Review: The Astral Mage (The Captains Of The Wolf #1) by Hurri Cosmo

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Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

The Astral Mage coverKyruis has had a life full of woe.  Shuffled from one foster family to the next, unwanted because he is different, a freak of nature, Kyruis has never felt safe, never been safe a day in his life. Kyruis a wanted man. He’s an Astral Mage, better known as a “Soul Giver”, a race of people who can bring people, animals, things back to life by reattaching their energy or souls.  Now most people believe that Astral Mages are but a myth so few exist in the galaxy.  But for those who know better,  the Astral Mages are captured and traded for the highest fee and that is Kyruis’ current fate.

Kyruis is a prisoner on a spaceship, captured and sold to the highest bidder when pirates attack the ship he is on.  Captain Tilbarr of the spaceship Wolf brings Kyruis on board his ship, he has no idea that not only has he found a true Astral Mage but also the one person who makes him feel alive and in love.  But the Confederated Authority, the governing body for planets, is hot on their trail and it wants Kyruis at any cost.  Just as Tilbarr realizes how much he has come to care for Kyruis, Tilbarr also realizes that he might have to give the Astral Mage up or lose his ship and his friends in the bargain.  When the Captain must choose between love and loyalty to his crew, can there be any winner?

The Astral Mage is the first book I have read by this author and it appears to be the first in a science fiction series.  However, I think that although this book shows some promise, I will be stopping here with The Astral Mage.  Let’s go over some of the more winning aspects of the story.  Cosmo works very hard at building a detailed and interesting universe in which to place the story.  At the end of the book, the author has placed a  complex and lengthy Terms and Definitions section that covers construction  elements and minerals, names of the Wolf’s crew to extinct bird species and insects.  One glance at this part of the book and you have the pros and cons of this author’s writing.  Hurri Cosmo is so absorbed in her world building that minutiae that is not relevant to the story basics is included but not a lot of information about the titular race of the story. For example, here is her entry for Screaming Vulture Beasts:

Screaming Vulture Beasts: They are large birds that live in several of the extremely deep craggy valleys that exist on Velel. They are brutal beasts that rip apart their living prey when they capture it, usually in flight. Ancient history of the planet denoted tribes would throw livestock off the cliffs to keep the beasts fed so they would not feed on the people. In modern day, though, the beasts have become wary of the people knowing they can and will kill them if they come close. There are warning systems in place that warn the towns and cities as well if the birds approach. They have become more of a tourist attraction although to get close enough to watch them feed is still considered very dangerous and ultimately stupid.

To be honest, I don’t even remember them in the story as interesting as they sound. But this story is so jammed packed with “stuff” that the important facts and issues are overlooked. There are pages of entries like this. But her entry for the Mages? This is the sum total, already given in the same words in the story:

Astral Mage: The Soul Givers. There are also “carriers”, who are the only ones able to give birth to an Astral Mage. The blood line started to dissipate due to inter-relations with other species. A full-blooded carrier is rare and full-blooded Astral Mages are even rarer.

The author gets so lost in the extraneous details that she forgets the focus of her story is that of the Astral Mages and that happens from the beginning.  We begin the story of The Astral Mage with Kyrius a prisoner on a spaceship rocketing to a destination where he is to be handed off to some unnamed buyer.  Kyruis is a rare almost mythical creature but the Captain of that ship treats him as he would a whore.  This makes no sense considering the fees that are being paid for Kyruis and has been inserted to bring a prurient angle to the story.   You know the author is in trouble when things so south right from the beginning.  Then the story switches focus from Kyrius to Tilbarr, the Captain of the Wolf who attacks the ship Kyrius is on and the book becomes The Captain of the Wolf (The Astral Mage #1) instead of the other way around.  And once the attention is on Tilbarr and his feelings about the mage, it remains there for the rest of the story.  While the reader is patiently waiting to learn more about the Mages, their history, genetic makeup, anything about mages, we get more information about cargos, and metals, and insects and things we really don’t care about.   One of the first things I wanted to know was why only one type of mage?  That doesn’t make any sense either.  Surely if there is one type of gift or magic, there are others.  But as we are given absolutely no information, who knows?

Then there are the characterizations.  Cosmo can’t decide if Kyruis is a young, innocent victim in need of a savior or a sexually experienced being with hidden resources and strengths, wounded faun or clever mouse, child or sex object.  Cosmo swings back and forth between the two with a rapidity that will give the reader whiplash.  The same divided characterization haunts  Tilbarr as well, seasoned pirate or gullible sailor with a need for love?  Honestly, the wavering characteristics make it hard to believe in any of the characters you meet while reading this story. That lack of believability has always meant a lack of connectivity for the reader as well and it shows here.

So while there are some nice points and creative aspects to The Astral Mage, in the end it is overwhelmed by too many extraneous details, weak characters, and a missing focal point.  I would give this a pass, there are better m/m science fiction stories out there.

