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

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Details:

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

eBook release: May 27, 2013

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

Review: A Chip in His Shoulder (Falling Sky #1) by LA Witt

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Rating: 4.5 stars

A Chip in his ShoulderWhen assassin Liam Lansing receives the name of his next target, he sees the chance for not only a big monetary pay off but a chance for revenge as well. The name of his next victim is Daniel Harding, heir to the Cybernetix empire and the reason for Liam’s descent into hell and his life as a contract killer.  A formerly wealthy vampire, Liam now lives in The Gutter, the place where all the earth’s industry and refuse (material and human)  is consigned. Liam once lived in The Sky, with the clean air and fantastic skyscraper towers where the wealthy live and play, where Liam’s family still live.  All lost because he took a human lover, Daniel Harding.

Daniel Harding hates his father and Cybernetix, the modification empire his father founded.  The firm exists on the exploitation of it’s workers, the environment, and Daniel hates that the modifications are turning people into more machines than human beings.  Even the vampires has been seduced into the modification frenzy that Cybernetix promises.  But Daniel has been imprisoned by his father in his condo in The Sky and waits his father’s next move in their war between them.

Liam’s hatred for Daniel runs to the father as well.  So taking money from Harding to kill his son seemed like a wonderful idea until he finds out that Harding doubled crossed him and has laid a trap for Liam, with Daniel being the lure.  But when Liam and Daniel comes together again after years apart, will Liam’s hatred hold true or  can he put it aside long enough for them to work together and escape the trap planned for them both.

It is hard for me to believe that A Chip in His Shoulder is a mere 78 pages, as it is such a densely packed vision of a vividly described dystopian world.  Witt really makes both The Gutter and The Sky come to life, especially the torments of life in The Gutter.  I had visions of Victorian England in the worst parts of the city, blackened by coal, air dense with sooty particles.  The Gutter has much the same acrid flavor and the author makes you feel the grimness of life there and the poverty of spirit acutely.  The Gutter is contrasted beautifully by The Sky with its dwellings, sleek structures of steel and glass that shine brightly in air that is being constantly cleaned to the detriment of all who live beneath in The Gutter.

Dropped into this setting are just wonderful characters that will find you craving more of their backhistories.  Liam, the reluctant contract killer, who once was an idealistic young man in love with the wrong person.  Liam was then, like many a fallen hero, thrown out of heaven or in this case The Sky for his impudence and life choices and lands in hell.  During his confrontation with Daniel, we get glimpses of just how far Liam fell but nothing further.  Perhaps that will come in future books.  But it all adds up to a marvelous, multilayered character who captures our empathy and imagination from the start and never lets it go.

Daniel Harding is that recognizable erstwhile well off idealist whose privileged background has given him the reason as well as outlet for his pent-up anger and outrage.  He is perhaps not as immediately emotionally accessible as Liam, but as their confrontation continues, it becomes clear that the author has given just as much thought to Daniel as she has Liam, and that there are hidden depths waiting to surface in him.  Daniel really grew on me in this story and one of it’s major frustrations is that the book stops just when you feel you getting a handle on him as a character.

The plot is tightly woven and intense, the swift-paced action  moving the story forward at a clip.  Really, parts of this story will take your breath away.  Had this been a movie, the popcorn would have been munched at as rapid a pace as the story unfolded.  The au;thor really knows how to build the suspense and keep it balanced right on the edge, before she drops you  over.  L.A. Witt does such a great job that when the end does come, you are not quite prepared to let this couple and their story go.

And that is my major and only quibble with this story – the length.  The author just did not seem to complete the picture she started painting.  The outline and major elements are brilliant, the swatches of paint bold and applied with fervor but just a little more detail was needed to complete this portrait of a couple and world in the first stages of revolution.  I just loved it and am moving on quickly to its sequel,  Something New Under The Sun (Falling Sky #2).  Really, what an amazing start to a new series.  A Chip in His Shoulder is another example of why L.A. Witt has become a “must read” for me and many others.  Don’t pass it by.

Cover:  Cover art by L.C. Chase.  I find the cover very dramatic.  I only wish there had been some way to convey some of the modifications on the model that are so central to the characters and the story.

Review: MIA Case Files 3: Craving by K.C. Burn

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Rating: 2.75 stars

MIA Files 3 CravingAgents Brandon Ellison and his partner Oliver Cardoso were on a mission for the MIA (Metaphysical Investigative Agency) when it  went horribly wrong, injuring Brandon Ellison.  That mission and its aftermath ended Brandon’s career as a field agent due to his disabilities and broke up the partnership, both romantically and as agents.

Now seven years later, Oliver and his new partner, Carmichael, are on a mission when almost the exact thing happens again.  But this time, with more experience under his belt, Oliver and partner come through with minor injuries.  When they go to complain to the head of MIA’s Research and Development Team, they find Brandon Ellison in charge and unable to explain what went wrong.  But Oliver’s new partner doesn’t trust Brandon, and thinks Brandon is behind the malfunctioning sonic charge that almost got them killed. Brandon is equally distrustful of Carmichael as well as jealous of his closeness to his former lover.

