Review of Chaos (Lost Gods #5) by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

“Nine gods ruled the world, until the ultimate betrayal resulted in their destruction. Now, the world is dying and only by restoring the Lost Gods can it be saved.”    All of the five kingdoms but Schatten have seen their gods return to the world.  Schatten, a world of darkness and ice, has been isolated from the rest of the world by Lord Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht.  By his power and enforced by the deadly Sentinels, Schatten has been ruled by Order, its people regimented, living under iron laws for over nine hundred years.

But now things are changing, the gods are returning and chaos has entered the lands of Order just as prophesied.   A man named Sasha roams the forbidden lands of Schatten, his memory gone, fragmented, with just snips of knowledge to go on.  He knows his name and remembers a fight with a beast with violet eyes.  He has a whip and knows how to use it.  On his finger is a ring of immense power and on his chest is burned a black violet spider web telling him he is cursed.  Sasha can remember just enough to realize he has a mission, but what?  Sasha has the feeling that time is running out, but the more he tries to remember, the greater agony in his head.  A young man from the nearest village takes him in, tends to his wounds and feeds him.  When the village is beset by Sentinels, Sasha destroys them, something unheard of and the wary villagers cast him and the young man, David, out.  Together they travel to the capitol, Sonnenstrahl, where all paths lead.  Sasha can only hope for both their sakes and that of Schatten, that he remembers who he is and what he has to accomplish before they arrive or all will be lost.

What an amazing ending to an incredible series!  I have to admit that when a series has been as great as this one I am always a bit apprehensive when approaching the final volume.  Will the final book tie the saga together?  Will it meet or exceed the standards set by the previous books?  Will all the characters I have come to love, and the rich drama that has carried me from book to book come together in the glorious ending I have been hoping for?  I am so happy to report that with Chaos (Lost Gods #5),  Megan Derr answers all those questions and more with a resounding yes!

Lost Gods is the saga of five kingdoms whose gods were lost or killed nine hundred years ago.  Their worlds were plunged into darkness, their people suffered, and only a handful of prophesies gave hope to the kingdoms of Kundou (Treasure), Pozhar (Burning Bright), Piedre (Stone Rose), Verde (Poison), and Schatten (Chaos).  One by one, we watched the unimaginable happen and through forgiveness, pain, and rebirth, each nation regained their gods.  Now the only kingdom left is Schatten, the place and the god that started it all, the Lost Licht.  In each book, there has lurked a malevolency in the form of a sorcerer or dark magic from the lands of Schatten, as Teufel, the Shadow of the Lost Licht, has tried to prevent the gods from returning.  But we have never understood the reasoning or the power behind these attempts, the nature of their god and the land of Schatten remained hidden behind the giant walls and secrecy.  But as the saga progressed, it was understood that the final battle was to be taken back to the beginning, high in the frozen mountains of Schatten.

Derr has given us the epic battle between Light and Dark, Chaos and Order, and all the threads she has been weaving throughout all the books come together in a rich tapestry full of life, pain, death, forgiveness, love, and rebirth.  These are the themes we have visited over and over in every book and so they must all be present here at the end for a mythic conclusion.  We have been waiting for the Child of Chaos and were told in Stone Rose that he had been born and must be hidden, protected until it was time for the prophesy to be fulfilled.  I had an idea that the Child of Chaos must be someone we had already been introduced to but when he is finally revealed (no spoilers here), I was floored.  It never occured to me that he would be the Child, but after the fact, this character was the only perfect one and Derr’s splendid planning and brilliant plot was just reinforced with that reveal.  Derr has been meticulous with her plots, as each story moved the saga forward but not always in a manner that was immediately obvious.  It might take the next book to bring to fruition an idea or plot line she started with Treasure.  The amount of notes and timelines she had to have established to make this convoluted, complicated mythology come together boggles the mind.  Megan Derr never once dropped a plot thread or misplaced a character’s purpose in her story.  Really, its just so beautifully carried out.

And oh the characters we have met!  Each and every one a gripping, vividly portrayed person, whether it be a young pickpocket, a sensual White Beast of Verde, the haunted and haunting avatar of the Basilisk or the passionate, sword swinging captains of Kundou.  We have had young men sacrificed on alters of fire (I have never forgiven certain events in Burning Bright) and marble, old betrayals forgiven, and gods reborn amid the ashes of hate and love.  I have cried and laughed my way through each book while admitting I do have some favorites among her characters.  We revisit some of my favorites here and are introduced to new beautifully fleshed out characters who appear in Chaos.  High Seer Friedrich is just an example.  He is the High Seer of Schatten, one of immense power who helps enforce the laws of Teufel.  But from the start, we realize, along with him, that something is terribly wrong with him.  He hears a voice in his head, more than hears, he sees this person Dracht who talks to him, visits him in his dreams and makes love to him.  Dracht seems so  real but he whispers things of such sacrilege that Friedrich thinks he is losing his mind.  There is an under Seer who is scheming to take Friedrich’s place and a High Sorcerer who reports that Sentinels are being killed  all over the Kingdom, an unheard of event.  Then we meet David, a true innocent.  An orphan who loses the one person who took him in yet turns around and offers shelter to someone who might have caused that person’s death.  David is such a shining presence you fear for him immediately because you have seen what has happened to ones like him in the past.  David’s youthful goodness is balanced out by his younger friend, Killian, whose immaturity and bratty nature threatens David’s precarious position within the village.

And finally we have Sasha, the warrior with the lost memory and a mission to accomplish.  Sasha is older, powerful and at ease with his weapons.  He looks in a mirror but doesn’t recognize his face.  When he thinks of love, he feels pain and loss yet everything about David calls to him.  Sasha can’t remember his identity but realizes that the happiness he has found with David is something he has never achieved before, and the irony does not escape him.  One person after another strides across the landscape of this saga, each bursting with life, their emotions so real, so authentic that we cannot help but become involved in their stories. Their hopes and promises become ours, we absorb their pain and when their hearts break with loss so does ours.  That is wonderful storytelling, that is terrific writing. The boxes of tissues I have gone through over the course of this outstanding saga would fill a shelf.

But if I have shed many tears, I have also laughed, chuckled, and shouted with joy and ended my journey with the Lost Gods absolutely satisifed, amazed at the depth of Derr’s world building, and assured that the books of the Lost Gods will be ones I reread over and over again.  What a saga! What heros and what amazing gods we have met along the way.  Do yourself a favor.  Pick this saga up, settle into your favorite place to read, and prepare to lose yourself in worlds so amazing you will never want to leave.  I feel that way every time I think of these books. I think you will feel that way too. This is one of my best series for 2012.

Cover:  I love these covers by London Burden.  Each cover is a map of the kingdom whose story is being told.  The colors all have significance as well.  Just outstanding.  These are among my favorites of the year.

Here is the Lost Gods series, in the order they were written and should be read, in order to understand the complicated plots and characters within.

Treasure (Lost Gods#1) – Kingdom of Kundou

Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) – Kingdom of P0zhar and my favorite book of the series

Stone Rose (Lost Gods#3) – Kingdom of Piedre

Poison (Lost Gods#4) – Kingdom of Verde

Chaos (Lost Gods#5) – Kingdom of Schatten

Hurricane Sandy Relief Still Needed, Books with a Bittersweet tag and the Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

So on top of Hurricane Sandy, the nor’Easter hit the very same areas with another punch.  So I am putting out there once more the name of organizations providing assistance to those in need due to Hurricane Sandy.  Please help if you are able, even the smallest of amounts add up to someone being able to eat or have warm clothes.

