside by H.G. Wells was damned entertaining – I’ve never encountered the equipment one of the characters uses to reach out to places beyond the real, and the tale managed to balance the technical details of this equipment with what it could do as well as giving us characters to embody the reactions and fears we would probably have. Really interesting and captivating tale.

To the Manor Born by Margaret Oliphant is an achingly sad tale of exploration and loss, one which also shows that loss and grief can be soothed even if the circumstances are beyond what people would call normal. It maintains a captivating balance between exposition and plot, and the characters are wonderfully real.

The Angry Ghost by Oscar Wilde is the only tale of the lot I struggle to identify with – the building of the mystery was expertly handled but I found myself a bit let down by the resolution, and the characters didn’t ‘speak’ to me as much as I would have liked. Granted, I’ve never read Wilde, so that might be why the tale didn’t hit all my spots.

**I confused Oscar with Orwell; yes, I know. 😦

The Black Ziggurat by Henry Rider Haggard was a tale which echoed with weary determination and wonder; the journey into the mystery was atmospheric and intriguing, led by Henry, which gave the story a personal, emotional touch, and I really felt that I was witness to the passing of something wonderful and beautiful. Great tale!

Born of Ether by Helena B. Blavatsky is, for me, the most hard-hitting tale – it explores the pursuit of knowledge and self, and leads the main character down an unexpected path. This tale will stay with me for years.

The Scrimshaw Set by Henry James is a stand-out tale because it focuses on one of the coolest haunted objects I’ve ever read about – the description of the object, the effect is has on both places and people, and the origin of the haunting are utterly original and captivating. Seriously good tale!

At the Molenzki Junction by Anton Chekov was another tale that, while well-written and offering a glimpse at a beautiful, hidden world, didn’t connect with me as much as I’d hoped it would. The tale plays out in the depths of a Russian winter and shows what happens to a vodka-lover when he braves the snow; he meets with wolves, and the beautiful mystery hidden by the snow. As I said, well told, but I couldn’t connect.

To the Moon and Beyond by Jules Verne was absolutely kickass – the perfect melding of SF and Horror, with a cool touch of the metaphysical. Since I’ve read Verne, I can say that this felt as if it had been written by him; the tale also showcased a great exploration of the tech of the time and also explored a bit of the role the media would have in an event such as what takes place in the story. Really memorable and exciting tale. 🙂

The Curious Affair on the Embankment by Arthur Conan Doyle seems like the perfect tale which Hammer Films never got to make – it’s old-school, takes the reader on an interesting investigation (as one would expect from Doyle) led by a character who hardly ever gets the spotlight (and who turns out to be a really great lead), and shows a side of the world these characters inhabit which is entertaining as the world of strange, clever crimes they usually find themselves in.

William Meikle has outdone many authors who have tried their hand at doing something similar – the tales have the feel and texture of their time, including speech mannerisms, equipment, architecture, and much more. There’s a sense of immersion in these tales which makes it feel as if the stories occur in the same world, almost side by side, instead of being told by the writer while sitting at a table with his or her peers.

The cover art and design are perfectly suited to the stories, so kudos to Ben Baldwin once again. 🙂

All in all, a massively entertaining and memorable collection by William – and another winner from Crystal Lake Publishing!

9 / 10

Order your copies from Amazon, and add the book to your Goodreads shelf – and don’t forget to check out William’s site and the Crystal Lake site for more information and more to read. 🙂

Until next time,


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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Reviews


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Review: Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton

This was a strange book – strange in a good way, but, I confess, very different to much that I’ve ever read. I’ll try to explain my opinion as best I can. 🙂

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.

Will Lacy Dawn’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

When I began reading this book, I did so without having read the blurb above – it’s something I’m doing more and more, seemingly as I get older, for whatever reason… Perhaps something to do with my fear of being influenced to expect something specific from a book’s blurb? I’m not sure, to be honest. But in any case, that’s what I did with this book.

Lacy Dawn is precocious, intelligent, naive and curious. She’s also the only child of terrible parents, and they all live (and sometimes ‘live’ is a really strong word) in really bad conditions. As the central character in a story, and being as young as she is when the reader meets her, Lacy Dawn absolutely stole the lime light – as she was supposed to, I’m sure. As her story develops, we are shown how very dark and sad her life is – there is violence, abuse, and general abandonment in terms of the people who are supposed to look after her not really trying, mired as they are in their problems, but Lacy Dawn has a kind of ‘magic’ -to which I’ll return later- and a secret friend which help her to cope.

