A Lila Review: Ravenhearth by Lotus Oakes‏

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

RavenhearthEvery ten years, a letter arrives at Ravenhearth’s Abby requesting a companion for the town’s Keeper– a powerful mage that keeps the town safe from a deadly miasma. His only request is that the person comes willingly into the castle.

 Ten years before, Ash touched the last letter and felt the need to learn more about it. Over the years, he did nothing more than to survive in hopes to have a chance to be the next companion. When the next letter arrives, he’s the first one to volunteer to be sent to Ravenhearth’s Keeper.

 He’s a twenty-one-year-old orphan, interested in learning magic, and volunteering is his only chance to achieve his dream. He loved the town he moved in with his mother sixteen years ago, but he doesn’t have anything left holding him back. After convincing the Council about his desire to be the Keeper’s companion, they agreed, and a week later, Giles, the castle’s butler comes for him.

 The rest of the story takes place at the castle and expands about a year. During this time, Ash meets several characters that would play an important role in his life. He learns more about himself and the real reasons he is drawn towards magic. And he does all this under Giles’s guidance. In the end, Ash’s dreams come true, and he gets his HEA.

 Ravehearth is a novel that has the potential to be considered high fantasy if push further than its romance element. The world the author created is flexible enough to house multiple stories in its different cities. The diversity of the cast, their gifts, and their personality give this story the possibilities to being remarkable.

 We get little background information about the miasma, the magic, the mimics, the clockwork, and the world itself. Enough to feel comfortable with the things happening around the MCs, but not enough to be invested in anything else than the possibilities of a relationship between Ash and Giles or Ash and the Keeper.

 Ash life hasn’t been easy since the passing of his mother, but from an early age, he felt the calling to become the Keeper’s companion. We see him struggle with his decision and what he found when he arrives at the castle. He is a loving character that will steal a piece of your heart.

 The limitations of Ash’s POV made connecting with the other characters difficult. The readers want him to get happiness, but we don’t have a way to know if what’s happening in the castle would be enough to fulfill Ash’s expectations. I’d had like to read Giles’s POV or perhaps to have the Keeper as an omniscient narrator.

The beginning and the end of the story moves at a steady pace, but the middle drags with nothing more than Ash’s musings and dreams. Very sexy dreams, but not enough to take the plot forward. The story line is predictable, but even so, it was engaging enough to keep reading. And the magic studies are nothing more than a footnote to the story. We get more details about plants and food that the magic lessons.

 This story has great potential, but it felt short in its current incarnation.

 The cover, by Kirby Crow, shows Ash looking towards the Ravenhearth castle– the miasma visible between them– matching one of the scenes in the story.

 Sale Links: Less Than Three Press | Amazon | ARe

 Book Details:

ebook, 204 pages
Published: February 17, 2016, by Less Than Three Press
ISBN: 9781620047149
Edition Language: English

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Rag and Bone (Rag and Bone #1) by K.J. Charles

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Rag and BoneIt’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicking Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

Set in the world of A Charm of Magpies, this is the story of Crispin Tredarloe and Ned Hall, who according to the author’s note, were featured in her short story “A Queer Trade” within the Charmed and Dangerous: Ten Tales of Gay Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy anthology. Though I didn’t read this short prequel, I was easily able to follow this story as a standalone.

Crispin is a graphomancer, a practitioner of blood writing, a rare talent. Graphomancers use writing and drawing to practice their magic and can draw an injury or death for those they wish to harm. But Crispin doesn’t have good control over his skill, and after having been used by the infamous warlock Mr. Marleigh to assist him in his evil mission, he’s more than happy to take the advice of the justiciars and study with Dr. Sweet, a visiting professor who is well-versed in graphomancy. Crispin needs to learn how to use his talent without relying on the pen Marleigh directed him to create, a pen which uses his own blood to write. And he’s trying to do all this under the watchful eye of the justiciars, many of whom believe he’s a warlock and unable to learn a non-threatening way to use his gift.

