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: Dance Only for Me (Dance with the Devil #6) by Megan Derr

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Dance Only For Me coverJackie Black, sorcerer and gunslinger, has a surprise for Roman, his lover of two years.  Jackie has decided to move to the city to be closer to his boyfriend and makes a surprise trip to tell Roman the good news.  But the surprise is on Jackie when he intrudes on a romantic evening Roman has planned with another man, a much younger man.   Heartbroken and lacking a place to stay, Jackie heads out of Roman’s building and straight into trouble.  In a bar in the poorer section of the city, Jackie is befriended by a man who claims to be a supernatural detective who needs help on a case.  That case involves retrieving a magical object from someone who just might also be a killer.

Needing something to take his mind off his pain, Jackie agrees to help the detective and changes the course of his life forever.  For nothing in Jackie’s life is as he wants it to be.  His father is off somewhere in Asia, mourning the loss of his wife and Jackie’s mother, Jackie feels he is not made for love as his last three boyfriends have cheated on him, and his new found friend is dead, dying in his arms moments upon his return.  What is Jackie to do but what a Black always does.  Holster his guns and go get the person who done the crime, or crimes.  He can only hope it won’t cost him his life as well.

If asked, I would be hard pressed to say which of Megan Derr’s fantasy universes is my favorite. but certainly her Dance with the Devil series would be in the top two.  So you can imagine my delight upon hearing that her latest release was a return to that amazing universe and wondrous group of supernatural beings that inhabit it.  Jackie Black and his father Jebadiah Black have appeared briefly in other stories but now Jackie is getting a central role in his own novel, Dance Only for Me (Dance with the Devil #6).  And I have to say I loved it.  It had everything  I have come to expect from Megan Derr and this terrific series.

Jackie Black is an oddity in his world, an amazing thing to say given the creatures that roam the streets and bars of the City.  He is over 70 years old, a sorcerer who wears a Stetson, cowboy boots, duster and uses magical revolvers of the old West to take down miscreants, human and non human alike.    Thin as a whippet, “whipcord” thin as his mother would say, Jackie is a bit of an anachronism, just like his father.  He speaks in the dulcet well mannered tones of a Sheriff in the old West, polite even when aiming his six shooters to kill,  This is our first introduction to him and his story:

Jackie caught the goblin right square between its crazy ass eyes and sighed as the fool thing dropped like a sack of flour to the warehouse floor. He holstered his revolver in a single, smooth move and touched the brim of his hat to the cluster of goblins huddled in the corner. “Ma’am,” he said to the one at the head of the pack, who had hired him to do something about a goblin that had tipped from average goblin crazy to crazier than a pack of elves gone drunk and frisky.

He walked over to the body to make certain it was dead and wrinkled his nose at the smell wafting off it. He’d caught whiffs of it before, but now the thing was holding still it was a sight easier to catch. “Poor thing’s mind done been scrambled like eggs at Sunday brunch.” He tipped his hat back to look up at the head goblin as she approached him. “Ain’t got a clue how he was poisoned, but I were you, ma’am, I’d be checking right careful for a traitor in your midst. This sort of thing is near always personal.”

I loved the dialog that Derr has written for Jackie.  It is so easy to picture him, a spare man of honor, like Gary Cooper in High Noon (google it).  In fact, I loved everything about Jackie, from his background and family life to his current painful predicament as a discarded lover who thinks he will never find the person/being right for him.  His singular code of honor drives his actions as well as his relationships.  And people are drawn to him whether he likes it or not.  The many layers to Jackie will draw in the reader as well, we just can’t help it!

Typical of Derr, it’s not just Jackie who is beautifully characterized but all the beings/people created for the story as well.  Whether it be friend or foe, everyone you will meet between these pages feel real.  They have hidden agendas driven by greed, pain, or a need to set things right.  They  want love or friends or a family or all three.  From a demon called Ned whose pain will make you cry to a young boy, Wyatt, whose dark past has made him older than his years, each and every one will cry out for your affection and attention.  And they will deserve it.  Especially Ned, Wyatt Thorne and a vampire necromancer, Phoenix Fairchild, each so memorable in their own way.  I loved them too.

