When live-action-role-playing adventure goes horribly wrong it’s up to our battered group to save the day! Dale, his girlfriend Jane, sister Katie and friend Gavin are off on a LARPing adventure. Dale isn’t used to this style of play and is finding himself wishing it was bit more interesting. One must be careful what they wish for in The Barrow of the Damned by Jonathan J. Drake. After a few days enacting their scenes the group is presented with a special module by Mr. Stephens, their coordinator. He leads them to a barrow where they will go to combat with other friends in an orcs-versus-adventurers play. They’ve even got a game master to keep them in line. All seems to be great, until the group steps foot in the creepy crypt for the first time. It’s dark, foreign and crawling with things that go bump in the night. Will they survive? Where are they, exactly? Finally, who is the one pulling the strings behind this adventure? Be careful what you wish for.
The story begins with a shock as a young man meets his end inside the barrow. This poor fellow will play an important role in the tale to come so it’s a good idea to remember him. The story isn’t too long with short chapters that serve to change up the perspective now and then. We get a good glimpse at what is going on from the viewpoints of all involved. There is a lot of blood and gore in this story, so if that’s not for you it would be wise to steer clear. Those who like a fantasy-adventure tale with a bit of horror will find this tale is right up their alley. The story appears to take place in the United Kingdom, although definitive places are never mentioned. Based on the terminology the characters use and the way they speak it is assumed that is where our tale unfolds.
While the story is relatively entertaining with shadows of J.R.R. Tolkien and some black humour dabbled about, the overall execution could use some polishing. There are grammatical errors and strange capitalization on words that pop up here and there which detract from the overall story. There are some key elements that aren’t explained very well that can leave readers with more questions than answers after completing the journey. Questions like, why are the Fates, who have origins in Greek mythology, in some barrow in what appears to be rural England? How did they get there? How long have they been there? From what we read, it seems like they have been there for a while, trying to steal something from a spirit who was created by the gods. With a name like O’Fleistus it’s assumed this spirit would be of English origins, but it’s not really explained. We get a bit of an explanation, but it could have been fleshed out much more instead of being revealed in fleeting conversation.
A little bit of blood and horror can dress up any LARPing event. What began as fun and games quickly turns into mayhem in The Barrow of the Damned by Jonathan J. Drake. This book has some very good potential if it had been fleshed out a bit more. There is opportunity to expand and explain more of the black-humoured story found on these pages. Aside from these minor drawbacks, it’s a fun and quick read. This tale is quite gruesome for the faint of heart. If that’s your cup of tea, you can’t go wrong venturing into this Barrow of the Damned.
Pages: 263 | ASIN: B00B79MVZA
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Michael Pronko is a scholar and an on Japanese culture. He is also an excellent story teller that captivates readers and takes them on an adventure through his words. The Last Train is set in Tokyo, and even if you have never been to Tokyo, don’t worry, Pronko draws you into the life there. His attention to detail is not limited to the scenery, but the customs and mannerisms that make up the Japanese’s culture. There is extensive time devoted explaining the life and world revolving around the hostess clubs, not sex clubs, rather clubs where men go to find a woman to entertain them for a period of time, while drinking and getting their ego stroked. It is within this society of hostess clubs that murder mystery is flushed out. A killer, targeting foreign investors is using the trains as her weapon of choice.
The story revolves around Michiko Suzuki and the team of detectives that are investigating the train murders. Michiko is the daughter of a factory owner whose mother died when she was young. She was raised by her father and his workers. She learned early that business is not always neat and clean, and that sometimes getting their hands dirty and making backdoor deals is the norm there. As Pronko tells Suzuki’s story he alternates between current events and her memories of the past, telling how she got to where she is, and how she has picked her victims. The main detectives investigating are Hiroshi and Takamatsu. Hiroshi is an accountant that due to spending part of his life in America is fluent in English so he works white collar crimes for the police. Takamatsu is a homicide detective that pulls together his own dream team to work on this case. Their case takes a high profile turn and soon they’re dodging politics as well the cultural need to keep everything neat and tidy. Michiko tries to keep her activities low key but when several of her victims survive her plot, things get messy for her and the police.
