Monthly Archives: September 2016

Catalyst Moon: Incursion (Volume 1)—Lauren L. Garcia

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Plot: 3/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 5/5

The county of Aredia doesn’t handle magic very well. As a result, mages are enslaved and imprisoned for their powers. When the transfer of a mage named Kali goes haywire due to strange, demon-like bandits, both she and her guard, Stonewell will have to learn how to trust each other if they want to get to the city of Whitewater in one peace. Not all is well in at their destination, however. Relations between mages and their captors are growing tense. When they’ll break is anyone’s guess.

When it comes to fantasy, one of the quickest was to my heart is brilliant world building. Garcia is a wonderful archer and Catalyst Moon is an arrow that hit the bullseye. The setting feels familiar but brings some brilliant new twists, such as mages being people to be feared and distrusted, and new cultures I can’t say I’ve seen very much in fantasy, if at all (Note to the author: I love the Sufani. Can they have their own spinoff series? Please?). The best part is that Garcia introduces it all in a very natural way. We learn about this world as the characters move through it like people who, well, actually live there. The dialogue teaches us about the characters, their culture, and the plot in equal parts. In fact, if you’re fond of writing fantasy, I highly suggest you check out Catalyst Moon to see how Garcia does it. You won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend you check out how Garcia writes magic as well. It’s vivid, creative, and surprisingly concrete for a concept and forces that comes out of nowhere, making it definitely worth a look if you’re a fantasy fan.

The story is a classic journey-type adventure, but, again Garcia manages to bring some new twists to the adventure both in the people and places Kali and Stonewall encounter as well as with the sides of them she decides to explore. Garcia really digs into the depths of these characters, resulting in some very interesting themes and questions that I’m curious to explore more in the next book.

If I had one complaint, it would be that there were some wonky formatting choices made during the creation of this book. The narrative voice can’t seem to decide when and why it wants to italicize words and mentions of “Meanwhile…” and “The Next Day…” feel redundant. Garcia’s writing is descriptive enough that it’s easy to pick the story up after page breaks. It’s also strong enough that we can sense the emotions within scenes without italicized words. That being said, it’s purely an aesthetic issues for me. The story, characters, and writing—the really important parts of any book—shine, making Catalyst Moon worth your time.

So, if you like magic, adventure and creative storytelling, Catalyst Moon should definitely be on your reading list. The story is fun, the world building is excellent, and the characters give you quite a bit to think about. If that sounds like a story you’d like, head over to Amazon and check out this award-winning fantasy adventure.

 

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The Axe and the Throne (Bounds of Redemption: Book 1)-M.D. Ireman

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The Axe and the Throne (Bounds of Redemption: Book 1)-M.D. Ireman

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 4/5

“The Axe and the Throne” is a gritty thrill ride across a realm that puts the “Epic” in “Epic Fantasy.” Its characters are complex and compelling and the world building is thorough (even if it’s not the most original), but the way the story is told makes it hard to get invested in either of those elements.

Tallos travels north in search of his best friend’s reckless sons, braving the threat of the fearsome Galatai warriors that call the icy forests home. Galatai brothers, Titon and Decker, work together to plan a raid that will bring them glory and resources for their clans in the absence of their father, who has traveled south in search of a cure for their mother’s illness. Cassen, the “dutchess” of Adeltia, pulls the kingdom’s strings by employing lady servants to steal the secrets of high-ranking officials. Crella fights against a loveless marriage she never wanted and tries desperately to understand what’s going on with her son, the future king of Adeltia.

And those are just the major plot lines.

I should start out by saying that not I’m one for Epic Fantasy. No matter how much I’ve try, it just doesn’t hold my attention very well, so take this review with a grain of salt. I like books that are a bit more chill than this genre allows, so “The Axe and the Throne” had an uphill battle from the start.

The only thing that kept me engaged was the characters. These are some of the most complex people I’ve read in just about any genre. Ireman knows just how much of their interworking to show so that you understand their motivations—even if you don’t agree with the following actions—and how much to keep hidden so you want to see what they’ll do next. I’m also incredibly impressed that he managed to do that with so many characters, seeing as the cast is so big.

The world Ireman has built works well enough, but I wish it had a bit more originality to it. It’s well constructed and three-dimensional, but the only thing that makes it stand out is how dark and gritty it is. And with the booming success of “Game of Thrones,” even the violent, morbid aspects of the world didn’t shock me as much as I think Ireman wanted them to. The Galatai, translated as the people of the glacier, definitely help the world out since we get to focus on more than one culture and how these multiple cultures interact, but they’re only one aspect of a rather complicated, convoluted plot.