American Red Cross

Ali Forney Center Housing for Homeless GLBT Youth

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

Now turning to books, I have some wonderful books for you this week, including the latest from Andrea Speed, Megan Derr, and Marguerite Labbe.  In particular, I wanted to talk about books labeled bittersweet.  I think most people see that tag and run as fast as possible in the opposite direction and miss out on some marvelous books.  Two in particular come to mind.  One is Rodney Ross’ The Cool Park of His Pillow.  This is absolutely one of my top books for 2012.  It does contains sadness and pain as it charts one man’s recovery from the death of his long term partner. But there is also so much joy, humor and love that it would be shameful to label it bittersweet as it is so much more than that limiting tag.  I feel the same way about Ghost in the Wind, the latest from Marguerite Labbe.  This story has a definite supernatural bent to it as it concerns the death of a man’s long term partner but in this case the man is murdered and his ghost returns to help his partner move on as well as solve a mystery.  Here the grief is palpable, the murder shocking and the suspense agonizing.  Dreamspinner Press calls it a Bittersweet Dream. Sigh.  I can almost hear the rejections on the wind.  Again, definitely not so.  Don’t miss this wonderful book either.  It’s painful, joyous, suspenseful, and full of boundless love.  I have the latest in the Infected series (darn you, Andrea Speed!!!) and a book from KA Mitchell that is not receiving the attention I think it is due.   So fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a wild ride of a week:

Monday:                       Chaos (Lost Gods #5) by Megan Derr

Tuesday:                       Ghost in the Wind by Marguerite Labbe

Wednesday:                 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and Marie Sexton

Thursday:                     But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell

Friday:                          Splintered Lies by Diane Adams and RJ Scott

Saturday:                      Bloggers Choice

So that’s the week unless something changes.  Happy reading!

September’s Over, and The Week Ahead includes an Author Spotlight and Book Contest!

Standard

The last day of September is here and once again it seems as though the month just flew by along with the Canada geese overhead.  I haven’t seen any hummingbirds for several days now and wonder if the last of the summer migrants have passed by as well.  I will leave the feeders up until next week just to be sure but the autumn wreaths are on the doors and the various maple trees have already started to turn glorious colors so the feeders I am steadily filling now are the ones that contain sunflower seeds.

My favorite month is a day away and so much is happening.  My fish are getting a deeper pond for winter and the work starts tomorrow.  Several family birthdays and celebrations are happening so I am busy with new dishes and desserts to try out.  I love new recipes and will be passing on the ones I find most successful.  October is also bringing new releases in books that I have been waiting for and closure to the Lost Gods series by Megan Derr.  I have loved my journey through the books that are the Lost Gods saga and now await the last, Chaos. Andrea Speed’s anti hero Roan get another installment too on the 5th, a date circled many times in red to make the occasion.

The first day of October starts out with a bang of a new release.  That would be My Regelence Rake by JL Langley.  JL Langley produces about one book every year.  So to celebrate the latest in her Sci Regency series, I will be giving away one copy of her book from Samhain Publishing to a lucky person who comments during the week.   It will be a great week ahead as we talk cowboys, shifters, and of course how did Regency end up in Space?  The winner of the book will be picked by Kirby on Friday!

Monday:                   Author Spotlight: J.L. Langley

Tuesday:                   Sci Regency Series Review

Wednesday:             With or Without Series Review

Thursday:                 Cowboys with JL Langley

Friday:                       My Regelence Rake  and winner of the Contest

Saturday:                   The Tin Star and why I love it.

Why A Series Can Make My Heart Sing!

Standard

It’s no secret that I love books and always have.  From my earliest memories of listening to someone read to me then transitioning to being old enough to pick up a book myself to while away the time. When I was younger, my family moved around every couple of years or more as my father’s job was to evaluate school systems. While not a hardship, it’s not conducive to the young who find it hard to leave friends and special places behind again and again.  As I got older and the moving proved more stressful, I turned to books for companionship.  Books, never far from me from birth (a given with parents as educators), became my constant companions. They became my escape from reality, an acceptable form of “invisible friend”, my Harvey. I was lucky in that one of my uncles, a great uncle really, worked at Charles Scribner’s & Sons. Uncle Wade sent us boxes of books of all types and genres, most of which were too old for me (Frank Yerby, really?) and that created its own special allure, to be old enough to read all those  books!  A new goal and easily fed addiction formed early in life – I was seven by then.

Have I said that books fascinate me? It was always just a matter of minutes before I lost myself in an author’s special universe. Their characters jumped to life on their pages waving swords or crawling through tunnels, the places they created became worlds whose paths I wished to tread and on whose seas I wished to voyage. Don’t you remember picking up a book and starting to read, and thinking please, please, never let it end?  That was me, out in the woods or under a blanket in bed, book in hand, eyes shut tight and wishing with all my might for a magic wand and horses with wings.

With some books, just one book is sufficient to satisfy your need for the world the author created.  You read it and are happy to have visited there.  They were great hosts, told you a marvelous story and fed you a meal that left you full if not completely replenished. When it came time to take your leave,you wished those characters well and felt that while you have enjoyed the visit other destinations were calling and you must be off. My Friend Flicka was one. Treasure Island was another.  So was Old Yeller, Dahlgren and National Velvet and hoards of nameless books of my youth. But then there are those books whose characters became friends or heros, the worlds they lived in were places I yearned to go, each and every element necessary and magical to me at the time. Those stories had multiple books called a series! From the mundane to the mystical, I gobbled up series with all the ardor and fervor of a zealot.

For me a series meant never having to leave your favorite characters behind or the universe they inhabited.  After you finished one story, you could look forward to a new adventure, a new challenge or a new journey taken with the same beloved people/beings you met in the first book.  Sometimes the characters stayed the same, they lived in their old house, had the same friends and stayed the same age.  I am thinking Nancy Drew here with Beth, George and Ned.  And sometimes the characters grew up like those in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  But whatever the shape the narrative took, I knew that I would be visiting a familiar place but with unknown consequences. Oh the anticipation, the agony, the  time I spent daydreaming about what was to come next for my heros (of all genders and species).

Whether it was L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , book series have been my affordable addiction. Not possible to own a herd of horses in a suburban backyard? Let’s substitute dragons for horses and scarf up Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. My parents inform me that we are southbound, going to visit the relatives again this summer. My first reaction? OK, second reaction? Hide all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books in my suitcase to pull out at the cousins first suggestion to Dippity Do my hair and head out to the Dairy Queen. Series after series, genre after genre, my addiction grew and my bookshelves groaned.

Has my addiction to series dwindled as I have aged? Not on your life! Don’t look at me like that!  I know you have been there along with me. Haven’t you ever reached the end of a book that has kept you mesmerized from word one and wanted to scream out ‘Noooooooo, I don’t want it to end”?  Or had the characters in the latest book you were reading seem so real that the last sentence of the epilogue left you feeling bereft? Or maybe the world that came alive in between the pages was so vivid that you could smell the alien air and feel the magic in the landscape?   It still happens to me at 2 or 3 am in the morning (just like always) when I come to the end of a gripping saga I started earlier that day and never put down.  I scramble to get back to the pages in front and then in the back to see what else the author has written. If stymied, and who wouldn’t be  at that time of the morning, I turn on the computer (ok this part is new) and check for updates at their publishers or websites, never mind the dogs glaring at me because I have disturbed their sleep.  And when my search turns up that the book is a part of a series? Well, let’s just say I give the ol’ Rebel Yell a run for its money and make my Celtic ancestors proud!

