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

Standard

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: Battle of Will by Sasha L. Miller

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Battle of Will coverSkirfallan mage Ackley, newly deposed as one of Prince Taceo’s private guard, is attending the memorial service of those warriors and mages  of both nations killed during the Skirfall/Morcia war when he notices something very wrong.  One of Skirfall’s infamous Interrogators, Daralis Litwick,  is not where he should be, close to their Prince.  Instead the Interrogator mage  is hiding in the woods near the Morcian Royal Prince, Beorn Ealdwin, and his party.  The Royals and their entourages are present for the memorial to honor the dead of both nations and signal the beginnings of the temporary truce.   But Ackley knows Prince Taceo’s hatred of Morcia runs deep after the death of his brother and suspects that the Prince is about to attempt an assassination of the  Morcian Prince during the ceremony.  When the attempt is made by Daralis, Ackley intervenes by trying to block the killing spell.  He succeeds in preventing Prince Ealdwin’s death but the spell goes awry in a manner he never expected.

Now Ackley is not only magically bound to the enemy Prince whose land holds archaic beliefs about the use of magic ,he is also considered a traitor to his country.  With the assassination attempt, the truce is broken, Ackley must travel back with the Prince and royal party back to Morcia, a land that finds magic and its use abhorrent.  Now Ackley must try to break the spell that binds them.  But will success mean his freedom or his death?

The Battle of Will is an imaginative, expansive fantasy story from the mind of Sasha L. Miller.  Miller has created two conflicting nations, battling over everything from territory to their views of magic.  Ackley’s kingdom, Skirfall, has embraced magic in all its uses.  Whether the mage is a battle mage or one that sees to more domestic chores, magic forms the base of the Skirfallan nation. Their long-time enemy is Morcia, a nation that values physical endeavors over the magical ones. In fact Morcia fears the use of magic to the point of outlawing its uses in most instances which has culminated in only a few mages to counteract the battle tactics and mages of its foe.  From such a great foundation, Miller then creates two diametrically opposed characters and binds them together through an act of mercy and a spell gone wrong.  It’s a tantalizing plot and Sasha L. Miller uses it to bring us a whopping great tale of intrigue, misplaced loyalties, treason, magic and of course, romance.

Miller’s descriptions of her universe and warriors are both vivid and intricate in detail.  Her soldiers are rank, caked in blood and mud and her battles and action are as realistic as they come.  And that same rich, graphic narrative  carries over to the mages and the use to which their use their powers, both evil and good.  I love the way the author plays with several levels of her story at the same time, giving it a depth and texture that brings the story and the reader together in an intimate melding of fantasy, suspense, and romance.  On one level we have Ackley and Beorn dealing with not only a binding that ties them together in startling ways but also the fact that they are national enemies with philosophical differences.  It is such a pleasure to watch the men slowly adjust to their situation, learning about each other as their trust and attraction grows.  Beorn and Ackley are great characters, living, breathing warriors who are more similar in outlook than they appear. It’s a joy to watch suspicion and mistrust dissolve into friendship and then something more. Trust me when I say there is no instant love, no fast track to sex and the bedroom here.  For some readers this snail like crawl to the first kiss will be frustrating, but for me and many others when that kiss does occur, it is all the more satisfying for having been made to wait.

And while the men are making their emotional as well as physical adjustments to their state, Ackley and Beorn, as well as other trusted characters, must uncover the person or persons behind the treachery occurring within the Morcian castle as one death after another brings the court closer to shambles and the destruction of a nation.  Miller builds her mystery, with layer upon layer, each so dense that the true traitors are hard to pick out from those just invested in typical court politics.  The anticipation, the suspense is wonderful and the final denouement when it comes is as action packed as you could want.  I loved Miller’s ability to create a dangerous atmosphere everywhere the main characters go, whether to a dusty library full of vile tomes of poison and torture to a dark deserted hallway that should have been full of guards.  She keeps us as well as her characters tense with suspicion and stressed to the max.  There is such an amazing depth to her  plot and characters that all with stay with you long after the story has been finished.

My only quibble with Battle of Will is that I wished there had been a little more of a romantic connection between Ackley and Beorn, not flirting so much as perhaps a little more recognition of the building attraction to each other.  Everything else about this story is colorful, beautifully detailed and rich in layers.  I wish their romance had been equal to the power of the rest.  I highly recommend this story to all lovers of fantasy, magic, and epic battles for power.

Cover Artist Megan Derr.  The cover is the two heraldic flags of each nation, simple but effective.

