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Conflicts Within Us

Paul Simmonds Author Interview

Paul Simmonds Author Interview

The Battle of Barkow tells the tale of dark vs light, good vs evil, in a world where magic is not all bad and religion is not all good. What was the inspiration for the setup to this novel and how did that develop as you wrote?

I wanted to give readers a story that not only takes them on a journey through the eyes of Bolan, Hogarth and Sterre and the choices they make but also a story that provokes thought about life, the things we believe in, don’t believe in and how we deal with those things. I think we all have conflicts within us, we do things that others have done before us simply because of that very reason. My message is that perhaps things are slightly different if we stop to think about them from a neutral position.

I of course also wanted a story that anyone can read and enjoy. You don’t have to ponder the meanings or questions hidden within the story, you can simply read it as a (hopefully) exciting and interesting journey of discovery for the main characters.

The supporting characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?

If I had to pick a favourite character I would have to say it would be Bolan. A thoughtful and intelligent man yet one burdened with deep inner conflict. Unable to really grasp his purpose in life, he struggles with belief yet chooses a vocation that is based entirely on belief. His journey is one that answers some of his questions, brings him to a crossroads and forces him to confront those inner conflicts.

I noticed lots of subtle comparisons between good and evil in this story. What themes did you feel helped guide the stories development?

There is a theme of ‘good v evil’ running through the story. However are the good really all that good and are the bad really all that bad? Is there good and bad within us all? I will leave that up to the reader to decide.

I have a problem with a well written stories, in that I always want there to be another book to keep the story going. Is there a second book planned?

Yes, I do intend to take this story further. To explore the characters even more and to challenge their beliefs in a sequel. This is something I am working on as we speak. I also believe there is a good story to be told for a ‘prequel’ to The Battle of Barkow….the story of  how it all began.

Author Links: GoodReads | Authors Favorite

Book Summary:

A priest and a wannabe wizard embark on a journey to deliver books to nearby villages, meet new people and see how others live their lives. What they will discover on their journey however is far more than they could ever have anticipated. They will meet mysterious people, dangerous lurkers, battle hardened warriors and of course a beautiful woman or two!

The Battle of Barkow will take you on a breathless journey down winding roads, lush forests, across waters, through vast fields and towering mountains. All in the name of saving a city from a great evil.

Join Bolan and Hogarth as they take their horse and cart on a journey that will not only put them in harm’s way, but will challenge the very core of their existence.”

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The Reaper

The Reaper (The Fallen Conviction)

The Reaper opens with the revelation that the King of Akala is missing, and the new Queen, Leah, is now in power. She meets with President Inaeus Janu of Shaweh to offer a peace treaty that brings their long war to an end. Janu suspects the Queen is a figurehead and focuses on the mysterious Lialthas who seems to have an undue influence over the Queen.

In the meantime, refugees from Akala reach the city-state of Shaweh seeking asylum. The group includes the missing King Darius, his half-sister Moriene with the child Hannah in tow, General Victor Ikharson, and Sefas, once called Meddiah when he was an Empty One. They are shadowed by the black-clad Zacharias who used his magic to help them escape from Lialthas. When the Akalan’s gestures of peace turn out to be empty promises, President Janu and the Akalan refugees are whisked to a secure location as war resumes.

This is the second book in the Fallen Conviction series, and it wasn’t hard to catch up when the asylum-seekers told their story to Janu. This gave me the chance to get up to speed on the plot if you haven’t read the first book.

The interplay between Darius’ group of refugees and the leadership of Shaweh are the primary drivers of the plot. Character-driven stories are a big draw for me, and the author has a knack for showing the complex, often antagonistic relationships between all of these strong-willed characters. My favorite characters in this book were Moriene and Sefas, who were once under Lialthas’ control. Both escaped his grasp and recovered from being “Empty,” yet both still seem to be fighting the battles of the past.

I also enjoyed the high-tension setting. Being locked in a bunker with people you don’t like but are forced to trust is hard enough, but if that trust is tested, things are going to get violent. The situation erodes when Zacharias reveals that there’s something even worse that Lialthas out there, and they may not be able to stop it.