When Brandon invites himself along on their next mission to investigate problems with the weaponry, fireworks fly once more between Brandon and Oliver as their rivalry and memories vie for dominance and old love starts to resurface.  With hundreds of lives at stake, old and new grudges must be put aside if everyone is to survive this latest mission.

I picked up this book by K.C.Burn without reading any of the prior books in the series and that has left me as well as any other reader confused from the start. Burn supplies the reader with no back history to explain the alternative world I found myself reading about.  Apparently a war is going on between the human world and Umbrae (?) with portals being opened by the enemy to let through all sorts of creatures, from werewolves, vampires,demons and more. Who the nefarious Umbrae are and why they are unhappy with the human race is never quite explained.   Unlike other books where you can gather enough information from the various story threads to piece together a vision of the world, the author just assumes you have read the previous books and carries on.

So I will just concentrate on those portions of the book the reader can understand, the characters.  I liked the character of Oliver Cardoso. A green agent when the first accident happens, now he is a seasoned field op of 43, older and greying.  Oliver is certainly the most layered character you will find here.  Burn does a nice job conveying his weariness over the job and the emotional isolation he has imposed on himself since the first mission.  Brandon Ellison is a harder character to warm up to .  For Brandon, everything has hinged around that first failed mission.  His disability and his loss of Oliver has consumed his life.  The fact that Brandon ended up at head of R&D seems like a fluke to both Brandon and the reader as well.  Hard to root for a couple to get back together when half of said couple just doesn’t feel real.  Harder to care about a alternative universe when the danger seems minimal, the action downplayed, and the calculated “aha” moments more on the level of a high school play.

The plot, how to explain a plot that doesn’t track?  People are getting infected, the MIA must stop the portals from opening up, wherever they pop up, let’s set off some sonic explosions, the infection is spread by bites and being gay helps.  There are quite a few flashbacks but the uneven timeline just works against the story instead of for it because of the jerky manner in which it is handled.  The flashbacks here just serve to break up any momentum the story had built to date. The narrative structure consistently diffused any sense of danger or dread in the events happening around the main characters, and any sense of being connected to the characters and their situation just dwindled away. Between the style of writing and the lack of exposition this story just comes across as one  sad mess.

Here is an example.  Two characters are having a conversation about being gay:

“Brandon shrugged. “Whatever makes us gay makes us better agents.” Oliver had expected a lecture about genetics and heredity and antigens.

Not only would such an explanation be lost on Luis, but Brandon had been pretty pissed when he’d realized gay men were better agents because they were more likely to recover from Umbrae bites without going mad, while having a greater chance for death when the portal closed if the possession managed to complete the three-day physiological transformation.”

*head desk*

That just makes my head hurt, especially the last, long sentence and the entire book reads that way.  I love alternative worlds and  zombies, werewolves and vampires? Bring it on but make it believable or at least entertaining.  Make me want to lose myself in the events happening on the pages instead wanting to put the book down unfinished.  In the end the fleeting promise of one character did not hold my interest for long and although I did finish the book, I won’t be going forward to explore this universe further.  I did it so you don’t have to, that’s my motto and I am sticking to it.

Books in the series include:

Wolfsbane (MIA Case Files #1)

Blood Relations (MIA Case Files #2)

Craving (MIA Case Files #3)

Super Bowl Sunday and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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It’s Super Bowl Sunday and the Battle of the Harbaugh brothers.  The Baltimore Ravens versus San Francisco  49ers. The Purple vs the Gold!  Not surprisingly, since I live in Maryland, I will be rooting for the Ravens and cheering along with their mascot Poe.  Gotta love a team that has a raven for a mascot and named it after a favored son, Edgar Allen Poe. Will the 49’s win? Quote the Raven “Nevermore”.

And it also means it is time for all those Super Bowl ads, great, good and awful.  Some have been previewed  and the best so far (judging by my sniffle count) is the new Budweiser ad starring a week old Clydesdale colt.  Sniff.  Check it out here.

I have found two new authors for me and I can’t wait to share their books this week.  One is the beginning of a new shifter series by Kendall McKenna, it just blew me away.  Black Hawk Tattoo by Aundrea Singer did the same, what beautiful writing.  Two more books are also featured, they are by an author I just adore, LA Witt.  A Chip in His Shoulder and its sequel, the just released Something New Under The Sun. Both are must reads, must read agains! So get ready to run, don’t walk to the nearest eBook store and grab up the best this week has to offer:

Monday, Feb. 4:                          Strength of the Pack by Kendall McKenna

Tuesday, Feb. 5:                          Black Hawk Tattoo by Aundrea Singer

Wed., Feb. 6:                               MIA Case Files 3: Craving by KC Burns

Thursday, Feb 7:                        A Chip In His Shoulder by LA Witt

Friday, Feb. 8:                            Something New Under The Sun by LA Witt

Saturday, Feb 9:                        My Choice or Lets See If I Finish in Time!

There you have it.  Off to start on the hot wings and buffalo sauce.  I need to grab up my bunny slippers (vampire bunny slippers of course), my four pawed kids with bones to keep them happily occupied, and friends for Super Bowl Sunday.  I may tune into Puppy Bowl too because , really who can resist that?  There is snow on the ground and it is threatening to snow some more.  But we will be snug, and happy, and yelling our hearts out.  Go, Ravens!