As I said earlier, I didn’t read the book’s blurb, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I have to confess to allowing my own preconceptions to color the narrative, in terms of me experiencing Lacy Dawn, her circumstances and what she’s capable of doing through a kind of ‘she imagines all of it to help her cope and get through the day’ lens. There is a sad and fragile beauty to her tale, and it came as a bit of a shock when what I thought she was imagining turned out to be real, and when the narrative shifted into a completely different gear (where the ‘strange’ I mentioned earlier comes in).

The story then becomes what I felt was an unfocused satire regarding, of all things, shopping. Now, don’t get me wrong – the satire works, but because of the jarring ship from Lacy Dawn’s circumstances to this new focus, it takes a bit of getting used to. And although I did come to understand it, the effort was akin to trying to fit two incompatible shapes together, having to force it a bit.

What I also found difficult was -as is mentioned in the blurb- just why Lacy Dawn had to save the universe, and what from; I confess that I may have still been trying to fit the two narratives (the first focusing on a really terrible childhood, the next focusing on shopping) together and so missed why the universe needed saving, but unfortunately that also led me to not understanding why Lacy Dawn herself had been chosen to save the universe. Another aspect of the plot which is used many, many times is Lacy Dawn’s ‘magic’, which isn’t explained in terms of where she got these abilities and even learned how to use them. Saving the universe and having magical abilities were the two major aspects of the narrative I really didn’t understand, which led me to not understanding who Lacy Dawn becomes – which led me to connecting with and understanding the supporting cast of characters more than the main character.

Structurally, the book also takes a bit of getting used to: the reader is given first-person POV thoughts from all the different characters throughout the book (which is written in the 3rd person POV) with no clarity as to whom thought those thoughts; as I said, it takes a bit of getting used to, but the ‘getting used to it’ forces the reader to jump back and forth and re-read passages to identify the owner of the thoughts, which then slows down the narrative considerably.

Now, here’s the thing – I haven’t read much satire, and I’m one of those readers who struggles to understand experimental forms of narrative, so my preconceptions of the reading of this book probably made it that much more difficult for me to fully grasp what was being done in the book. Which is another way of saying that this isn’t a bad, or terrible, or *whatever* book, but that it was a strange book – at least, for me.

I do encourage you to get yourself a copy and read it, though; as the reviews I write are my opinions of books, I really want you to make up your own mind, and I’m pretty sure that many, many readers will disagree with my opinion. Which is what makes opinions so damned cool (and, yes, dangerous).

So, to cap off the review, there was aspects of this novel that worked beautifully and memorably, and aspects that didn’t, but I did enjoy reading it and my attention was held throughout. So give it read and feel free to let me know what you thought of the book. 🙂

7 / 10

To order your copies, click the link for Amazon US, and check out Robert’s Goodreads page for links to more of his work.

Until next time,



Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Reviews


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Review: Scourge – A Darkhurst Novel – by Gail Z Martin

Hey folks, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I’m back with a belated review of Gail‘s Scourge – one of the most enjoyable and different Fantasy’s I’ve read in years.

The city-state of Ravenwood is wealthy, powerful, and corrupt. Merchant Princes and Guild Masters wager fortunes to outmaneuver League rivals for the king’s favor and advantageous trading terms. Lord Mayor Ellor Machison wields assassins, blood witches, and forbidden magic to assure that his powerful patrons get what they want, no matter the cost.

Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave.

When the toll exacted by monsters and brutal guards hits close to home and ghosts expose the hidden sins of powerful men, Corran, Rigan and Kell become targets in a deadly game and face a choice: obey the Guild, or fight back and risk everything.


Scourge follows the stories of three brothers and an assortment of other characters, all equally important to the narrative, and is set in a world in which magic, monsters, and politics all collide while giving the reader glimpses of a larger and equally intriguing world beyond the tale’s focus.

The three brothers are Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde – they are undertakers, and their duty is to fetch and bury the dead according to the different customs which govern how the dead are treated. These customs are described in enough detail that the reader is given a good indication of their importance, and the customs also compliment various strands of the tale’s plot – i.e. the customs aren’t useless, and add a layer of important detail to the story while also adding more layers to the world -and city- the Valmonde brothers live in.