Some of my favorite series?  Hard to separate them out as I have so many in different genre’s.  Mystery authors make it easy for me.  Love you Martha Grimes and Inspector Jury, same to you, P.D. James and Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, and on right to up Sarah Paretsky and her female private eye, V I Warshawski and Stieg Larsson and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Once a mystery author creates a character, a series is sure to follow.  Authors of the supernatural and fantasy are much the same.  Look at Laurell K Hamilton and Anita Blake.  Hit List is the 20th Anita Blake novel.  Or Terry Pratchett and his Disc World series that is comprised of 33 novels.  That could be a little daunting if not for the treasure that is Disc world.

Sooooo, where was I? Oh yes, my love for book series.  Today with the advent of eReaders and ePublishing, the novel and book series has never been more popular.  Especially with my m/m fiction, I have so many favorite series that I hardly know where to start.  Perhaps I will start with a series I began my m/m journey with.  That would be Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series, still going strong today at book no. 27. I love  Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series and Kate Steele’s Bond of the Maleri books. Can’t go wrong there.  I would wave Jet Mykles Heaven Sent series at you, can’t miss those! Or JL Langley’s With or Without series with her wolf shifters that are so hot and memorable. So many that I need to start a list.  And just look at the books I have reviewed lately.  Some of my must read series are among them: Cut and Run from Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (now just written by Roux), Infected by Andrea Speed (I groan just thinking about Roan – snicker), the Lost Gods series by Megan Derr, the Cambridge Fellows books by Charlie Cochrane, Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love series and so many more.  I feel like one of those people at an awards show with a never ending list.  I could go on and on and on while a guy in the wings gives me the signal to shut up.

So here I am all these years later and nothing has changed.  OK, yes some things have changed.  Sheesh! You think you would let a girl get by with some things…but my love of books and a series of books?  Never.  A great series still fills me with excitement and the expectation of wonderful surprises just on the horizon.  I look forward to each new twist and turn the author can think up and that I never saw coming.  I can’t wait for the paths unexplored and the roads not yet taken by characters I love on worlds new and known.  And  that is why a series makes my heart sing.

Small list of my favorite series in no particular order and yes I know I left a lot out.  Please send us your favorites:

M/M Series (3 or more books):

Promised Rock series by Amy Lane
Lost Gods series by Megan Derr (fantasy)
Conquest series (rockers) by S. J. Frost
Heaven Sent by Jet Mykles (rockers)
Adrien English Mystery series by Josh Lanyon contemporary
Cut and Run by Urban and Roux, now just Abigall Roux – contemporary
Infected series by Andrea Speed (science fiction)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott action/adventure
Faith, Love, and Devotion series by Tere Michaels contemporary
St. Nachos series by Z.A. Maxfield contemporary
Cattle Valley by Carol Lynne cowboys contemporary
With or Without series (shifters) by JL Langley
Sci Regency series by JL Langley
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane
A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes
Warder series by Mary Calmes
Home series by TC Chase
Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

and all the series I have written about this week, Infected, Cambridge Fellows, Lost Gods, Dance with the Devil, The Sanctuary series…..

Bellingham Mysteries series by Nicole Kimberling  – last day to make a comment and be entered into the book giveaway contest for Primal Red.

Favorite Series Covers and Cover Artists!

Standard

Book covers have always fascinated me.  Some repel me, others draw me in immediately.  Think “ooh, shiny, pretty…” lol.  Others intrigue me by their content or graphic design, while others leave me “meh” or confused. When I think of series covers that are successful, all they have some of the same elements incorporated into their design.  The first being I can tell the books belong together at a glance, they have a cohesive design element consistent in every cover.  The fonts stay the same.  Each cover contains the same overall design with small changes that  don’t affect the overall picture they present to the reader.

So we are looking for consistency, cohesiveness, clarity and recognition.  Designs that convey a sense of connectedness between the books. Look over my choices and see if you agree with me. Many of my favorites series also have some of my favorite series covers. Yes, I have let quite a lot out but I need something for the next cover post, don’t I? Lets get started.

1. Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, now being written by Abigail Roux,cover design by Mara McKinnon:Simple and elegant.  The central object, which is prominent in each storyline, is changed out with each book.  I can tell a Cut &Run book in a heartbeat.

2. Lost Gods series by Megan Derr, design by London Burden. Each cover is a map of the kingdom the story is set in.  The color is important as it is a prime element for each kingdom and its culture.  Blue for the kingdom of Kundou, a land to whom the sea is all important.  It’s people have hair in all shades of blue and green, the color of water.  The orange/red cover of Burning Bright is self explanatory and so on. Subtle, expressive, simple on the surface yet contains hidden meanings just like the books.

3. Sanctuary Series by RJ Scott, artist/cover design by Reese Dante.  Each cover depicts the two men who will be the novel’s romantic couple, usually one is a Sanctuary op.  The design stays the same with the men being switched out.  The models are  consistent with the descriptions of the men inside.  Reese Dante  does the fantastic design.

4. Dance With The Devil series by Megan Derr, design by London Burden.  Effective use of a simple graphic design where the object floating in the center of a black cover is switched out for each new book. Again the main element is important  to the storyline. Effective, elegant, and easy to recognize that the books belong together without having to resort to the publishers note.

4. Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane, cover design by Scott Carpenter: All the covers have a lovely vintage feel to them, sepia toned with elements such as furniture, buildings and mens clothing from 1900’s included on the design. Unfortunately, the last cover from Samheim had a more modern looking model which threw off the design. The newest title in the series has a completely different look as it was published at the different company. Can you pick it out?

3.  Superpowered Love by Katey Hawthorne, artist P.L. Nunn:  Just wonderful art by PL Nunn, the covers really set the stage for the stories within.  I just love these.  Again while the content changes, the style is the same and makes the books easy to identify.

4. Infected series by Andrea Speed, art by Anne Cain, cover design by Mara McKinnon: These covers blow me away.  Intense, dramatic, with that hint of menace.  Outstanding.  They are offered to download at Andrea Speed’s website.  I grabbed them, you will want to as well. Andrea Speed’s website http://www.andreaspeed.com.

5. Cattle Valley Series by Carol Lynne, art by Anne Cain.  It doesn’t matter if it is Book 2, Book 12 or Book 23, you can tell it is a Cattle Valley book immediately due to the great design and artwork by the wonderful Anne Cain.  This series is branded, folks! Total E Bound does more of a series branding than any other publisher or so it seems to me.

6. Sci-Regency Series by JL Langley, cover by Anne Cain.  Sigh!  I love Anne Cain and her artwork.  Especially her cover for My Fair Captain.  That one is so drool worthy that I have to bring out the towels. Yeah, I know TMI!  But just look at that chest!  And the same goes for the other two books in the series, the last of which, My Regelence Rake, is to be released in October 2012.

7.  Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford, artwork by Posh Gosh. What a lush, rich group of covers,  They are like a feast for the eyes, I just don’t know where to look next.  The design pulls your eye around the cover, so nothing is missed.  Just superb.

So that’s my short  list. What is yours? Yes, I see the same artists over and over on covers I like.  Anne Cain, PL Nunn, Reese Dante, Posh Gosh and London Burden.  Lately I have also noticed Alessia Brio too.  I know I have missed so many great artists, help me fill in the blanks.  And don’t forget to leave a comment and be entered in the contest.

