Francis, a twenty-three year old man dealing with his own overwhelming fears brought on by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, happens to be humanity’s next best chance at establishing life on Earth once more. Traveling aboard the Sagan, Francis faces all the struggles of a man coping with life in space and the anxiety of having one of his own forgetful moments bring about the destruction of the entire vessel and all who inhabit it. As a professor and trusted expert, it is Francis to whom the rest of the crew turn to as they make plans to return to Earth. Forced to break out of his comfort zone and abandon the safety of his classic literature, Francis obliges and proceeds to help save life as it was once known.
Professor Francis Burns, the main character in Neil O’Donnell’s Return of the Sagan, is one of the richest and most well-drawn characters I have encountered in a book in the science fiction genre. He is endearing from his first appearance and continues throughout the book to be relatable on a level most characters never reach. Francis’s battle with OCD is just one of the many aspects that keeps him down-to-earth. His constant references to Tolkien and the effortless way with which he quotes lines from Tolkien’s novels make him a less intimidating personality among the other characters.
O’Donnell’s desire to pepper his text with pop culture references adds to the book’s overall appeal. I am not a science fiction fan, but familiar names, books, movies, and song titles pull me in and give me more of a reason to continue reading when the more technical lingo tends to have the opposite effect. The author places these pop culture hooks in the perfect spots throughout the reading.
The unique blend of science fiction and fantasy emphasized by Francis’s extensive knowledge of literature and history is quite amazing to behold. The repopulation of some of the world’s most endangered animals was beautiful to visualize. However, the reappearance of extinct species–and aggressive predators, at that–was simply breathtaking. I hesitate to compare it in any way to Jurassic Park, but in some small ways, O’Donnell’s story bears a resemblance to the original movie’s plot.
I have to admit, I saw the plot going in a much different direction once the crew reached Earth. I won’t say I am disappointed, but I will say, without giving away the ending, that I looked for a resolution that never arrived. O’Donnell has left me to reach some of my own conclusions–and that, I appreciate. Whereas, some readers prefer to have the story wrapped up in a nice little package by the concluding lines, I prefer an author leave me with the desire to reread for clues and leave the book open for a sequel. O’Donnell definitely inspires as many questions about the fate of Earth’s human population as he does answers about the resurgence of plant and animal life.
I give Return of the Sagan 5 out of 5 stars. With a relatable main character and a plot filled with action from the opening chapter, O’Donnell has provided readers with a hit. Science fiction fans who seek memorable characters will not be disappointed with Professor Francis Burns, his extensive knowledge base, and his undying love for J.R.R. Tolkien.
Pages: 304 | ASIN: B00SP4BOZS
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Wrath of the Fallen by Kristopher Jerome is the first book in a series about the battle of good vs. evil with mankind stuck in the middle and suffering because of it. The war went on for thousands of years until one side seemed to beat the other into submission. It seems as though mankind gets a break as the demons and their minions seem to be disappearing. Trent, a Paladin of the Light thinks something’s not right and follows them with his friend Devin to discover what is truly happening in their world. What they find is more than they bargained for.
I personally find stories about battles against good and evil to be right up my alley. I’m a fan of shows like Supernatural that portray angels and demons in a different light than just wearing halos or poking people with pitchforks. The characters in this book are well written and easy to visualize. The battles were bloody, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. After all, this is a book about a war. If there wasn’t violence I would have been disappointed!
Trent has some issues that make him a realistic character, in my book. In reality, people are a bit twisted from their past and current situations. He was very lucky to have his friend Devin with him on the journey to keep from losing himself. I won’t say how, sorry. Read for yourself if you want to know!
The twists and turns of Wrath of the Fallen kept me reading when I should have been sleeping. I don’t often stay up to read a book, but I had problems finding a place to really stop at so that I could get some rest. For some reason, I had thoughts of Frodo taking the ring to Mordor with Sam. I am not quite sure why, since it was a bit of a different situation, but what can I say? Perhaps it was the adventure itself with two friends.
While the ending was abrupt, I get it. There are other books to the series and a cliffhanger was needed to keep you wanting more. I don’t mind this at all. If anything, this shows the art of a true storyteller. They can suck you into this new and magical world and leave you wanting more, not ready for it to end just yet. While I had not read a fantasy novel in quite a while, this book put me in the mood to go back to this genre for the next few books.
