Review: Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B01J5WHFVU
ISBN: 0995492808
ISBN 13: 9780995492806
Published: July 2016
Pages: 650
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the LAST book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. Freedom is on the horizon!

We meet Adelko and Horskam who hunt and exorcise monsters wherever they go. So, of course, they are the ones who must defeat a warlock who plans to unleash a great horror unto the world. The journey trope is evident from the cover, after all.

These are our two main characters and they dominate the majority of the book, which is good as the narrative didn’t really give reason to go elsewhere, and a shame as I didn’t connect with either of them. Adelko was a bit flat, partly because he’s a bit let down with his lot in life, however when you read about someone like that it’s entirely easy for the reader to feel the same. Braxus, however, was a lesser-used POV character and was quite excellent. A knight who is seeking aid for the war, his dialogue and interactions with people were really quite fun. Adhelina (one of the very few women in the book) was a bit forgetful, unfortunately.

Religion plays a big part here, and it certainly has a Game of Thrones or generic fantasy subsection feel. You have a priest, a novice, a knight, a princess, a squire – one wants to escape a marriage she’d rather not, one is bullied by his betters and chafes at the fact… Really quite generic. Which can be a reassuring read when done well, certainly. That’s what makes it s staple.

The plot isn’t one of the more dramatic parts to the book – the plot was sturdy enough but not quite memorable – the focus here is all on the worldbuilding, which is quite epic. The language used throughout was often good and there were few typos, and the flow was often good… however…

Overall, I think this book needs a little more editing. There were several issues of info-dumping and that seemed to be the primary method of informing the reader of the world-building, which is usually one of my favourite elements of reading fantasy. In this it was closer to being in a History of Magic class in Hogwarts with the ghost professor Binns up front… and we all know what happened in those classes.

Ultimately this book is far longer than it needs to be, and really could do with shaving at least 100 pages, if not 200 from them. Then it would be tight, engaging, and really quite a hard contender for the winner.

Review: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B071D6KB7D
ISBN: 1545581924
ISBN 13: 9781545581926
Published: May 2017
Pages: 371
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Pirates! As someone who has the username SkyPirate on various platforms (inspired originally from Final Fantasy), and who utterly adores Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, and who still mourns the time when Pirates of the Caribbean (and Depp) were good and fun… this book is right up my alley. Pirate Kings and prophecy, as well as a big confidence trickster scheme, what more could one want?

So the story goes that the navy are reaching out from their previous territories, and are slowly wiping out the pirates in any way they can. This means that the pirate clans must become allies if they want to survive – something pirates aren’t overly interested in becoming on a normal day. The worldbuilding in here is typical yet somehow manages to not be cliché – there’s the typical pirate catchphrases, parrots, and they’d sell their own mothers for rum, yet there’s also a humour in this that makes it richer and well-rounded. You can easily believe this world exists. Especially as it also shows us the wilder sides of monsters, magics, and almost LotR-style landscapes. The worldbuilding was easily my favourite part of the book.

The characters are somehow likeable even though they’re scum. They’re crafty, they’re ambitious, and even though there’s prophecy they still have to work hard to make it so. Just knowing that there will be a reward if they work hard enough for it is an interesting consideration. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters especially, but they were completely readable.

One of the issues I had with another finalist for the SPFBO was the – what I felt – unnecessary rape. This book shows how things that are dark and triggering for some can possibly be handled in a way where you expect it. It’s the real-world feel to ‘shit happens’. This is grimdark, it happens to a likeable character, and isn’t pushed further than it needed to be, and it’s used to really show just what one character is really like. I still skimread it a little, but it didn’t make me put the book down for a break.

Overall this is a very decent book. No typos that I noticed, a little slow in parts but not to any great degree, and as I said before, very readable. That’s all one wants sometimes, right?

This series is this is set to be a duology – no trilogy needed, which shows that the author has done some decent editing or planning and knows that the usual trilogy isn’t a requirement. There needs to be more duologies in the world!

Review: The War of Undoing by Alex Perry

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B00VTGOKUK
ISBN: 1511638591
ISBN 13: 9781311429445
Published: April 2015
Pages: 616
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the seventh book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. And it was good.

We have three siblings – Miller, Tay and Ellstone – abandoned by their parents and with only each other to keep themselves going. Early on in the book they’re bid to travel for a great cause – which fits perfectly with what Tay has always expected. Born with an oddly shaped birthmark she’s always dreamed of being a chosen one of some sort… and with war brewing, and nothing left for them in the town they’ve grown up in, she jumps at the chance and takes Ellstone with her. Miller stays behind, though there’s no bad blood here – hedging his bets, he stays behind as the one with a job, to save their tiny room and keep earning just in case it all comes to nothing, so they have something to return to.

Up until now it’s been rather intriguing. You have this magical group of people who are persecuted and slowly rising up together as one, and this is who the war will be against. But then we arrive in the town Tay and Ellstone are travelling to and meet the fourth main character… and it becomes noticeable that the two female characters – Tay and Kisli – are really a bit too much alike. (Much like how Miller and Ellstone seem to have the same voice, too…) And that the whole chapter made it hard to suspend disbelief as it makes little to no sense for a man (husband or not) to dismiss the work of a Commander picking their troops (thus undermining their position), and then for the very average fighter to distract a supposed excellent fighter by knocking over some paperwork and then knocking their sword from hand… after seconds of contemplating doing such a thing. Sorry, but war is coming and you have warrior-hopefuls to assess… Who the heck cares about paperwork? I highly doubt Commander Menx would. This chapter pretty well threw me out of the novel and it took a while for me to get back into it. I get that it was trying to use the old ‘if you disarm the leading officer you get permanency trope thing’, but it was delivered fairly poorly… and it also makes little to no sense for someone who apparently ‘hates hurting people’ to manage to use that to then be accepted as a worthy fighter.

