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Forging of a Knight: Darksiege Triumphant

The sixth installment in Hugo V. Negron’s electrifying fantasy series Forging of a Knight, Darksiege Triumphant, follows Qualtan and his new wife Vanessa, and his right-hand half-orcne friend Glaive as they settle into their new life in the School of the Mages. This is where Qualtan spent much of his boyhood years. Life in the Great Forest only remains idyllic for so long. A significant betrayal within the walls of the School sends Qualtan and his friends into action against the forces of Those That Stand in Shadow in this fast-paced, action-packed novel that is complete with plot twists and turns to keep the fantasy-loving reader duly enthralled.

I have followed this series for a few books thus far and appreciate the depth of both the characters and the plot. Negron has a gift for building both aspects of the novel in a way that is tasteful, rich, and moves the story along. Qualtan, for instance, has a penchant for good over honor. He is inclined to choose the most ethical option available over what is considered “good” in a political sense. However, even his character is multidimensional enough to understand that all his choices have consequences, and at parts of the novel he clearly wrestles with these moral dilemmas. Even though readers are only introduced to Vanessa in the fifth installment of Negron’s series, her character is just as developed. She loves Qualtan and knows in her heart that she has made the right choice in abandoning her previous life to be with him, but she still feels the guilt of her former identity and struggles at times to be at peace with her newfound place in the School.

This installment has multiple story lines that convene, both directly and indirectly, to form one overall story line. These story lines keep the content entertaining and interesting, while still maintaining direction. The authenticity of the relationships between the different characters, such as that between Qualtan and Bartholomew and that between Vanessa and Muirna, truly makes the novel feel as if it is its own world – which, in fact, it very much is.

Darksiege Triumphant is a stellar choice for anyone seeking a dynamic fictional tale that only gains depth as the reader makes their way through the series. I am excited for the next book in the Forging of a Knight series to arrive and look forward to what the author has in store for his readers.

Pages: 432 | ASIN: B07DFPM1Q5

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Trauma and Hard Choices

V. S. Holmes Author Interview

V. S. Holmes Author Interview

Smoke and Rain follows Alea who’s struggling to keep her sanity after her home is destroyed and she’s caught in the middle of a war. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?

My initial inspiration sprung from an image from an old National Geographic: ruins in a desert. I was drawn to the idea of waking up to find everything you ever knew was gone or changed. As the story and characters developed over the next years, I realized I wanted to explore the effects of trauma and hard choices on these imperfect characters, as well as what makes–and ultimately breaks–a hero.

There were so many memorable characters in this book for vastly different reasons. Who was your favorite character to write for?

This is so tough! I always have a pet character for sure, often a side character. My favorites to write were Bren and An’thor, and later in the series Mel and Azimir–everyone needs an Azimir in their life! I think I’m drawn to the side characters because their development is much more organic. Planing out the main arcs is rewarding when things fall into place, but it takes a bit of the magic of discovery out of writing the main characters. Those supporting roles have a lot more surprises up their sleeves for me!

I always enjoy deep world building in my fantasy novels and I enjoyed being immersed in yours. What were some themes that guided your world building?

I’m an archaeologist by trade, which means I study people, their tools, and the places they impacted. Basically, I study ancient trash. I’m fascinated by societies on the fringe, whether marginalized, or forgotten, or destroyed. I wanted to untangle what happens when old, faded kingdoms collide with religion–both new and old. Throughout the series we see nations dragged from faded glory to an unfamiliar, more modern world. Politics change, faith changes, and so do the heroes who originally saved the world. As someone who has studied and existed on the fringes for most of my adult life, I was determined to show all the varied social layers of a world and how war, faith, and community impact the characters from each of those layers.

This is book one in your Blood of Titans series. What can readers expect in book two?

Lightning and Flames picks up shortly after Smoke and Rain, and it delves into the complicated and imperfect relationship between Alea and Arman, particularly under the pressures of approaching war and all the choices before for them, both as budding heroes, and as people. I also got deeper into what it looks like when a kingdom fails, and we watch Bren determine whether he wants freedom, or the responsibility his father left to him.