Overall there was lots of intrigue and drama to keep me reading, and the characters were very well written. I tend to get put off by things like paladins and things like that, but that is just me and one of my many quirks. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy stories about good v. evil.
Pages: 322 | ASIN: B01COENGR8
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The Guardians of Eastgate by Sherry Leclerc, is a classic fantasy tale. Maelona Sima is one of four champions of the race named seers. As a champion Maelona is tasked with protecting one of the four keystones that protect the realm of Sterrenvar from evil. When an evil sorcerer rises up, seeking to enslave the peoples of Sterrenvar, Maelona at the keystone at Eastgate is the first line of defense. But will the prejudice and oppression against the seer people work against her? Maelona teams up with a human prince, Gareth, and a wolf shapeshifter, Blaez, but the question remains, will it all be enough to stave off this tide of darkness?
Leclerc’s book is a fantastic fantasy novel accented with the inevitable threat of evil and darkness confronted by a ragtag group of “heroines and heroes”. Since this is the first book in a series there is a sense that there is plenty more story to come. There is something for everyone though, between world building, action and romance between Maelona and Blaez. Leclerc’s writing is easy to follow and the book itself is not long, just under 200 pages.
The “choppiness” of Leclerc’s chapters left more to be desired, since they seem to cut in every four to five pages. This tended to throw me off more than kept me turning pages. Because chapters can be natural stopping points I wanted the book to take advantage of longer more engaging chapters rather than serving all of the good parts up so quickly.
It was an interesting choice to make a standard figure of fantasy, the seer, into an entire race of people who are guardians. In some ways, it makes sense based on their foresight abilities but I felt like the race needed to have more depth, which could easily be built in the coming books. The Guardians of Eastgate is brimming with potential that should be brought to fruition but is hampered by the short narrative arc. The next book should prove to be more exciting if such world building continues to be developed and deepen the point of view of the characters there in.
Readers will enjoy this novel for how technically well written it is. Wait for the next installment because this story is begging to be expanded.
Pages: 165 | ASIN: B07579TCBC
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Apocalypsia details a post-apocalyptic Earth. Demons comb the land and what is left of humanity struggles to survive and trust one another. What was the inspiration that made you want to write such an immersive story?
I had a lot of time on my hands (haha). I was in my early twenties, worked two days a week, living in my parents’ basement, and was addicted to video games. Writing was my way to keep my mind active and a way to escape my uneventful reality. It started out as some dark and depressing poetry (some of which appears in the book). I felt like the only way I could find meaning in this world is if it ended. That was the idea that sparked Apocalypsia. I wanted to go on an adventure, and if I couldn’t live it, I could at least create it. I also drew inspiration from authors like Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Dickens, and stories like Beowulf and Lord of the Rings.
This story is a fun blend of science fiction, fantasy and post-apocalyptic. Did you plan the novel before you wrote or did this happen organically?
I was told to always know the ending of your story before you begin. Apocalypsia was the exception. I had no idea where this story was going to go. At times I felt the story was telling itself and I was just the messenger. I never thought about what will come next only what was happening now.
In its infancy I wanted to make Apocalypsia a graphic novel. I wrote it into twenty-five separate books in a little over a year and a half. Since I cannot draw or know an artist that could take on this huge project I rewrote it to read more like a manga, but without the art; since I was into Japanese anime at that time. About a year later I developed a love of screenplays and the desire to write them. Apocalypsia was rewritten again into three different scripts due to its length and the 80-120 page constraint of a normal screenplay. When I discovered self-publishing the book that exists today got another overhaul. The book gained new content and became a little darker too. I was older so everyone in the story had to grow up also. Overall it took seven years and several rewrites before Apocalypsia appeared in our hands.
What is your writing experience and how has that helped you write Apocalypsia?
I actually wrote all of my books as screenplays first until I learned about self-publishing. I reformatted my screenplays into novelized script versions by taking away all the screenplay lingo, headers and directions, but kept the name of the speaker before my dialogue to cut down on “he said” “she said” throughout the entire story. Screenplays taught me about plot points and showing not telling. I learned to write a good ending and a good beginning and then finding out how to link the two. I learned how to write books by thinking about them as movies. Usually screenplays are the product of books. My books are products of screenplays.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have started writing a steampunk story. I think that will be a cool genre to explore. I have the beginning written and several notes about the world, technology and devices that exist, and character backgrounds and personalities, but I’m still working on the plot so no release date in sight yet.
