Return of the Sagan follows a bookish young man as he wrangles his crew on a mission to save Earth and humanity. What served as your inspiration while writing this story?
As a prehistoric archaeologist, I have long dreamed of exploration of the cosmos and the past. My fieldwork centered on digging into the deep past for which no written records have surfaced. I can’t begin to explain how overpowering it is to uncover mysteries through digging and analyzing artifacts. It is a job that takes considerable time and patience as if you dig to deep, you can easily destroy valuable information. We only get one shot, so we have to be careful. For those interested in archaeology, I encourage them to see if local museums or colleges are operating excavations and having volunteer days – that way you can experience archaeology and avoid damaging/losing critical information. As for studying the cosmos, my wife already told me I can’t go to Mars 😞
As for the timing of the novel, my beloved Uncle Paul Leary was battling cancer so I wrote the story with him as a main character. He was able to read some of the story before he passed. My writing could never do justice to the lovely man that Uncle Paul had always been. We all miss him terribly.
Francis is a book worm that loves to quote his favorite authors. Is this an extension of yourself or did you have to research these quotes?
Totally me. Francis is named after my brother, Francis Aloysius O’Donnell. He was my parents’ first child who died at birth. I have often wondered what he would be like. Given my brother Ned and I (along with my sisters Moe and Sandi) can quote fantasy and scifi books all day long, it just seemed to fit that Francis would also be a bookworm like the rest of us. Mom and Dad were veracious readers and constantly encouraged us to read whenever we had the chance. Probably my favorite quote all-time is from Tolkien: “not all who wander are lost.”
The re-population of some of the world’s endangered animals was beautiful to visualize. What scenes did you have the most fun writing?
The mastodons and dire wolfs. I am a prehistoric archaeologist, and my specialty is in the woodlands of North Eastern North America. The people I studied lived side by side with Mastodons and the only reasonable prehistoric predator to suit the story, prehistory and climate was the dire wolf. After the book was published was when I saw Game of Thrones, a show I adore. I got the first season as a gift and then proceeded to watch the first three seasons over the course of two weeks. I then read the books after. I wish I would have encountered GOT before I wrote my novel as I would not have included dire wolves. I have referenced other extinct species from North America in my books before, particularly giant sloth, but for a predator in SAGAN, I would just conjure up something other than wolves because of GOT, though wolves are prehistorically accurate for the area and dire wolves would really be the only predator to fit the circumstances in the story. I did very much enjoy Francis’ stand on the bridge – total throwback to the Bridge of Khazad-dum. When I was a kid, my older brother Ned was devastated when Gandalf fell in the Fellowship of the Ring. Thankfully he read the next book quickly and was ecstatic to say the least. Gandalf’s stand was just so moving. When I got to the bridge standoff in SAGAN, I couldn’t help but make that connection.
Do you think you will write more stories about the crew of the USS Carl Sagan, or continue Francis’s story in some way?
I already have plans to write the story of the initial crew of the Sagan that left Earth centuries earlier. As for Francis, I have contemplated his leading the building of a ship and a subsequent sea voyage, but I have many other projects that need to be finished first.
300 years ago, USS Carl Sagan blasted off from overpopulated Earth in search of survival. Returning to Earth, the USS Carl Sagan finds humanity now extinct and Earth populated by deadly, once extinct pre-historic predators.
What disaster eradicated mankind? Was it man-made or of natural origin? One thing for certain: survival for the USS Carl Sagan and its crew will difficult at best, as while humans are no longer inhabit the Earth , they left behind deadly machines to guard the airspace against space invaders. The commander and the crew of the returning Earth ship will have to overcome those unexpected fool-proof sentries. And the machines are not the only obstacles for the travel-weary men and women of USS Carl Sagan to overcome. If they want to re-inhabit Earth.
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The Guardians of Eastgate is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a fantasy, adventure, and romance as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
The genre-crossing was both intentional and organic. I knew I wanted to write a fantasy-adventure, but I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to include romance. Some of my favorite books are fantasy-romance. However, I knew I didn’t want to narrow my audience by going into erotica.
I liked the way romance was handled in novels like Twilight, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series: it was present, but it wasn’t the main focus, and it wasn’t explicit. These were not books I would have to worry about my kids reading as teens, for example. Writing romance in this way left them accessible to teens all the way through to adult. So, I knew that if I did include romance, I would want to handle it in this manner. The Guardians of Eastgate is rated as Young Adult, but I wanted it to be accessible to teens and older adults as well.