Book Details:

Approximately 293 pages, 132,000 words

Originally posted as a serialized fiction
Published December 19th 2012 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleBattle of Will
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.lessthanthreepress.com/fiction.ph

April 2013 Book Reviews

Standard

Unbelievably, today is the last day  in April and the start of something new for Scattered Thoughts.  I am going to post a summary of each months books reviews on the last day of the month.  Hopefully, this will make it easy to find a new book to read, a book review you might have missed or a book you just might want to reconsider.  It also helps me gather my  Scattered Thoughts when it comes to the year’s Best of in  December.

It was a very good month, with some remarkable stories from new authors and beloved writers and everyone in between.  Trust me, there really is something for everyone here this month:

April Header

           April 2013 Review Summary

5 Star Rating:

Collusion by Eden Winters

On The Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Touch & Geaux  by Abigail Roux

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Beautiful Disaster by Willa Okati (4.25)

Brute by Kim Fielding (4.5)

Fire For Effect by Kendall McKenna (4.5)

Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick (4.75)

Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune (4.5)

Josh of the Damned, Triple Feature #2, The Final Checkout

by Andrea Speed (4.25)

Loving Hector by John Inman (4.25)

Masked Riders by Lucius Parhelion (4.5)

The Fight Within by Andrew Grey (4.5)

The Good Fight by Andrew Grey (4.75)

Unearthing Cole by A.M. Arthur (4.25)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Highland Vampire Vengeance by J.P. Bowie (3.75)

Love You Like A Romance Novel by Megan Derr (3.5)

Sensei by Karenna Colcroft (3)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

The Astral Mage by Hurri Cosmo (2.75)

A Cluttered Sunday and the Week Ahead In Reviews

Standard

Somehow I’ve done it again.  It  creeps up on me with all the discretion of a whispering wind, but its effects can feel more like a nor’easter by the time I realize it’s occurred once more.  It starts with one project, maybe overhauling one small section of a garden, then spreads to cleaning out the library, and then, like some  giant amoeba, slides gelatinously over every aspect of my life, sinking me in projects, expanded plans and , oh yes, clutter.  Clutter of the gardens, house, Kindle, and mind, making me plant my butt in my favorite chair, mouth dropped to the floor as I stare in horror at the chaos I have created.

I have ferns, hostas, primroses and toadlilys amassed by the backdoor, the library looks like  the yarn fairy and the book gnome had a brawl, throwing their wares willy nilly around the room, cook books are spread open in the kitchen to various receipes needed to cook for Mothers Day (have to try them out first you know, another thing on my list to do), and Kirby has found the mole holes, gleefully rolling about in the muck.  Dogs to wash, add to list.  My Kindle is loaded with books to read and review.  And I promised one author to beta his book immediately.  So many promises and things waiting for my attention. Then the tsunami arrives.  My father becomes seriously ill due to the effects of new medication.  Things come to a complete standstill until he is home once more.  Then the reality of Dad getting sick (this man never gets sick) hits my Mother, she gets ill, and things remain in status.

Now both parents are back at home and doing well.  But the effects are still reverberating through my life.  As I sit amongst the clutter of my life, I can only think, my parents were seriously ill and I am stunned.  At their age and mine, this should not surprise me, but it does, hitting me with an emotional wallop I was in no way prepared for.

So I need to move forward and start to clear away the chaos that life, generously helped along by moi, has created.  The plants will start to go in the ground  on Wednesday when they say it will be warmer, the books I will tackle one at a time, the library will see its books reshelved and the yarn organized starting tomorrow (ever so slowly), I will apologize to Brandon once more about his novel and get to it, and slowly, ever so slowly order will be restored.  Sigh.  Even without my parents getting ill, I can see that things were getting a little out of control.

How does that happen again?  Oh yeah, life.  I know there are people out there this never happens to.  Organized, compartmentalized gems of folks.  I just don’t know them.  I often wonder what their lives must be like, with uncluttered surfaces that gleam and spotless floors with nary a dog toy in sight.  I do know that will never happen here.  Welcome to my world, lowered expectations!

Now I had a thought at the beginning of this post……I just don’t know where I put it.  It’s somewhere under the yarn or maybe out in the garden.  It’s time to go look for it.  In the meantime while I am gathering up my scattered thoughts, here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, April 22:              Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune (yes really)

Tuesday, April 23:              On A Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

Wed., April 24:                   Masked Riders by Lucius Parhelion

Thursday, April 25:           Unearthing Cole by AM Arthur

Friday, April 26:                 Astral Mage by Hurri Cosmo

Saturday, April 27:             Scattered Thoughts On World Building in Fiction