What Series Am I Reading Now?

Standard

My reading list has always been a convoluted constantly changing creature (alliteration how I love thee), but lately it is full of authors delivering an addictive group of novels revolving around a select cast of characters and the universe they inhabit, in other words a series!  What does surprise me is that most of the series I am currently reading come from authors that were new to me, undiscovered territory as it were. So these series actually represent a double dose of goodness, that of a new author as well as new series.  I will note that the series I am listing here are ones that are either not complete or a recently completed series that I haven’t finished reading.

1. Infected Series by Andrea Speed:

It started with Andrea Speed and her Infected series.  I can’t remember why I picked up Infected: Prey to begin with but I know that from the moment I met Roan  and discovered the story of a cat virus (like AIDS, it is a blood born pathogen) spreading across the States with devastating effects on society, I was hooked.  Andrea Speed was a new author for me (as is most of the authors here) but with her creation of Roan, she has given us wonderful reluctant superhuman hero, complete with a unique voice and style of dialog I would recognize as his anywhere.  Roan would appreciate it if he were a solitary being but he comes with a close knit group of people in various roles that are as multilayered, as personable as tragic and humorous a bunch of beings as you will ever meet.  Roan has esoteric tastes in music so I was not always familiar with his choices of bands (These Arms Are Snakes really?) but Andrea Speed thankfully provides the playlists on her website so I can get up to speed (snort) and so can you.  And Roan’s commentary on society, reality tv, religion, ok anything really often has me in stitches when I am not dissolving in tears.  Do not pass up this series.

Infected Shift is the latest in the series.  Find my review of it here and a list of all the previous books.  The books should be read in the order they are written to get the full measure of the story and the characters.

Infected Series: Prey, Bloodlines, Life After Death, Freefall, Shift.

Andrea Speed’s website In Absentia can be found here.

2. Lost Gods Series by Megan Derr:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was asked to review Treasure, the first book in the Lost Gods series. I had a vague notion about it being a fantasy series, mermaids, dragons, that sort of thing.  But from the first page of Treasure, Megan Derr’s characters grabbed me by the shirtfront, gave me a shake for good measure and pulled me into their complex, richly layered saga of the gods returning to their lands 1,000 years after their deaths.  Let’s start with the way Derr has crafted this series.  Each book is the story of one kingdom and their Lost God.  For each kingdom, Derr created a people whose religion, dress, language and beliefs reflects that culture of their land as well as geographical map to help the reader envision the story.  Her world building is dazzling and from novel to novel, the saga changes in scope from a rollicking sea adventure to the sacrifice of innocents, from broad humor to scenes that had me sobbing uncontrollably.  Megan Derr leaves nothing to chance in her books, there is myth building, creation puzzles and themes of forgiveness, sacrifice and rebirth. After Treasure came Burning Bright, a book I was in no way prepared for and still holds a huge place in my heart which is odd considering my mouth tasted of ash after reading it. An astonishing novel in a series of the same measure.

This is a 5 book series and Megan Derr has just submitted the last book to the publisher, Less Than Three Press.  I have just finished the 3rd book, Stone Rose.  Find my review here along with the reviews for the previous books.  My review of the covers will go up on Tuesday.

All the books should be read in order that they were written because of the complex saga and the long list of intertwined characters. Treasure, Burning Bright, Stone Rose, Poison, and Chaos.

3.  Cambridge Fellows Series by Charlie Cochrane:

I remember reading a review by Erastes of one of the Cambridge Fellows series and found myself intrigued by the high rating and Erastes’ regard for the author’s historical authenticity and writing style. Then it popped up again and again on must read lists on various blogs to the point I  found myself ordering Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) and got my first introduction to the Drs. Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart. I will say our first introduction was a little shaky. I loved Cochrane’s descriptions of 1906 Cambridge from the language/terms spoken at that time to the shoppes of the day but it took me some time to warm up to Orlando and Jonty.  I liked them well enough, respected them but felt a little removed from their characters.  Then came Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows #2) and the distance between the characters and myself dissolved never to return.  With each book the relationship between the characters deepened as more of their backstory came into light and I become more engaged, more connected to the characters and their fate.  By Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows #3), I was seriously in love with Orlando and Jonty, and paid close attention to each case they investigated (oh yes, there are mysteries in each book).

There are some hard subject matter buried in these stories, including one of child abuse and rape.  Charlie Cochrane handles it with sensitivity while never deviating from the emotional devastation it visits upon her characters.  The author’s use of language and location gives her stories such depth and authenticity that I often find myself running to do research on some topic she has brought up long after I have finished the book.  Every part of this series is beautifully done.  I just finished the fifth book of this series, Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows #5) and thought I saw the end of the series with All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows #8).  Then Charlie Cochrane published Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows #9) this month with a different publisher and the series continues.  Huzzah!

Find my review of Lessons in Temptation(Cambridge Fellows #5) here and all the reviews for the previous novels.

The list:  Lessons in Love, Lessons in Desire, Lessons in Discovery, Lessons in Power, Lessons in Temptation, Lessons in Seduction, Lessons in Trust, All Lessons Learned and Lessons for Survivors.

Charlie Cochrane’s website is http://charliecochrane.livejournal.com

4.  Dance With The Devil Series by Megan Derr (yes, Derr again):

This was easy.  My co-reviewer Sammy was reading these novels and I picked up the first based on her recommendation and my knowledge of the author.  Right away,  the method Megan Derr used to create her narrative delighted me.  We are introduced to Chris White, supernatural detective,  and his associate detective Doug who happens to be an imp by the means of detective cases. Each chapter is a different case Chris White has been involved in. Here Derr does not follow a strict timeline for the first case ,Case No. 507  The Devil’s Consort, finds Chris already the consort of Sable Brennen, the demon Lord of the city. The next chapter, Case No. 37 finds Chris just starting out in the business.  Here he meets Sable for the first time as well as so many more unusual and delightful characters that reoccur throughout the novel. The next case is Case No. 532, Bad Blood Part 1 which moves the story forward. Then the case immediately after is one from the past bringing with it the backstory of whatever character is now front and center.  If that seems confusing, trust me its not.  And as for Chris himself?  Well, he happens to be part ghost with the ability to walk through solid surfaces, handy when you are a detective facing locked doors!

I have just finished with book four in the series (yeah, I know I didn’t see it before I started writing this all down, I am on or at another book 5), but it seems that Derr is taking us on a tour of the various territories of this world she created.  The first 3 books are very connected together as there lands are adjacent to each other and then with book 4, she starts introducing the dragon lands which are the subject for books 5 and 6 so far. Within these pages we have demon lords, vampires, werewolves, imp, gorgons, warlocks, witches, pixies, brownies, dragons, knights, and almost every supernatural or fantastical being you can think of.  A veritable smorgasbord of fantasy characters, all realistically portrayed (as real as supernatural beings can be), all so personable that you love them, hurt for them, care greatly what happens to them, even if they are the walking dead.

Pick these up, don’t pass go, don’t stop for anything, even a Margarita before getting the first book, Dance with the Devil.  You are going to be my BFF for this one!

The list: Dance With The Devil,Dance In The Dark, Ruffskin,Midnight, The Dragon Pit,The Sword of the King

Read my review of the last book Midnight and you will find a list of the previous books as well.

Megan Derr’s website is http://maderr.com.  Also check out Less Than Three Press!