I didn’t make the final decision to include romance until I was writing their interactions, however. In fact, I wouldn’t really call it a decision. Rather, it felt like the natural progression of the relationship between the characters. So, in this way, it was organic. The way I see it, their relationship is complicated (due to their histories), yet also inevitable due to their personalities and shared histories.
As for the adventure part, well, what is fantasy without adventure, really? I am a huge fan of Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings was required reading in my Advanced Literature class in high school. At first, I found his writing tedious, and had to wade through it. By the time I was done, though, I was thoroughly hooked and grateful for all those details. There is no way I will even try to compete with Tolkien, however. I loved his world and character building, but knew that I would not want to take on writing on that grand a scale, especially for my first novel.
One reason for this is knowing that, in our time, people work a lot and have many scheduled activities for themselves, their kids, etc. Because of this, I purposely kept my book on the short side for a novel, and made my chapters short as well. However, after feedback from some of my readers who basically said they enjoyed the story, but would have liked to see more of certain elements, I am now considering doing a revised and expanded second edition.
The supporting characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
My favorite character is my main character, Maelona. However, I did not find her easy to write for. She is a very subdued character who, for a large portion of the story, is denying or ignoring huge parts of herself due to guilt from past events. So, how do you reveal a character’s personality through their dialogue and actions when they so tightly control their actions and emotions? I knew I wanted to use the third person narrative, which took revealing her character through inner monologue off the table. I didn’t want to switch to the first person though, as I wanted readers to feel the distance she creates for herself partly through the distance the third person provides. It is a complicated mix, and it was difficult to find the right balance. I did enjoy trying to find that balance, though.
I probably like Blaez and Gareth equally. Blaez, however, though not as tightly wound as Maelona and more emotionally open, is also calm in actions and words, so revealing his character was also tricky at times. Gareth was perhaps the easiest to write for, as he is cheeky and wears his heart on his sleeve, as the saying goes.
Maelona is a seer champion tasked with protecting the realm and is the first line of defense when evil rises. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
Maelona is essentially driven by her guilt over what happened at the crater of sorrows (which we find out about when she tells Blaez the story). She blames herself for what happened and she feels extreme guilt and an intense sense of loss over the accidental death of someone close to her.
Her father was a powerful seer who took his responsibilties to the seer people, and to the entire realm, very seriously. He believed, as did most of the seer people, that his race’s “advantages” over the other races gave them the responsibilty to watch over the realm and all its peoples (kind of like that “With great power comes great responsibility” line in Spiderman). They believe, essentially, this was what they were created for, and they continued to believe this even after their people were persucuted and hunted out of fear. In a sense, Maelona is an overachiever because she is always trying to make up for the loss of her father. However, she also had to work harder to fill his shoes because she is denying the most powerful parts of herself, parts she considers to be dangerous and that she is afraid of losing control over.
With this new mysterious and serious threat to the entire realm, however, she will need these most powerful parts of herself. Her letting go of her tight contol on her emotions and opening herself up to her new friends, and especially her new love, mirrors her letting go control of those “scary” parts of herself. This is why the romance between Maelona and Blaez ends up being so important. It is her relationship with him that allows her to stop holding back those pieces of herself that scare her; to take a chance on those parts because the potential gain is worth it. It is her relationship with him that allows her to begin accepting herself, all of herself, for who she is.
What is the next story that you’re writing and when will it be published?
I am already 40,600+ words into the second novel of the series. I haven’t settled on a name yet, but it will focus on the Seer guardian of Southgate. Between finishing the first draft, self-editing and revising, having beta readers look at it, then sending it off to the editor for a few rounds of revisions, etc. etc., I don’t expect it to be published until late winter, early spring.
I have also decided to do a second edition of The Guardians of Eastgate because I will be re-doing the cover. I have hired a visual artist to do the book covers for the rest of the series and I want them all to be uniform. Due to reader feed-back, I am considering expanding on the interior narrative as well. You can check on my website or social media accounts to stay updated on whether or not I will expand the story, and when the second edition with the new cover (and possibly extended storyline) will be released.
Maelona Sima is one of four seer champions tasked with protecting the four keystones from being breached by evil forces, thus leaving an immeasurable magical force free to be used against the realm’s inhabitants. Yet Maelona is more than a seer. She is unique in her world, and she is the best hope of survival for the people of Sterrenvar…the very people who once hunted down and killed many of the seer people out of fear and mistrust.
