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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,

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in Reviews

 

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New Release Alert: The Rise of the Fallen by Peter Fugazzotto

Hey folks, hope you’re all well. 🙂

Check this out – amazing cover art from John Anthony Di Giovanni, and cover design by the kickass Shawn King.

Rise_of_Fallen-Cover-Web2-678x1024

Enter a world of fungal magic, a vengeful duke bent on a bloody civil war … and a secret that will turn a tropical empire on its head.

Cast out as a royal bodyguard for failing to stop an assassination, Maja, a master of the sword, lives out her exile among pirates on the outer islands.

But when a dying mentor charges her with bringing a young monk to the capital, Maja’s world is shaken.

Returning the boy comes with a price. Pursued by a mad torturer, Maja will risk her life and those of the Fallen, her embittered former companions, to protect the boy. Pitting her thirst for revenge against the desires of the Fallen, she must decide where her true loyalties lie.

Get your Kindle-copy now from Amazon (paperback on its way), and do check out Peter’s website for more info about him and his work.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in New Arrivals, New on the Shelves

 

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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,,

Kobo,

Exclusive Books (South Africa)

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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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!

10/10

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,

Be EPIC!

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

 

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Review – Part 2: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, I’m back with part 2 of my ‘Ugly Little Things‘ review. 🙂

If you missed part 1, here’s the link – in part 2 I’ll be looking at the final three stories in the collection. And the one that kicks off the final trilogy is a doozy!

When Karen Met Her Mountain is brutal, the kind of tale which hits you over and over again without letting up. In it you’ll meet Karen and her husband, road-tripping and trying to find their way back to each other after a tragic loss. In it, you’ll meet Karen’s therapist and a group of strange, violent, mask-wearing cultists. And in it, you’ll witness Karen’s descent (or is it an ascent) into madness. Not for the faint of heart, but brilliantly written.

In The Harbinger, a journalist in need of redemption and a career-saving story travels to a town famous for pigs and dolls. How those two (pigs and dolls) are connected, and what Felix Proust discovers as he digs deeper into the town of Dalton and it’s mysterious celebrity (the doll-maker), make this a truly memorable, creepy tale, which works on all the senses, too. Dolls have long had a unique creep-factor; Todd adds the that creep-factor while doing something unique, yet, terrible (in the terror-sense of the word) with dolls.

My favourite of the lot. I became of fan of Robert Chamber’s ‘The King in Yellow‘ without knowing it, thanks to the first incredible season of True Detective. Fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve been reading ‘The King in Yellow‘ for a while now; I’m honestly obsessed with it. I’ll explain that when I post my review, but suffice it to say that I haven’t read anything resembling ‘The King in Yellow‘. It’s utterly unique.

Which makes what Todd did with ‘The Final Reconciliation‘ that much more incredible. Todd takes a metal band (The Yellow Kings), an evocative yet utterly unsettling track list, a self-proclaimed gypsy, and the creation of a new album, and marries them with what reads like the true-life account of this band’s rise and fall. The tale is full of weird imagery and lyrical brilliance, and positively sings with the strange, unsettling aspects of what makes ‘The King in Yellow‘ so strange – yet Todd pulls it off in a way that adds to the mythos Chambers created, putting everything that makes that strange book stand out in a modern context, yet also not explaining anything. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. What’s terrible about this tale (terrible, yet utterly creepy) is that now, more than ever, I want to delve deeper into ‘The King in Yellow‘, and even though I probably won’t survive it, I need to hear The Final Reconciliation in all it’s mind-breaking brilliance.

This is, for damned sure, one of those must-have collections. 10/10

To order your copies, click the Amazon link; you can also add it to your Goodreads shelf, and check out the trailer.

And don’t forget to check out Todd’s website for more info, and Crystal Lake Publishing’s website for more excellent books.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review: Satic by M.D. Thalmann

One of the craziest, coolest rides I’ve ever been on.

You’ve got God as a character (while also fulfilling one other interesting role), geneticists and the cutting edge (and way past it), SF that doesn’t boil your mind while still being interesting, and characters that are both naive and compelling, powerful and tragically weak.

You’ll step into a world massively changed by a world-wide catastrophe involving nanotech, robots, androids, one weird baboon, and creepy board members. You’ll meet face-wearing barbarians, too.

