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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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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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Spotlight: Shadow of the Mountain by D. A. Stone (Luthando Coeur – Zharmae Publishing Press)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well! 🙂

Here’s a spotlight of a great-looking book from Luthando Coeur, the Fantasy imprint of Zharmae Publishing Press. Take a look!

Shadow

If Tenlon had his way he’d be working with dragons, practicing a bit of magic, and racing horses in his free time. Unfortunately, when the kingdom starts to crumble and the world comes crashing down around him, his dreams of dragons and days of carefree racing quickly come to an end. When war washes over the land, and dragons of legend fall from the sky, Tenlon is reluctantly thrust into an adventure greater than anything he could have imagined. Given a gift that could change everything, he becomes the only hope in a land invaded by a growing darkness that threatens to destroy all that stand in its way. 

Can a dying people rise once more to shine a light into the darkness? Will Tenlon’s most important race, the race to save the kingdom and the people he cares about, be his last?

About the author:

D.A. Stone lives in Philadelphia, keeping good friends close as family. Raised on stories of fantasy, science fiction, and horror from an early age, he continues to expand his horizons into other genres, though his heart will always be in fantasy. He firmly believes that there can be reality in fantasy tales, that there can be truth. Finding it can be one challenge and delivering it on the page can be another, but as in all creative mediums, the pursuit of that truth is essential.

To order copies of the book, click here for Amazon US, an check out the book’s Goodread’s Page here. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

P.S. Apparently the photo I received was not of D. A. Stone, so I removed it. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Spotlight

 

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Review: The Triarchy’s Emissary by Nyki Blatchley (short story / novelette)

I’m (finally) back with my second review of the short stories published by Fox and Raven Publishing, and this time the focus in the Epic Fantasy story, ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’ by Nyki Blatchley.

FRPublishing

Here’s the blurb:

“An Empire in ruin. The power of the gods corrupted. Nations shattered.

Novesh, once the Empress of Shebal, must now carve out her political career in Faiz – a city tearing at the seams as different factions vie for its control. From her fortified seaside mansion, she silently orchestrates the rebirth of the Empire. Her Empire.

But there are those who would see her fail – those who would pay great amounts to topple the would-be Empress.

The enigmatic Triarchy of the Mountains need to see Novesh dead. The former Empress stands on the precipice of overthrowing their decades-long work: The work of the gods. And they have just the person for the job.”

The first short story published by Fox and Raven was a gripping, horrific tale (reviewed here), and this tale by Blatchely is a great example of Epic Fantasy.

The story opens with Edralit, a mysterious visitor to Faiz – she’s from the Highlands, which makes her arrival in Faiz an event that is noticed by many.

Novesh is an empress without an empire, struggling to marshal what support she can gather for her cause while suffering nightmares regarding the events that saw her Empire collapse.

From the beginning I was curious about Edralit – she’s capable, intelligent and wary, trying to hide a past that would lead most people to giving her entirely too much attention. From her opening conversations with a serving girl right through to the tale’s climax Edralit is compelling and interesting, a great counter-character to Novesh.

Novesh plainly struggles with the trappings of her station and birth, and her need to ensure the rebirth of her empire brings a constant, sad tension her scenes – her strength and resolve come through wonderfully, as does her political acumen.

The back-story of this tale raises some very interesting questions that I hope Nyki will deal with in a full-length novel – the settings (the places we as the reader visit  and those only mentioned) really made me curious and world-building was interesting and imaginative, with a hint of the magic which exists in this world. Nyki has a great eye for scene-detail and he handles character-interaction well – the action-oriented scenes are also thrilling, adding the physical element to the tale and also mixing in great tension.

All in all, ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’ is a great snapshot tale, beautifully self-contained yet evocative of a larger world, and Epic Fantasy fans everywhere will enjoy it! Perfect for a quick read and when you want to discover new voices in Fantasy without having to read a full-length novel. Well done, and looking forward to more! J

8 / 10


Triarchys_Emissary1

To order your e-copies of ‘The Triarchy’s Emissary’, click here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK.

Follow this this link to Nyki’s website for more info on his work, check him out on Twitter here, and click here for an interview with Nyki. Also, check out Fox and Raven Publishing for more information about previously published stories as well as upcoming publications!

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Fox and Raven Publishing, Reviews

 

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