Protecting the keystones is the first line of defense against the evil sorcerer who wishes to enslave the realm. Can Maelona, the guardian of the keystone at Eastgate, and her friends Blaez, a wolf shifter, and Gareth, a human prince, bring together their peoples to save Eastgate from destruction in this first book of the Seers series?
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In this captivating tale of cosmic design, Angels’ Whispers, author J.F. Cain chronicles the harrowing struggle between two ultimate yet necessary forces, Angels and Demons. As intelligent as they are graceful, Angels have been metaphysically observing mankind for an eternity, lovingly tending to humanity’s journey towards spiritual awakening. The recent advent of free will has brought with it the potential for deviance though, and the balanced tides of spiritual harmony hangs in the balance. As the fallen angel Lucifer schemes to lure society towards the err of self-indulgence, the philosophically pragmatic Angel Aranes, the most superior of celestial beings, must challenge her own age-old wisdom and routines for the sake of serving not just humanity, but all intelligent creation.
The first title from the War Eternal series, Angels’ Whispers delves into the popular and alluring trope of angelic and demonic forces at constant odds, a concept explored by literature and media since the earliest eras of civilization. Although the splay of archangels and demonic characters may be ancient in a scriptural sense, Cain brings a playfully crisp air into the work, using an intensely illustrative style to make the story feel modern. Main character Alex Meyers is a cocky young entrepreneur, chock-full full of cynicism and self-conflicted inner monolog. He’s as well-intentioned as he is troubled, and that struck me as oddly endearing. Finding himself on the receiving end of an Angel’s attention, he struggles to explore his own convictions, all while being thrust into the throes of the eternal power struggle between these all powerful creatures.
In a style oddly comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, Cain writes densely, wasting no opportunity to develop a particular scene with lush descriptiveness. The grandiose and mystical surroundings of the Elether, the metaphysical plane of the Celestials, is the perfect backdrop for the gorgeous amount of attention Cain has poured into the setting. I absorbed the rich details, easily imagining them with all the vividness of a wide-screen cinematic. This would seriously make one hell of a movie!
I loved the intelligent yet candid way that Angels’ Whispers scrutinizes the notions of truth and freedom throughout the book, making use of an enormous splay of theological and philosophical knowledge. It was fascinating to read about the various ideologies of so many influential individuals and cultures in such a condensed form, and I found some of the sentiments to be deliciously thought-provoking! I can’t even recall the last time I had been prompted to explore my own thoughts on religion so earnestly, so I appreciated the casual way that Cain wove that into the story. The intellectual sparring between Celestial beings was enthralling in that same way, and maintained a strong presence through the book. It felt reminiscent to me of the zesty energy of a passionate debate between two best friends – engaged and impassioned, but respectful and surprisingly explorative.
Without spoiling anything, I’m still happy to say that this first title sets up beautifully for the next work. I’d recommend it to fellow readers with a love for the supernatural and philosophical niches. I’m looking forward to the next title of War Eternal, which will surely follow up on the consequence to life’s most powerful forces – love, death, and ultimately, free will.
Pages: 355 | ASIN: B06Y4XDY8T
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The False Prophet is set in a post apocalyptic America and follows Donald of Fisher, our unlikely hero, as he must confront an army raised to conquer the land. What was the inspiration for the setup to this exciting novel?
The question applies to the first novel, The Stonegate Sword as well as The False Prophet although it is not necessary to have read the first book in order to understand the second. The initial idea was to create a character with a world view similar to present-day America and place him in a society with very different values, such as Medieval Europe. I considered a time-travel approach, but then hit on the idea that in the future the world could enter a second Dark Age. So the main character, Donald of Fisher is a lore-man, steeped in the study of the past from an early age. Then circumstances forces him to take up a sword and take on the role of a warrior. The conflict between the evil figure in the west owes a bit to Tolkien and a bit to the prophecies of the last days in Biblical prophecy. I made no attempt to create the details associated with the Antichrist, except that if the imagery in Scriptures is taken literally, it sounds as if the final battles will be fought with antique weapons. I realize that this could be figurative language, but I decided to take it literally, and that implies, again, that a dark age lies in the future.
The story follows two characters, The False Prophet and Donald of Fisher, which I felt were two contrasting characters. What themes did you want to capture while creating your characters?
