Review: Of Last Resort (Princes of the Blood #1) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Of Last Resort coverRaffe and his family have traveled to Castle Guldbrandsen, the court of King Waldemere, to attend his older brother Tallis’ take The Blooding, a test which if he survives will see him transformed forever into a Prince of the Blood, members of the King’s Legion and warriors of unimaginable strength,  magical powers, and near invincibility.  Now on the day of the test, they have been informed, along with the king and all the members of the court, that Tallis has fled the castle, leaving behind only a note to say farewell.  The humiliation and threat of death he and his family face because of Tallis’ actions is shameful and overwhelming.

Raffe had always envied Tallis for his prospects and physique.  Tallis was the golden boy,tall, handsome, deft with weaponry or a charming word.  And Raffe was he exact opposite, small, dark and nondescript. He was also an accountant, destined for marriage to an affluent merchant who already had three wives.  But before he even realized what he was doing, he heard himself say “take me, your Highness, take me in his place”.  And after some private discussion, King Waldemere did.  For only those families and sons with the correct percentage of demon blood in their veins could be a Prince of the Blood and if nothing else, Raffe had the same blood as did Tallis.

If Raffe survives The Blooding, he will become a Prince of the Blood, who,along with dragoons, shadowmarch, sorcerers, titans , protect the kingdom from the dark forces, the beasts and terrors of an ancient war, that threaten them all.  But Raffe’s test comes at a time when an ancient evil is rising once again, more powerful than any that  has been seen in hundreds of years.   Can a weakling survive the most crucial test of his life to become the warrior his Kingdom needs the most?

Of Last Resort is another magnificent, riveting tale of magic by that master of fantasy, Megan Derr.  Her world building is incomparable as is her ability to set the stage for the magical pyrotechnics and emotional journey that is to follow.  One of the feature I have always loved about Derr’s stories is the balance she creates between the large scale elements and the small intimacies of thought and emotions running through the main characters. Here the transformations, history and various talents of the Blood Princes reside along the fears and insecurities of Raffe who never imagined such a life for himself.

A fantasy story on this level cannot exist without characters of great heart and great evil, no matter how splendid the world building.  And in Raffe, Alrin, Telme’ and all the rest of the memorable cast of this story, Megan Derr gives us heroes to believe in, whether they be demon, human, werewolf, shade or dragon shifter.  Raffe is one that I took to heart from the opening scene as he bravely steps forward to take his brother’s place even as he expects to die during the testing.  Derr makes it clear that he is of little value to his parents other than as a way to broker a tie to richer class and that all, including himself, find him weak and unassuming.  Here he is at the beginning after it is revealed that his brother is gone:

“Take me” Raffe said before his parents could speak, stepping in front of them to drop to his knees before the throne. He placed his fisted hands in front of him, knuckles to the floor, and bowed his head low. “My blood is the same. Take me in his place, your Majesty.”

Silence met his words, and Raffe’ cheeks flushed as he braced himself for the shame of rejection.  He could all but feel his parents’ mortification, hear the amused derision of the assembled court in their tittering, poorly muffled laughs, the disapproval of his fiance’ in his soft sigh. He cringed when the silence stretched on, but said, “I am not my brother, Majesty, I know. We are the same blood, however, and I have not run away.  I will not run away.”  He dared to look up, meet the king’s gaze, hoping he understood what Raffe’ was not saying: that he would die if his Majesty would spare his parents.

Simple and heartrending, we embrace Raffe’ even as he accepts his fate and finds the courage to step forward.  The first part of the story is told from Raffe’ point of view.  From the man he is prior to The Blooding, to the terrifying ceremony to determine if he can survive The Blooding and beyond.  A lifetime of verbal abuse and treatment as the insignificant son has made Raffe’ insecure, unsure of his own abilities and ashamed of his poor physique.  That is a mental state not swift to change no matter what other transformations may follow.  I loved that aspect of this story as well.  It is reflective of a real person’s nature to see the image their mind imagines instead of what is a true representation of themselves reflected back.  We love Raffe’ because we can understand and empathize with him.