I liked the complexity of each individual character’s story arc, but the way it’s presented made them hard to keep straight. Not only does the book switch focus each chapter, but there were also quite a few flashbacks, which just made things even more confusing. As fascinating as the characters were, it was hard to invest in them or their dilemmas because as soon as something interesting happens, I was whisked away to another corner of the globe. For the first half of the book, when I should have been sinking in the world and getting to know everyone, I was constantly backtracking and reorienting myself, which got a little tiring.

That being said, I’m sure there’re people out there that would enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones” or Terry Brooks’ work, you’ll probably have a blast with “The Axe and the Throne.” If you’re like me and you like books that are a bit more on the straightforward and fun side of fantasy, you might want to keep browsing Amazon’s Kindle page.

As posted on tabbyafae.com on August 23, 2016.

Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

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Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 5/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

With its captivating setting, riveting plot, and heart-pounding action, “Moonchild” is a much needed breath of fresh air in the world of YA fantasy. I’d say the same in the context of New Adult fantasy as well since the novel teeters between the two, which works to its benefit. Whichever age bracket you want to put it is, mature YA or NA, “Moonchild” is an original, creative, and exciting read whether you’re familiar with the world of steampunk or not.

Scarlett Moon lives on the streets of a world where computers are a sin and airship rule the skies. Those in control are controlled in turn by corruption. Those who go against them are sent to the coal mines to pay for their crimes. When her best friend, Rory, meets such a fate, Scarlett’s life begins to crumble. Even after she and the rest of her friends are rescued by a band of coal-smuggling pirates, Scarlett finds it hard to fix the invisible walls she has built to protect herself. Among the pirates is the dashing Asher Kimura, who only makes Scarlett’s efforts all the more difficult. When she discovers that there might be a way to save Rory, Scarlett will have to put her friend’s life before her own, even if it means leaving herself vulnerable to Asher’s charm and affection.

There’s so much great stuff in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.

For starters, the setting is a lot of fun. It blends steampunk and the post-apocalyptic genres together seamlessly and brings something new to both categories, which is refreshing seeing as the post-apocalyptic side has been sufficiently milked. The world that Scarlett inhibits is so vast and vivid that it lends itself to a lot of future stories and creative set ups. The characters that inhibit this world are fantastic as well. While not the most memorable, they all offer something important in every scene they’re in. If they’re not moving the story forward, they’re offering insight about the world around them, providing foils to other characters, or helping to build conflict. They each have a job and they execute it perfectly.

I liked Asher in particular.  It takes about two paragraphs to figure out that he’s going to be Scarlett’s love interest, but Mary does a wonderful job making him just as believable and likeable as Scarlett. If anything, he’s more believable and likeable than Scarlett, but I’ll talk about her soon enough. I especially like the way Mary uses Asher to explore some mature themes that you wouldn’t expect from a book like this. That little detail gives “Moonchild” a depth that transcends its genre and intended age group (even if that detail is still a little fuzzy).

The main conflict ensnared me from start and I was thankful for the route it took. In the first few chapters, I was worried that “Moonchild” was going to be another “Hunger Games”/“Divergent” clone, but despite its small scale in comparison to the rest of this new world, it proved to be exciting, captivating, and emotionally gripping, much to my surprise. That is due in no small part to the magnificent writing. Both the narration and the dialogue do a great job introducing the reader to both the world and the characters. Despite the newness of it all, nothing feels like exposition. Everything feels like natural storytelling. The entirebook flows like a bullet train heading for a destination you can’t wait to reach, even if the scenery outside is immensely enjoyable.

Despite all of “Moonchild’s” strengths, its protagonist, Scarlett, was rather disappointing. To be fair, she really shines in the action scenes. She’s a headstrong force to be reckoned with and has no trouble getting her hands dirty. In the quiet moments, however, she begins to fall apart. She suffers from that “strong female character” syndrome where “strong and confident” is confused for “emotionless and cold.” Normally I’d shrug it off, but she’s so incredibly bad at it that she started to get on my nerves. She spouts Queen Elsa-esque rhetoric of “Conceal, don’t feel,” but she never seems to follow it. She’s constantly letting her negative feelings color how she sees people and situations and ends up making bad choices because of them. If she were fifteen or sixteen, I might have just made a footnote about the discrepancy, but she’s nineteen. If she’s going to give into emotionally-driven recklessness, Mary should have just called it than rather than hide it behind the need for a “strong female character.” It would have made Scarlett a bit more mature and likeable.