Much of civilization lies in ruins after the mysterious happenings of a demonic uprising. In this post-apocalyptic world survivors must scavenge for supplies while taking up arms against demons, goblins, and even each other.
When an ally’s fort is attacked; a small group of survivors take it upon themselves to unite and stand against the further spread of demons. Along the way new allies agree to stand with them. Encountering stronger demonic threats and the discovery of an ancient artifact, which could destroy the boundaries between Hell and Earth, causes a collision of the human resistance into an epic final battle with the demonic forces.
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Zurga’s Fire takes place in historical Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean and is broken up into four books filled with short tales of adventure. What was the inspiration for this third book in the Orfeo Saga?
The fictional universe laid out by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings was probably the series that got me thinking along the lines of an extended saga. I liked the way Tolkien used ancient sources to create heroic fiction. At the same time I wanted to be more historical like Robert Graves and his series I, Claudius. I wanted to write something that would not be fantastic, and which would not re-tread well known history. The Bronze Age offered scope to speculate. There are few written sources, but what there is offers scope to invent characters and place them in historical context.
Zurga’s Fire introduces the issue of nomads and how they impact civilization. I had been researching nomads for my other interest, Oriental carpets. Nomads were very effective warriors, and they could overwhelm sedentary societies. They did have one weakness, and that was leadership. Every group from that lead by Attila to Ghengis Khan eventually fell apart. A charismatic leader is essential for nomads. In Zurga’s Fire the leader of the nomads is eventually undone not so much by a face to face challenge, but by a crisis in leadership.
Why did you go with the format of short stories told as a collection?
This is a very good question. I really did not think about the format before I started writing the series. I wrote many short stories over a period of years that were never published. Looking back that was probably a good thing. I always liked reading short stories. I think I have a short attention span. The result is that I am quite comfortable writing short stories and I have structured my Orfeo Saga that way too. Many books in the Orfeo Saga are made up of two different stories which are divided into books. In contrast my other series about a Los Angeles based private eye (the Bart Northcote series) are entire novels.
I felt that the characters in this book were complex and well thought out. What was your favorite character to write for?
I think that the character I had the most fondness for was “Zurga.” I gave him a rather ridiculous name because the character went by many names. This name suggests that you cannot take the character seriously. Zurga likes to deceive people as to his true intentions, as well as build up a mythology around himself. Zurga realized early on that he would not be fully accepted. No one would ever select him as a leader. In contrast his protege Orfeo can become a leader. Again I was well aware of Orpheus in the Greek pantheon. While Orpheus was a gifted lute player, he is also credited introducing civilization to savages. My Orfeo character has some similarities with Orpheus, but I have taken all supernatural elements away.
I think of Zurga’s Fire as a historical adventure tale. Did you do any research to keep the setting and characters true?
I studied ancient and modern nomads for years. I read about them, their social structure, history, and particularly art. Many of my research trips were to see nomads making textiles, particularly Turkish speaking people. I knew that for the Bronze Age there were not good historical sources, so I filled in the blanks with what I understood from more modern nomadic groups. I tried to capture their lifestyle in the novel, without going into the nuts and bolts of their society. The interesting thing is that the Greeks had recently settled by the Bronze Age. In the novel they were well aware of the kind of enemy they faced. The same pattern repeats throughout history many times. A group settles and then the next group of nomads impinges on them. Every sedentary group has the same choice. They can fight or they can flee. For Zurga’s Fire I wanted to show how the nomads being horse riders and archers had an advantage. Sedentary society, with farmers, had fewer people who would naturally take on a warrior role. They could fortify cities to stop nomads, but that does not always work. That is the tension I wanted to accentuate in the book.
What does the next book in the Orfeo Saga take readers?
The next book is also divided into two main parts. The first part takes the characters to the New World. There has been a huge amount of scholarly speculation about the contacts between the Old and New Worlds. I think that there must have been limited contact between these two areas, but I am not sure that it occurred as early as the European Bronze Age. However, there was likely early contact. There was a report that a scientist had found traces of cocaine as well as nicotine in Egyptian mummies as early as 1000 BC. I think it is important to look at evidence with an open mind but have a healthy skepticism about big claims.The Orfeo Saga volume 4 has a bit more humor in it than other books in the series. I also thought it was important for Orfeo to take a greater role in his own fate. His teacher disappears during this story.