The other installments in the Blood of Titans world–Madness and Gods and Blood and Mercy–take place in the aftermath of those choices and dissect how the characters navigate their changing places in the world and–if there is a place for them at all. One thing that all my work touches on is the psychology behind war and peace, from the classic epic fantasy scale to the smaller interpersonal and internal.

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What happens when heroes are as broken as the world they must reforge?

A mad king’s genocide destroyed Alea’s home and left her sanity in tatters. Wracked with grief, she now faces a lonely life in a strange city. The war has other plans. Caught in the crossfire between the gods and their creators, Alea’s new friend Arman abandons his idyllic jeweler’s life–and his humanity–to protect them both from the coming terror.

Across enemy lines, bastard lieutenant Brentemir Barrackborn is horrified by the blood on his hands. If he has any hope of redemption–or surviving the war–he must choose between his newfound family and the gods he worships.

As Arman and Brentemir’s sacrifices grow, Alea realizes that only the darkness inside her can end the bloodshed.

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Mad Max & Sweet Sarah

Mad Max & Sweet Sarah (Greek Mythology Fantasy Series Book 3) by [Ellie Collins]

Max’s life is about to change, and he isn’t sure how he feels about it. When his estranged father invites him to stay for two weeks during the summer, Max begrudgingly agrees. Adjusting to life outside of Hawaii, the only home he has ever known, is bad enough, but he also faces meeting a half-sister with whom he seems to have nothing in common. Between maneuvering a new relationship with a sibling he’s only just met and fighting his own inner demons who try to sabotage his newfound father/son dynamic, Max has an interesting summer ahead of him.

Mad Max and Sweet Sarah, by Ellie Collins, follows the newly-blossoming family relationship between Max, the father he has never met, and a half sister who already adores Max before they are ever introduced. Collins, always a teller of poignant tales for young readers, has hit the nail on the head once again with this beautiful story of two siblings getting to know one another and learning more about themselves in the process.

Collins, an accomplished fiction writer known for incorporating fantasy and Greek mythology into her story lines, is adept at bringing her readers messages of hope and building environmental awareness through her work as well. In Mad Max and Sweet Sarah, Collins has created a character, Sarah, who is easily unlikable at the outset and reshapes her throughout the plot. She desperately wants to be a sister and, even moreso, to have a brother. Readers will enjoy watching her attempt to cure all that ails her ever-changing family. In addition, Collins is clearly environmentally-conscious, and it shows in her work. She brilliantly weaves effective messages into the interactions between her characters.

Underneath all of Collins’s obvious plot lines lies an important one on trust between both family members and friends. The author uses a relatable cast of young teen characters to communicate a pertinent message of betrayal. Collins uses her characters’ growing relationship to highlight typical drama and its consequences. Readers will appreciate the growth shown by Max from beginning to end.

Mad Max and Sweet Sarah is a beautifully-crafted tale of family, trust, and growth among family members and between two hurting young souls. Teen readers will enjoy Collins’s writing style and more than appreciate her ability to relate to her audience. Ellie Collins is an amazing up-and-coming author with a superb talent for spreading joy with her words.

Pages: 128 | ASIN: B0849PBY3J

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Forging of a Knight: Knighthood’s End

Forging of a Knight: Knighthood’s End by [Hugo V. Negron]

Forging of a Knight: Knighthood’s End is the fifth installment in Hugo V. Negron’s “Forging of a Knight” series.  The book series takes place in a magical, mythical world drawing heavily upon folklore and where numerous societies with feudal systems reside in the greater universe. The series follows the journeys of Qualtan, a knight who wields the powerful and coveted Goldenflame blade, Glaive, his half-orcne best friend and trusted partner, and many other rulers, knights, and creatures with whom they interact in the ongoing fight against the heinous agenda of the Evil Order.  The “Knighthood’s End” installment guides readers on an arguably more personal battle involving Qualtan – the events that transpire as he finds his true love in Vanessa, a Mah-Zakim, and the journey of Qualtan and Vanessa in securing their freedom to love.