Then another character takes over the point of view for a while.  It’s a necessary switch-off, pertinent to the story.  But to go into details here would spoil some of the twists Derr has in store for us.  Let’s just say, you will be surprised by this character again and again throughout the story.  He is both physically magnificent and emotionally torn.  I found myself falling in love with him as much as I did with Raffe’.   Of course, then I found myself loving Telme’ and the rest of the Princes of the Blood as well and as deeply.

The blurb for the story infers a vampiric need for blood for the Princes which is true, but interestingly it is demons of all types that Derr is creating here.  Within this story there resides a gallery of characters and races, each worthy of their own story.  I hope that occurs because the world and beings that Derr has left us with entertain both our minds and hearts, leaving the reader grasping for more of each one and their backstory.

Megan Derr’s prose moves swiftly and fluidly, building the suspense and anticipation even as she engages our hearts and sympathies for the main characters.  There will be heart stopping battles, deaths so painful it will bring tears to your eyes, and untold acts of villainy as to clench your fists.  What a saga!  I can’t wait to see what the next story brings.  Put this on your must have, must read now list!  Trust me when I say you won’t be able to put this down once you have started!

Cover art by Aisha Akeju.  Terrific cover as is the map inside, simple and elegant.

Update:  The sequel to Of Last Resort, With Pride (Princes of the Blood #2) will be released April 16th.  Mark your calendars!

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: February 19th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published July 24th 2013)
original title Of Last Resort
ISBN13 9781620043141
edition language English
other editions

Review: Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Damned If You Do collectionWhat does a male succubus (yes, you read that right, a male succubus) do when he is set free on Earth by an accidental summoning? Why, go looking for his next delightful meal and loads of hot, sexy fun of course.  That is exactly what Rael does after being set free.  But there is another succubus in town, one that is killing the people it is feeding upon, not just enjoying them and leaving them happy.  On the trail of the succubus killer is Detective Lars Thornsson of the Paranormal Enforcement Agency. Lars is half human half Valkyrie and all around gorgeous gay male.  When Det. Thornsson and his hard as nails partner, Chelle Rochelle,  show up at the nightclub looking for the killer show up at the nightclub looking for the killer, Lars has all the club boys drooling. This fact not lost on Rael who decides the detective is just the man for him. Then Lars and Chelle  find Rael instead of the true killer and take him in to headquarters for questioning.  Almost immediately lust and mutual attraction sets in and when the killer sets her sights on Lars, there is nothing Rael will do to keep his man  safe and at his side forever.

The Damned If You Do collection includes all four of the Rael and Lars stories that chart their relationship from beginning to HEA, which is saying a lot when you consider one is a sexy male succubus and the other a half Valkyrie half human. .Listed below is each story and a mini review of each wild zany romp:

Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection is composed of the following four stories which were all initially released separately:

A Calling for Pleasure cover1.  A Calling For Pleasure: The first in the Rael and Lars series.  We see how Rael makes it into our universe, his immediatel impact on Lars and his investigation as well as the start of their relationship.  Wild, wacky, and great fun.  Rael is a charming, sexy and endearing character as his beloved Lars.  Lars is huge and hugely vulnerable, with a sarcastic hard as nails partner  Chelle Rochelle and a wise and wry Police Captain, perfect for keeping within the stated genre and having fun with it.

At 25 pages, it is the shortest story and it shows in the lack of depth in the characterizations and plot.  Its cute, funny and fast.  Really, it just sets the stage for the longer and more involved stories to come and that’s fine when it is in a collection.  You can move on and still be satisfied that you read the first in the series.  It also has my least favorite cover as Rael is described as lithe, gliding and sex on two legs.  That model is just too muscular to be Rael.

Rating: 3.75 stars

Blast From the Past Rael and Lars22. A Blast From The Past: Lars and Rael are living together much to the chagrin of his cop partner, Chelle Rochelle.  Lars continued involvement with Rael is also kept hidden from his captain and coworkers.  Both Lars and Rael are afraid that Rael will be banished back into Hell, something Lars and his squad do with regularity to supernatural offenders.  But this is Rael and trouble is his middle name.  So of course, Rael’s ex boyfriend, Lev, enters the picture, determined to get him back, no matter the cost.  At the same time, someone demonic is setting fires all over the city and its up to Lars and Chelle to find the perpetrator and send him home.