5. The Sanctuary Series by RJ Scott:

Take one crime family, The Bullens, add in gorgeous sexy, competent operatives working for a secret agency dedicated to keeping witnesses safe and investigating crimes that the other alphabet government agencies are involved in or won’t handle and you have the Sanctuary series by RJ Scott. Guarding Morgan (Sanctuary #1) is our introduction to Sanctuary, their operatives and the Bullen crime family.  Morgan is the eyewitness to the brutal  murder of a young woman, and is the first domino to topple over in the line of events that will eventually bring the Bullen family to  justice.  Each book gives us a new romantic pairing and more leads/clues into how widespread  are the Bullen family’ crimes, extending into the Senate itself.  Scott gives the operatives a realistic feel, they screw up, they bleed, they are stressed out and sometimes overwhelmed.  These are real people who are overextended just by the nature of the job they perform. And while there are at least one HEA, most are HFN which is believable given their jobs and responsibilities.

The Bullens are a despicable bunch and Scott throws us quite a few false leads and surprises here. The investigation gets compromised, there is a FBI mole, and things are not always what they seem.  It is a great ride full of characters I came to care about, there is not one cardboard cutout to be found in these novels.  The Bullen Family saga ended at Full Circle but the Sanctuary novels will continue or so RJ Scott assures me.  What a happy reader than made me.

So here is my review of Full Circle with the complete list of the Sanctuary books to date.  Read them in order.  Guarding Morgan, The Only Easy Day, Face Value, Still Waters,  and Full Circle. You will love them if you like great action adventure and sexy special operatives!

RJ Scott’s website is http://www.rjscott.co.uk

6. Cut & Run Series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, now being written by Abigail Roux:

How do I love this series?  Let me count the ways.  I love it to thee to the depths and breadth and height my soul can reach, I love thee purely, I love thee….well I am sure you get my drift.  This series is brilliant.  It all started back in 2008 when Dreamspinner Press published Cut & Run, the first in the series then written by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux.  It was here that Ty Grady met Zane Garrett in the offices of the FBI.  Neither man had a partner, both were coming off undercover assignments, and in Zane’s case, a deep undercover assignment that left him with a drug and alcohol addiction.  As they saw it, they were polar opposites, Zane liked to “crunch the numbers” as it were, and Ty flew by the seat of his pants.  This was not a partnership that had long term or even short to middling term written on it.

Their first assignment has them looking for the murderer of a pair of FBI agents.  They are squabbling, constantly finding fault with each other’s techniques and personalities. Then the murderer turns his attention to them and they must act together as a team to track down the killer before they become his next target.  Cut & Run sets the tone for the series.  A tight, suspenseful storyline that contains a complicated assignment that somehow furthers Ty and Zane’s complex relationship.  This is not a case of instant love or even instant like.  Instead we are given a relationship that is built slowly and with great care over six published books so far and Abigail Roux has stated she plans to go to at least nine in the series.

And what remarkable characters we have in Ty Grady and Zane Garrett.  They have fervent, obsessed fans who have Team Ty and Team Zane t-shirts (Edward and Jacob eat your hearts out).  And all that obsession, all that mania is totally warranted.  These are not your larger than life superheroes. Instead we have two human beings, with all the frailties, faults, and traits that make it easy to identify and empathize with them. Ty comes from a family steeped in military tradition but only now are we finding out why he joined the Marines.  And Zane’s background? We have only gotten hints of it, with a fact thrown in here or there.  Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6), coming out in August 2012, will answer some of our questions, but not all.  That is in keeping with the slow leak of information as each man still has much to learn about the other.

Is there a difference now that Abigail Roux is writing the series alone?  No, absolutely none.  The flow is as seamless between Fish & Chips and Divide & Conquer as Divide & Conquer and Armed & Dangerous. In fact, I found Armed & Dangerous to be the best yet (without taking anything away from the wonderful skills of Madeleine Urban who no longer writes). Abigail Roux is a master of location, character and plot and it shows in these books.  When she writes about Baltimore, you know this person has been to Baltimore, walked the streets there, taking in the flavor unique to the city.  It is the same whether Ty and Zane are in Chicago or on the high seas in a cruise ship, there is nary a false note that is hit. Such authenticity keeps everything so real that at times it is hard for me to come out of the stories.

I cannot recommend this series enough.  If I could, I would run the streets waving a Ty and Zane banner myself.  And no I won’t tell you which shirt I have in my closet!  Now go and get Cut & Run, start there, read them in order (no peaking or reading in advance)!  You will be sending me flowers over this one!

Cut & Run,Sticks & Stones (Cut & Run #2).Fish & Chips (Cut & Run #3),Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run #4),Armed & Dangerous (Cut & Run #5) see my review here, Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6) – coming in August from Riptide Press.

Abigail Roux’s website can be found here.

So, that’s my short list.  What an amazing group of authors to go with some of the best series I have ever read. Are there others?  You betcha. JL Langley’s With/Without Series and her Regency series, Andrew Grey’s Range series, Mary Calmes’ Panther series and so many others.So let’s consider this installment number 1 in my new What Series Am I Reading Now column, shall we?  And check in with me all week. Be sure to leave a comment along with an email address to be entered into the contest for a copy of Primal Red from Nicole Kimberling.

Now tell me what series are you reading now?

Review of Stone Rose (Lost Gods #3) by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

It has been nine hundred years since the death of the Basilisk and the Kingdom of Piedre has continued to pay the price for the loss of their god. The kingdom is being torn apart by feuding religious factions.  The Brotherhood of the Black Rose wants to make sure that the Basilisk never rises again, using its assassins to kill all that stand in their way.  The Brotherhood of the White Rose is using all its resources to try and bring the Basilisk back permanently.  And standing in between them is Prince Culebra, the latest mortal incarnation of the Basilisk, God of Death.

Bone white in coloration, eyes covered in black cloth, the Prince is a beautiful and deadly being.  He is also lonely, depressed and still grief stricken over the loss of his lovers, one to the mermaids of Kundou, the other to his grief over the loss of his brother.  It has never been harder to be the avatar of a God.  Targeted by assassins all his life, feared and hated by his family, Culebra moves through the castle with Ruisenor as his only confidant and protector.  That Ruisenor happens to be an enormous snake of unknown origin matters little to the Prince as snakes have always been his friends and companions. Lately the assassination attempts have increased in number as the anniversary of the Basilisk’s death approaches.  Only Ruisenor’s lethal intervention has kept him alive.  Culebra is aware that something must change and soon or he will surrender to his depression and death.Will the arrival of Prince Midori Kawa of Kundou spark that change?

Megan Derr’s Lost Gods saga just keeps getting better and better with each succeeding book. The Lost Gods series continues with the  outstanding Stone Rose, the third in the series and the third Lost God, the Basilisk. .  As the cover color indicates, the Stone Rose is a tale of darkness and death, from the land to the very God itself.  Piedra, the  kingdom on the map of the cover, is a hard land, covered in stones with rocky mountains and black forests that reek of death. Derr gives us a clear understanding of the kingdom with one sentence. “Piedre was more like a solemn temple, where no one dared to speak above a whisper.” Perfection.  The darkness of Piedre extends to its people who are dusky skinned with black hair and eyes.  As with the other kingdoms (Kundou and Pozhar), Piedre has been in decline since its god died. It’s populace is starving, the climate is changing, and its royal family is doing everything it can to hold onto power.