Part II of the book deals with the rise of Sparta. This is not as far-fetched as some people think. Archaeology is pushing the date for Spartan civilization further back in time. I try to post interesting links to the archaeology on my Facebook page.
The Getae inhabited the region on either side of the Lower Danube River, in what is today northern Bulgaria and southern Romania. They were in contact with ancient Greeks from an early date. Herodotus – writing in the 5th century BC – extols their martial spirit: “…when it lightens and thunders, they aim their arrows at the sky, uttering threats against the god; and they do not believe that there is any god but their own.”
They ruthlessly incorporate conquered people into their society through enslavement, and are prepared to kill those who are not useful to their plans. They have no need for the luxuries of city life. Fighting in troops of mounted archers, they mock individual heroes. Getae have a long history of reducing enemies in deadly hails of arrows while not getting close enough to lose warriors in single combat. Here Orfeo and his warriors must deal with an expanding Getae empire during the heroic age of Greece. Vastly outnumbered, can they stop an invasion that threatens not only their lives, but also their entire culture?
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Fun. That’s what Tim Owens brings to the table with his 2014 novel, The Hobbymen. It’s just fun. Ghouls, goblins, monsters. Banter. Sarcasm. Interesting settings and a fast pace. While you read, you can tell that Owens had a great time writing the novel and that excitement is transferred to us as we flip each page.
The book starts with Liliana, a down-on-her-luck young nun who’s caught stealing an old loaf of bread in a little town in Mexico and then thrown in a dusty, dark jail. As she sits in the dark basement, wondering if this dilapidated prison is even legitimate and awaiting her outcome, she hears the running of two young men being chased by something she’s never seen before – a scaly monster with fangs and a vicious demeanor. She watches as a fight ensues. After the two boys knock out the strange beast, they take pity on her and let her out of her cell.
We find that the two men, Geoff and ‘Book’, are monster hunters, tracking down the true origins of mythical creatures from legends, stories, and myths. Geoff and Book are friends, though very different in personality and are constantly barraging each other with good-natured sarcasm and other scathing remarks. While originally the boys were simply going to return Liliana to her convent, they quickly become a team. Working out of their shabby van, they go on all sorts of adventures – following leads for any gruesome, dangerous, or fascinating creature. Unfortunately for them, other more nefarious characters have caught wind of these adventures and they have their own vested interests in the creatures that they search for. This all leads to an exciting conclusion involving a huge rock-like monster, severed hands, and incantations.
With The Hobbymen Tim Owens has created a fun read. The dialogue is entertaining. It flies with sarcasm, humor, and references to other fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings and the classic 90s flick Tremors. The storyline is somewhat simple, but the characters and creatures continually pull you in to read more. We watch as Liliana changes from a young runaway with no real plan, to a strong, determined woman who can fight just as well as the boys. And as we flip through each page, we find that like Liliana, Geoff and Book have their own secrets and past hardships which drive them on their quests. And surely there’s chupacabras and voodoo, but it’s really a book about a girl who felt alone due to the mistakes she’d made and then finds a home, a place where she belongs, in an unexpected place and with very unexpected people.
I give The Hobbymen 4 out of 5 stars simply because it’s just good old fashioned fun. For the monster-lovers and supernatural-junkies, I would recommend this quick and light book. Because of the easy writing style and the young characters, the book lends itself well to a young adult audience, though parts might be a little intense for the younger end of that demographic (I mentioned a severed hand right?), but in the end really anyone would enjoy this. Friendship. Adventure. Voodoo. What more could you want in a book?
Pages: 358 | ISBN: 1505283590
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One tough thing about writing fantasy books is that the reader doesn’t show up already knowing what’s possible. This genre is set in a world of mythical creatures and magic, by definition being completely different than our own.
Liefdom is one such book, centered around the conflicted and hyper violent fairy, Gentry Mandrake. The book is written in a sparse and compelling style, one that keeps the action flowing from page to page but sometimes manages to pass over exposition that might connect the reader to the circumstances and stakes of the conflict at hand. It’s subtitle is “A Tale From Perilisc”, Perilisc being the fictional universe in which the author Jesse Teller sets many of his books, and as such the book is a bit tricky to follow for readers who are not already familiar with the author’s broader world.