One of the most fascinating things about this novel is not the mystery aspect. The murder is not a secret from the beginning. What is a mystery is why she is killing people, figuring out what drove her to this life. Hiroshi is a complex character as well, and his dynamic interactions throughout the investigations add to the plot as well as provide an unique look at the culture. Even though he is from Tokyo, spending time in America gave him a different perspective on the way things are done; whereas Takamatsu comes off as the typical Japanese man. They make an interesting and effective partnership. Having the diverse views interacting with witnesses and other characters makes for a dynamic story line, it is diverse and provides multiple views from different cultural perspectives. Much of the story takes place in Roppongi, here you see all the varieties of hostess clubs, the basic lounge style, mud wrestling, nude women, and the high-end invite only David’s Lounge. Each club gives readers a different taste of the culture.
Overall The Last Train by Michael Pronko is a well written and enticing look into the culture of Tokyo. The story behind Michiko Suzuki is compelling and engaging, you can’t help flipping the pages to see what she is going to do next and find out why her victims were chosen. Hiroshi connects well with everyone he interacts with so there is an emotional response from the reader. Pronko uses emotion, mystery and attention to detail to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. I look forward to seeing more from Pronko and hope he has more stories to tell with Hiroshi.
Pages: 348 | ASIN: B071DPXP7M
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The Reaper is book two in the Fallen Conviction series and opens with the revelation that the King of Akala is missing, and the new Queen, Leah, is now in power. What was the inspiration for the direction of this thrilling novel?
I had the idea of the direction of the novel when I first planned out the series. The entire story is planned out, and had been from the beginning – but the direction of the story has led up to this point because of Darius’ position: The title of the series, The Fallen Conviction, refers to the main characters. Everyone, Darius included, have fallen in some way from positions of power or comfort, and this has led to their current convictions and beliefs. Therefore, showing him as fallen and missing was essential – because this is what drives him to fight against his oppressors. While he was in power, he had very little conviction, but now things have changed.
The supporting characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
My favorite character to write for is Zacharias: He knows everything that is really going on, but is reluctant to reveal too much to the people he is around for his own reasons. Because of his knowledge, however, he is the most fun to write for because he can say things with double meanings that don’t become clear until later, and there is more to discover about him than any other character.
How do you feel you’ve developed as a writer between book one and two in the Fallen Conviction series?
I think I’ve developed a better understanding of character dynamics, and making a character driven story. The first book was very plot driven, and although I had a clear understanding of all of the characters, it became clear that my readers did not get a great sense of all of them – and so with the second book, I focused more heavily on developing them.
The interplay between Darius’ group of refugees and the leadership of Shaweh are the primary drivers of the plot. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
Each character has lost something that they want to get back, and at their core each one is selfishly trying to get back what they lost, and on top of this there is a hatred between the two nations that leads to mistrust and tension – but as the story progresses, they all learn that there is a bigger issue at stake, and they have to work together.
Will there be a third book in the Fallen Conviction series? If so, where will it take readers and when will it be available?
Yes, there will be a third and final book in the series, called The Empty Nation. This novel explores the war between the three factions: The Empty Ones that Lialthas has created, the remainder of humanity, and The Reaper. Each one represents three important pieces: Lialthas and The Empty Ones represent complete order, a totalitarian system of control without the slightest room for deviation; The Reaper is his opposite, that is to say he is complete chaos, disorder, anarchy, and is the embodiment of deviation; and caught in the middle are the remainders of humanity, who are being forced to choose a side between one of the two, because both are more powerful than could ever be overcome. Therefore, it is not just a war of weapons, but a war of ideals as each person from the group will be forced to choose one of the two sides. Right now, it should be available in mid 2018.
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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.
“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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Globes Disease by Lance Keeble is an edge of your seat thriller! We follow Jodi and several of her friends as they deal with an affliction affecting all of them. Their small town is under siege by a Vampire, who hunts those with such an affliction and government agencies promising them a cure. This strange mix of individuals must come together if they hope to survive. They will not only have to fight for each other, but fight to keep their humanity in the process.
I did not know what to expect going into this book. The cover art was interesting, as was the title, but once the story got going I was more mystified by what genre this novel fits into. It’s not quite science fiction, even with the disease device. It does not feel paranormal with the vampire and lycanthropy. Even with the suspense/thriller elements thrown in, they alongside with all the other speculative fiction elements do not define the book entirely. For the indiscriminate genre reader, this book is for sure a treat, because it plays with all the familiar conventions found in those respective genres.
From page to page, Keeble’s prose is electric. The characters jump off the page with each thought and action that they conduct. And to some degree, I felt like I knew these characters at one point in my life, because of the breath that Keeble can breathe into them. I was amazed. Some of the names had me scoff, like the characters, Quake and Ano, but as time went on the names kind of went with them and felt natural.