Culebra, like the Basilisk he embodies, has eyes that can kill which is why his have been bandaged since birth.  A reference to eyes and sight permeates the language of Piedra, an exquisite detail Derr has used throughout the Lost Gods to great impact.  “Eyes slay them”, “May kind eyes guide you” or “May you always gaze into friendly eyes”.  The colloquialisms  or expressions add to our understanding of  Piedre’s culture and gives the tale a layer of authenticity. And as Piedre is the land of death, those references color their speech as well.  Call someone a “corpse eater” or carrion feeder if you wish to be derogatory, “Bones and blood!” make a very satisfactory exclamation, and then there is the prayer “Blood the living to honor the dead. We live because you died. Life and death cannot exist without each other. In the name of the Basilisk, amen.”  Each phrase, each remark adds a layer to our understanding of the Piedre and their god.  I love the way Megan Derr builds her worlds from the little touches in the dialect to the population’s physical appearance, every detail is covered.  Once you enter into her world your immersion is complete, there is nothing to jar you loose.

Megan Derr outstanding characterizations continue in Stone Rose as well as a new twist to the saga.  In the previous books, Treasure (#1) and Burning Bright (#2), the identities of the Lost Gods were not revealed until the end of the story. With Prince Culebra as avatar, the Basilisk is already present at the beginning of the tale.  At least in its human form.  But again, nothing is ever as it seems.  What can appear to be a solid image can turn out to be a refracted likeness instead.  I love Culebra.  Every part of him isolates him from everyone around him, except for a selected few individuals and his snakes.  In a land of dusky skinned, dark haired people, he is the color of bleached bones from his skin to his hair.  The black bandages around his eyes only highlight his differences.  Culebra can taste death with a flick of his tongue and communicate with all the species of snakes who gather around him.  But he is also completely human in his need for love and companionship and his despair over his loss of his lovers.  Culebra seduces us from the beginning as he does Midori,

We first met Midori when he was a Captain in the Kundou Royal Navy. When we last saw him, his ship was transporting Prince Culebra and Count Krazny of Pozhar away from the Kumita after the mermaid attack.  He reappears in Piedre, demoted and banished for his efforts, mourning the loss of Prince Kyo.  With his green hair and blue eyes, Midori brings that wonderful world of Kundou with him, refreshing like a sea breeze. When Midori strides off the ship, he does so right into our hearts.  His banishment and demotions have made him more thoughtful and yet have freed him to become someone new.  With Midori, Derr also gets to have some fun.  In an altercation with soldiers, they call him a “fish” and “merslut”, he counters with “sharks” and the fight is on.  I loved that scene.  Midori was also the one who consoled Culebra on board when his lover  was devoured by mermaids.  Past, present and future are all tied up with Midori, a memorable characters among memorable characters.

Next is Cortez, the Black Princesa and Fidel the Dagger, both ex assassins for The Brotherhood of the Black Rose.  Next to Culebra, Cortez is one of the most commanding characters of the story and one of the most remarkable women I have come across in recent fiction.  Deadly and compassionate, hard yet still able to love, Cortez’s persona is so beautifully realized, so layered that I found it hard to find her equal in other stories.  Former whore, Cortez is a master of death but she only kills when the “killing” feels right.  She is as complex as Culebra, perhaps more so. When searching for a comparison Anita Black and Lara Croft came to mind, so did Xena.  But with her scarred face and body, what beauty she has left is buried deep within her and that separates her from the crowd. Fidel will get inside of you too but it takes a little longer. There is Dario, the lover left devastated by his brother’s death and Culebra’s dismissal of him.  I loved him too from the moment we see him in his drunken stupor. Can a enormous viper be a main character?  Absolutely.  Ruisenor slithers through the pages of the story, acting as puppy and predator, bodyguard and guide, a delightful addition to a great cast of characters.

Stone Rose diverges from the other stories in that the main romantic coupling is m/m/m instead of m/m.  Threesomes are not something I usually read but here it not only works but in some respects it is the only things that makes sense once the reader gets to know Culebra and understand his needs and insecurities.  You will mourn the loss of Granito (and go back to Treasure to pick up any references you may have missed then) and rejoice in the possibility of new love for Dario and Culebra.  Megan Derr has done just such an outstanding job with every element that I sit here in absolute amazement.  She has made me love and understand threesomes! *shakes head*

And while I wept all through Burning Bright, here she called up the laughter as well as sobs, all the more incredible in a book consumed with death and destruction.  There are still plenty of shocks and twists at the end, as sacrifice and rebirth are still major themes as the Lost Gods return to their lands.  What an ending!  I thought I saw the beginning of a quibble there but the more I thought about it, I know Derr is setting something up for us in the future and she hasn’t let me down yet. So the quibble wobbled and vanished in a poof of light and I am left, as I was at the end of the other stories, temporarily sated,  yet bereft and longing for more.  *shakes a fist at Derr*

So, now we journey next to Verde in Poison, the 4th book in the series.  Here I hope to see Allil, the White Beast of Verde and get reacquainted with one of my favorite characters in the series.  When we last saw him, he was gravely wounded in Pozhar and on his way back to Verde. It looks to be as traumatic, dramatic and addicting a tale as those before it.  I have no idea what to expect and I love it like that.  This series has had me mystified, incredulous, delighted, laughing hysterically and sobbing my eyes out.  Who knows what Megan Derr has in store for us?  I for one can’t wait to find out.  Bring it on!

Cover by London Burdon.  I love the covers in this series.  Each cover different and yet the same.  A map of Piedre on the cover and black for the death and destruction it stands for. Simple, elegant and perfect for the stories behind them.

Due to the complexity of the sage and in order to understand the characters and world building, the books should be read in the following order. Megan Derr’s Lost God series in the order they were written and should be read:

Treasure  (Lost Gods #1) Kingdom of Kundou  – read my review here

Burning Bright (Lost Gods #2) Kingdom of Pozhar – read my review here.

Stone Rose (Lost Gods #3) Kingdom of Piedre

Poison (Lost Gods #4) Kingdom of Verde (coming next)

The Week Ahead and A Must Recipe – Tarragon Chicken

Standard

Happy Father’s Day all.  It’s a beautiful day here in Maryland, and all is well.  Except for third best dog, Kirby.  Kirby is our Soft Coated Wheaton and a rescue.  A total joy and all around dim bulb who we love dearly.  But he is like a small boy, boundless energy and everything goes into his mouth, regardless of what it is.  So he got into something a couple of days ago and has a upset stomach for his efforts.  This is a typical day with Kirby. It starts either inside or outside.

Kirby comes up to me and sits, wagging his tail, waiting for me to notice him. (uh, right big dog with a Wilfred Brimley face at my elbow)

Me:  Kirby, whatcha doing?

Kirby:  Grins and shows me mouth full of crap (5 socks, robe, pillow case, 3 stuffed toys, who knows)

Me:  Oh, Kirby. (sigh).  OK, let me have it.

Kirby: Runs to top of hill, staircase, sits and grins with mouth full of crap.

Me:  Kirby, get your butt down here.

Kirby:  Grins, wags tail.

Me:  Kirbyyyyyyyyyyy!   Get up, goes to top of hill or staircase, at which point Kirby runs past me to stand at the bottom.

Kirby:  Sits and grins with mouth full of crap.

Repeat sequence until I finally empty his mouth.  Which he promptly fills up again. And when his mouth is empty, he is talking up a storm.  He  wants me to know that kids are on their bikes in front of the house, the UPS man has just driven down the street, you name it.  He is the house’s Town Cryer.  Siamese cats have nothing on him.  I wish I could do an audio recording of Kirby.  I would post it here, trust me you would be amazed.