One of the charms of this series is that couples, people from previous books make appearances throughout the series. Sable Brennus and Christian are here, as is Ontoniel Desrosiers,  Johnny and Grim, and even a dragon or three.  Seeing them here just made me want to go back and start reading each of their books all over again.  Megan Derr has such a wonderful imagination and her creativity just flows through this series like a river of magic. Every type of magic or wondrous being is included here.  Angels, sorcerers, witches, goblins and alchemists, that’s just a start.  There are werewolves, vampires, ghosts and golems too.  They are all present and involved in Jackie’s life and story and we are so much the richer for it.

I came close to giving this story a 5 star rating but there was just a few too many errors here.  Spelling errors, repetition problems and sentences like this one.  “Hope your right, Sheriff.”  Instead of “Hope you’re right, Sheriff”.  An editor should have caught these common problems and didn’t.  That brought the rating down which was a shame.   Tighter editing and better proofreading would have made this story a perfect read.

Those issues aside, I absolutely recommend this story to every person who is a fantasy fan, who love mythical beings come to life and men who hunger after love even though their past has told them it only brings heartbreak.  If you are new to the series, you can read this as a stand alone.  But reading the other stories first make this a much richer and fulfilling adventure.  I really hope that Megan Derr brings back Jackie, Ned and the rest for a followup adventure.  They are all so deserving of it.

The Dance with the Devil series:

Dance with the Devil (Dance with the Devil, #1)

The Glass Coffin

Dance in the Dark (Dance with the Devil, #2)

Midnight (Dance with the Devil, #3)

Ruffskin (Dance with the Devil, #4)

Sword of the King (Dance with the Devil, #5)

Dance Only for Me (Dance with the Devil, #6)

Cover Art by London Burden.  Great job in branding the series by cover but I wish it was a little lighter in tone so we can see the guns.

Book Details:

ebook, 236 pages
Published July 24th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title Dance Only for Me
ISBN13 9781620040850
edition language English

Review: Brute by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Brute coverOrphaned at an early age when his father was hanged and his mother committed suicide, Brute is further isolated by those around him by his unusual size.  A giant by any standards, Brute knows that others look at him as though he were little more than a dumb animal, good for nothing more than moving large rocks and trees.  But inside of his monstrous frame, the real Brute is gentle and kind with a heart equal to his size. Then one day Brute’s world changes.  Brute’s job is to move rocks on a bridge project being built outside of his village and one day the palace sends the youngest prince to  check on the progress.  When the prince falls off the edge of the cliff, Brute rescues him but at the cost of his arm.  Now maimed, Brute wonders how he will live when the prince sends for him and gives him a job.  His new job is caretaker to a imprisoned traitor, one with a special gift.

The prisoner, Gray Leynham, hates his gift, he can see the deaths of others in his dreams. Gray Laynham is blind, chained, and nearly mute from his misery. Where others see a wretched traitor, Brute sees a person in need of kindness and a friend.  Palace life gives Brute a new perspective on life and his own self worth.  As his friendship with Gray progresses into that of lovers, Brute is faced with several life changing decisions.  Brute has always believed in doing the right thing, no matter the cost.  But this time, Brute must decide what is the right thing to do and it might cost him everything he has finally achieved, friends, home, lover and  even his own life.

Brute is a lovely story, a tale of a gentle giant with magical overtones.  Kim Fielding does a nice job of creating a universe where magic or to be more exact, certain gifts like the ability to heal or prescience, the ability to foresee the future, are acknowledged and valued amongst a society existing at a medieval level.  When we meet up with Brute (not his real name), he is grown and working as a day laborer.  Brute exists at the bottom rung of his villages social strata, earning a pittance wage, taken advantage of, abused  and generally treated as an idiot.  And it is all mostly due to his extreme size, well over 7 feet tall and 300 pounds in weight.  But the author also gives us a glimpse of a happy childhood that came to an abrupt end and we feel for the poor little boy left all alone to fend for himself.  Brute is such a gentle, sweet soul that it is easy to empathize with his physically and emotionally barren life he is living.  And all the changes that happen to him during the course of his arrival at the palace are revealed in such a way that we get to experience it first hand as Brute does, marveling at everything from his new boots to the food he gets to eat.

