A Free Dreamer Review: Battle of Will by Sasha L. Miller

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

At a memorial service meant to honor the dead and mark the beginning of a truce between Skirfall and Morcia, Ackley spies a figure who does not belong—a mage interrogator whose presence will only cause harm should the Morcians realize who he is and all the people he has tortured. But the problem rapidly grows much worse than that when Ackley realizes his true purpose is assassination of the Morcian crown prince—an assassination Ackley prevents, but at great cost.

Banished from his own country, bound magically to the crown prince of his enemies, Ackley is certain of just one thing: whether he can figure out how to break the spell or not, his death is assured.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fantasy lover, and “Battle of Will” promised to be an interesting story. And the story was interesting, but it did also have some flaws that spoiled the experience at times. The first 60% or so were really intense, with a lot of action, mystery and intrigues. You never knew who you could trust and who was orchestrating the assassination of the royal family. I was honestly astonished that the whole mess got resolved so early on and felt like the rest of the story was a little drawn out. I did enjoy the whole “studying magic” process, but it was a bit much.

I think Beorn was a great ruler and a very likable character. So many fictional royals seem to not want to be rulers, but Beorn never struggled with his heritage and the responsibility it comes with. He was very level-headed and I think he’ll make a wise king. Ackley was also a great MC. He’s very intelligent and I loved how he wasn’t in the least bothered by Beorn being a crown prince. It didn’t change his attitude toward Beorn in the least.

As much as I liked the two MCs individually, I just didn’t feel the romance between them. For the most part of the book, there’s no hint of any romantic or sexual attraction whatsoever. Not
between the MCs, not between anybody else, neither present nor past. It almost felt like the author was halfway through this great Fantasy novel and then realized she forgot all about the
romance. The feelings just come out of nowhere and took way too long to surface, considering Beorn and Ackley were forced to be in very close proximity 24/7 for months. There aren’t even
any past lovers or the most fleeting attraction to anybody to indicate the sexual preference of our MCs. Honestly, the book would have been better without the romance. It was kind of
unnecessary.

The other big complaint I had was the lack of depth. We never learn why Morcia and Skirfall have been at war for years now. We really only learned the very basics of the our MCs’ pasts. I
still don’t know how Beorn came to be the last of his line. What happened to his mother? And how did Ackley become the bodyguard of a Skirfallan prince? And what exactly led to him losing
that job again? The world building lacked depth as well. We get a lot of magical theory with really intricate spell diagrams, but I’m still unclear on how you actually go from a complex to
drawing to making magic.

Just like the romance, the epilogue felt like an afterthought. A bit like the author forgot to incorporate a sex scene, so she added an epilogue for some smut. Overall, “Battle of Will” is good, but not great. It’s a solid high fantasy novel with a rather flimsy and unnecessary romance.

The cover by maderr is a little simplistic but I do like it, especially the old-fashioned font.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book details:

Kindle Edition, 427 pages
Published December 30th 2013 by Less Than Three Press, LLC (first published

Note: This story is part of LT3’s Serial Fiction line

Review: Battle of Will by Sasha L. Miller

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Battle of Will coverSkirfallan mage Ackley, newly deposed as one of Prince Taceo’s private guard, is attending the memorial service of those warriors and mages  of both nations killed during the Skirfall/Morcia war when he notices something very wrong.  One of Skirfall’s infamous Interrogators, Daralis Litwick,  is not where he should be, close to their Prince.  Instead the Interrogator mage  is hiding in the woods near the Morcian Royal Prince, Beorn Ealdwin, and his party.  The Royals and their entourages are present for the memorial to honor the dead of both nations and signal the beginnings of the temporary truce.   But Ackley knows Prince Taceo’s hatred of Morcia runs deep after the death of his brother and suspects that the Prince is about to attempt an assassination of the  Morcian Prince during the ceremony.  When the attempt is made by Daralis, Ackley intervenes by trying to block the killing spell.  He succeeds in preventing Prince Ealdwin’s death but the spell goes awry in a manner he never expected.

Now Ackley is not only magically bound to the enemy Prince whose land holds archaic beliefs about the use of magic ,he is also considered a traitor to his country.  With the assassination attempt, the truce is broken, Ackley must travel back with the Prince and royal party back to Morcia, a land that finds magic and its use abhorrent.  Now Ackley must try to break the spell that binds them.  But will success mean his freedom or his death?