This is such a cute story.  Its short at 68 pages but is still longer than the first story. The plot is more involved, the action swift, and the resolution perfect for the story setting and characters.  Everybody here is over the top in characterization, almost into the parady column but somehow is all works together.  I especially appreciate that with each new investigation, the characters increase in complexity along with the case the book revolves around.  Merrow gives us more back history for each person as the story progresses.  And as we learn additional facts about them, the more fully realized each character becomes.  Also each story also sets the framework for the next in the series.  Great job, and great little story.

Rating: 4 stars

3. A  Wish Too Far Lars and Rael 3A Wish Too Far:  Someone is peddling little pink pills out on the streets.  Those pills, called Wishes, are exactly what the Chinese philosopher has in mind when he said “Be careful what you wish for” because the wish always comes with a painful twist.  Det. Lars Thornsson and his partner Chelle Rochelle of the Paranormal Enforcement Agency  need to find the pill pusher and fast before someone is seriously injured. Rael thinks he knows the drug dealer but why would his cross dressing childhood friend do something like this?  Lars and Chelle’s case goes off the tracks quickly when Rael gets involved but the outcome will shock everyone in the case.

This 73 page story has a little more depth and pathos to it.  The cross dressing being, Shax, is a more vulnerable character with a darker past then we have seen in the previous stories.  The author manages to bring a more fully realized character into the fold while still keeping the humor intact.  Again the story is fast paced, the action and plot threads twisting around  faster than you can shake a canister of salt at it, and the ending is one I didn’t see coming.  My  second favorite story of the group.

Rating 4.25 stars.

Damned If you Do Glutton for Punishment4. A Glutton For Punishment: Once again Rael is the center of attention and it gets him nothing but trouble.  Rael and Lars relationship remains in the closet.  Unhappy with hiding, Rael takes to cooking for his man and is soon discovered as Rael’s talent for gourmet cooking lands him a job on the popular show Devon’s Plate as a guest chef.  But when the show’s host, Devon LaGrande goes missing, all suspicions land on Rael as the cause. With Rael being the center (again) of one of Lars’ investigation, Rael has to move out of their apartment and pretend to be his coworker’s partner, much to his and Lars chagrin.  Then Rael starts to receive threatening letters and the search is on to find the person responsible before Rael disappears too.

At 136 pages, this is the longest and most complicated story of the group.  There are several plot threads being juggled here, and the author does a great job of keeping us involved and in the loop, no matter how crazy a direction the story takes, and it takes quite a few.  Rael has become more than a sexy caricature of a succubus by this time and the reader is more invested in his and Lars future.  Lars and Chelle also have more dimension to them and as the story brings all the threads together in a happy ending, the reader leaves more than satisfied that Rael and Lars have a wonderful future ahead of them.  My  favorite story of the group.

Rating: 5 stars

I think this group of stories works best as a  collection than as separate books.  Had I purchased them separately and read them that way the individual story ratings might have been lower.  But because I was able to read them one after the other, the plots and increasing character depth flowed smoothly together and made for a very satisfactory read.  This is not a collection to be taken seriously.  It is to be enjoyed as the lighthearted fun romp that it is and who doesn’t need one or four of those?

I love J.L. Merrow as an author.  She has the ability to write this lighthearted romp and then pull us into the darker stories like her wonderful Pricks and Pragmatism without so much as a blink of an eye or should that be flick of a key?  If you are a first time Merrow reader, enjoy this paranormal series for the fun it represents and then start in with her other stories, perhaps Trick of Time, another favorite of mine.  I am sure you will be adding this author to your must read list shortly thereafter.  She is definitely one of mine.

Book details:

Ebook, Paperback, 280 pages
Expected publication: June 24th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1626490236 (ISBN13: 9781626490239)
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/collections/damned-if-you-do-complete-collection
series

A Time for Remembering, Memorial Weekend and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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The month of May has always been a month of celebrations, from Mother’s Day to birthdays to important anniversaries. For me and mine, May is a time for family, either by choice or blood, and of any configuration.  For me, it is a time to celebrate those that I love, whether it is their birth, or mine and my sister’s (for my Mother), and anniversaries which helped bring all of us together.  And if the weather cooperates, than even my gardens appear to be celebrating as the azaleas, dogwoods, and all the flowers burst into pastel hues in anticipation of the intense colors of summer.