Cover design by Lee Tiffin doesn’t make any more sense than the book does.

ebook, 243 pages
Published March 16th 2013 by Silver Publishing
ISBN 161495903X (ISBN13: 9781614959038)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttps://spsilverpublishing.com/the-astral-mage-ebook-p-1414.html
seriesThe Captains Of The Wolf

Review of the Jewel Bonds Series by Megan Derr

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Rating: 4.75 stars

 

For the Jewel Bonds series, Megan Derr creates a rich world of wizardry and combatants.  In this fantasy world, we have the Territories full of wild creatures and dragons, a lawless land that is constantly infringing on the civilized cities and towns.  To deliver the full measure of protection to the civilized zones, it takes a bonded team comprised of a mage and a warrior.  One to go forward in strength and combat, the other to watch his back and keep safe all around them by magical means.

Children with an affinity for magic or sword work and able to pay tuition go to live at the University of Magic and Combat where they are taught lessons in warfare and magic.  The children are all ages. The different schools seem to correspond to our system here. Some arrive in their teens for studies at the university level. Neither gender or social status matters, both can be warriors or mages, as long as the tuition is paid or scholarships hold, they can attend.  When a mage is finishing their third year in the University, clear jewels are implanted in their wrists and foreheads, showing they are ready to become full mages able to use their magic to the fullest of their abilities. Mages tend to have a talent for one area of alchemy like fire or wind and when they find a warrior to bond with, their jewels take on the eye color of their partner. But for some mages, whatever the reason, a warrior is never found to bond with, leaving them to become a field mage or research mage on their own.

Within this realm of harsh realities, of learning acquired through pain and physical deprivation, Megan Derr gives us three short stories of mages and warriors at different stages in life. Two are still in school at The Royal University of Magic and Combat in the capitol city, the middle pair have left their schooling behind them, one to glory and the other to ignominy and despair, and the third pair sees a mage in his forties, in straightened circumstances, facing a life without a position, possessions or a bond who in his most desperate hour meets a young warrior in need of a temporary mage.  Derr gives us a glimpse into their lives, the hardships they endure to become warriors and mages, and the strange journeys made to find fulfillment and love.

An Admirer (Jewel Bonds #1) introduces us to Kaeck, a poor student working three jobs to help subsidize his scholarship in order for his to stay in school.  By inclination (he feels unloved by family and peers) and circumstances (he works from predawn hours to midnight), he has isolated himself from most of the student body.  Kaeck’s daily routine and expectations rarely changes until the day he opens his student post box and finds a letter from a secret admirer, One letter is followed by others and then gifts.  And Kaeck finds his outlook changing, someone admires him, thinks him beautiful! Kaeck wants to meet his admirer and give him a gift back. But while his admirer is anonymous, Kaeck has met a fellow student, Bellamy, with whom he shares common interests and insecurities and soon Kaeck wonders if their friendship could turn out to be more. But Bellamy is enamored of another student and Kaeck is left wondering if his secret admirer will ever come forward.

I took Kaeck to heart immediately.  Who hasn’t had someone like him in their lives, doing everything he can to keep afloat and make his dreams come true. Kaeck’s family is harsh and lacking love growing up has contributed to his sense of worthlessness.  I just wanted to grab him up, give him a huge hug and feed him a massive dinner.  Kaeck is so fully realized that his pain became mine as well.  It was just as easy to become invested in Bellamy.  A “country mouse” late to class his first day of advanced swordplay and in his ignorance he treated the Lord like a regular professor. Bellamy gave his all in a swordfight, earning his Lordship’s respect and earning a coveted apprenticeship as well as the continued resentment of his peers. Neither young man is comfortable around others, one silent, the other babbles when nervous.  But together, they find a ease with each other they have found no where else.  Derr brings the stress and angst that comes from  school cliques, trying to find your way,  and awkwardness in school and transfers it believably to a fantasy world.   I loved this story and want so much more of these two. At 36 pages, it felt just too short as I was totally invested in these young men and their world. You will feel the same.

Kiss the Rain (Jewel Bonds #2) is a neat time shift as the two heads of Magic and Combat, Lord Jenohn and Master Selsor, almost 60 years old in An Admirer, here  are only 18 when the story begins.  We meet Selsor as he is being brutally attacked by bullies in the school yard at the University.  Told from Selsor’s POV, this is a difficult paragraph to read as you feel every blow to the ribs, every kick to his head as curses rain down upon him.  In his fear, he strikes out with his magic, which up to now has never worked.  A lightning bolt comes out of the sky, killing another student in the courtyard by accident.  Selsor is hauled before the University council who refuse to believe him about the attack and the accident. They tell him the student is dead because of him.  Selsor is banished, forbidden to use magic upon threat of death, and his jewels turned black by the University mages.  Three years have past, and we meet up with Selsor, age 20, scrubbing the floors of a lowly inn, living in the straw above the animals in the stable, reduced to almost starvation levels as no one will hire a disgraced mage.  So depressed he has tried to kill himself, he is beaten regularly by the sadistic innkeeper. Into the inn comes Jenohn, a warrior and a group of soldiers on a mission from the Prince.  The town they are in is being inundated by rain to the point of extermination and the Prince wants to know if black magic is the cause. Jenohn needs the help of an uncorrupted mage and picks Selsor for the job, to his amazement and distrust.