The first thing that struck me about The Reaper was the unusual formatting. At first, I thought it was a typesetting error, but it became clear that the line numbering was meant to give it a scriptural feel. Some of these passages have archaic sentence structure with rhyming words at the end of sentences, but it’s not always consistent and that can be frustrating for those expecting poetic meter. However, the nod to scripture isn’t surprising because gods and religion play a major part in this story.

Don’t assume that because this is written in poetic language that it won’t be exciting. This is a place where magic and technology that we would recognize today are both present, where battles are fought with WMD strikes as well as mind-bending magical attacks. War is gruesome, and the author doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to violence and mayhem. In this world, magic is fueled by blood, fear, and suffering, so whoever wields this power must harm others in order to succeed.

If you’re looking for a novel that offers both a unique style and a reading experience that challenges and defies “the usual” in fantasy, give this book a try.

Pages: 340 | ASIN: B06XRS3SFD

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A Frontier With No Kings

M. Walsh

The Jinxed Pirate has a delightful cast of characters from the mercenary to the tragic warrior princess with a splash of other-worldly beings as well. How did you set about creating such a colorful cast of characters?

I enjoy playing with tropes and conventions usually found in genre stories, and I guess most of my characters came about from just asking questions. Not necessarily looking to deconstruct, but seeing what can happen if a story or character zigged where it might normally zag in a more traditional telling.

What happens if a hero, who’s been led to believe she is the Chosen One, ultimately discovers her destiny meant absolutely nothing? What if the proverbial “Hero’s Journey” ended, not with a great triumph or even a bang, but a fizzle? To exist in a world where there really is tangible, objective “pure evil” … for one thing, just how surreal would that be, but also how would people define their morality in the face of it? And in such a world, where demonic creatures just ARE evil, what if one somehow turned out to be a decent, kind-hearted person? We’ve seen plenty of roguish scoundrels who love a good fight … but wouldn’t something have to be severely wrong with such a person to get that much enjoyment from violence?

I also like mixing tropes or concepts from different genres and seeing how they gel or clash. For example, even though he doesn’t actually appear in The Jinxed Pirate, the Enforcer is essentially a slasher-movie villain thrown into a fantasy adventure. I like seeing what can happen when varying genres intermingle.

Once I start thinking about these question, several characters start to take shape, and then it’s a matter of throwing them all together and taking them to their logical—or absurd, or surreal, or horrific—conclusion.

Who was your favorite to write for?

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise my three main leads—Katrina, Krutch, and Lily—are my favorites. I’m not sure I could pick one, especially as their arcs fluctuate with the story. Katrina is the most fun to write when she’s tormented about her past and trying to rein in her temper. Krutch is most fun when things get out of his control and he’s frantically trying to bluff or botch his way through trouble. And Lily when she’s conflicted about her own nature and trying to be a good person in spite of what she is.

I feel like the world you’ve created in The Jinxed Pirate is brimming with possibility. What was your inspiration for Graylands and how did it evolve as you wrote?

Most of my main protagonists were created separately, and I only had a vague notion they would exist in the same world. Since most of the archetypes and tropes I liked playing with—destiny, good & evil, etc.—were best suited to fantasy, I needed a sandbox for them. So Graylands began as a pretty stock Tolkien-esque world of medieval villages, knights, wizards, and demons.

When thinking about what I wanted my world to be, it occurred to me the standard fantasy setting is usually modeled after medieval Europe because that’s what Tolkien did. However, Tolkien based Middle-Earth on that for a specific reason. He wanted to create a distinctly European mythology that was based on Europe’s history and culture.

As an American, we don’t really have a medieval times in the United States. The closest we have is the frontier times and Wild West. So I decided to take the standard medieval country of knights, swords, and wizards and depict that through an American frontier/Wild West filter, and as a result, Graylands took shape as a land where people would flee their ‘old world’ for the new one—whether for freedom, escape, or to just disappear. A frontier with no kings or emperors and a loosely defined system of law, ideal for my cast of misfits, difters, and outlaws.

The pirate Krutch Leeroy is an intriguing character that is meticulously developed. What were some hurdles in the story that you felt were important to the characters development?