Corran is the oldest brother and is still suffering through the trauma of losing people important to him, a trauma which Rigan and Kell also share. Since Corran is the oldest, he’s the leader, the one who takes chances he wouldn’t want his brothers to have to take, and he also makes the hard decisions – not only does this lead Corran into more danger than he can safely handle, but also leads to conflict between him and his brothers.

Rigan hides an interesting skill, revealed in the first chapter, which eventually sets him off on his own path – a path that will take Rigan into depths and darkness shunned by most of the city-dwellers, but which shares an important connection with what Corran is doing, and Kell is learning the undertaker-trade while trying to keep his brothers off each other; Kell’s path intersects with each of his brothers’, and he is as important to the plot as they are.

The dynamic between the brothers is excellently written – each singular personality shines, each ‘voice’ stands out, and each of their roles, while unique, compliment not only their relationships with each other but also serve to generate those important aspects of characters like empathy and curiosity – I connected with each of the brothers and was really interested in what would happen to them as the plot unfolded.

There are other characters who swirl into and out of the plot, and the most important of these is the mayor of Ravenwood – his role, and the role he plays throughout the novel, ties together the influence he has has on the city’s various Guilds (the Valmonde-brothers, as undertakers, are part of a Guild), the political games and tactics he uses to maintain the balance between what he needs to do (for those he serves) and what he wants to do (for himself and to further secure his position), and the ever-present threat of the very interesting and important layers of magic and sorcery which affect everyone in the city. He’s a fully-fleshed character, in both his personality, ambitions, traits and foibles, and has concrete and believable reasons for being who he is and doing what he does.

Many other characters people the city, and though they don’t (understandably) get the focus the main cast does, they all add to the well-crafted illusion of a living, breathing populace with their own problems and points of view.

Ravenwood itself is a great character itself, even though it’s just a city – and because it’s not just a city, too. It’s obvious that Gail put plenty of considered thought into the hierarchy of its people, its layout, and how different it is in the day time compared to the night time. It also stands out in the wider world, remaining interesting even as Gail gives us hints of other places and events central to Ravenwood’s existence and place.

The novel’s magic-system is both interesting and fresh, using both rituals, energy and herbs, to name but a few important aspects, and what also came through strongly for me was not only how the magic affected the characters and drove the plot (and by saying this, I mean that all seemed to be balanced and complimented each other) but also how much Gail enjoyed the magic-system she had created. There’s danger and excitement galore. 🙂

Plot-wise, the novel is quick and doesn’t waste any time – threads which become very important are sowed early on in a manner which adds flavour and layers to the tale, not simply because these threads are important to the plot. What Gail also does, throughout the novel, is keep not only the plot moving forward as she reveals more about the world and the magic, but the plot affects the characters and the characters influence the plot – two things which any novel needs to do, and do well, to keep the reader hooked. Gail makes it looked so damned easy… 😉

Scourge is strong, fine tale which takes the reader into a vibrant, dangerous and exciting world by using vibrant characters and an exciting plot, without having to use the massive battles and eons-long conflicts which so many Fantasy tales use. It’s tightly crafted and composed, features great stand-out characters, and doesn’t once tread anywhere near stereotypical characters or tropey excuses. Really damned enjoyable!


You can order Scourge as an eBook or paperback (or both!), and also read an extract from the novel, at this link.

Until next time,




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Posted by on November 28, 2017 in Reviews


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Review: The Hidden Face by S.C. Flynn

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

One of the reasons that I love reading Fantasy (whether it be Epic, High, Dark, Heroic, etc.) is that Fantasy writers take chances and aren’t afraid of doing things differently. Tales in which the exhausted trope of ‘the prophesied one’ are upended and refreshed; tales in which magic itself takes a backseat so that the world and he characters shine brighter. These kinds of tales give readers something new to experience, and The Hidden Face is on of those tales.

Here’s the novel’s synopsis:

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask.

Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long ago, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.

Looking at the great cover as a starting point (the cover was created by illustrator John Di Giovanni and designer Shawn King), we get the sense that this novel might have a religious-focus, because the cover brings to mind paintings of Jesus Christ – and not only does the cover echo those kinds of paintings, but also inverts them; we’re used to seeing a halo around Jesus’ head, yet in this cover, the focus is the obscuring of the figure’s face. The cover works absolutely as an eye- and interest-catcher, but works even better once you’ve read the novel – if there was an award for ‘Best Cover Accurately Representing a Novel‘, of something similar, the cover of The Hidden Face would win it. Damned well done, John and Shawn. 🙂