This is a challenge for the genre in general, not for Liefdom in particular – indeed its focused prose style proves to be one of its strongest assets, keeping the reader engaged and entertained even when the action itself isn’t abundantly clear. The murkiness just comes with the territory; what are the limits of magic in general and for any given fight in particular? Could a hero or villain use magic to get themselves out of a scrape or are they in real trouble? The answers to these issues and more may be obvious to fans of the genre and of this series in particular, but setting an entire story in a universe where magic isn’t peripheral or incidental (like in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones) but is instead foundational to the existence of the entire cast of the book may make the story opaque and forbidding to the uninitiated newcomer.
The story itself is brisk and full of action, violent action. The plot starts with a birth and a bang and very rarely lets up, barely given the reader any room to breathe. Almost every character in the story finds themselves the subject of some form of brutal torture at some point or another, the hero most of all. It feels like more than half the book is devoted to describing some form or feeling of pain. That said, though, it never feels like too much – the book is well-crafted enough such that the constant presence of pain feels unrelenting rather than overdone.
Plot-wise, no narrative acrobatics really present themselves. Gentry Mandrake is Different and Talented and must make peace with his Difference to use his Talents to save those he loves and indeed the broader world, facing both rejection and scorn at home and unfathomable all-consuming evil when he walks out the front door. There’s plenty of fantastic magic, shape-shifting and aura fights and threats of immortality, all compelling and fun.
In all, Liefdom is a strongly written book with a pleasant plot that features an extraordinary amount of violence and pain in a way that never becomes overbearing. If all of that sounds like your cup of tea then you’ll probably feel right at home.
Pages: 255 | ASIN: B01FWP8WS4
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If there’s one thing I can guarantee about this book, it’s that you’ve absolutely never read anything like it before. And that’s no small thing—fantasy as a genre has a bad habit of being predictable, and this book certainly is not that. If you’re looking for new form, experimental writing, and a very unique voice, then this is the book for you.
The form is really intriguing: it’s written like a cross between the Bible and Beowulf, with annotated lines and a very deliberate rhyme scheme (all the lines are end rhyme, which is certainly unique in the modern fantasy genre market). The book is biblical in the sense that a lot of the sentence structures seem to mirror the historical books of the Bible, i.e. “1.2.29 For whosoever believed in other than Lialthas was surely deviant, as was the plain truth as seen by his narration!” The text is also reminiscent of Beowulf in that it has a very tried-and-true formula of an “epic”, with a lot of focus on character development throughout the story. Quite a few of the names have pseudo-Scandinavian roots and the focus is very much on masculine honor, value, etc.
The actual plot is a bit hard to follow, which is the only thing I wasn’t crazy about in this book. Typically, fantasy novels are very plot-driven and follow a certain pattern, but this book completely breaks that pattern (which, don’t get me wrong, can be very good sometimes, but I’m not sure if it works here). The central idea is that there are two groups of people who worship two different gods: the Alakans worship the goddess Akala (who are presumably the good guys), and the others worship Lialthas (definitely the bad guys), and they wage a centuries-long battle that, on the surface, looks like a religious war, but, as we continue to read, we learn the reasons for their fighting are much more complicated. The plot moves incredibly quickly, with at least one major plot event per five pages, so anything beyond that will be a spoiler alert. Suffice to say there is quite a bit of action—it is an epic, after all—and definitely not for the faint of heart, since there are definitely some violent and gory scenes. If you’re a fan of old Norse mythology or Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, you’ll feel very comfortable reading this.
That typical “pull” you get from regular fantasy books is still lurking here, but it’s a bit more obscured than, say, Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones. I found myself staying up late because I was so engrossed in reading the book; however, not for the typical reasons I would with other novels… more because I appreciated the uniqueness of the structure and freshness of the author’s voice than the fact that I was attached to the characters or really cared about the movement of the plot. Readers who feel bored with the current state of the fantasy genre: this is for you.
Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this book if you love fantasy but would like to move outside of the typical fantasy novel and into something more unique (“avant garde fiction”, if you will). Even if it’s not something you may personally enjoy, I can definitely see this being a great read for a reader who wants to learn more about using narrative poetry and other old-school fiction elements in modern fantasy.
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