When I first began outlining the story, I thought Katrina would be the more active figure in Seba. I assumed she would pose as a mercenary and infiltrate Clock’s organization while trying to find Jagger, leaving Krutch as a more passive, almost comic relief character. Everyone would assume he was the mastermind behind everything, when in reality he’d be trying to mind his own business.

But after the first draft I realized that wasn’t going to work. Katrina didn’t reach Seba until the mid-point of the story, and our introduction to the city and its various players wound up through Krutch’s POV. He needed to be more engaged and active, otherwise we would’ve been left with a tedious series of scenes where Krutch meets someone, they talk at him, and he doesn’t react. It also created a question of why he doesn’t just leave if he doesn’t like these people bothering him.

So I needed Krutch to actually want to be in Seba and have a goal. It soon occurred to me that a logical question to address was, if everyone believes Krutch Leeroy is this dangerous bad-ass, why doesn’t he embrace it and enjoy himself? If his attempt at playing a hero in The Ghost Princess blew up in his face (literally), maybe he should try playing villain?

Audra and how he responded to her was also important. In the first draft, she was an unwanted companion tagging along against his wishes, and it was fairly obvious she might be trouble. So I adjusted her character to make her more appealing and have him more open to a relationship with her, which turned out fitting with the other protagonists being tempted by a seeming ally—Scifer for Katrina, and Dust for Lily.

Running with that, I was pleased to find Krutch developed a pretty solid arc through the story that fit thematically with the other characters’ efforts to find themselves and decide who they want to be—or, in Krutch’s case, what he isn’t.

The Jinxed Pirate seems like it’s ripe for series. Is there another book in the works?

Yes, definitely. As of right now, I’m debating whether to jump into the third book or to try something different, but the Graylands story will continue. We’ll see Vincent Dune and his army steamrolling around the country, which will lead to conflict with Trayze Kilnerova and war for control of Graylands.

Everyone’s going to get caught in the middle of this coming battle. Lily, by chance, finds herself a target of Trayze. Katrina and Krutch will both get caught up in this mess, and they will actually meet in the next book, finally. Lock is searching for Cassie, and as Dune was the one who kidnapped her, he’s going to end up going in that direction. Cassie, meanwhile, is trying to find her way home and along the way might find “help” from a certain scar-faced serial killer. And there’s the Elder Demon the Jackal unleashed flying around.

Author Links: GoodReads | Website | Facebook

The Jinxed Pirate (Graylands, #2)“Graylands is where people go when they don’t want to be found.

Within this unsettled country of drifters and outlaws is a city where the worst of the worst gather. A place of thieves, brigands, and murderers known as Seba. In Seba, law is an illusion and order is kept through cruelty and bloodshed.

On the run from Sentry Elite and bounty hunters, supposed pirate Krutch Leeroy finds himself in this bloody city where his infamous reputation garners him the attention of Seba’s various feuding powers. Despite his efforts to lay low, Krutch is soon caught in the center of backstabbing schemes and deadly plots.
Meanwhile, after the disaster on the Blind Cliffs, fallen princess Katrina Lamont finds herself nearing rock bottom. Her drinking and temper worse than ever, she sets out on a desperate quest to find what remains of her people. Her journey will also lead her to Seba, where she will tread the line between salvation and damnation.

Amidst this are the Synclaires–a family just moved to Graylands in the hope of a fresh start. However, chance of fate and rash decisions will draw the family into a sinister plot that threatens to bring tragedy and doom to their door

As Krutch, Katrina, and the Synclaires face threats from all sides, they will each unwittingly find themselves caught in a battle that may destroy the delicate balance keeping Seba from consuming itself in chaos.”

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Return to Babylon

Return to Babylon (The Orfeo Saga, #5)5 Stars

Return to Babylon is the fifth installment of the Orfeo saga and begins with Orfeo and Clarice returning from the New World and their battle with the Spartans to settle into a somewhat peaceful life in Pylos. However with the battles still fresh in their mind and the nightmares still haunting their sleep, Orfeo knew evil would eventually reappear- it was just a matter of when and where. An assassination attempt on Orfeo’s life leads him to leave with Clarice to venture to the city of Mesopotamia in hopes they will keep their beloved city of Pylos safe.