Thankfully, Scarlett is only one piece of an otherwise expertly crafted novel and I won’t deny that she could mature over the course of future novels (which I would love to read, just so you know, Kate L. Mary).

As a whole, “Moonchild” is brilliant. The world is fascinating and vibrant, the characters are enjoyable, the conflict will have you desperate to see the end, and the brilliantly written first-person narrative is worth taking a look at in and of itself. If you’re a long-time fan of steampunk, post-apocalypses, mature YA and NA, or even if you’re new to all of it, I highly suggest you pick up “Moonchild” and get swept away on an air ship. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.

 

Originally posted on tabbyafae.com on August 20, 2016

Twiceborn-Marina Finlayson

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Twiceborn-Marina Finlayson

 

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 4/5

Twiceborn is everything I wish adult fantasy was. The protagonist is a believable adult, the action is exciting, every scene and interaction either moves the story forward or builds character, and the plot had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Kate O’Connor is merely going through the motions of living. Now that her son has passed away, the strangeness and mysteries of her life doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t care that people trail her as she makes deliveries for the costume shop she works for, nor that the deliveries themselves are highly suspicious. None of that seems to matter until she returns from a rush delivery job with no memory of the event and blood under her fingernails. That one lost memory catapults Kate into a war of succession between the dragon queen’s daughters, involving every mythical creature known to man, most of which now want Kate dead.

Twiceborn is a breath of fresh air in so many respects. I absolutely love contemporary fantasy, but I’ll admit that it has its fair share of clichés and worn-out plotlines. This book does a great job bringing new ideas and material to the genre, which I especially think is impressive seeing as it’s intended for an adult audience.

I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of adult fiction. It usually alternates between dime-a-dozen gritty thrillers, sex-crazy romances, a mix of the two, or some type of literary fiction. While there’s always exceptions, and I do really do enjoy literary-type fiction, I’d really like to see more adult characters deal with adult problems with all the fun, excitement and creativity of YA.

That’s where Twiceborn comes in.

Action, adventure, magic, all the stuff that makes fantasy fun, takes up a majority of the story. It’s not interested in being “adult” by being saturated by fan-service sex, shallow romance, and unnecessary over-the-top gore. While there are definitely traces of those elements, they’re downplayed and work to serve in character development and driving forward the plot. The real mature aspect of Twiceborn shines in Kate and her personal development, which makes the story “adult” in a deeper way.

The loss of her son plays a key role in Kate through the entirety of the novel.  It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to watch and feels real, despite the fantastic situations Kate now finds herself in. The same can be said of her dealings with her ex-husband, whom she blames for their son’s death, and trying to sort out her feelings for her friend Ben in the context of her grief. I feel like YA has been able to tackle real-world themes, struggles, and humanity in the face of the fantastic for some time now, so I was excited to see an adult fantasy do the same with ideas and themes more relatable for an older audience.

Finlayson’s world building is also pretty great. For one, I can’t say I’ve ever seen dragons play a key role in contemporary fantasy. On top of that, the way she integrates them into the modern setting is brilliant. She works with the classic dragon tropes in their haughtiness, love of luxuries, and danger, but their personalities and cunning ploys for power fit perfectly in the twenty-first century. It’s also great to see such a diverse range of fantasy creatures play key roles in the politics of this secret world, especially since Finlayson introduced a few that I’ve never seen or heard of before. The possibilities of what creatures could appear in contemporary fantasy really are endless, so I really enjoyed seeing a writer take some advantage of that.

Unfortunately, the world-building is a bit of a double-edged sword. While most of it is wonderful and creative, certain elements fall apart. It feels like there are too many rules that are set up only to be broken a few pages later. While this problem didn’t take away from the overall feel or excitement of the book, it did break my suspension of disbelief every once and a while.

Finlayson’s great writing is icing on the cake of all the good stuff. When I first noticed that the story was going to be told by two separate people I rolled my eyes. Using two first-person narrators is hard to pull off and many rarely work out, but Finlayson’s use was flawless. Thank goodness because this story really benefited from it. If she hadn’t been able to pull it off, the entire book might have fallen apart. The second part of the book blew me away in particular, so if you’re interested in writing with multiple first-person narrators, I highly recommend checking this book out.

Whether you’re a fan of YA, adult, NA, or all three, Twiceborn is a fun, creative, wild ride. It’s a rare, refreshing book in the adult fantasy genre, the world building is great, with a few bumps here and there, and the writing is brilliant. So, if you’re looking for something new or want some great YA action without sacrificing adult characters, head over to Amazon and give Twiceborn a try.