With all of these emotions and thoughts directed towards celebrating those we love for most of the month, it  seems more than fitting to end May with Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembrance of those who lost their lives keeping us safe and making it possible to celebrate all those birthdays, and anniversaries of people and  families we hold so dear.  My grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and this year, we buried my uncle close to him in a ceremony so moving that people were stopped all over the vast landscape as the sounds of the gun salute rang out over the hills and the trumpet played Taps.

Rolling Thunder passes by my parents farm every year on their way into the District and my father, a veteran of the Korean war, goes outside and salutes them as they pass by.  Our media here in the metropolitan area is full of pictures and videos marking the solemn day of remembrance as flagsVietnam Vet Memorial 2 are put at every grave at Arlington and the crowds swell at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as well as that of the World War II one nearby.  If you have never visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then you have not experienced the power and overwhelming sense of loss that pervades that site. The  Wall itself a marker of the high cost of valor and service to our country in the names of the men and women lost reflected back to us.  In that black stone reflection, we see the list of names in chronological order and our own reflections, the recipients of their sacrifice.  For me, never has a memorial to our dead felt so alive, awash in grief, and sorrow and gratitude.Vietnam Vet Memorial

For most people, this weekend brings barbecues and picnics, gatherings of families and friends.  Take a moment and some quiet if you can, and remember.  Remember and pause to thank those who lie buried here and abroad, claimed and unnamed, for their sacrifice.  Because ,whether we acknowledge it or not, it is being reflected back to us across the picnic blankets and tables just as much as it is from the black wall itself.

Now for the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, 5/27:                     Memorial Day

Tuesday, 5/28                      Damned If You Do Collection by JL Merrow

Wednesday, 5/29:               Moments by R.J. Scott

Thursday, 5/30:                  Adapting Instincts by SJ Frost

Friday, 5/31:                        May Summary of Book Reviews

Saturday, 6/1:                       A Silence Kept by Theo Fenraven

There you have it.  Enjoy your Memorial weekend for those of you who live in the US or Americans abroad.  Spare some thoughts and prayers for those now gone and for those they left behind.

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking.

-Sir Walter Scott

Arlington Cemetary overview

Review: Creature Feature by Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes

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Creature Feature coverRating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Diagnosis Wolf by Poppy Dennison  

Rating: 4 stars

Andrew Hughes life sucks and its all due to his twin brother.  For as long as Andrew can remember his twin has caused problems for everyone, especially Andrew.  His brother has gambled, lied, then stolen Andrew’s identity and savings. This has left  Andrew miles deep in debt, with an unsalvagable credit rating, and scrambling to rebuild his life and move forward.  Andrew can’t afford to be choosy, so when his temp agency offers him a job with a client that has run off all other nurses, he takes it for the money he can’t afford to turn down.

His client is Caleb DiMartino and no one will let him see his chart or tell Andrew what illness his new client has.  Caleb comes with armed body guards, a mansion and an intimidating father.  But the pale unconscious patient pulls Andrew in and Andrew wants to help him despite the mystery that surrounds him.  But the truth behind Caleb’s  illness will bring Andrew’s brother back into his life and pose a threat to Andrew and Caleb that neither expects.

Diagnosis Wolf spells out  the problem in the title and wolf shifters is something that Poppy Dennison is very familiar with.  She has her own take on wolf shifters and does a great job in creating a universe for them and Andrew.  Andrew is a lovely, sympathetic character whose twin brother has made his life miserable their entire lives.  I liked that Andrew had reached a point with his twin where he no longer enabled his twin’s problems (that his brother stole his identity and savings helped push Andrew over the edge).  I loved that Andrew was a nurse and his empathic caring nature made it plausible that he would stay with Caleb, even as the situation escalated past complicated and into scary.