And then there is Gray Leynham, rumored witch, traitor, and blind prisoner at the palace.  Again Fielding lets us feel how Brute perceives the prisoner and then watch as the relationship is forged between Brute and Gray, stemming from Brute’s compassionate nature and sense of right and wrong.  I liked that Gray is flawed and actually at fault for the position he is in, something I did not expect but should have considering the author behind the pen.  Kim Fielding always puts her own twists on story elements we have seen before, turning them into her own creations and Brute does that again and again.  Every time I thought the story might sail into fairylandia, Kim Fielding brings it back down to the ground with a brush or more of reality.  Brute is not some overgrown child adult but someone who sees the consequences of his and everyone else’s actions, someone who accepts responsibilities and the painful truths that life delivers.  Fielding consistently brings a grittiness to her stories that gives them an authenticity I appreciate.

Fielding does an excellent job with layering her characters, making them so accessible in their personalities and actions that  we are engaged in the storyline and their futures immediately.  You can count on realistically drawn characters, speaking dialog that matches their stations and personalities whose actions mesh perfectly within the parameters the author has set for them. Specifically, Fielding deals realistically with Brute’s disability.  Brute had his hand amputated and in the story, Fielding addresses the fact that his clothes need to be altered so Brute can put them on easily with one hand. I find this type of authenticity one I have come to expect from Fielding’s writings, just another way she brings her story and characters fully to life. Do not be surprised to find yourself so emotionally connected to these people that the tears flow on their behalf.

My only quibble with Brute concerns the ending.  I wished that the author had left us with a little more idea of what the future holds for Brute.  Not to imply that I was unhappy with the ending, I was satisfied but just wanted that little bit more.  There were several characters that I also connected with, including the cook Alys and her brother, Warin, especially Warin who I loved.  And I wanted to know what happened to them as much as I did the main characters.  But that qualm aside, I can recommend Brute as a wonderful fantasy story that will warm your heart and leave you smiling once the story is finished.

Cover: Paul Richmond is perfect for the story in tone and graphics.

Book Details:  Brute by Kim Fielding,ebook, 270 pages

Published December 3rd 2012 by Dreamspinner Press

Review of Wolf’s Own: Ghost by Carole Cummings

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Fen Jacen-rei is a Ghost, an Untouchable, his power revealed at birth and his fate sealed by the Universe and the gods Raven and Wolf.  One half of twin brothers born to a Full Blooded Jin mother, his father sold him to a mage who accompanied the birth-wife the night he and his brother Joori were born.  Most twins, you see, were killed at birth or spirited away to an unspeakable end,  But that night the Stranger intervened, promising to keep them hidden, saving them for a price.  The price? That upon the boy’s coming into his powers, the Stranger would return and take him away.

Fen Jacen-rei was normal until he matured and then the Voices came to him, all the voices of the Ancestors, the spirits of the dead mages swirling through his brain, threatening to overwhelm him, to break his sanity as they have done for all the other poor Untouchables who now wander mad, babbling and cursed across their occupied land.  In the house of Asai the Mage,Fen Jacen-rei fights those same voices, trying to maintain his sanity through cutting as he trains as an assassin for the one who bought him.  A Mage who hides him until he is ready to be used as a weapon.