In Kiss The Rain, Megan Derr takes the hard life and isolation of Kaeck’s student life and then deepens it into abuse and horror for Selsor.  Selsor only wanted to become a mage and bond with a warrior, just like his parents had.  But his pretty features and slight build made him an easy target at school where the bullies endless physical and emotional abuse was a daily occurance.  Not only was Selsor afraid for his life but his magic doesn’t want to work even though he knows he has it, adding frustration to his fear.  Selsor commands both our empathy and understanding as he tries to deal with horrific living conditions and the loss of his dreams.  Especially horrifying are his circumstances when we meet up with Selsor years later only to find him being kicked and abused again, only this time with no magic at hand.  So when this golden warrior, Jenohn appears, offering him enough silver to live on and escape the life he is living, we are just as wary as Selsor.  He knows from experience that life is never fair nor kind.  But just as Jenohn grows on Selsor, so does he grow on the reader.  Arrogant but able to back it up, kind in a sort of “need to smack him” sort of way, Jenohn just gets under your skin, Selsor’s too.  Selsor finds it hard to keep his grump on when faced with such irrespressible good nature, and all of it directed at him.  Great characters, both of them.  I loved seeing their backstory after getting a glimpse of them in old age.  This  story has it all, tears, angst, rage and laughter all in 47 pages.  Amazing.

An Exception (Jewel Bonds #3) takes us into the life of Riot, a lonely mage. Mage Riot never thought he would be jobless and practically homeless at the age of 40.  After 20 years of service to the lord of the territories, making sure the land is safe from dragons and that the kingdom prospers, his lord dies.  The new lord is an arrogant, smarmy young man who bullies all around him and expects Riot to submit to his sexual demands.  An honorable man, Riot refuses the pipsqueaks’s ultimatum, and leaves with nothing as all his belongings are confiscated by the new lord.  Even worse, once Riot is cast out, rumors are spread, casting aspersions on Riot’s honor and magic abilities.  Almost penniless, Riot is trying hard to hold on in a land that no longer seems to put a value on his experience, and accumulated wisdom. What is a mage to do when all the rules he has lived by are deemed old fashioned?

I loved Riot immediately.  He is such a unique character.  He is older, forty to be exact.  His hair is graying and he is well aware that any chance he had of being regarded as handsome is long past.  His former lord was a good man and Riot was happy in his service, even though he had never met a warrior who wish to be bonded to him during that time, to his everlasting sorrow.  Now his crystals in his forehead and wrists have turned gray from lack of use and he despairs of ever finding another job, especially at his age, let alone a warrior who would want an older man.  How that rings true no matter the setting, our world or that of fantasy.  Riot is so relatable in every way.

Derr excels at characterization and her people, like Riot, have emotions, thoughts and feelings that match ours.  How can we not relate to them, trying to get through life without compromising who they are and dealing with the stress of everyday life? Even if that life means keeping the kingdom safe from dragons? All that to deal with and at middle age too. Depressing, even heartbreaking.  I felt I knew Riot intimately. Rior meets his match in Coroe, a warrior in need of a mage.  Coroe is in charge of seeing his Lady safely to the lands of her new husband in a neighboring kingdom and all the mages he has hired have been disastrous, either drunk or incompetent or both. Coroe’s gorgeous looks belie his warrior status just as Riot’s rough warrior like exterior is atypical of mages.Both men have had problems stemming from peoples assumptions about their appearance and both are equally wary about the other.  Each also feels their age difference matters to the other in how they are perceived.  Again, how realistic. Coroe’s character has the same level of complexity that Riot has, but it comes out in difference ways.  I loved him too.  Both men circle around their mutual attraction, held back by Riot’s insistence on a firm separation of business from pleasure.  I liked this plot twist that keeps the men from acting on their romantic impluses because with the physical sexual act removed from the action, Derr is able to concentrate on building her characters, their backstory and amble, instead of run, to the start of a romance.  Here too, Derr gives us a complex duo in 10,000 words.  Do I want to see more of them?  Why yes, I do!

I hope Megan Derr will continue to give us wonderful stories in the Jewel Bonds universe,  Perhaps more of Selsor and Jenohn as we are missing 40  years of their lives.  Or perhaps Kaeck and Bellamy after graduation.  The plot possibilities are endless and so are my hopes for the series.  Don’t pass these up.