Ned is a waste man, collecting paper from all over town to sell for a penny a pound. His quarters—a small corner of his part of a store he shares with a rag-and-bottle shop—are filled to the brim with paper and the accompanying paper dust. But he has a little corner in which his bed is squeezed, and it’s there that he and Crispin find their moments of happiness in the deep of night. And on one of those nights, they discover a burning heap in the middle of the rag-and-bottle shop next door, and the heap turns out to be Mr. Voake, the owner. The other mystery surrounding the burning corpse is the presence of a jug from which the song Scarborough Fair seems to be originating. The only one who can hear it is Ned, a man who is not born to the world of magic. But it appears he has a rare talent for hearing things related to magic that others cannot.

Ned sets off alone to discover if any other rag-and-bottle shops have reported a death and is dismayed to find that there were indeed more. In fact, Ned’s discoveries lead him to the conclusion that evil magic caused the deaths. When Ned disappears, he’s able to connect with Crispin through Crispin’s magic and, together, the two have to fight off a very ancient and very malevolent spirit that has managed to come to life. The story is very exciting, complex, and intriguing from that point on, not only due to the frightening discovery they make, but also due to the consequences the men face when a justiciary investigation, led by Stephen Day, uncovers the magical power unleashed by Crispin as he and Ned fought for their lives.

Though I enjoy this author’s work, it took me awhile to get into this story. I believe it’s due to the fact that I didn’t enjoy this couple, as a couple, as much as others in the Magpies world. Tristan was very unassuming, with low self-esteem and a high quotient for misunderstanding the comments others made about him. Ned was smart, but very defensive about being a person of color in the world of magic, including the dreaded justiciars. Possibly due to the circumstances and time period of the story, neither man was overly demonstrative with the other, and I just didn’t feel the loving bond of a strong connection as I did with Stephen and Crane, or with Jonah and Ben (Jackdaw).