This book features many different types of characters and creatures, some common fixtures and other illustrations pulled from the depths of Negron’s vast imagination. The author does a fantastic job at creating the imagery needed for the reader to conjure in mind each of these magical characters and creatures. He displays the same talent for expressing imagery in his illustrations of the different worlds that Qualtan, Glaive, Vanessa, and other characters in the story traverse. The Great Forest, for instance, with its idyllic scenery and woodland creatures roaming about, contrasts greatly with the dark, terrible, and grotesque world of the Mah-Zakim.

The development of the story is done in such a way that, even if the reader was not already familiar with the series, they not left in the dark in regard to former battles or happenings from previous installments and how they play into the current plot. My only comment is that the author could have elicited more emotion and dimension in each character; I found that the characters at times fell too deeply into their respective tropes (ex. Qualtan as the hero, Glaive as the disgruntled but loyal sidekick, and Vanessa as the hopeless lover fighting against herself). The interactions between the characters, along with references to past struggles they have mutually faced, still adequately depict the strong ties that bind the characters to each other; a great example of this bond is the brother-like companionship between Qualtan and Glaive that remains steadfast even during the moments when they have their differences.

Forging of a Knight: Knighthood’s End is overall a great read for anyone who has an interest in a well-written and carefully crafted story where knights, kingdoms, gods, magic, and other elements of folklore rule, with some seeking the greater good and some seeking no benefit outside themselves. The plot of the story is rich and enjoyable, and it should spark reader’s interest in delving into the rest of the series.

Pages: 432 | ASIN: B07DFPM1Q5

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Smoke And Rain

Smoke and Rain (Blood of Titans: Reforged Book 1) by [V. S. Holmes]

Alea has darkness inside of her. After a mad king destroyed her home, Alea is on the brink of insanity trying to figure out how to end this brutal war. It’s only a matter of time before the darkness takes over her mind. In the enemy territory, little does Alea know that a lieutenant by the name of Brentemir Barrackborn is guilted for his actions and wants redemption. But, how is he going to get his redemption amidst this terrible war? Grappling with their sanities, Alea and Barrackborn have to figure out how to come to terms with their grief.

V.S. Holmes hits the mark with this incredible fantasy adventure that utilizes a unique writing style to tell a vivid story. We’re introduced to some rather complex, and rather bleak, characters that we get to see develop throughout the story from multiple perspectives. And with this I felt a lot more connected to these riveting characters. Having such lively characters makes the intense battle scenes all the more dramatic and theatrical.

Alea is a strong character that I rooted for consistently. Arman, Kam and Wes bring levity to an otherwise dark novel. But what I really enjoyed was the depth to which the backstory is created. If you like intricate world building then you’ll enjoy this book. Most of the world building happens in the beginning of the book, but it pays off once you get through it and feel immersed.

Sword & sorcery fans will find what their looking for in V. S. Holmes dark fantasy novel Smoke and Rain. A bit slow to start, but with memorable characters, a rich world, and sharp storytelling, this is easily my favorite novel of the month.

Pages: 452 | ASIN: B014APUYFG

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The Answer Was Doombringer

Aaron Bunce Author Interview

Aaron Bunce Author Interview

The Winter of Swords starts when Eisa is snatched by a monster which begins the convergence of several different characters. What was the inspiration for this thrilling story?

The story was originally inspired by a song: “Protectors of the Earth” by Two Steps from Hell. I visualized a scene in a forest clearing, where an army of dark creatures, led by a terrifying six-limbed beast, faced off against a massive wolf. I wrote the sequence with the intention of having my protagonist realize that he shares a magical bond with this wolf (a spirit guardian of nature). After finishing the chapter, the story took off in a completely different direction. I’d been reading a lot of fantasy at the time, and struggled with the disappointment that so much of it was the same, and not just tropes, but theme, archetypes, and even magical creatures. I was tired of dragons and elves especially, but also of questing heroes. I wanted cool new beasts, but more so, I was looking for something that would terrify me. The answer was Doombringer – whose physical presence might only be surpassed by his cunning and intellect. I wanted a creature that characters can’t simply run away and hide from, but one that watches, understands, and hunts them. I structured the beginning of the story differently, too, as I wanted to defy expectation and convention. And heh, everyone loves a good twist! Eisa, Hunter, and Luca are integral to the overall arc in the series, but their stories don’t necessarily move as most people expect. A seemingly routine trip into the wilds to collect resources proves to be the catalyst for a much grander story in scope and scale.