The Battle of Will is an imaginative, expansive fantasy story from the mind of Sasha L. Miller.  Miller has created two conflicting nations, battling over everything from territory to their views of magic.  Ackley’s kingdom, Skirfall, has embraced magic in all its uses.  Whether the mage is a battle mage or one that sees to more domestic chores, magic forms the base of the Skirfallan nation. Their long-time enemy is Morcia, a nation that values physical endeavors over the magical ones. In fact Morcia fears the use of magic to the point of outlawing its uses in most instances which has culminated in only a few mages to counteract the battle tactics and mages of its foe.  From such a great foundation, Miller then creates two diametrically opposed characters and binds them together through an act of mercy and a spell gone wrong.  It’s a tantalizing plot and Sasha L. Miller uses it to bring us a whopping great tale of intrigue, misplaced loyalties, treason, magic and of course, romance.

Miller’s descriptions of her universe and warriors are both vivid and intricate in detail.  Her soldiers are rank, caked in blood and mud and her battles and action are as realistic as they come.  And that same rich, graphic narrative  carries over to the mages and the use to which their use their powers, both evil and good.  I love the way the author plays with several levels of her story at the same time, giving it a depth and texture that brings the story and the reader together in an intimate melding of fantasy, suspense, and romance.  On one level we have Ackley and Beorn dealing with not only a binding that ties them together in startling ways but also the fact that they are national enemies with philosophical differences.  It is such a pleasure to watch the men slowly adjust to their situation, learning about each other as their trust and attraction grows.  Beorn and Ackley are great characters, living, breathing warriors who are more similar in outlook than they appear. It’s a joy to watch suspicion and mistrust dissolve into friendship and then something more. Trust me when I say there is no instant love, no fast track to sex and the bedroom here.  For some readers this snail like crawl to the first kiss will be frustrating, but for me and many others when that kiss does occur, it is all the more satisfying for having been made to wait.

And while the men are making their emotional as well as physical adjustments to their state, Ackley and Beorn, as well as other trusted characters, must uncover the person or persons behind the treachery occurring within the Morcian castle as one death after another brings the court closer to shambles and the destruction of a nation.  Miller builds her mystery, with layer upon layer, each so dense that the true traitors are hard to pick out from those just invested in typical court politics.  The anticipation, the suspense is wonderful and the final denouement when it comes is as action packed as you could want.  I loved Miller’s ability to create a dangerous atmosphere everywhere the main characters go, whether to a dusty library full of vile tomes of poison and torture to a dark deserted hallway that should have been full of guards.  She keeps us as well as her characters tense with suspicion and stressed to the max.  There is such an amazing depth to her  plot and characters that all with stay with you long after the story has been finished.

My only quibble with Battle of Will is that I wished there had been a little more of a romantic connection between Ackley and Beorn, not flirting so much as perhaps a little more recognition of the building attraction to each other.  Everything else about this story is colorful, beautifully detailed and rich in layers.  I wish their romance had been equal to the power of the rest.  I highly recommend this story to all lovers of fantasy, magic, and epic battles for power.

Cover Artist Megan Derr.  The cover is the two heraldic flags of each nation, simple but effective.

Book Details:

Approximately 293 pages, 132,000 words

Originally posted as a serialized fiction
Published December 19th 2012 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleBattle of Will
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.lessthanthreepress.com/fiction.ph

Review of Private Dicks: Undercovers Anthology

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Who doesn’t love a private eye? Private Dicks: Undercovers includes a range of cases from all manner of private investigarors in quite the variety of worlds.  From rock stars to werewolves, from Steampunk to the Old West, the species involved may change, but the game is always the same. The private dicks grab a case, solve the mystery, bring the miscreants to justice and end up saving the victim, who just might be the love of their life.

So here are the stories, including some that entertained and enthralled:

Temper by Siobhan Crosslin—Reese is a lone wolf, always on the outside looking in at what he never has had but always wanted, a pack to belong to.  But as an investigator being on the outside has always worked to his advantage as has his ability to deceive.  Reese’s latest case brings him a world of trouble right from the start.  He is sent to investigate a pack that might be at the center of a series of wolf killings and kidnappings.   This investigation means Reese has to infiltrate the pack itself by becoming a pack enforcer, a role that will bring him close to the pack alpha. But his investigation is in peril from the moment he meets Donovan, the alpha and the rest of the Deepine Pack.  They are everything he has always wanted, and Donovan is the wolf who grabs his affections right from the start.