If you are a fan of KJ Charles’s work, by all means pick this up. The history and feel of the era, the complexity of the mystery and magic, and the chance for a quick revisit with Stephen Day and Mrs. Gold, all make this one well worthwhile. Though I personally didn’t connect with the MCs, I still enjoyed the story, and I’m looking forward to more tales from this world.

~~~~~

Cover Art by Angela Waters clearly depicts both MCs in period attire. Though it’s in color, it gives the impression of having been done in daguerreotype, thereby making the photo appear authentic.

Sales Links eBooks:  Samhain Publishing | ARe | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 146 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Original Title:Rag and Bone
ISBN139781619234734
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: The Pinch of the Game by Charley Descoteaux

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

PinchOfTheGame[The]FSBeing a witch doesn’t mean one can beat the devil forever.

Jeffrey Overton, unemployed IT professional turned poker player, pushes his luck once too often and runs afoul of the host of an illegal card club. The man sent to escort Jeffrey to a “meeting” about his supernatural winning streak arrives at Jeffrey’s crappy North Portland apartment, lock-picking tools in hand and a charm to block Jeffrey’s magick.

Head muscle for said host, Mike Wells, is a Daisy from Daisyville. He isn’t a witch. What he lacks in magickal talent he makes up for in brawn, so he doesn’t expect the guy he’s after to overpower him. But once Mike renders Jeffrey helpless, he’d rather seduce him than bring him in.

Jeffrey and Michael ditch the “meeting” and end up hunting some of the same people they ran from, trying to get Jeffrey back into his own body. And that’s only part of the adventure. The pair travel halfway across the country on the quietest road trip in history and find missing people, empire-building witches, and maybe even the families they’d both thought lost to them.

I really like Charley Descoteaux because even as sections of this story had me grinding my teeth in frustration her characters of Jeffrey Overton and Mike Wells are so endearing and charming that they swayed me over to their side and kept me there for the duration of The Pinch of the Game.  No matter how many times along the narrative path I wanted to stop due to poor universe construction or illogical character traits, their engaging ways and winning natures carried me through one bumpy writing obstacle after another.

We start off in an alternate universe that’s never really given any explanation or foundation.   There are  witches, but of what type and magical basis we just don’t know.  There are non-magical humans as well, like Mike, but again, little background or history is given.  At first (I missed the note at first), I thought The Pinch of the Game must be part of a series I had missed.  As a stand alone that lack of foundation and grounding in world building leaves this story feeling as though it is the middle part of a much larger story.  What’s worse?  The knowledge in the foreword that this story started out as a short story and was enlarged to this version.  *shakes head*

Jeffrey is a Stumptown witch and “A Stumptown witch doesn’t go far from the source of his power”, except when he does.  In search of his mother, another witch in a bad situation that is never quite explored and whose resolution comes far too quickly for the buildup.  There is some stomach churning body switching and more, none of which really makes any sense which is probably ok because neither does the plot.  I just liked reading about Jeffrey and Mike and their developing relationship.  That saved this story for me.

Of course, the whole thing came close to being derailed one more with a little scene at the end where unexpected and sort of jaw dropping facts came out about Jeffrey.  With no basis laid anywhere in the story for this and no way to substantiate their truthfulness or weigh the impact upon Mike and Jeffrey’s relationship because the story just ends, the reader is just left hanging, wondering again what they had just read.

Only Charley Descoteaux’s terrific imagination and two main characters saved this story from a lower rating.  I love this author but this story was just too disorganized and jumbled to make any sense.

Cover art by AngstyG is wonderful.  I love the design and 20’s feel.  Great job.

Sale Links:  Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon |The Pinch of the Game Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 98 pages
Published June 24th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632169068
edition languageEnglish

Review: Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Too Many Fairy PrincesKing Volmar of Vagar was dying.  Well, in truth, the King had been assassinated 100 years before, but hung on after death due to enchantments.  Now those magics have run out and the king will die completely.  But who will reign after him?  One son has been banished for treason, the remaining four will fight for the throne.  But fairy legends have always stated that the youngest son will win out, no matter the circumstances.  So  when their father, the King, gives them all one month to prove themselves worthy of the  title, the fallout is disasterous.   One brother starts wars, another assassinates the youngest hoping to take his place, and Prince Kjarten?  All he hoped was to stay out of the way and continue his studies but when Gisli, his youngest brother is killed by the second youngest, Tyrnir, Prince Kjarten realizes it is only a matter of time before his ambitious brothers turn on him.

When the assassination attempt happens, Kjarten flings himself, injured, into the mortal world hoping to hide. The fairy prince has heard tales of the horrible humans and the nasty fate that awaits him at their hands.  But nothing has prepared Kjarten for the truth when he is found by an artist searching for the answers to his own problems and future.