Meanwhile, kings begin to drop like flies with the kingdom of Mursillius the Hittite becoming the first to fall. Zinaida wants vengeance upon the coalition who put her on the throne and sends spies to find Zurga. What price will be paid for those who fight for justice and freedom?

Return to Babylon, written by Murray Lee Eiland Jr, continues the adventures of Orfeo who begins the heroic tale in the city of Pylos. Prepare for an action-packed story line that explores the dynamics between different kingdoms and the blood thirst for those who want to save the world.

Assassination attempts and secret spies lead the characters to question whether the events taking place are purely coincidental or is there a more sinister evil at work. As the reader explores the different kingdoms, you soon learn who is trustworthy and who hides behind closed doors, plotting their evil revenge. Networks of spies will reveal information that will mean our favourite characters will have to risk it all for the price of glory.

Murray Lee Eiland Jr. has an impeccable flair to paint the scenes of his story with such conviction that the reader will feel emotionally involved with the main characters and their harrowing tales. At times the novel has moments of historical accountability, giving readers a front row seat into the secrecy of life and lies within kingdoms. Once you add in the brave and fierce heroes, Return to Babylon, has an epic story line that will leave you on the edge of your seat and eager to read all installments. My favourite character was Cyrus, a young and eager apprentice who begins to learn the ins and outs of spy craft. I particularly enjoyed the character development and surprise turns that each character entails throughout the story.

This book in the series delves deeper into the world of mystery, intrigue and espionage. I particular like how Murray Lee Eiland Jr adds a light-hearted touch to scenes in order to create a memorable and powerful story line. It is a cool reminder that some of our biggest threats are being spun together behind the closed doors within the most powerful people in the city.

Return to Babylon is brilliantly written. I would recommend this novel for anyone who loves an action-packed novel filled with twists and turns that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and eager for more!

Pages: 217 | ASIN: B01KEDH2CG

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Tainted

Tainted (Lisen of Solsta, #2)4 Stars

In Book II of the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted by D. Hart St. Martin takes the reader back to the land of Garla and also introduces us to the dangerous land of Thristas. After overcoming a harrowing event, Lisen must develop her strength in order to fulfill her destiny: to become the Empir of Garla. With the loyal Captain Rosarel at her side, Lisen hides away in the desert lands of Thristas, growing in ways she’d never imagined. Tainted by dark impulses that threaten to destroy her, Lisen must ultimately decide which promises she’ll break and which promises she’ll keep.

After reading Fractured, the first book in the Lisen of Solsta series, I was pretty psyched to read Tainted. The book begins where the first one left off—Lisen of Solsta, the heroine of the story, is recovering from almost succumbing to madness beyond the point of no return. Once she’s fully recovered, she continues her trek with Captain Korin Rosarel to Avaret in order to face her brother, Ariel Ilazer, who is currently ruling as Empir.

In a decision to keep her safe, Korin takes Lisen to Thristas, a desert land with a unique way of life. Under the guise of two former Guards in love, they discover that Lisen must commit to cultural rituals that threaten to change their relationship. I’m always a sucker for romantic subplots in fantasy novels, and this twist creates a romantic tension that continues to develop throughout the novel, morphing into a love triangle once Nalin’s feelings become revealed.

Even with the romantic subplot, Lisen develops as a dynamic, heroic character, constantly fighting her surroundings and learning more about herself. St. Martin does an excellent job with maintaining strong values in Lisen— overcoming gender norms, Lisen fights off forces that try to weaken her, and she continually quips sassy, sarcastic remarks. It’s fun to watch Lisen adapt to different environments, especially once she discovers her true purpose in life. Even while Korin and Lisen continue with combat training, Lisen has her own plans, as she secretly trains her mind and develops her necropathic powers.