I had some issues with the villain of the piece because I kept wondering how it was that the rest of the pack had not figured it out. And maybe a little more exposition would have been nice with respect to Andrew’s brother, Danny and his future at the end.  But those issues aside, I loved Poppy’s wolf shifter culture, especially when it came down to the mate bite and the politics surrounding it.  So nicely done and the complexities surrounding the status of the bite made the “aha” moment more angst and adrenaline filled.  It also made the slow build to a permanent relationship between Caleb and Andrew extremely satisfying at the end.  All in all, a really lovely story.

Landslide by Mary Calmes

Rating 4.5 stars

Courier Frank Corrigan is injured again and while he is waiting for his wounds to heal, he gets a call from his sister, Lindsey.  Lindsey is in trouble as usual, but this time her impetuousness has lead her to  get bitten by a werewolf who just so happens NOT to be her fiance.  And the wedding is this week and she doesn’t know what to do and needs her big brother now.  Frank feels certain that his boss, the demon Cael Berith has the solution to his sister’s problems.  But Frank is also  certain that there will be a price to be paid for Cael’s assistance.  Cael told Frank that Frank was Cael’s mate. That was three years ago and Cael’s patience is running out.  With a love hungry demon on one side and a werewolf sister to be on the other, what will Frank do to save the situation and perhaps his love life in the bargain?

I will admit this was my favorite story of the two.  It was perfect Mary Calmes in every way from the characters involved to the plot.  First let’s take a look at the characters.  Paranormal courier Frank Corrigan is tall, a former Marine who just so happens to be a mihr.  A mihr is a mutant human who has all the typical human frailties except that he cannot be influenced by any otherworldly magic or glamour or tricks.  And in the universe Mary Calmes has created for Landslide, this makes Frank the perfect go between the paranormal beings.  It seems that wolf shifters, vampires, ghouls, demons and what have you exist openly in human society.  All must register with Homeland Security and various rules and regulations apply to their movement and existence within human societies.  Take everything currently going on with border regulations and green cards, illegal aliens and extrapolate that  times ten and you begin to get the picture that Calmes is so vividly painting for us.

Into this world, we meet Frank, a bundle of complexities.  A former Marine with excellent combat skills, he also has huge self image issues and an abusive family in the background that has made him doubt his  worth and attractiveness.  His friends are a odd group of non humans, and his sister is his one family member who loves and supports him.  Frank also has a secret that is helping to keep the one person he wants at a distance.  And that would be his current boss who also claims Frank is his mate.

Incubus demon Cael Berith is 1,000 years old and only now has he found his mate in Frank Corrigan.  But misunderstandings and Frank’s insecurities have kept them apart for three years and a demon can only take so much frustration.  Cael is such a mouthwatering character.  He has so many facets to his personality.  Scary demon, check.  Romantic suitor? Check. Patience personified? Check and check.  Mary Calmes makes us see Cael in all of his dimensions and still gives us a character to fall in love with.  And when you add him to the soft, insecure and honorable Frank Corrigan, well then, just sit back and watch the sparks fly.

Typical of a Mary Calmes story we also are given  memorable secondary characters too from the  werewolf called Charming to Sheriff Gordy Roller.  All perfectly drawn with interesting layers of their own.  As the ending neared, I found myself wanting to know more about Lindsey’s future and other peripheral characters.  And I wanted  more of what life had in store for Frank and Cael.

And that is almost always the issue with these anthologies or collections.  If the plots are well done and the characters engaging, then when I reach the end I find myself wishing for more.  But Creature Feature has plenty to offer from Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes in terms of great stories and characters that will stay with you.  Pick up some popcorn and settle in for an afternoon double  feature.  You are going to love it.

Cover Art by Paul Richmond  just takes you back to the theatre and the Saturday matinees with the double features and creatures galore.  Just perfect.

Missing Spring, Rejuvenation, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Sigh.  The Vernal Equinox has come and gone, the calendar proclaims its spring without refute for all who look at it but the weather will not cooperate!  One day of nice weather is quickly followed by a week of sullen skies, cold winds, and the threat of snow or sleet.  And while we have been truly lucky here in the DC metropolitan area in that all the snow and ice have gone around us, others like my daughter in Gainesville received over a foot of the white stuff.

To add insult to injury, I just received my first order of plants from a catalog nursery and each morning as I get my coffee, I see them lined up on the windowsill looking out over the gardens where they will live if this weather ever changes.  I swear I can hear them sigh along with me as we gaze over ground as hard as concrete and a bird bath filled with ice crusted water.