How does it all fit together? Not telling – that you’ll have to read for yourself. But it does all fit together – and many, many times you’ll be cursing the author, because often what was in your mouth (or even in your nose) will be forcefully expelled by sudden laughter.

This is a fast-paced, fun and ultimately awesome SF ride – I haven’t read anything quite like it before, and I’m looking forward to every book we’ll get from this author. Highly recommended!

10/10

Order at Amazon now!

Check out more about M. D. Thalmann and his work over at his website, and have a browse through his Amazon page.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review – Part 1: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

(Illustrations by the excellent Luke Spooner)

(Cover design by the amazing Ben Baldwin)

Part 1? There’ll be a part 2? Yep, because I’m halfway with the collection, and since it’s launching today, I’d like to review what I’ve read so far and add my voice to those who’be been lauding this collection, since it really does deserve to be lauded. 🙂

Every good collection begins with a suitable foreword, and in this case the tradition not only continues but does so wonderfully – I have yet to read Mercedes M, Yardley‘s work (I know, right? I’ve got so much to catch up on!), but she does a great job of intro-ing the collection because she doesn’t give anything away and made me excited to read it. She evokes the emotions the tales made her feel and, like a good bookseller, convinced me to begin reading. 🙂

The first tale, A Man in Your Garden, is an absolute corker – trust me, you’ll go through this thinking that it’s nothing special, nothing notable -but like all good word-wizards, that’s exactly what Todd wants you to think- and then the end hits you like a sucker-punch in pitch darkness. Excellent stuff!

 

The next tale, Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, is one of those quietly building horrors… It lulls you into thinking that the main character is am idiot for making the choices he does, even though you can understand why he’s making those choices, and I was left wondering at the end of the tale what his final choice would be: give in, or fight? It’ll probably leave you with the same questions.

 

Radio Free Nowhere works well as cautionary tale and plays with the city-folk-in-the-country trope – I kind of new where it was heading, but I still enjoyed the trip, as Todd manages to evoke that road-trip/desert-crossing/driving-into-the-unknown feeling amazingly well with his tight descriptions and fully-realized characters. Even the petrol-station attendant is given layers, instead of being the caricature most movies make that kind of character into.

 

The Otherland Express is one of the real stand-out tales, both a parable for our time and the kind of Horror tale starring a character we can understand and sympathize with – as Stephen King likes to do, this tale also reveals the hidden, uniquely strange things which might be hiding out there and humanizes them, forcing the reader to think about what they would do, if they were ever placed in a similar situation.

 

Saving Granny from the Devil is a wonderful tale and showcases Todd’s character-creation talents – we follow the life and decisions of the main character from when he’s a little boy until he’s an adult, charting the events in his life and the decisions he’s seemingly forced to make. Todd also gives us a new, almost perfect look at ‘the Devil’, one which upends some conventional ideas and revels in creating a new, interesting take on the ultimate bad guy. Really good stuff!

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars is superb cosmic Horror – the kind of Horror which leaves you with more questions than answers; the story is tight and small, is written from an interesting angle (instead of the expected POV), and features some truly creepy visuals. It’s visceral and memorable and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.

 

Human Resources is perfect. Just perfect. Corporate Culture meets Cultist Insanity. Love it!

 

House of Nettle and Thorn plays with what I believe to be one of the ultimate formative tropes teenagers in the US have to deal with – Sorority Houses. Being a South African, and not having had to deal with anything similar in high school, it still surprises me that these places exist. 🙂 I’m very glad that Todd didn’t go the way many other writers have, concerning Sorority’s, i.e. not crafting a tale in which members of different SH’s go up against each other. This is something cool and twisted and dark, explicit in places and disturbing in others, but damned good. There’s also an incredible quote-worthy passage in the tale, regarding what some men are meant to do with their lives, which made me laugh out loud it was so nail-on-the-head, but I’ll leave you to discover that passage for yourself. 🙂

 

So, that’s eight stories reviewed in part one, with three more coming in part two. So far Todd has been hitting home runs – going places where dark thoughts tumble, where strange things travel our roads, where irresistable horrors ensnare… So, should you buy this collection? For damned sure. Click on this link and do so.

And see you next week for part two of my Ugly Little Things review. 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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