Anyway. That aside.

Overall the writing itself is of pretty good quality. There were only two or so typos and a few easily glossed over grammatical errors, and they did not detract from the novel – about the same as you get in a Big Five published novel these days. Overall the novel felt polished in what it was hoping to achieve. (Possibly not so much in the pacing aspect, but for a longish book at 600+ pages it’s still a quick read somehow, so plus points for that.) The worldbuilding was there but not shoved down throats, and it was handy having a character who loved books that helped with a few history lessons, managing to not make it seem or feel at any stage like an info dump.

It’s to the credit of how well written it is that it’s almost easy to forget that some of the characters feel a bit samey – that to write in first person personal makes it doubly hard for the author to make each character’s voice shine through, whilst also keeping quite a grim and serious ‘war is coming’ and ‘here are the chosen ones’ feel a bit light with some dark humour. Each character seems to have the same tone in response to life and bullies in general… but, hey, it’s well done, so it’s possible to get over this issue.

Another part I liked is how it’s also a bit closer to YA than the heft of grim-dark we get in SPFBO, which is refreshing. It takes a fairly cliche-driven path and manages to surprise the reader. And that the issue that Tay especially has at the start is seen to, and we get that seen to in a fairly realistic way – not entirely satisfying, but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be in real life – this isn’t a fairytale after all.

All in all, I enjoyed this one.

Review: Jack Bloodfist by James Jakins

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B015P90ZR8
ISBN: 1516890256
ISBN 13: 9781310522574
Published: October 2015
Pages: 277
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

As we can see from the cover, Jack Bloodfist is a fixer. This means a multitude of things, but we quickly learn that he acts as a kind of liaison for the local police for the local orcs and goblins, of which he is born from. Their main police officer is Denelle, a dark elf, and while most of the cast can pass themselves off as being mostly human (with a few self-care techniques such as grinding down tusks and things), Jack himself with his green skin doesn’t really have that luxury. Luckily, humans are pretty eager to explain things off for themselves so they don’t have to think too hard.

When we first meet Jack it’s because he has to ID one of his many, many family members. The only problem is he’s a bit busy getting ready to invite in some other new relocatees and set up a trailer for them (also family, of course). Things get both a little easier and a little harder when the UID turns out to be one half of the couple he’s supposed to be welcoming in. …The girl is soon dispatched also, and Jack is thrown around a bit for ‘sins of his father’, which certainly gives both himself and Denelle something to start with.

Throughout Jack is called for various family things, such as an uncle building a bonfire on the top of an apartment building. He constantly walks the line of what his mother’s goblin side, and his father’s orc side demand, which sometimes leaves little time for his own life, such as dating a reporter that has thankfully improved his use of grammar. And even less time when a Paladin comes crashing down on them, seeking revenge for what Jack’s father did oh so long ago, and their reason for coming to hide among the humans in the first place. The first chapter, of this man escaping a top notch prison style place was incredibly engaging, and I’d love to see a short story or two based in that facility alone.

This is urban fantasy, much like Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, with a focus on the lore and how the characters fit together with nods to their history, which adds to the worldbuilding. I haven’t read the full Dresden series, but I feel this one is ever so slightly closer to Rivers of London than that. Told in first person as many urban fantasies are, it works well, with Jack’s voice helping with his characterisation and the world building around it. I especially liked that this wasn’t set in San Fran or New York, etc, which gives it an additional touch of realism showing how magic could be spread throughout various countries.

Overall this was enjoyable. Jack has a good nature where you don’t exactly want to be his friend, or agree with everything he says or does, but he feels pretty constant throughout the novel (which has been something I found other entries to the SPFBO have struggled with.) The only issue I had was with the pacing, which could use some work – both with the interactions of Jack between a few characters which felt rushed and therefore, not as realistic as they could have been (if the character has significant ties to the main character, it should be evident in their page time, too, else there’s little point to them having said ties), as well as the ending. At 277 pages this was a quick, engaging and humourous read. I almost feel with a bit of editing assistance this book could be a little longer to give relevant characters and plot devices the time needed to develop them, and we’d have a very strong book on our hands.

Review: Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B007Y7094O
ISBN: 1542565855
ISBN 13: 9781542565851
Published: April 2012
Pages: 277
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Those born in this region are said to take on characteristics of the animal that marks the year of their birth. Tiger Lily, as one may guess, was born in the year of the tiger (like myself, in fact.) She is unlucky and low born, however this is all set to change when she comes across the highborn son and saves his life.

The tone of the novel emulates the setting, which helps the reader get into the story. While this usually works well (as it does for the majority of the book), at times it shudders the reading to a halt as you pause over a clumsy sentence. The book is short and yet packs into it a decent tale that isn’t predictable, and does some interesting things with magic. It also does interesting things with gender, which didn’t really do anything for me – it didn’t feel like it was done in a calculated or clever way – more like it was shoved in to shock, or go HA, bet you didn’t see THAT coming! (Edited to add: my interpretation only, I hope others loved this reveal.)

While we’re supposed to like Tiger Lily, she was a little too self-loathing and drudgey, to me, (though perhaps this is just something that’s currently shown in a few too many YA on my personal reading list.) I would have liked to see Tiger Lily have a few more facets to her reactions and choices in the book – she’s due to wonder about things, after all.

This book is labelled as historical fiction, and some parts are interesting. Others are perhaps a little clumsy, as is up to the reader’s interpretation of what they may already know or understand about the culture/location, as if often a tricky line to walk when writing of a culture not your own. Still, most of the book is quite lovely.