Artist and art gallery worker Joel Wilson life is full of problems.  His ex boyfriend was a jerk who left him penniless and his boss who owns the art gallery where Joel works and shows his paintings is in financial trouble.   In fact, that financial trouble involves loan sharks and other assorted criminals. Joel doesn’t know what to do.  Then he finds an elf lying injured in an alleyway near his home and everything changes.  Can a mortal artist and a elf prince pull together to save the kingdom and find true love?

Magical, funny and absolutely absorbing.  Those are the words that spring to mind when asked to describe my feelings after reading Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft.  So many things to love about this book.  First off?  Alex Beecroft keeps me off center with her characters.  They aren’t what I expect them to be.  And that’s at any point in time during the narrative. An elf  prince?  Why, gorgeous and etheral of course.  But also self centered, isolated (by choice) so completely from his family that other important events escape him completely? That’s Kjarten too.  Somewhat arrogant and cruel, although less so than his brothers? Check.  Not exactly your normal fictional elf. Or maybe he is if you return to the old ways of thinking about the Fae.  Then the personalities of Kjarten ring true.

But nothing about the characters you will meet within these pages are static portraits.  No, these beings grow and change before your eyes, their natures metamorphosing along with the events, while still staying true to who they are at the most basic.  Beecroft’s characterizations are marvelous and not just the elves either.  From the Queen of England to the remarkable Joel Wilson, her human beings are more than a match for any elf, or goblin as the case may be.  I loved them all too.  It is so easy to become invested in all these people, elf and human alike because the author has made the reader an intimate companion to them and their worlds.  She brings us into their thoughts and hearts so that their vulnerability and insecurities help engage our affections immediately.  And her worlds? Magical as well as mundane.

World building is also a creative gift and Alex Beecroft has that in spades too.  I loved the kingdom of Vagar.  Ok, I didn’t love it.  Its hateful and cold.  But its also fascinating and full of creatures to amaze and wonder at.  Including a dead king who is still around to muck up things for the kingdom.  Here is King Volmar:

“Now we can start.” “Thank you for that, youngest,” King Volmar of Vagar said in a dry voice, as Kjartan slipped into his place below Bjarti, with a whisper of silk and a curling trace of the scent of honeysuckle. “Since Kjartan has taken up all the time I had set aside in which to do this gently, I shall do it harshly and blame him.”

No change there, Kjartan thought, watching a new-hatched moth make its way out of his father’s mouth and fly towards the light of the sea.

“Today,” the king went on, stopping carefully between each phrase to reinflate his lungs, “marks the hundredth anniversary of my execution by the sea-people, at the instigation of your exiled brother Dagnar. I like to think that the intervening years have rubbed their faces in the fact that they didn’t win that one.”

He paused to wipe a cobweb from his left eye. “However, it seems the magic sustaining me can only do so much, and I have…” a court mage leaned down to whisper in his ear, “… only a month or so left.”

“No!” cried Gisli, apparently quite genuinely. “Father!”

Kjartan and Tyrnir shook their heads, one fondly, one in irritation. Bjarti just waited to find out what would happen next.

“So each of you has one month,” the king continued, unmoved, “to prove himself worthy of inheriting the throne.” As he wiped more moth larvae from his lips, his eyelids closed, apparently by themselves. He dragged them open wearily. “There was meant to be more pomp and ceremony, but Kjartan spoiled that. So off you go. Do something impressive, come back in a month and a day with proof, and I will decide between you.”

The King is literally being cocooned before their eyes, moth larvae spinning inside him, cobwebs flowing over his features.  At one point, a servant licks the king’s eyeballs to give them moisture.  Everything about the king is both repellent and compelling.  A marvelous portrait in every way, a true mxture of evil and promise.  And we see this type of thing over and over again in this story.

The human world is just as vibrant as the elf one.  Life is not always kind to the people there either.  And one can be a human and be as isolated from those around him by choice as an elf prince.  Beecroft manages to draw comparisons between two very different individuals and their backgrounds with subtlety and finesse.

This book grabbed me from the start.  I  laughed, gasped and wholeheartedly fell in love with all the characters involved here.  And I loved the ending too, something that seems to be missing from so many stories these days.  So while I was sorry to leave their company, I loved the way in which the author tied up the loose ends.  I heartedly recommend this  book.  It’s terrific.  Run, don’t walk, and pick it up.

Cover by Lou Harper is just perfect.  I loved it as much as i did the story.  Great job.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Expected publication: November 5th 2013 by Samhain Publishing
ISBN13 B00D89OG9G
edition language English

Review: The Blight by Missouri Dalton

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

The Blight coverNoah Abbott is the only one who knows he isn’t crazy.  He knows what he saw all those years ago when he was a younger was real just as he knows the fantastical beings, the trolls and the goblins he sees walking around him unnoticed are too.  The trouble is no one else sees them.  Just Noah.  And that fact got him a trip and long stay in a psychiatric ward when he was 16 and Noah’s not going there again.  Now Noah keeps his head down and his eyes to the ground, he works in a box factory doing menial work for menial wages, and he says nothing to anyone.

Then things slowly start to change.  One of his coworkers, Christian, follow citizen on the outskirts of society, takes an interest in him, one that goes far past friendship into that of potential lover, new ground for a virgin like Noah.  And a young woman, Hannah Regent, approaches him and asks for help.  Turns out she sees the trolls and goblins too and needs Noah to help fight them off and keep her safe.