Covers by Megan Derr.  Hard to argue when it is the author themselves creating the covers for her stories.  Love them.

Review of Mind Magic by Poppy Dennison

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Rating:      4.5 stars

When Simon Osbourne starts hearing the cries of children begging for help in his head, he tries to ignore them.  It’s against the rule he is governed by to interfere as he is an apprentice mage and the children in danger are werecubs. But as the cries continue, he feels the children weakening and decides to act.  Under the darkness of night, Simon steals onto the grounds of a house in the woods, and finds five were children being drained by a demon.  Using the magic tricks he has learned as an apprentice, Simon frees the children and drives them back to the Wolf pack compound outside of town.

Grey Townsend, alpha of the High Moon Pack, has been going crazy ever since his son, Garon and four other children were stolen from the compound.  For two days, the pack has searched but all traces of the cubs are gone, along with hearing their mind speak.  When a strange mage brings the children home, Gray owes Simon his gratitude and trust, not something the weres give to the Others.  Little is known about the Others except that the groups stay away from each others societies, segregated by rules and laws arcane in nature.  Then Simon saves Garon from a demon attack for the second time, and Gray admits they need Simon to help solve the mysteries before them.  Simon loves the family life he sees in the pack and is attracted to the handsome Alpha, Gray.  With the pack and their cubs still in danger, Simon and Gray come together to help find the demon behind the attacks and begin a possible relationship.  But Simon’s actions have repercussions within the Mage Society and he could lose the one thing he has wanted all his life if he continues on this course – the chance to be a full blown mage.

Mind Magic combines so many of my favorite elements in one book.  It has shifters, vampires,  and demons with different takes on all.  In this universe magic is divided up into a triangle.  At the top point is the Head Magic of the mages, another point is Body Magic of the shifters with the final point that of Soul Magic (demons/vampires).  As the author sets the stage in her world, all magical beings have long thought the division between them to be rigid and final. But with Garon demonstrating an aptitude for mind magic as well as body magic, Simon, Gray and the others begin to understand that all is not as they have been told or seems.

Dennison’s alternative world is a wonderfully compelling place that pulls in the reader  completely from the very beginning and doesn’t relinquish its hold even after the story is finished.  I love the notion of the magical divisions and her unique take on all things fantastical extends to shifters and vampires.  Recently I was reading a note on the shifter thread at GoodReads where someone wondered about the difference in body mass between the human and  animal forms that disappears from most shifter fiction.  Dennison addresses that question as her shifters are much larger than the natural wolves, something that doesn’t appear often in shifter fiction.  Her shifters live in a pack in adhering to wolf natural history.  Her vampires and mages get the same attention and neat twists to them, especially her vampire who takes very little blood, only enough to sustain his magic.

The author also excels with her characters, both main and secondary.  Simon Osbourne is kind, gentle, appealing in every way.  Here it is the mages that lead a lonely life, isolated from their families and others which is used to a nice contrast with pack life.  Simon yearns to be a part of a family as his backstory makes plain.  Simon has a love of herbs and plants that his grandfather passed on to him which gives Dennison a chance to go into herbology with lovely results.  I fell in love with Simon quickly just as Gray and the children did.  Definitely not a case of “instant love” as Simon must earn Gray’s trust.  Gray Townsend is a great addition to shifter Alphas out there. He is steady, older, a wonderful father and pack leader.  Slowly Dennison shows us Gray’s history as the story continues with another interesting twist on an Alpha coming of age at 30 to emerge as leader of the pack,  Gray is a family man who takes his responsibilities seriously and still has an open outlook on the world around him.  Of all the characters in the story, it is the mages who remain the most hidebound, strictly adhering to the old ways and narrow outlook on the world around them.  Then there is Goran, Aunt Maggie, and Liam and Cormac, Simon’s “grandfather”. terrific characters, as fully fleshed out as the main characters.

Mind Magic combines some of the most wonderful supernatural elements, tosses it with a good dose of herbology, great characters, and an ongoing mystery to create a story that will continue past Mind Magic. My only quibble is that the end came sooner than I had expected and left me with more questions than were answered. But that makes sense as Mind Magic is the first in a new series called Triad Trilogy.  The next books are Body Magic and Soul Magic.  Poppy Dennison promises that we will be seeing all the wonderful characters we met here again as the series continues.   Great job, great story.  And I have a new author to love.

Cover:  I love the cover by Anne Cain.  That is Gray is every respect.  How I love her artwork.

200 pages in length.  Published by Dreamspinner Press.  Find out more about the author here at her website.

 

Note;  The next edition of Vocabulary Gone Bad will be posted next week instead of today as promised.  Sorry, guys but inspiration hit and I have to add it in somehow!