Shifting to the characters, Dayraven and Sunniva are both interesting and absolutely central to the plot. Dayraven has spent 15 years as a royal hostage and the tale kicks off upon his return to his home-kingdom; he returns to an seemingly ineffectual Emperor and has to contend with stepping into a situation in which one of his old rivals has amassed power and influence, and when Dayraven is asked to meet one of his old allies an teachers, the plot kicks off. If I have any qualms about the two main characters, one is when Sunniva was introduced- while she holds her own in the narrative and her past, like Dayraven’s, is important, the opening chapters’ focus on Dayraven as the main character and robs her of the shared-spotlight. This book is a book in which two characters solve a mystery, and so the book is about the mystery and not the characters – and even though the characters drive the plot forward as they should, it seems as if Dayraven is behind the wheel and Sunniva is the passenger. Their roles to achieve a balance as the narrative progresses, but due to the Dayraven-focus early on, it feels as if Sunniva is always trying to catch up. My second qualm is actually trite, but being a writer myself, it stood out: Dayraven’s name. Taking into consideration that none of the other characters have similar names (in terms of the name’s construction and meaning: Day-Raven), his name stood out as not really fitting him. The hunchback mentioned in the synopsis has a fitting name, but Dayraven’s name is never explained nor ‘used’, in terms of what it may mean. (if it is, I completely missed it and apologize for being a dumbass)

In terms of character development, the stand-out character for me was The Twister. He, too, is central to the plot, and commend the author on taking us into the mind of a damaged and manipulated individual while shifting the character’s role from that of victim to plot-driver.

One of the other characters, Dayraven’s ‘rival’ mentioned in the synopsis, was the only character I couldn’t remain interested in, but I do believe that this character’s role was well handled, especially when new antagonists are revealed, and even though these new antagonists steal the spotlight from the ‘rival’.

In terms of ‘place’, the history of the novel’s world takes a more prominent role than the world itself – but this isn’t a bad thing. The concept of the Face is really cool, and the manner in which the Face impacts the world and its peoples was excellently handled and explained (in a manner absolutely devoid of info-dumps and boring, lengthy ‘history lessons’).

The plot races along as Dayraven and Sunniva pursue the mysteries rearing into the path, and the author manages an excellent balance between keeping the plot ticking along, giving us glimpses of the world and it’s history, and allowing the characters their space to progress, change and grow.

Where the novel really shines is in how the mystery is pursued and solved – I never expected to read a Fantasy novel which presented a mystery that had to be solved by the decoding of clues, visits to hidden crypts and tombs, and the like. The effect is that we’re given a tight Fantasy Mystery novel in which the mystery and the solving thereof is as interesting as the plot and characters. If you’ve been looking for a Da Vinci-code type tale in a Fantasy setting, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy this novel and the mystery at it’s heart.

All in all, The Hidden Face is a strong and entertaining debut and shows the author is adept at giving us the kind of Fantasy we’ve come to enjoy while spicing it with enough to make it stand out in a crowded field. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book, and to another excellent cover from Di Giovanni and King.

8 / 10

To order your copies, click the following links:

Amazon US, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iBooks.

And do check out the author’s website for more info.

Until next time,


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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in Reviews


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Those Above – The Empty Throne Book One by Daniel Polansky

Hey everyone, hope you’re well. 🙂

Daniel first came to my attention with the utterly excellent The Straight Razor Cure, and even though I have yet finish that trilogy (and the accompanying tale, A Drink Before We Die)-which I blame entirely on being a writer myself- Daniel’s work stands out, and I knew that Those Above would be something special.

The novel (which is the first in a duology, and Those Below has been available for a while) takes place in a world in which humanity has been enslaved by powerful, seemingly perfect race of beings, called Those Above by their unwilling subjects. It is a world of extreme riches and extreme poverty, and those who hover in the middle are constantly fighting to keep their heads above water  – kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 😉

These Eternals are at the very top of the food chain, in almost every sense of the word – nothing of importance happens without their input or say-so, and yet this is one of the reasons that their rule is being threatened. They are fallible and can be killed, though it doesn’t happen often; in fact, it’s happened only once, and that event led to a vicious crackdown which has reverberated down through the years, with repercussions affecting every level of society.

But folks aren’t happy with Eternal rule, and even some of the Eternals are showing a ruling-fatigue – it’s a situation ripe for revolution, and that’s what this first book focuses on through the POV’s (points of view) of three main characters.