And with Hannah’s appearance, Noah’s reality is shattered.  Turns out he’s an elf on the run. Hannah too.  And that monster he saw all those years ago?  Well, that monstrous troll is back and hunting them both.  With  a Goblin King,to aid them, Noah and Hannah flee to another  universe, one that is their home.  There awaits a mighty quest for Noah, and the fate of all the elves hangs in the balance. But Noah isn’t sure he is up to the challenge.

Wow, what a story.  It has been several days since I finished this book and I am still trying to decide how I feel about it.  Missouri Dalton brings a number of intriguing and thought provoking elements to this story of a “Magpie” child. Noah has been hidden in the human world to protect him (and Hannah) until he can be found and returned to his rightful place as one of the remaining elven royalty.  But that world, Noah’s  “human world”, is that of most people’s nightmares.  He sees things.  Awful things that do harm to others and they are coming for him.  A basic bump in the dark  nightmare that explodes into reality for Noah only no one believes him.  Dalton plays further into our fears by having Noah confined to a less than desirable  psychiatric ward for years, abandoned by family and friends.    This element of the story is so artfully conceived and accomplished that it kept me up thinking for hours on end.

The Noah that is let out of the ward after learning to “play the game” is a person that anyone might meet on the streets today.  Head down, eyes averted, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible.  His posture is exactly that of a person recently released from a mental institution.  That has also been his persona at work, a box factory that is one of the few places willing to hire excons and the mentally unstable.  Again Dalton has found the perfect setting for Noah and his post “crazy ward” life.  Her descriptions of Noah’s job and coworkers is grounded in the reality of such workplaces and it plays out that way in the story too.

Noah is such an interesting character because he is such a dichotomy himself.  A fake human, a false past, a newly reclaimed elf who just happens to be young by elven standards, a elf teen going through pubescence, it all throws Noah through the proverbial emotional and mental loop until he is not sure who he really is.  Is he a hero?  A virgin turned slut by his own Elvish pheromones?  It is a tumultuous journey that Dalton takes both Noah, now Neiren and the reader on.  Trust me when I say its not a real enjoyable journey, nor are some of the situations and events that happen along the way.

One issue I had with The Blight is that the multiple romances were all too new and shallow to become as meaningful as they needed to be.  Noah/Neiren is a highly charged hormonal elf, new to sex and possibly love.  And he behaves just like you think such a character would.  He is promiscuous, conflicted about love and relationships as well as what is truly acceptable behavior now that he is an elf once more.  So much of human morality has been ingrained in his mind and emotions but that has nothing to do with his current and true reality and quite naturally Noah/Neiren is having problems adjusting.   I thought the author did a great job in making Noah’s dilemma real but those readers who have issues with multiple sexual partners (m/m, potential m/m/m, m/f, m/?) as well as what might be seen as “cheating” will feel uncomfortable with these elements.

And the same can be said about the deaths that occur within the story as well.  They happen fast and the events that follow leave little room for grieving.  I think most readers will be shocked and hurt by these deaths.  We won’t see them coming and neither do the characters making their impact on all of us genuine and  pain filled.

There is something here to upset everyone.  Main character deaths, deaths of beloved characters,  characters behaving badly, polyamorous relationships (no one on one relationships here), and finally maybe a happy for now ending.  Missouri Dalton gives the reader instance after instance of moments and events that will have the reader wanting to put this book down and walk away.

And that would be a mistake.

Because as put out as all of above items will make you, there is also so much substance and wonder to be found here as well. The magic of the Goblin Kingdom, and the Goblin King himself.  The grotto of lost elves, shaking mountains and black dragons, its all here too. I can’t call this story heartwarming because its not.  But it has so much to recommend it, the lovely descriptions of magical place hidden away from our mundane human society, and all the beings trying to survive a calamitous time of war and race death.  The scope of this story and the descriptions make it worth your while to pick it up and decide for yourself.

For me, it was worth the journey.  Here is a taste of how it all starts:

“Noah Abbott, this court has found you incompetent and your parents have decided it is to your benefit to give over guardianship to the state of California. It is the decision of this court that you are to be remanded into the custody of the St. George Psychiatric Hospital until your twenty-first birthday, upon which time you will be re-examined for mental fitness.”

She banged her gavel down. “Court is adjourned.”

I felt the shock of it run over me; it was like being hit by a truck. As I’d been hit by a truck, I was able to make this comparison with some accuracy.

“I’m not crazy, I know what I saw! I am not crazy!”

“Bailiff, please remove Mr. Abbott.”

The men took my arms to take me away; I jerked in their grips, and my tired body protested.

“I know what I saw! I know what I saw!”

The bailiff and his friend dragged me out of the courtroom.

“I know what I saw!” I screamed, my voice hoarse. “I know what I saw!”

That cover illustration by BS Clay is magical.  I love it and think it is one of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 192 pages / 53000 words
Published September 11th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN 1610405714 (ISBN13: 9781610405713)
edition language English

Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English