There’s an assortment of varied and well-developed characters in this novel, and I found everyone to be interesting. Who was your favorite character to write for?

This is a hard question to answer, as I love all of my characters. In fact, it feels like trying to single out one of your children as your favorite. But if I had to choose, I would say that Roman is my favorite to write. As you discover in The Winter of Swords, he has a fairly tragic backstory. To me, Roman represents resiliency, honor, and an unflappable sense of nobility. He’s introspective, shy, and a bit socially dysfunctional, but it’s his relationship with his adoptive companion, Tusk, that makes him so loveable. So many people struggle to fit in, and Roman is no different. I think that, in part, is why his interactions with Dennah are so much fun for me to write. You get to see how two people from vastly different upbringings can bond and find mutual ground. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Roman is also probably the most complicated character in the series – for reasons people will see by the time they finish Before the Crow. Beyond Roman, another of my favorites was Balin – a slippery rogue in Gladeus’ employ. In the original draft of the book, Balin appeared for a total of two or three paragraphs. By the time I finished the draft I was so enamored with him and his story that I had to go back and expand on him as a character. I think those morally gray characters can add such a wonderfully complicated dynamic to the story.

I enjoyed the in depth world building in this book. What were some themes you wanted to capture while creating your world?

I wanted to present the concept of the “ancient evil returned to threaten the world”, but wanted to avoid the “good vs evil” light fights the dark, or the evil lord who refuses to die returns once again to enslave the world, tropes that were prevalent in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and so many others. That in part is why the readers get to see the antagonists, too. By seeing their rebirth, understanding a bit about their fall, and their motivations and aspirations, I think it makes the conflict a little richer. I’m also a huge nerd for history. So much of the back-story in Denoril is shades of feudal Europe, the protestant migration to the new world, the concept of world war, and the effect of colonialism on indigenous people, and abolition of slavery. The theme of indigenous people plays out in with the dalan – a magical people readers don’t necessarily get to meet until a little further into the series. I think it’s worth the wait!

This is book one in the Overthrown series. What can readers expect in book two, Before the Crow?

Oh, boy! That’s the question. The Winter of Swords really sets the stage, but like so many introductory volumes, it scrambles things up and tears the characters down. Before the Crow picks right up where Swords ends in that regard, so it is definitely “binge ready”. The conflict deepens and spreads, but the cat is out of the bag to an extent, so we get to see how some of our characters start to deal with the threat, but also what might set them apart from everyone else, and in the end, help them become the heroes Denoril needs so badly. For people who read through to the end of Winter of Swords, I strongly suggest they go right into Before the Crow. They just might find some events at the end of the second book incredibly rewarding!

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The Winter of Swords: A Grimdark Epic (Overthrown Book 1) by [Bunce, Aaron]

An intelligent, six-limbed beast snatches a girl away from her family.

An orphan confronts the darkness in his past, while a menace stalks his small town.

A young woman cast into servitude tries to forge her own path in an unforgiving world.

And an inexperienced soldier following the path of honor and duty comes face to face with a foe born from his worst nightmares.

Seemingly unconnected, this small group of normal folk will fight to survive, for an ancient evil has awakened, and Denoril will need heroes if it is to endure The Winter of Swords.

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The Winter of Swords: A Grimdark Epic

The Winter of Swords: A Grimdark Epic (Overthrown Book 1) by [Bunce, Aaron]

What begins as a carefree adventure among siblings turns deadly in a heartbeat when Eisa is left alone following the violent deaths of her loved ones. Snatched from the scene and carried away by what can only be described as a monster of epic proportions, she is left wondering why she was allowed, or perhaps chosen, to live. A story seemingly unconnected to the tumultuous lives of Julian, Roman, Dennah, DaeGeroth, Balin and Gladeus soon becomes much more clearly interwoven into the experiences of all of the them. None of them could have predicted the evils that lie beyond the wide expanses of beautiful countryside they all know so well.