What excited me most about this sequel was how intricately St. Martin wove the other characters into the plot. My favorite example of this is in a chapter about “Evenday/Evennight,” a holiday in the land of Garla and Thristas. Ariel and Lorain, his soon-to-be spouse and the mother of his unborn child, have a drastically different Evennight than the other characters— especially Korin and Lisen, who experience Farii, a Thristan fertility ritual. Through taking various characters’ perspectives, St. Martin creates unique vantage points for the reader during such a heightened moment in the plot. There’s a few characters that I wished were featured more often, such as Bala and Titus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those characters play a bigger role in the third book.

After weaving multiple characters’ perspectives throughout the novel, the final chapters, filled with fast-paced action and a few plot twists, bring all the characters’ paths together in a masterful way. Ending with a cliffhanger regarding the fates of Korin and Lisen, I can’t wait to see what happens next in the final book of the trilogy.

Pages: 350 | ASIN: B00GCYAYVS

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King Kynneth

King Kynneth (The Atriian Trilogy #3)5 StarsSpoilers are unavoidable in this review, so if you haven’t read the first two books, read at your own risk!

In the third book of the Atriia series, Kynneth Zeria has declared himself King after the death of his brother Jerrod. He thinks Christa is dead and blames Lor LaRosse for stealing her body. He vows revenge, but in truth, Christa and her two children are alive and living with Hannen in hiding. Dahla is raising the decoy “heir” at Cas Zeria.

Kynneth is beating the drums of war, determined to bring the other Lors under his rule and defeat Lor LaRosse. When he papers the land with propaganda, Christa’s safety is compromised. Hannen orders her to never leave their home. Of course, circumstances intervene, and she is discovered. She may be able to stop a battle, but can she stop an all-out war?

The book offers a calm beginning, following Sam/Hannen and Christine/Christa as they heal and rebuild. Their shared experience on both Earth and Atriia get a lot of play here, with some surprising and heartwarming results. The first two parts of the novel are a great way to get reacquainted with the characters and the unique Atriian dialect—which can be a challenge—so there’s a glossary in the back if you need a refresher. Hannan loves her fiercely, but she struggles with the fact that he is her stepbrother. Even if they are not blood-related, she can’t bring herself to touch him, and if she does give in to her desire, another pregnancy would certainly kill her.

Don’t let the lovely pastoral scenes lull you into a false sense of security. This is the Loper of Zeria and the Foul Fraigen Dropper we’re reading about! Passion, danger, and the madness of King Kynneth are spreading across the land, and Christa—or her legend—is firmly at the center of it all. Powerful men from all sides of the conflict want to use her for their own gain. Some want to kill her, others to use her as bait, or want to lock her away to sate their own lust for power. But Hannen can’t let her go. He stalks her with a single-minded purpose: make her his forever, or die trying.

Christa Clavin again shows her bravery, even as she fights for her life through delirium, rage, and pain. She’s true to her headstrong nature, prone to ignoring advice she doesn’t want to hear while making incredibly risky decisions. Another constant is her sense of responsibility for the people whose very lives depend on her actions.

Fair warning: some of the scenes in this book make the other two books pale in comparison. Some of the horrific situations are pure nightmare fuel; it’s no wonder Christa has so many bad dreams.

The people of Attria think Christa Clavin, the Loper of Zeria is legend come to life, and indeed, her fate may be led by the hand of the divine Sola herself. It’s not hard to imagine her becoming a beloved hero of legend. I think fans of this series will certainly feel the same.

Pages: 569 | ASIN: B01KEMXROY

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Outpost

Outpost (The Fylking, #1)5 Stars

Delve into this mystical world populated with equally mystical beings. In Outpost by F.T. McKinstry we are introduced to a race of beings called The Fylking. Ethereal beings that have crossed over the universe and jumped from their world to the world of Math. These creatures shift from animal forms to those resembling a human but not quite. They cannot be seen by just anyone yet everyone knows they exist. A group of individuals known as Wardens act as liaisons between these beings and the rest of the world. For better or worse, they are entwined. We have three main characters who will shape the tale: Arcmael, a Warden, Melisande who is a woman that knits and Othin, a Ranger in the king’s employ. Innocent interactions beget the telling of an intricate tale: one that will see war, death and heartache feed off each other. Each of the three holds a part in this tale and some are more important than we are first led to believe.