I loved this story.  Reese is an endearing shifter, a wolf in need of a mate and a pack and no expectations of that ever happening.  It is clear that his  past and perhaps current status has involved abuse but he wants to do the right thing no matter how hard that might be to accomplish.  Crosslin did a wonderful job with her characters and world building.  I found that Reese, Donovan and the rest of the Deepine Pack engaged my feelings almost immediately.  The story left me with more questions than answers about how the society in her universe was structured.  There are dragons, shifters and other supernatural beings, each with their own rules and regulations.  And while it might be too much to ask for more information about the world they all lived in given the length of this story, she made it so fascinating that it begs for an expanded version or a sequel. One of my favorites in the anthology.

The PI and the Rockstar by K-lee Klein— Mason Cason is a detective and a good one.  While not flashy in the least, he has made a good living by being an excellent investigator.  Mason’s latest case is a doozy.  A man and his daughter arrive in his office and want him to find the guy who impregnated his underage gum snapping overally made up daughter, a man who just happens to be rockstar named Jade Jonathan Lee, Mason’s private and business worlds collide.  Both his love life and his reputation are at stake if he doesn’t take the case and solve the mystery.

Mason Cason considers himself to be just an average looking man, a plus when it comes to tailing people for his investigations.  It is a nice touch from Klein to give us an main character who isn’t drop dead gorgeous, although his boyfriend certainly finds him attractive.  Mason is so well rounded a character that his looks become secondary to his intelligence and humor.  There is a wonderful surprise in this story right at the beginning and it sets the tone for the rest of this very enjoyable story. Plus I will always be a sucker for Asian rockers.

Glamour by Holly Rinna-White—When his little brother is kidnapped, Jason hires Eric, PI and long-time crush, to find him, terrified of what will happen if people learn his brother is unregistered psychic. But Jason’s own psychic abilities make him a target too for the same people who have kidnapped his brother.  And Eric’s own secrets threaten the investigation and time is running out for all involved.

I found this story to be one of the least successful of the anthology.  The author has set her characters in a world that needs more clarification as to  its inhabitants, their psychic abilities and the governments laws concerning its regulation of its peoples.  There are aliens, who may not be aliens at all, half humans, and their acceptance within human society that got confusing. It  appears that there is a government psychic registry which was never really explained and that added to the confusion about Jason’s brother.  I never felt connected to either the characters or the turmoil in their lives so I never got into the story.

The Virginia Gentleman by Alison Bailey-The Virginia  Gentleman is a well known bank robber with a number of kills under his belt.  When he plans a robbery, he finds he needs 3 more people for his plan to succeed and he finds them in Wilton, Mr McCoy, and his young ward/man who appears to be in total fear of the man he is traveling with.   But nothing and no one is who they seem to be as one is an investigator on a case he is close to solving.  But first there is a gang to be cobbled together and a train to rob.

This story takes place in Wyoming in the 1800’s and contains some very neat twists, especially at the end.  There is also the subject of child abuse that is dealt with in a subtle and sensitive manner.  Historical fiction is a tough subject to tackle and Alison Bailey does a lovely job with her descriptions and details.

The Royal Inquisitor by Megan Derr-Esmour used to be a very good thief but now holds the title of Inquisitor to the King and lives in a palace.  He got there by means of a lover’s betrayal and penance bracelets he must wear that reveal the truth of the gilded cage he lives in.  When the youngest Prince informs him that they must set off to investigate a slavery operation that is kidnapping women and children within the kingdom, Esmour finds he has to work with the person who betrayed him, the former lover who used his love to put shackles on Esmour’s wrists, that would be the Prince himself.