All the squirrels and birds wait for me to fill the feeders each day as they are emptying them as quick as I top them off.  I am sure they too are wondering if the weather will ever turn clement.   Red-tailed Hawks along with their smaller cousin, the Red-shouldered Hawks are wheeling over head in their aerial courtship displays. The black capped chickadees are inspecting the nesting boxes in the backyard so I know that soon the weather will change for the better and this cold, glum seasonal waiting room will be just a memory.  But at the moment, it just feels as though we are stuck in a pattern that refuses to let us go.

Sometimes that happens in life, whether we recognize it at the time or not.  What does it take for us to see that we are stuck in a rut? When does routine translate into a holding pattern?  I am not sure of the answer, only that  sometimes, if you are lucky, a change happens to bring about a seasonal changeover in a person’s life and you feel renewed once more.  Old hobbies are picked back up, or new interests in life are discovered. Much like the small green sprouts I see trying diligently trying to emerge from the ground in my gardens, your outlook on life changes and things take on a bright, new patina. Other aspects of your life that previously seemed dull and uninteresting are rewarded with a double take as they too reveal a different side of themselves.

I love spring and the changing seasons.  It doesn’t matter whether it is the spring slowly occurring outside my window or the one happening deep inside.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate winter too for one is necessary for the other to be truly glorious and appreciated.  The plants have needed their rest, some seeds requiring the cold in order to germinate in the spring, and a winter chill will keep some insect populations under control.  A cold winter’s night can make the moon and stars glow with a beauty found only during the winter months.  But oh, how wonderful the first warm, moisture laden air of spring!  It smells of rejuvenation, of new life, and I can’t wait to throw open my window and feel its breath on my face again.

It’s coming and soon.  I just need to be patient, along with my plants on the windowsill.  Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to do.

Here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, March 25:          Covet Thy Neighbor by L.A. Witt

Tuesday, March 26:          Storm Season by Nessa L. Warin

Wed., March 27:               Creature Feature by Poppy Dennison, Mary  Calmes

Thursday, March 28:       Diversion by Eden Winters

Friday, March 29:             The Mayfield Speakeasy by LA Witt

Saturday, March 30:        Collusion by Eden Winters

Review of Black Magic by Megan Derr

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Once there was one nation but a brutal war split it up into smaller kingdoms, each with its own laws, religion and official views of magic and magic users. In the Kingdom of Vindeia, the Goddess was worshiped and the King supported by his High Priest and High Paladin, the warrior arm of the Goddess. They in turn ruled over lesser priests and paladins to help keep the kingdom safe from demons and chaos.  Necromancers exist as well, but only on the outskirts of society, shunned for their supposed involvement in the dark arts.

In the neighboring Kingdom of Narvath, there is no Goddess worship and the Kingdom’s only practitioners of magic are the alchemists. And  unlike the priests and paladins who lead lives of acceptance and relative ease, the alchemists are slaves, sold to the highest bidder once their gifts come alive.  No other magical practices are allowed to exist by law.

But something evil is stirring that will bring death and chaos to both kingdoms and make them question their most basic of assumptions about magic and those who wield its powers.

When a cousin and fellow paladin is murdered in the most gruesome way, High Paladin Soren seeks out the advice of the Goddess to help him catch the murderer.  Through her High Priest, the Goddess tells Soren that one comes to aid him, and that person is none other than one of the hated necromancers.  Because his Goddess commands him and against his better judgement, Soren accepts the help of the necromancer, Koray, to track down the murderer who has just struck again.

Koray the necromancer journeyed to the High Castle because the Goddess has commanded it, not knowing why but well aware of the reception he will get from the castle inhabitants.  Necromancers have been beaten, tortured and even killed on sight for ages and Koray expects the same to happen to him once he reaches his designation. But before he reaches the castle, he runs into Soren who is out in the woods mourning the loss of his friend and relative.  Sparks ignite between them and once the dust settles, both men realize that the Goddess has brought them together and they agree to put aside all differences and prejudices to accomplish her goal, one that will change the kingdoms around them forever.