McKinstry begins her tale with world building. This is an essential piece of any good fantasy novel as readers need to have some sort of understanding. This is a world not of our own and McKinstry does a great job carefully laying out the lore, legends and very geography of the world of Math. In the very back of the book there is a glossary which also holds some pronunciation tips. This is a bonus as some authors just expect people to understand. McKinstry gives preliminary information in the glossary without giving away what happens in the context of the tale. This can be a delicate balance and she achieves it well.

While Outpost is declared the first novel in a series, it can stand well on its own. There is a beginning, middle and neatly wrapped up ending which answers the burning questions raised while reading. Technically, more books are not required to enjoy the story, so it would be interesting to see if McKinstry carries on with the same set of characters or if the next book simply takes place in the same world. Either way, Outpost is an excellent installment.

Another thing to note is that the chapters are named. This is more insightful than just simply numbering them as it gives readers a sense of what is to come. Not many authors seem to name their chapters anymore, but this sets the tone for an adventurous read.

While McKinstry weaves the story, and captivates readers it is the characters themselves who seal the deal. Each character is created with such depth and personality that they could almost jump off the page and walk among us. What it is exactly that creates this feeling is nothing short of excellent writing and an author who has practiced their craft and carefully constructed this world. Indeed, McKinstry is much like a goddess with the way author sways the characters and dictates their actions. It’s almost like the author is there, within the pages, guiding the characters as well as the readers along.

For anyone who is interested in the rich tapestry of fantasy with solid world building and three dimensional characters, Outpost by F.T. McKinstry is a must read.

Pages: 370 | ASIN; B0138V5YE4

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The Wanderer’s Last Journey

The Wanderer's Last Journey (The Orfeo Saga, #4)4 Stars

On a trade visit to Malta, Orfeo – in line to the throne of Pylos – is kidnapped by mysterious strangers. The net is spread far and wide, with heroes from all over the Aegean joining forces in the quest to find the lost prince.

Is Orfeo in danger, though? His captors seem to have strange motives, what exactly do they see him as? A prince, a prophet, a political pawn, or something more? Only one thing is for certain, nothing is as it appears on the surface, and Orfeo must keep his wits about him. This wonderful work of historical fiction will amaze and engage you in equal measures.

With The Wanderer’s Last Journey, Murray Lee Eiland Jr. has woven an astounding and complex tapestry. It has all the makings of a classic fantasy epic, as the rich and evocative world he creates is as intriguing as it is intricate, whilst the narrative constantly keeps us on our toes. Eiland Jr. clearly has an eye for important details, as his simple use of language is restrained and mannered. He writes much like any of the great classical fantasy writers, with simplistic, well-constructed sentences forming the framework for a complex and sprawling narrative. Where he does choose to go into detailed description, he paints for us a clear and colourful picture. The milieu of The Wanderer’s Last Journey, whilst mostly serving as a stage on which to set the players, is perhaps one if the novel’s most astonishing features. This mythical, magical Mediterranean is exotic and enticing, and we are left wanting to learn more about it. As the story expands and speeds towards its thrilling crescendo, its setting is left unexpanded, and one wonder’s whether the novel might have benefited from going into greater detail in this regard. In many ways it is unfamiliar from the Ancient Greece we know and are familiar with, yet it verges upon Virgil and Homer. The Iliad is an obvious reference, and Eiland Jr.’s love of this period is clear on the page.

This novel sets Eiland Jr out as an author of great scope and intention, however one who isn’t afraid to create a world of great depth and complexities. He cleverly weaves multiple storylines and, for the most part, manages to keep on top of this, and keeps all the strands of his stories working together. There are moments, though, where the machinations of the plot seem to get the better of him. The action tends to flit between one character’s perspective and another’s, and whilst this serves to provide us with a huge wealth of storyline, it occasionally distracts from it. It also means, at points, that we aren’t given long enough in each character’s story to form an emotional bond with them, and we are left wondering who exactly our protagonist is. This is perhaps to be expected, though, with a story so vast, and one with so many strands, and for the most part The Wanderer’s Last Journey works well as a rich, entertaining fantasy epic.