So while I have a few moments this morning before we start our ritual, here is our review schedule for next week:

Monday:                                   Concord Grape: Unexpected by TC Blue

Tuesday:                                    Stone Rose (Lost Gods #3) by Megan Derr

Wednesday:                             Smooth Like Latte by Rawiya

Thursday:                                 Second Time Lucky by Ethan Day

Friday:                                      Emerald Fire by A. Catherine Noon and Rachel Wilder

Saturday:                                  Reviewers Surprise

 

After all that great reading, you will need some sustenance.  I just made this for the first time and it was wonderful.  I used chicken thighs which I lightly seasoned and put into a 420 oven for 15 mins.  Then I crisped the skin in the pan and put the chicken pieces aside.  Then start the recipe from there.  You will love it.  Pair it with the dry white wine you cooked with and a lovely light salad and you have a great summer meal. Enjoy!

Tarragon Chicken

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken (about 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup  dry white wine
1 shallot, minced
1 cup   creme fraiche
1/2 cup chopped fresh tarragon
Lemon juice

Directions:

Melt the butter with the oil in a large skillet over quite high heat. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and fry in batches until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Put all the chicken back in the pan, add the chicken stock and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Reduce any leftover juices until sticky. Add the wine and the shallots and reduce to a thickish sauce, about 5 minutes. Add the creme fraiche and half the tarragon. Boil down again to sauce consistency, 3 to 5 minutes.

Season the sauce with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Put back the chicken pieces, turning to coat, then transfer to a platter. Pour the sauce over, scatter over the remaining tarragon and serve.

Review of Burning Bright, Lost Gods Book 2 by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Nine hundred years ago in the land of Pozhar, Zhar Ptitsa, god of souls and rebirth, nearly destroyed all his people in a fit of rage.  To stop him, a mage broke him into 1,000 pieces and scattered them into the souls of people present and not yet born throughout the land.  Now the world is dying. For some the only way to save it is to resurrect the Lost Gods.  For others, they would sacrifice everything, including themselves, to make sure that never happens.

The Sacred Texts call those whose souls carry  pieces of the god  Vessels. The  people of Pozhar so fear the rebirth of Zhar Ptitsa, that they have systematically hunted down and sacrificed the Vessels through the years.  As one Vessel is thrown on the flames, another is called into awareness by magical means. One by one, nine hundred and ninety eight Vessels have been sacrificed on the alter of fire and rebirth.  Now only two Vessels remain unaware that their souls contain pieces of a god.

Raz and Pechal are two of the best thieves in the Kingdom. When Ailill, a White Beast of Verde hires Ivan and his a band of mercenaries called the Wolves of Pozhar to steal back a piece of sacred jewelry, there are only two thieves capable of such a high profile theft.  For the jeweled  comb is in the hands of the Minister of Magic who lives within the castle and only Pachal has been successful in entering without rousing the guards. Raz has been looking for that retirement job, one where his fee is so high that he and Peshal can buy a small farm and become honest again.  He worries constantly about his best friend who is much younger than he is and so fragile. This theft will see an end to their life of constant hunger, rags for clothes and fear of constant imprisonment.  He agrees to take this mission and join the diverse gang of mercs, thieves and noblemen.

As the small band prepares to steal back the jewels,the hunt resumes with fervor to identify, capture and sacrifice the last two Vessels on the alter inside the Cathedral of Sacred Fires.  For the king, Tsar Zarya, is dying, the snowfall is earlier and heavier than ever before, and the people grow weary of the killing of innocents.  Dym, the High Priest of Pozhar, is desperate to finish the sacrifices  and set in motion his long held plans.  But the best thieves are hard to catch.  What will happen when they realize they are the last Vessels of Pozhar?

The Lost Gods is turning into such a stunning series, diverse in content and emotional flavor, complicated plots populated with complex, sympathetic, all too human characters that will make you laugh and weep, sometimes on the same page.  Treasure was a rousing adventure on the high seas, with dragons, princes, mermaids and hidden agendas. For all its title, Burning Bright heads in another direction, more localized in geographical area and deeper in content while still continuing with the overall theme of sacrifice and predestination.  Pozhar is a kingdom of fire and rebirth.  It’s citizens eyes and hair carry the colors of fire, from the deepest of reds to red hot oranges and yellows.  They greet each other with “May the fires warm and greet you.” Their epithets use adjectives such as scorching idiot , to the affectionate “little sparks” to shutting someone up with an abrupt “douse it” – fire and ash are always with them.  Yet now the snows come early and often, and the formerly hearty and gregarious people are losing their well known warmth as the constant killing, squabbling, and conflict takes its toll on the population. Through the eyes of each character, you get a real feel of a nation falling apart from the ground up.

The story is told from the  POV of several of the main characters.  In other books I’ve read this technique sometimes renders the story disorientating.  Here it gives us immediate access into the thoughts and emotions of each character which is crucial when showing the impact the sacrifice of the Vessels has on each of them.  The death of innocents is an explosive emotional theme and it is essential to our ability to empathize with the characters to grasp what this means to them. Especially the High Priest Dym who personally  attends to each Vessel before he sees them to their death in the flames. He is tormented by doubt, wavering between his belief that the sacrifices are necessary to achieve his goal and the actuality of being the one to watch each and every one die consumed by flames, burned alive before his eyes. Dym would be so easy to hate if you were unable to feel what this has cost him, his unrelieved pain and anguish hidden behind his calm resolve.

Then there is Lord Nikolai Krasny, Duke of Alkaev and Advisor to the Tsar.  He was introduced in Treasure and his promise as a fascinating character there is fulfilled here in Burning Bright.  Brilliant in demeanor and mind, cold in character, his vision is large in scope.  He’s very aware of  the conflict within his nation, court intrigue is a mere game compared to the losses he has already endured, his sister was a Vessel and the only man he has ever loved refuted him and now lies dying.  His remote, sarcastic voice is a needed contrast to those characters grounded in obligation and quiet suffering.  Also reappearing from Treasure, is the wonderfully slutty and adventuresome White Beast of Verde, Ailill.  The noble shapeshifter brings a much needed levity and sexuality with him.  I adored the brief glimpse of him onboard the Kumita and was thrilled to see how heavily involved he is here (and in future books).  Ivan and his band of mercenaries, the Wolves of Pozhar, form a sort of outlaw Greek chorus.  They don’t care much for religion, and see no reason for the sacrifices.  Loyalty to each other and their own flexible set of morals/rules is what guides them.  Finally, there is Raz and Pachal, the little sparks and our endearing young thieves.  They become the heart and heartbreak of this story.  You will quickly come to love them, as do all the denizens of the markets, brothels, and poor of the city.  Megan Derr has almost done too well a job with these two because you care for them so deeply and root for them with all your heart.  I am not sure I have forgiven her yet for some of the events here but forgiveness also seems to be a common thread throughout the Lost Gods saga so I am waiting to see how it all plays out.