All in all, the pages read very easy and the reader shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves twenty pages in after a blink. The pacing Keeble maintains is one that I admired, since it lends to the novel’s suspense and thriller architecture. And it is not only that, but the mystery that exists within the early pages of the book, because as the reader you want to know how all these various characters get swept up into this awful mess.
There were some hang ups for me as a reader, mainly along the lines of how many points of view Keeble chose to follow. It makes the chapters very short and it can ready almost choppy at times, since we are jumping from head to head. This flaw is only saved by how well written his characters are.
The final verdict is this: if you are looking for an interesting and pulse-pounding read than I would recommend this book. If you are searching for a book that defies genre convention and definition than this is the book you are looking for. If you desire a book with a fun case of characters bound in a common mission and goal, when the world is so divided, then this is the book for you. If any of those reasons apply to you then I would very much recommend this book.
Pages: 353 | ASIN: B01F0D0GVY
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False Gods is a classic tale of angels and demons with a modern twist. Following his adoptive father’s untimely death, young Cormac is inducted as the Seventh Sentinel. Under archangel Michael’s celestial watch, Cormac acquires a team of quick witted, and often-times humorous, powerful beings. Sworn to protect mankind and his loyal sentinels from the ever-impending threat of demons and evil forces, he is thrust into the steep learning curve of what it means to serve his Lord. Cormac must now confront not only his worst nightmares, but the missing pieces of his past as well.
In the first few pages of False Gods, I felt much like what I imagine Cormac did in his first few days as the Seventh Sentinel; confused and unprepared. It felt as if I had been dropped into the halfway point of a dense novel. At first, it drove me crazy. I couldn’t keep characters straight, and between the jumble of formal language and modern day jargon it took me a while to surmise this was taking place in present day. Not to mention Cormac and his team are traipsing all over the globe to the point where I had to drag out a map. Albeit, I started to enjoy the confusion. As small pieces came into focus I quickly became fully invested in Cormac’s journey.
Cormac, young and freshly out of being sworn in as the Seventh Sentinel, quickly realizes that his life is now filled with danger at every turn. He acquires a team of powerful individuals, each with their own strengths. The reader watches as Cormac stumbles through his first few weeks of this new position under the watch of mighty angels. Like any hero’s journey, he is given a quest, one that will lead Cormac and his team all over the world in search of artifacts. That is, unless demons get to them first.
This book was so poignant and filled with emotion that it left me wanting a bit more at times. False Gods is on the razor’s of emotional drama and a non-stop celestial action with faint notes of romance and intimacy.
The writing is skillfully crafted around Cormac and he comes to life right in front of you, his disposition immediately so infectious in a way that makes you wish you could be one of his paladins. The loyalty of his team and his emotional confrontation with his past grips you harder with each page. The quiet and intimate moments between characters, such as Noelle and Connor, or Cormac and Rachel, are visceral and evocative. Cormac’s team of gifted paladins are a bit hard to keep straight, the descriptions come to light very quickly in the beginning and are easily lost as the story becomes more involved. However, their personalities start to differ, and by the time the book comes to a close I found myself touched by each individual’s support for their Seventh Sentinel and clinging to Cormac’s unwavering determination.
Pages: 312 | ASIN: B01B7FMFDG
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Kathryn Berryman’s Erinland infuses Christianity into ancient rites while catapulting 21st Century characters into a 9th Century Viking war. Two teens, Amy and Richard, serve as threads in an intricate tapestry of historical fiction. Sharing the weave is Aiden, a monk protecting valuable antiquities with his life.
The story moves along through the points of view of one of the three most important characters. When Amy and Richard land in their respective, opposing villages, they are fully embraced. Both are long-awaited reincarnations of gods of the time. We’d expect the teenagers to feel displaced and confused, but they adapt quickly.
Berryman provides much in the way of Viking history, landscape, and relic description. Erinland is driven by her vast interest in these. We learn much lore through the tale of these ordinary, troubled children endowed with extraordinary powers from the glorious beings they represent. Berryman’s depictions of the cultures during the time are lovely and detailed as she describes their villages, clothing, and lifestyles. “The kransen, a gilt circlet worn on the head by unmarried girls, is removed from the young bride to be. It is a symbol of her virginity. The kransen is wrapped up by the bride’s attendants and put away until the birth of her eldest daughter who it will pass to.” (Page 194).