But the Gods have other plans for the Ghost and the Ghost assassin is recruited by his competitors. This time by Kamen Malick and his small band of outlaws and assassins who were told to grab the Ghost and bring him into the fold,  no matter the means, by another Magician with ties to the Wolf God.  It seems that Fen Jacen-rei is a Catalyst, one who changes the balance of power.  But for whose side? For Asai and the Raven?  Or Malick and the Wolf?  As mysteries and layers of magical subterfuge swirls around him, Fen Jacen-rei only knows that he must protect the ones he loves and seek vengeance upon the person who betrayed them all. He will need help in his quest but who to  trust when all seem cloaked in smoke and all the paths are mazes.

Hooked.  I am totally hooked by the story and the world building of Carole Cummings.  I have to admit I was a little uncertain when I opened the book to find a glossary list of terms, gods, and history.  When I have to get through pages of info dump before I can get to the first chapter, well let’s just say that it never works out well.  It’s my opinion that the author should be able to weave that information into the story without forcing the reader to be attached to a reference guide at all times.  Knowing that, it won’t surprise you that I blithely disregard said pages and jump right into the story and see what comes. And what normally comes my way is an overpopulated, dense narrative so consumed by its own world building that plot and characterization are quickly forgotten.  Not here.  That did not happen here to my delight and astonishment.  I could pick up the history and world building bit by bit and compile a picture of the world  Fen Jacen-rei inhabits without referring back to an encyclopedia, just as I should.

Wolf’s Own is a series of which Ghost is book 1.  Carole Cummings does her job and then some as an author in delivering to the reader a new universe in which to play in.  We have two races and their pantheon of Gods and godlings.  One race held the magic albeit a little too carelessly, the other benefited until a war broke out, the balance was broken and the Gods fell silent.  One race, the Jin have had their lands taken away, their families destroyed, the children killed and their magic drained by the Adan for unspeakable purposes.  Not all the Adan are aware of what is happening within their society, how would they feel if they knew what horrors were being perpetuated upon the fallen?  Layer by layer, Cummings builds a world rich in religious traditions and Gods, of  political plots and empires, of magic and its consequences.  And we get all this while never forgetting that there are people caught in the middle, whose lives have been torn asunder, loved ones killed or kidnapped, or driven mad by forces out of their control.  Powerful themes abound through this book like the winds of a storm, full of thunder, and lightning and drenching rain that covers everything in its path.

Carole Cummings is as careful with her characterizations as she is with the world building.  These  beings breath, cry and break before our eyes.  They accept that life is cruel and try to find ways to adapt and survive on a daily basis.  Cummings brings us beings at every level of society, from prostitutes to Mages and makes them all so very real.  I like that she also keeps us guessing as the each beings real nature, as every character seems to be wearing a mask of sorts.  No one is really who they seem to be.  Fen Jacen-rei is such a compelling character that I took him to heart immediately.  A child caught up in the war of Gods, he cries out for our sympathy and love from the first time we meet him, the night he was born and listen as his craven father sells him off.   The pain of watching him taught his craft and being manipulated by a Mage who uses Fen’s need to be loved is heartbreaking.  We are invested in this young man from the outset and are pulled along by the force of our own feelings for him and his story.  All the other characters are equally well drawn, from Malick to the sister twin assassins he rescued from blood slavery to the Mage and Asai himself.

My only quibble is that the book stops just before they all set out on a mission.  Kill me, just kill me now as I hate cliffhangers.  This story is so outstanding that I don’t even mind what is usually a problem for me.  But in other ways, my frustration excluded, the end point made perfect sense.  Joori, the brother, has power too and the Gods are circling about Jen’s family with a vengeance. That is the perfect place to start the second book in the series, Wolf’s Own #2: Weregild.  I cannot wait to start that one.  But in the meantime, I am thrilled to find a new addiction. I have a new series that has all the elements to make it one of the best of the year and a new author.  Its a great day.  So, run out and pick this one up.  If you love info dumps, read the glossary.  Yes, I know.  The author went to a lot of trouble to compile it.  But she didn’t need to.  So if you are like me, skip it and get right into a tale to remember and characters that won’t let you go.  I promise you won’t be sorry.

Gorgeous cover art by  the inestimable Anne Cain.