Each book centers on one Kingdom and its Lost God.  In Treasure it was Kundou and the Three Dragons of the Storm.  Burning Bright is the  story of Poshar and it’s Lost God, Zhar Ptitsa.  Book 3 is called  Stone Rose and the kingdom of Pierdre with its Lost God, the Basilisk, to be followed by the books Poison and Chaos. Slowly, each convoluted puzzle piece falls into place as the tale of the Lost Gods is painstakingly assembled.  Like a Rubric’s Cube, each story has the same intricate structure.  Each character plays multiple rolls, each supposed dead end reveals a hidden passage, a character of seeming little consequence later reappears much changed in status and power.  Death and rebirth are constant companions.  Little things that bothered me in Treasure are resolved (somewhat) here but the final solutions and answers to all our questions won’t come until the very end of the last book in the Lost Gods series.

Can one love a book when you find no joyfulness in reading it?  For me the answer is yes. I gloried in the tale even as I had the taste of ash in my mouth. In fact I will reread this one and will probably hold the entire series close.  This is not a tale of romance, although love plays its part. Megan Derr is giving us an incredible epic, spanning the ages, continents and even death.  Each book should be read in succession and as a part of the series to get the full impact and role each kingdom and its people will play in the final battle for the Lost Gods.  You will both love and hate Burning Bright.  Have several boxes of tissue handy.  I did and still do.  I cannot wait for Stone Rose to come out and the epic of the Lost Gods to continue.  Kudos to Megan Derr for giving us two remarkable books in what promises to be one of the most extraordinary fantasy series in recent memory.

Cover: Art work by London Burden.  The covers are growing on me.  Each cover is a map of the kingdom involved, done in a way to resemble parchment.  The color choice carries over from the colors of the people of each kingdom.  Treasure has a blue cover to go with a kingdom by the sea and its people with hair and eyes the color of the sea.  Burning Bright has an orange or burnt cover perfect for citizens of Pozhar with hair and eyes the color of fire.  A simple concept for a cover of a book complex in story and character.

Available from Less Than Three Press.

Treasure (The Lost Gods Book 1) by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars

One night in a deserted warehouse in Kundou, two lonely boys on the run meet and entwine their fates forever.  One wishes to become a ship’s captain. One seeks just one night of safety and refuge from beatings at home.  They exchange gifts and make a promise to each other.  One will buy a ship and come for the other.  And one will wait for him and they will run off together to find the greatest treasure in the world.   It will take years before they see each other again.

Nine hundred years ago the Dragons of the Three Storms, Gods of chaos went insane and tried to destroy the land of Kundou. But King Taiseiyou rose up, killed the dragons and stole their powers for himself. The cost the royal family pays to retain those magical powers? A sacrifice of a member of the royal family every hundred years and that time is almost here.

Now the  world is in trouble, cracks appearing in the political governments everywhere, food supplies are threatened, and even the supremacy of the seas that Kundou has always held is shaken by constant attacks by mermaids who kill entire crews, discard the cargo, and sink the ships. Prince Nankyokukai and Taka, his friend and royal secretary have a secret mission, or rather Prince Kyo does.  Taka doesn’t know the meaning of the errands that Prince Kyo is sending him on, only that they are the utmost importance to his only friend,  and that is all that matters to Taka.  The prince’s family, always so cold and distant towards it’s youngest son, has been taking more interest in his affairs of late and the heir to the throne has been more obnoxious and overbearing, if that is possible.  In secret, Prince Kyo and Taka head to  the city docks and a meeting with the city’s wealthiest merchant, Master Shimano Raiden. Huge in statue and personality, flamboyant in attire, sure and arrogant in attitude, Shimano Raiden is everything  Taka finds disdainful yet Kyo seems determined to do business with him.  Taka is astounded to learn that the reason behind Prince Kyo’s meeting is to arrange for clandestine passage out of Kundou, immediately. And only one ship’s captain and one ship will do, Captain Kindan Ningyo of the Kumiko.

Captain Kindan Ningyo and all aboard the Kumiko have had a rough voyage this trip and are looking forward to a few days to relax in the harbor before Raiden sends them out again.  The mermaid attacks are increasing and his ship is a favorite target.  Only a very few know the reason behind the ferocity and number of attacks on his ship, that he is half merman and hated by the sea bitches for his very existence.  His dual nature would also bring him trouble on land if known but Raiden keeps his secret.  But Kindan has another more hidden reason that he returns to Kundou’s harbor, he has a promise to keep.  Between a secret mission and a promise rests the fate of the world and the destiny of two boys turned men looking for that greatest treasure of all – love.

This book took me back to the years of reading with a flashlight under the covers.  Alone in my “cave” I visited alien worlds, met otherworldly beings and rode on the backs of dragons.  It was magical.  Everything seemed possible and real.  And Treasure brought all that back in one fell swoop.  Well, except for the sex of course but still a wondrous  time.  And with the worlds and characters she has created here, Megan Derr has given me an old fashioned tale of adventure and fantasy,  so satisfying a page turner that I was finishing it at 2am this morning and yelling for more.  Really! My dogs were quite upset at the racket!

There is so much to this story I don’t know where to start.  There is the seaside kingdom of Kundou, the sea power of the world with merchants and markets to match the cargo the ships bring in. So real is this world that you can feel the ships creak at their moorings, hear the gulls cry overhead, and listen to the shouts of merchants hawking their wares.  The palace itself is another wonder whose descriptions made me want a magic amulet the better to see the Shark Room with its mystical floor and lethal inhabitants. A perfect place for palace intrigue and mystery. Megan Derr doesn’t stop with Kundou.  She brings us the White Beasts of Verdun with their two skins, and  Pozhar peopled with beings with hearts and souls of fire. Layer upon fantastical layer, the worlds of Treasure emerge and solidify before our eyes.

Let’s not forget the characters because they are unforgettable.  You can tell if someone is from Kundou as they carry the colors of the sea in their eyes and hair, from the deepest blue through all the greens and back again. If you come from Pozhar, your hair and eyes display the pigments of fire. And the characters are as colorful as their physical descriptions.  Prince Kyo is beautiful, ruthless and cunning.  A priest as well as prince, he is an intriguing combination of religion, royal obligation, and romance  wrapped into one.  His willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of his people drives the voyage and the story forward.  Captain Kindan Ningyo is a wonderful creation, a mix of  seafaring Captain and fanged merman at war with his kin, white of skin and hair but black in his choice of garb.  As he and his crew fought back waves of mermaids, decks heaved, sprays of salt water rained over the men as blood flowed and the reader was in the middle of it all, feeling each hit, reeling with each slash of the knife. And then there is Taka and Master Raiden, they may actually be my favorites here.  Taka is full of surprises, a little prickly but quick to forgive, a trait that will be of utmost importance before the story is over.  He is fire where Kyo is ice,  he is loyalty personified and sensitive as to his position in life.  I just loved him.  Master Shimano Raiden is larger than life right down to the colorful robes and jewels he wears but he is a shrewd businessman and a complicated personality to match the multicolored layers of  clothes he is so fond of.  Each character beautifully detailed, so alive as to reach out from the page, grab you and pull you into the adventure with them.

Treasure so enchanted me that at the end I was shocked it was over, the tale a little unfinished.  The voyage had come to a satisfactory and surprising end with a twist I relished, but I wasn’t quite sure what came next for all those characters I had come to know and love. And it is that uncertainty that gives this tale a 4.5 instead of a 5.  The sequel, Burning Bright, is out there waiting to be read.  While I am not sure those of the sea fit into a story of flames, but I can always hope.  A tip of a cup full of wine of the dead to a tale well told and to another voyage on the horizon.

Cover:  Artist Le Burden Design. The cost looks like a seafaring map but I would have wished for a little more embellishment to go with a story of Lost Gods and dragons.

Available from Less Than Three Press.