Review: Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Scorpian 2nd edition coverKendras is quite possibly the last surviving member of the only family he’s ever known—the elite fighting force known as the Scorpions. Gravely injured and left for dead during the conflict between the city states of Dalman and Fetin. Kendras has no choice but to accept the coin and offer of service to the mercenary who finds him severely wounded outside the city.  All the mercenary called Steel demands is nothing less than Kendras’ total submission and acceptance of a secret task to carry out.  With no where else to turn and no money to buy medicine, Kendras resignedly accepts.

But Kendras has his own hidden agenda, that of finding if any of his Scorpion brothers survived and bringing the elite team back together again.  It also includes finding the man who holds Kendras’ heart and soul, that of the officer who leads the Scorpions.  But first, Kendras must heal.  His shattered foot and other wounds need time.  Complications arise when Steel becomes possessive of Kendras, wanting more than just his body.  But Steel’s too late, Kendras’ love and loyalty lie elsewhere.  When that becomes apparent, what will Steel do when he realizes Kendras will never be his?

Kendras faces layers of political intrigue, and tests that will strain his loyalties and test his physical prowess as a warrior.But nothing will stand in the way of Kendras achieving his goals, not even the Empire itself.

Scorpion is such a powerful book.  Brutal, grimly realistic in its portrait of a warrior’s life, depicting the violence to body and soul that is the by product of such a life.  It is also equally honest in its scenes of casual everyday brutality that is a way of life for those less fortunate and lacking in status or wealth.  Rape, humiliation, slavery and death lie in wait for all but the most noble or well connected. And even then assassination and mutilation are possibilities for those who would rule.  Aleksandr Voinov has created a universe of exceptional cruelty, where casual viciousness and political maneuvering are daily occurances. Yet it is also a world where love and loyalty cannot be bought and the possibility of  redemption and love is a treasure to be fought for.

In Voinov’s world, a devastating war in the empire of Shara has left the former dynasty broken into three city kingdoms.  In the three hundred years since the sundering of the empire of Shara, the three cities have maintained a delicate balance of autonomy between them.  The author reveals the political tactics within each city and the wars that the failed policies and negotiations have brought to the kingdoms themselves. Kendras and his fellow Scorpions are the latest casualties of a war between Dalman and Fetin, two of the city kingdoms.  From the start, the author brings us into the conflict at the bottom level.  The consequences of the war is everywhere, from the dead to the dying and mutilated.  The mercenaries, needed to fight are just as quickly discarded by those who hired them.  It is a rough, cruel life and Voinov depicts it honestly with gritty descriptions that are almost to vivid to bear.

Equal to Voinov’s world building is his characterizations.  Every character found within this novel is meticulously created from Kendras to Steel to Widowmaker, the assassin whose loyalties are hidden beneath layers of guile.  These are  also not men for the fainthearted.  They take what they want regardless of the frailties and consent of others. In fact, kindness and passivity is looked down on, it will get a person killed or enslaved on this world. Loyalty and brotherhood are to be treasured and love is so rare that it is not easily identifiable.

At the heart of this story is Kendras, an orphan discarded on the streets of Fetin to fend for himself at an early age.  An oddity because of his black skin and blue eyes that mark him as a pureblooded Jaishani (a noble race), Kendras has no idea as to his lineage or history.  A petty thief and sometime killer, Kendras’ life was changed on the day he was set to die, saved by the officer who would train him to be a  Scorpion.  I loved Kendras.  He is such a remarkable character, he perseveres, he is loyal, and amidst his pragmatism, there is an unquenchable desire to love and be loved in return.  Equal in complexity is the officer (his name is revealed later on in the story).  Who and what he is slowly comes to the surface over the course of the story.  While the novel unfolds through the eyes of Kendras, the officer becomes a man who both Kendras and the reader commit to emotionally and intellectually.  But every character Voinov has created has multiple layers, from Selvin a Scorpion who chooses to remain a sexual slave to Steel and Widowmaker, mercenaries with pasts as complex as their characters.   Every one of these damaged people enrich the story with their realism and singular personalities.

I found no quibbles with this incredible story but I must make an admission.  The opening pages are as brutal as any you will find throughout Scorpion.  Initially, I had a hard time with them, especially the non con elements involved.   But they also ring with a terrible authenticity and you will understand why the author not only included them but started off in such a manner as you delve further into the book and Kendras’ life.  It is cruel and sets the tone for the reality of the life Kendras lives and the events that will occur down the line.  Kendras does what he has to in order to stay alive.  It’s a pragmatic outlook and it certainly is one that belongs to a war hardened mercenary.

The narrative of Scorpion was smooth and thrilling.  I couldn’t put it down. The ending of the story was satisfying while leaving the way open for the next book in the series.  Its with anticipation and a little fear that I await the next installment.  Don’t pass this  story up..

Cover art by Reese Dante is gorgeous in the 2nd edition.  The model is perfect for Kendras and the design works in tone and graphics.  Great job.

Book Details:

2nd edition from Riptide Publishing
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62649-013-0

eBook release: May 27, 2013

eBook Formats: pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 978-1-62649-014-7
Print release: May 27, 2013
Word count: 71,000
Page count: 274
Type: Part of a Series
Cover by: Reese Dante
This title is #1 of the Memory of Scorpions series.
– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/scorpion-memory-scorpions-1#sthash.UsSFLbL9.dpuf
Rewritten, enlarged and redited
First edition 242 pages from Dreamspinner Press 2011

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)