The Royal Inquisitor is one of my top stories of the anthology.  Megan Derr once more effortlessly creates a fantasy world that never feels less than complete and peoples it with characters we immediately love and understand.  Esmour is typical Derr fantasy character.  He is layered, his past complicated, and his love life comes with it’s own facets of angst and abiding love.  Esmour is paired with Prince Teigh, aka Master Amabel the spice monger who Esmour fell in love with.  Teigh is more than a match for his former thief and has the secrets to prove it.  The story is less about the investigation than about bringing the former lovers back together, something Derr accomplishes to the reader’s total satisfaction.  Just a lovely story.

Regarding the Detective’s Companion by E.E. Ottoman-James is a private investigator with a disability.  A carriage ran him over as a boy and now he must use either his crutches or a special wheelchair to get about. Being a private investigator has brought him a mixed bag of cases including cases of dubious content.  So he is not surprised when he is hired to investigate a murder at the College for Natural and Computative Sciences. The prime suspect is Professor Hollingsworth, a respected scientist whose radical ideas have made him many enemies, including James’ client.  That client wants the Professor implicated in the murder whether he is guilty or not and James reluctantly takes the case because he needs the money.  He is hired by the Professor under the guise of being his research assistant but James is not prepared for what he finds, including the mutual attraction that springs up between them.

Ottoman gives us a richly detailed Steampunk world into which the author places this most complex of private detectives. James has a complicated back history that includes being raised by a priest after his mother gives him up because of his injuries.  James also has a somewhat fluid morality, he does what is necessary to live and if that means lying and tampering with the results of his findings on cases, well, then he will do that too.  He is highly intelligent and comes equipped with a marvel of a steam driven wheelchair.  I liked him immensely for his faults as well as his tenacity.  Professor Hollingsworth unfortunately doesn’t have as many layers as James but still is a wonderful match for him.  The problem here is that the length of the story gives the men, their building relationship and the solution to the murder enough space to accomplish all this story cries out for.  There are so many great elements here but in the end it all feels too rushed  and incomplete to be a satisfying tale.

The Demon Bride by Isabella Carter-Quenton works for his father’s agency and when three dead bodies are left on their doorstep, he decides to investigate the case for himself. But Quinn’s father wants Quinn to stay inside and tells him that there are more things involved here than he can explain to his son. It involves demons, and a curses manor and all things evil.  But the last body was a friend of his and Quinn figures with the help of his father’s assistant, Oz, he can track down the murderer and solve the mystery before more bodies pile up.

This is the only story of the anthology that is m/m/m. It revolves around Quinn, Oz and the mysterious Sebastian who live in a supernatural world of demons, witches, and the Church. Carter gives the reader several mysteries, including the fact that there is more to Quinn himself than even he knows.  The problem is that we don’t get enough of anything here to understand the characters, their relationships and the world they live in.  Especially rushed is the romantic relationship that builds between all three men.  One moment Quinn meets Sebastian and the next they are kissing on the way home.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  This is probably my least favorite story here.

Too Dangerous by Sasha L. Miller—Shi is still bitter over the breakup with his boyfriend who stormed off after an argument and never came back.  Shi was a professional and he knew which cases he could handle and which were too dangerous, something his ex Elis never believed.  Then a top member of the galactic governments comes to him with a special mission.  A top secret black ops group was murdered one by one until just one operative remained.  That man was the captive of the drug lord behind the murders.  His mission?  To go undercover, retrieve the missing operative and return home with him.  Not a job Shi wanted to take then he is given the last piece of information.  This missing man is his ex boyfriend.  Now Shi must accomplish what no other investigator has been able to do but the payoff is one he wants above all else.  Elis safe.

Miller takes the final private investigator of the anthology and lodges him precariously in space in the only science fiction story of the group.  I like the characters of Shi, he has a touch of the hard bitten private eye about him even though its now on a galactic level.  Shi and his ex lover are both men with questionable pasts and even more questionable talents, none of which seems to be communication.  Miller gives us a nifty little mission in space along with the gritty details of being a space grunt and the work they do.  The mission resolves itself a little too quickly and it ends in a realistic happy for now which suits our main characters more than a HEA would.   I liked her space age take on the private detective and  only wished the story had been a little longer to flesh out the mission and their back relationship.

One thing I have always enjoyed about anthologies is that I get to read stories by new authors as well as revisit the worlds created by people who work I value highly.  This has a bit of both here and while not all the stories are of the highest calibre, there is enough here in all types of settings to recommend you pick it up and enjoy the world of the private eye!

-lee K