Once again, Megan Derr has given us a rich, densely layered world, so carefully crafted that even the forests and villages, vivid in their details, feel as real as the park down the street. Her partitioning of Magic into the various fields is not  new but it feels so here with all the elements she has crafted that go into Goddess worship and those that support her by magical means.  There are the magical priests, paladins, necromancers, alchemists and warlocks, no one is left out. As most of the action takes place in Vendeia, that is the region given the most detail.  From the castle battlements to the various rooms right up to the Cathedral itself, Derr brings it to life from the rough hewn stones to the smooth rock of the hallways, I could see it all so clearly.  Just a wonderful job in making a fantasy world seem authentic and real.

Her characters possess an equal measure of complexity and realism as their settings.  They can be a haughty and humorous, irritating and   endearing, abused and long suffering, all these facets of their personas.  What they never are is dull.  They have a tendency to argue themselves right into your hearts, make you grind your teeth in frustration over behaviors irrational and still you root for them to succeed.  I loved each and every one Derr introduces to us, starting with Soren and Koray.  Soren is the epitome of certainly in everything he does, while often volatile in the things he says when angry.  And he meets his match in Koray, who is his equal in power and acidity of tongue.  Their verbal interactions were a constant joy as they pivoted around each other in willful misunderstandings (Soren) and hurtful barbs (Koray). I loved watching their relationship develop. I would have been happy with just them but then the author adds two additional and intriguing couples, each full of surprises for each other and the reader.  Really I couldn’t put this story down until I was done and their tale finished.  And then of course I wanted so much more, more of these fascinating people and more of the future spread out so tantalizingly before them.

In Black Magic Megan Derr has given us a remarkable fantasy full of magnificent quests, horrific deaths and love most human.  She really is my go to author for fantasy when I want to lose myself in magic, warlocks, knights, villains most evil and lost causes.  I will put this next to my other favorites, up front and ready to begin my journey with these memorable characters once more.

Book Details:

ebook, 265 pages
Published October 31st 2012 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published October 30th 2012)

Review of Back To Hell (Hellbourne #4) by Amber Kell

Standard

Rating: 3 stars

Luc Hellbourne, son of Lucifer, is trying to settle down with his wolf shifter mate Bran after the problems with his dad and Bran’s old pack.  But a calm life is something Luc has never had experience with and it looks like it’s not going to happen now either.  Luc’s crazy brother Galthine has imprisoned their father Lucifer in one of Hell’s lower levels and is taking over Hell. Their uncle, the Archangel Michael wants Luc to go rescue his father.  And Luc’s vampire soul mate is starving to death. And why is everyone blaming Luc for all the problems and upsetting the balance of goodness and evil? Well perhaps Luc did upset the hellish apple cart but Luc continues to refuse to get involved until his brother goes too far and kidnaps his lover Bran.  Then all bets are off as Luc Hellbourne lives up to his name.

This is the fourth book in the Hellbourne series and if the reader is unfamiliar with the previous stories, this one will  not make any sense.  Amber Kell always manages to pack a lot of characters and plot lines in a small amount of space.Iin this case  Back to Hell is only 80 pages long so once you start reading the action starts to fly and events happen rapidly.  There are so many characters  to keep track of (Stiln a one-eyed demon? Sal a werewolf, Blinok a demonic messenger, a werewolf slut named Betsy and many more) and sometimes it is not always clear what are the relationships between the characters or even who they are.  The dialog tends towards the campy and humorous with the voices all sounding much the same. Typical of  this story is the scene where one of Luc’s demon and his vampires are chasing each other around the kitchen tossing soap bubbles, they stop, Luc asks if they are having fun.  They nod. He goes off to look at his computer and they go back to playing.

That’s pretty much how the story goes.  It’s light, fluffy and pretty simple minded.  If you are looking for complex characters and an intricate plot to book, then this is not the book for you.  If you love Amber Kell, then you are familiar with her style of writing and the lack of depth in every element, then you will like this one too.  At 80 pages, it is a quick read and the m/m/m ending should satisfy the readers of the first three stories. As for me I found this to be more of a story outline than a story itself and think I will leave it at that.

Beautiful cover by Posh Gosh.