The story follows the archetypal “hero’s quest.” Don is the hero and must face adversity. The False Prophet is the anti-hero and he does not actually appear in the first novel, being only a rumor, a malignant force driving the forces of evil. In the second novel, he is revealed to be a ruthless despot of the kind with whom we are all familiar. The Prophet’s armies are the driving force behind much of the conflict that Don must face and overcome, though human frailties (his own and those of his companions) are other obstacles in his path.
There were many biblical undertones throughout the novel. Where do you feel you paralleled the Bible and where did you blaze your own path? And how did that help you create an engaging story?
The story of the novel does have some similarities to the Bible in that the Israelites were often raided by their enemies and the kind of weapons were similar. The military tactics I describe are probably not similar to those used in Bible days, although some of the principles are timeless. The use of walled cities reminds one of the Bible and also Medieval Europe. The political situation in the free cities east of the mountains reminds me of Israel during the time of the Judges, when there was no king, and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The apostasy or falling away from the faith is prophesied in the Bible. The rediscovery of lost technology, for example, cannons, is a new path. The idea of a man of sin arising in the last days is found in the Bible.
The False Prophet is the second book in the Stonegate series. Where does book three take readers?
Book three will take place a generation later. The False Prophet was not destroyed, and the evil in the West rises again. It is up to the children of Don, Rachel, Carla and Howard to bring the saga to its final conclusion. Donald, now a middle-aged man, past his prime, attempts to mount an invasion of the West to overthrow the Prophet, but his attempts are met with disunity among his friends and overwhelming might of his foes. As to be expected, the victory depends on help from a totally unexpected quarter.
Stonegate remains the key, and Donald returns to that great walled city and his beloved Rachel just as the hosts of enemy are also closing in. Part adventure, part love story, this epic saga covers the vast panorama of New Mexico deserts and Colorado Rockies in a possible future that looks very much like the medieval past. But duty, love, courage, and honor remain and are even more important than ever.
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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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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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At first glance this novel looks like a story taken from the world of Tolkien, you have trolls, mortals, a mystical race of beings that live in the woods, talking animals, and a quest. That, however, is where the similarities end. L.J.Francis has managed to create in Horatio Hobbs and the Calimor, a magical world that will appeal to readers of all ages. Francis brings in some of the traditional magic and creatures that people come to expect in fantasy novels, such as the trolls and elf like beings, but he turns many of the stereotypes of these fictional beings around. Nothing is as simple as it seams in the sleepy town of Drinkwater and the feared forest of Shadowmere.
Horatio is a young boy about to turn sixteen. In the town of Drinkwater, sixteen is when you become an adult to the community. He was raised by his grandfather Theodore Hobbs. You learn in the book that his mother died during child birth, as for his father, well you will have to read the book to find out what happened to him. Theodore Hobbs is a master furniture maker, and excels in his craft. He is known far and wide for his skill and ability to create the perfect item. At the center of this novel is one of his works of art. The mayoral throne. Unbeknownst to Theodore, he has carved this throne from magical wood. The tree that this wood came from is also the source of a magical acorn, the Calimor, that is delivered to Horatio by a fox. This acorn has a magical and devastating story.
The epic journey begins with Horatio setting out with his pony Thomas for the mysterious woods of Shadowmere. These woods are dark, thick, and filled with magic. The Bloodeye trolls make their home in Shadowmere. The leader of the Bloodeye, King Bovik, hates the mystical race of Eldrin that live in a protected area of Shadowmere called Celeste. When word gets back to him that Horatio has something from Celeste and is headed there King Bovik decides he will intercept Horatio and get information from him on how to destroy the Eldrin. The Bloodeye’s pursuit of Horatio and Thomas lead them on further adventures and bring them into contact with several interesting characters. One character that I feel offers the most passion and heart is Krunger, the exiled Bloodeye troll.
Francis’s ability to portray the relationship between Krunger and Horatio speaks volumes. These two characters couldn’t be more different on the outside but inside share the same goals and passions. The transformation both characters must go through is immense and will pull at the reader’s compassion and provide a renewed sense of hope.
Overall L.J. Francis gives readers a new look in the fantasy novel realm. He turns traditional character rolls around and offers a brightened future for the lands he creates. The easy reading style and lack of extreme gore from fighting scenes makes this novel appropriate for young adult readers. The complex character development and unique plot makes it appealing for adult fantasy novel followers. This book leaves the reader with just enough questions to look forward to the second installment that L.J. Francis is currently working on, but offers a conclusion to the story line in this novel. A well written novel with the promise of more adventures to come.
Pages: 284 | ASIN: B01D1XNPOA
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