In Berryman’s desire to share her knowledge, she writes long monologues. These establish her as a credible authority on ancient history, but do so at the expense of natural dialogue. After suddenly being transported in time, the three primary characters are plunked down and force-fed tons of information. “Richard listened closely to Vagn as he spoke. It was a lot of information to absorb.” (Page 325).
The lack of meaningful exchanges sacrifices character development. This is particularly true for Amy, but less so for Richard. Relating to the characters is essential for us to want to read on.
Because war is the foundation of the plot, we may find it difficult to suspend belief when we are told the teens can learn how to become warriors in a few afternoons. Berryman relies upon descendent memory to take care of the problem. “Familiarise yourself with our ways. Your memories will return. A son of Odin retains his father’s essence and with it his memories and might.” (Page 183).
In the end Erinland is a fascinating story that fuses mythology with well-choreographed battle scenes.
Pages: 278 | ASIN: B01MR9IAQL
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End of Knighthood Part I: The Chess Pieces by Joshua Landeros is a ripping tale of military science fiction. The novel follows the continued struggle of William Marconi a cyborg super soldier as he continues to figure out his place and duty as a soldier and knight in this futuristic warzone. Will ends up joining the resistance movement. Fighting the UNR, the new world government superstructure, or curbing its growth becomes the center of conflict. Chancellor Venloran is the locus of these plans and wishes to destroy his enemies completely. Can non-UNR countries survive the rising tide and hardened troops? The principal question is, what will Will do to make up for his past transgressions on behalf of his former role?
Landeros paints a picture worthy of the classic military science fiction writers in their hay day. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers can be felt in every leap of Will from rooftop to rooftop. He masterfully borrows what made these novels great by their action and dialogue. One of the strong parts of the End of Knighthood is not just the fantastic action, but the dialogue between the soldiers is some of the best I have ever read. This is what keeps these soldiers human and what makes them instantly relatable to the reader. Sure, it is cool to read the amazing action scenes that Landeros crafts, but in the quiter moments we get to see how these individuals struggle with their in between status and their struggle in the midst of war.
As far as action goes, you can’t get too much wrong when you have cyborg on cyborg action, but Landeros takes painstakingly careful steps so that the reader does not become lost in the rain of bullets and blows. We are able see every body fall, but we are also able to see the glimpses of humanity from these soldiers as they reflect later their deeds. Will, the main protagonist, and one of the few carry overs from the previous book, is one such character that we get to see who continues to develop.
In our current times of political upheavals and nation states, one would think a book such as End of Knighthood would be hard to swallow. The UNR seems to be something that could occur in the not so distant future, but with the addition of these tech enhanced soldiers, Landeros has given the reader enough of an escape to enjoy oneself rather than wallow in more reality. Despite having a military science fiction bend, the novel could appeal to anyone looking for an action centered yarn along with some political thriller overtones. The genre blending on Landeros’ part is spot on and should please a wide variety of readers.
All in all, the reader may lose some sleep going through one battle scene and turning the page for another, but it is sleep happily given up. I look forward to the next installment of the Reverence series.
Pages: 233 | ASIN: B06ZZCDJ44
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Return to Babylon begins with Orfeo and Clarice returning from the New World and their battle with the Spartans to settle into a somewhat peaceful life. How did you decide where to start the fifth book in the Orfeo saga?
I think it is a central theme of my books that you never know who emerges as an enemy, and you cannot pick a good time to confront a problem. Book 5 starts out by Cyrus being bored, and he assumes he will make a business trip to Babylon and see old friends. The trip does not go as planned, and he ends up being held as a slave and carted off.
I realized that I had taken the series to the New World but I had not been further east. When I was a rug dealer I remember my time in Afghanistan, before the revolution. I really enjoyed every trip to Afghanistan I took. The people were friendly, the food was great, there were all kinds of wonderful cultural things there. When writing I did my best to forget what was going on in that country now, and tried to capture what it must have been like in the Bronze Age.
My favorite character was Cyrus, a young and eager apprentice who begins to learn the ins and outs of spy craft. Did you have a favorite character you liked to write for?
For book 5 Cyrus emerged as the main character. The name gives it away. I modeled him after Cyrus the Great (600-530 BC). Of course Cyrus was a character from a later age, but I know that history regards him as a pragmatic ruler and a peacemaker. That is just the kind of ruler the region needs today. My character, being younger, is not so constrained as Orfeo and Clarice. Cyrus is not a Wanderer, and he leaves less of a footprint than the other characters (after all he is a good spy). I liked this about Cyrus, in a way he is something like Zurga would have been as a young man. In another way Cyrus would find his place at the end of the book, and he would have no need to wander even if he wanted to.