One is a street rat, one of those living in constant poverty and assailed by crime and violence – assailed, and yet welcoming it all, because it’s where he finds his purpose and his strength.

One is the very person who managed to kill one of the Eternals – he’s struggling to find his own place and the way forward in a world which seemingly hasn’t changed, despite what he achieved; even as he’s been called on again to lead a new army.

And one is a female character, the wife of a deceased hero, who has involved herself in the deadliest of games against the Eternals and her fellow nobles. She, by the way, is one of the most epic female characters I’ve ever met – strong, independent, ruthless, intelligent, and even kind. She utterly stole the show, and I’m sure she’ll stand out for you when you meet her.

Further to the plot and events, Daniel manages to keep the focus on the above-mentioned characters (and many others) while taking the reader on a journey through this world and everything that makes it live – the various strata of society and how the rule of the Eternals affects them; the Eternals themselves and their games, beliefs, and cut-throat culture; the relationships between the characters; the history of the world and it’s peoples… Reading this book, I experienced a balance between everything that makes a book work: sometimes the world building overwhelms the characters, and sometimes the plot seems forced while the characters are shallow, but not in Those Above. Daniel is a masterful juggler – indeed, the juggling seems effortless. And I am most certainly jealous.

In short, if you’re looking for Epic Fantasy which doesn’t overwhelm, characters which shine, interesting and memorable world building and an intro to a world and plot which you haven’t encountered before, then Those Above should meet with your enthusiastic approval.

A definite 10 / 10, and I’m really looking forward to eventually reading Those Below. 🙂

To get more info about Daniel and his work, visit his website, and to order Those Above, check out the links below:

Amazon US,

Amazon UK,,


Exclusive Books (South Africa)

Until next time,


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Posted by on November 13, 2017 in Reviews


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Release-Day Review: Quiet Places – A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

A new tale from Jasper Bark is always something I look forward to reading. The man has a style which is easy to read and flows like a delightful river, which seems almost at odds with the kinds of places Jasper takes the reader to with his stories…

For example, the title-story of Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts is one of those stories that makes you cringe and wince and clear the sick from your throat, but it also hooks nacreous claws into your mind and stays with you. And all of Jasper’s tales work on myriad levels, too – memories of scenes will pop into your mind months after reading a tale, and yet those memories will understand the scene better, or perhaps even differently. It’s one of the ways a great storyteller stands apart.

And Jasper has done it again with Quiet Places.

The cover (by the supremely talented Ben Baldwin), coupled with the title, says so many things, and is a perfect snapshot-image of the tale – that scene also takes place in the novella, and when you read it I’m pretty sure that you might flip back to the cover; if you can stop reading long enough to do so, I have to add.

Because by the time you get that specific scene, you’ll already be deep into the tale – you’ll have met sad, determined, slightly off-kilter Sally, her husband David, some of the inhabitants of the small town they live in, and Hettie and the Beast. Jasper’s spell will have been tightly woven, and you’ll be aching to know how Sally got into the situation she’s in at the beginning of the novel.

What Jasper has done with this tale is create something that has many aspects but which also works supremely well as a whole – you’ve got Sally’s psychological self, coupled with her determination; you’ve got David’s seeming lack of concern and spine; you’ve got a small town, with the accompanying mentality, and it’s people; you’ve got a major secret which everyone is keeping; you’ve got strange happenings in the forest and hedgerows; you’ve got cosmic horror. It all works. It all meshes. Masterfully.

But the heart of the tale -which boils down to what we experience, decide, act upon and then rue- is where this tale really shines. Monsters aren’t actually monsters because of what they do or what they look like – they’re monsters because they reveal themselves to be almost akin to those aspects of ourselves we choose to disregard or ignore or hide. And Jasper understands that sometimes the monster isn’t the monster, and that the victim can also be the knowing instigator.

Quiet Places is tight, lyrical, spans centuries is novel ways, and shows us parts of ourselves which might, given the perfect nudge at the right time, change from that which gives us strength to that which makes us want to run in fear and terror. And it’s also a tale which shows it’s characters (and the reader) that what you think you know is almost always wrong, or at least misunderstood.

It’s an excellent tale, on many levels, not the least of which is that it shows how versatile and empathic a writer Jasper is. Highly recommended!


Click here to order your copy from Amazon, add it here on Goodreads, and do check out Jasper’s website for more info and freebies (when you opt-in for his newsletter). There’ll be a kickass launch-day event on Facebook later this evening, so join us! 🙂

Until next time,


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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews


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