Pages: 237 | ASIN: B018RHOIRI

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Hungry Monster Book Awards: August 2016

The Hungry Monster Book Awards are given to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and The Hungry Monster is proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and imagination of these talented authors.

Gold Book AwardGold Award Winners

Death Leaders by Kendra Hadnott

Jabberwocky: A Novella by Theodore Singer

Silver Book AwardSilver Award Winners

Milijun by Clayton Graham

Derailed by Alyssa Rosy Ivy

Bar Nights by Dave Matthes

Death of a Gypsy by Janet Hannah

Mervyn vs. Dennis by Niels Saunders

Stage Door Comedies by Sally Roger

Asana of Malevolence by Kate Abbott

In the Eyes of Madness by Michael Pang

Welcome to Deep Cove by Grant T. Reed

The Six and the Crystals if Ialana by Katlynn Brooke

Thing Bailiwick: A Collection of Horror by Fawn Bonning

Tarbabies: The Shadow Man of Ichabod Lane by Allen Brady

 

Books have the ability to entertain and inform us. They can make the impossible possible. They are vehicles of time travel and windows into perspectives. In books, authors are gods and imagination is their power. Transforming letters into words; words into characters and places; and these into emotions and worlds. Even if we never meet, we are connected by the stories we tell.

 

Visit the Hungry Monster Book Awards page to see more information on the awards. See all award winners.

The Mage Sister

The Mage Sister4 StarsArinda has been in hiding for her entire life. While nearly everyone in her little town of Amok can learn the simple magic spells that make everyday life simple, she doesn’t dare try. If the townspeople discover that she’s an actual magicker, she’ll be enslaved by the Circle of Mages for the rest of her life. Her Nanny raised her with dire warnings about the evil Mages and protects her so well that not even her parents know her dark secret.

When their parents send them to a boarding school, Arinda and her elder sister Amaris are on their own. The Headmaster, Jahx Rife, seems to take a keen interest in Arinda, and she’s desperate to keep him from discovering her magic. Of course, things go awry, and Arinda confronts her worst fears. Her suspicion and anger might blind her to the intentions of the Circle of Mages, but some of what her Nanny told her has a veneer of truth. There’s someone she should be afraid of, but her stubborn nature may keep her from seeing the threat for what it is.

Jeanne Bradford offers a Young Adult novel that is entertaining, fast-paced and full of intrigue. It’s almost heartbreaking when Arinda faces hostility and rejection, and digs in deep to defend herself from all of the perceived threats around her. In her eyes, everything her Nanny warned her about is coming true. She’s a stubborn young woman and she’s determined to keep herself free.

The world building here is excellent. I was prepared for a story about magical boarding schools, but the author surprised me and took the plot in an entirely different direction. The setting is intimate, a small kingdom founded many centuries ago by people who “came across” from another place. The wilds are full of magical creatures, and small spells and devices are commonplace, but greater magic is feared. Mages can command powers from many branches of study, and readers learn about the use of magic and its dangers right alongside Arinda.

There’s a large cast of characters. Alongside Arinda, Jahx, King Nathan, and Cullen are the members of the Royal Household, other Mages, and a nasty piece of work named Sebastien. He and his cronies are young, arrogant, and perpetually in disgrace. Sebastien makes a perfectly nasty antagonist for the novel, exploiting weaknesses in the Mages’ ranks and determined to take Arinda as his own. A strong book needs a strong antagonist, and Sebastien does not disappoint.

One thing I found troubling is that so many of the conversations were contentious. It felt like nearly every time two characters spoke to each other, someone wound up shouting, back talking a superior, speaking rudely, or getting angry. There is a lot of dialogue in this book, and when so many conversations are highly emotional or held at top volume, it diminishes the impact of the situations they’re discussing.

I enjoyed The Mage Sister and recommend it for readers 14 and up. The novel leaves enough room for a sequel, but it will easily stand alone as a complete tale. Like many fantasy novels, the themes of learning to trust, leaving childhood behind and joining together for a common cause are strongly presented. Check it out for yourself or for your favorite stubborn, self-determined teen.

Pages: 256 | ISBN: 1606594060

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