Return to Babylon is an action-packed story that explores the dynamics between different kingdoms. How did you set out creating the dynamic between the kingdoms? Did you outline it or was it organic?
I had to outline book 5 more than the other books. The difference is that for ancient Greece and Mesopotamia relatively more is known about their history. The area of Afghanistan is less known, and in a way this made the plot more difficult. I did not have names dates and events to hang my story on. I had to rely on the histories of the later empires that existed in Afghanistan. The rugged country made it hard to control. There were many petty kings, and bandits could be a problem.
Where does book six in the series, The Slave Boy, take readers?
I have a story arc planned around Orfeo and Clarice. I will use Cyrus in later books, but in some ways this book was a one off. I am really interested in the transfer of power. It is not so much that the older generation trains the next generation. It is more that the older generation is there after the adventure is over to help point out what lessons were learned.
After the conquest of Babylon the victors installed the daughter of the former king as ruler of that city state. Zinaida is now beginning to feel stirrings of divinity, and seeks vengeance upon the coalition who put her on the throne. One by one surrounding kings are removed. This time there will be no grand coalition to challenge the might of Babylon. The battle will be in the shadows. Zinaida has sent spies to locate Zurga, and she is greatly concerned that he cannot be found. After an attempt on his life, Orfeo and Clarice decide to go directly to Mesopotamia in an attempt to prevent harm coming to their adopted city of Pylos.
The wild card in the equation is a small city not one hundredth the size of Babylon which is located in the lower Tigris. Can the ruler of Araka be persuaded to take on the might of Babylon? Daryush, now ruler of a small kingdom, also decides to meet the threat in an unconventional way. He trains a young apprentice named Cyrus in spycraft. Can smoke and mirrors overcome raw power?”
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Allie Frost’s debut book I’m With You, is a passionate and gripping novel that draws the reader into her world with dynamic characters and an engaging story line. Ciarán and Remiel are siblings that have lost their mother. Their father has lost his mind due to her death and blames Remiel for the death of his wife. Remiel was born with an unusual gift, the ability to see a person’s death before it occurs. Five years after their mother’s death, their father has put out a hit job on his daughter, saying that she must die for the world to be right again, claiming that Remiel is a demon that kills. Ciarán loves his sister and when he learns of the plot to kill her he takes matters into his own hands and sets out to save her. With the help of an unlikely bunch of strangers, Ciarán and Remiel set out to escape the assassins that have been sent after Remiel.
The novel starts out in Kevlar a city in the realm of Empirya. This is a typical industrial city, similar to the early industrial periods of America. After learning of the plot to kill Remiel, Ciarán literally runs into to vagabonds, Ramus and Valkyrie. Fate brought them together and they help the two siblings escape Kevlar. Once away they are quickly found by the assassins hired to kill Remiel and they add a young prostitute names Camilla to their group. As they travel barely staying one step ahead of their enemy’s they add to their growing company Kaz the circus fire juggler, and Mitzi the librarian. Together they encounter danger and learn surprising things about one another. They bond together in the common goal of keeping Remiel alive and getting her and Ciarán home again.
Allie Frost tells the story from the view of Ciarán. His perspective is insightful for a young 15-year-old boy. While he seems more mature at times, there are defiantly times where his young age is apparent and the other characters’ step in to guide him. Ramus takes on the fatherly role for Ciarán and Remiel while Valkyrie is more the depressing voice of reason that battles internally between keeping to himself and away from trouble, vs doing the right thing and protecting the kids from the dangers after them. Camilla starts off as a very shallow character and through the novel builds into a deep meaningful part of the story line. The same is for Kaz and Mitzi, they evolve from the time they are introduced all the way to the epilogue. The bond that is formed from this unintended group becomes a family. Circumstances of the story give each character a chance to grow and evolve. Frost does an amazing job showing the transformation and growth while keeping the perspective in Ciarán’s eyes.
For a first novel Allie Frost, has created a dynamic world, taking the reader all over, showing a multitude of cultures and communities while keeping all relatable to modern earth. So, while the land is a work of fiction, many of the religious beliefs and cultural references are easy to relate to and understand. I’m With You is a perfect title for the novel as all the characters form a bond and grow together to create a family that Ciarán and Remiel lacked ever since their mother died. This is a captivating novel that will keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last.
Pages: 241 | ASIN: B01MAYT60F
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