The Winter of Swords, by Aaron Bunce, is a stunning visual of fright-filled fantasy, old world charm, and a wide assortment of well-developed characters. From the moment I began reading of Eisa’s experience in the wilderness, I was swept into a world of creatures and hidden realms from which I found it difficult to separate myself–the hallmark of effective writing. Eisa’s entire ordeal set the stage for some of the most fantastic imagery I have read in a long time. Not many books can boast such horrifying beings so vividly described and so dreaded by even the reader.

Roman, one of the chief characters in Bunce’s work, has the most poignant subplot in my opinion. His backstory tugs at the heartstrings. The scene set by Bunce at the farm owned by Garon is a step-by-step reveal of one heart-wrenching horror after another. It is an artfully written chapter that has the feel of a slow motion movie scene set to an emotionally-gripping score.

Though Bunce’s book is filled with delightfully terrifying images, for me, there was none quite like the scene that takes place involving Julian in the simple town of Craymore. When an author can conjure up a visceral reaction with the mere mention of the sound of a horn in the distance, you know you have found an author to follow. More unsettling than the beastly gnarls was the powerful commandment of the horn’s sounding–wonderfully ominous and capable of provoking a sense of mystery.

Bunce has managed to give readers a novel rich with dialogue. Not every book of this genre is able to carry out a plot so heavy with character interactions. Many books rely on narrative to tell the story, but Bunce is more than capable of telling the tale via characters’ thoughts and exchanges.

While it is solidly based in fantasy, the element of mystery is strong throughout the plot, and that is one of many striking factors in Bunce’s work. Bunce has created a spectacular work of fiction which will appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy with incredible creatures, high drama, and an assortment of strong lead characters.

Pages: 818 | ASIN: B07MCX4CFD

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Soul Dark: Chosen

Lukas is unlike any other boy. Not a boy but not yet a man, Lukas has been hit with more loss, more trauma, and more inexplicable realizations than most adults experience in their lifetimes. When his grandmother takes him under her wing and begins to train him, Lukas is inundated by her pleas to not forsake the Goddess. Lukas, overcome with the pain of the loss of his parents, the tragic eradication of almost everyone else he loves, and left alone in the world with a new acquaintance, turns his head again and again from his Goddess, defying his grandmother’s wishes and, possibly, putting much more than his own life at risk.

E.L. Reedy and A.M. Wade present a most unique set of characters in  their young adult fantasy, Soul Dark: Chosen. Lukas, the book’s protagonist, is almost overshadowed by the authors’ vivid descriptions and fantastic choice of dialect and idiosyncrasies given the secondary characters. Jacob is a standout in my book. For as meek and mild as the authors initially portray him, he shines like a light from the pages, and he easily steals each scene from the other characters.

As a reader, I more than appreciate a story with numerous twists. Though not a huge nor especially unforeseen twist, I was glad to see the integration of the “knowing” character with introduction of Matthew. Those types of hidden gems in a story make all the difference; Reedy and Wade have this technique down to an art in this book.

One of the more gripping scenes in the book is the moment Lukas meets the old man, Theo Deville. The authors paint a stunning scene when the two lock eyes. Their dynamic is imperative to the success of the overall story line, and it is within this moment in the book that the authors set that tone. I found myself rereading that section more than once.

I found the breaks away from Lukas’s own dramatic situations between the chapters to be quite effective. By taking readers, if momentarily, to another realm, Reedy and Wade are able to keep the momentum of the plot and continue to build interest as the story plays out. These brief interludes serve as important reminders to readers that Lukas is not yet out of the woods, and his true test is always just around the next corner.

I don’t doubt that someone else will make this comparison, but I feel Soul Dark: Chosen can be likened to a modern-day The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The underlying theme of faithfulness, loyalty, and good versus evil are apparent from beginning to end. A strong cast of characters who all rely on one another and are driven closer and closer together through shared traumas is not a new concept, but it is one that Reedy and Wade seem to have given new life.

Not many authors can successfully combine modern day settings with those of ancient times to bring to life a book filled with both action and humor. Reedy and Wade have more than accomplished that task.  I highly recommend Soul Dark: Chosen to any reader interested in young adult fantasy and looking for a book with a well-placed and strong  theme of faith.

Pages: 246 | ASIN: B07P2L6655

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