The news that George R. R. Martin will require more time to finish the next installment of his hefty Game of Thrones series has left many readers disconsolate. Yet readers who crave wild and magical realms have options beyond threatening hexes lest Martin deliver his epic quickly; other fantasy worlds are available!
If you’re a Thrones fan yourself, seeking a tasty literary morsel between installments, we think that the following titles may just whet your appetite. Read on!
Book Two of the Four Feasts Till Darkness Series
With gorgeous settings and memorable characters, this fast-paced fantasy is a book that can’t be put down.
Feast of Dreams, by Christian A. Brown, is a fantasy novel with beautifully described settings and an interesting group of characters.
The land of Geadhain is on the brink of conflict as two forces vie for power in a war-ravaged landscape. Queen Lila of Eod wrestles with the disappearance and possible death of her husband, Magnus, as her obsession with vengeance pushes her to the edge of sanity. Meanwhile, in Menos, Queen Gloriatrix seizes the opportunity to gain power by amassing an army to destroy the kingdom of Eod. Elsewhere, in the lush and overgrown landscape of Alabion, a group searches for the powerful Sisters Three. As these characters’ stories unfold, it becomes apparent that their fates will intertwine and ultimately affect the future of Geadhain.
One of the novel’s strengths is its vividly described settings. Brown spends time laying out the geography of Geadhain on a macro level, including a map, and eloquently explains what is seen by each character. Many of the lines from the book create a landscape that can be easily pictured: “As he stood and looked through the relatively flattened region of the wood they wandered, he spotted more rises and broken lines among the stunted trees, wildflowers, and shrubs…A large village this had been.”
The events of the story unfold immediately from the plot’s initial conflict, and the pace is quick throughout. Tension between characters builds steadily, making the book difficult to put down. Although part of a larger series, this second installment in the chronicle can stand alone, as it has its own overarching story line and fully introduces the characters from the previous novel.
Brown includes numerous references to stories from Greek tradition and popular culture. For instance, a monster known as the Jabberwok seems to reference the Jabberwock made famous in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. The Sisters Three, a trio of powerful witches that are believed to control destiny itself, mirror the Fates of Greek mythology, who knew and controlled the destiny of all mankind. Choosing to liken these creatures to ones that already exist in literature makes them more dynamic, as less time needs to be spent developing them because their basic traits are almost universally known.
This fantasy novel contains traditional elements and strong, memorable characters. It will be enjoyable to fans of the genre or to those who like plot-driven storytelling.
GREGORY A. LOWE (October 12, 2015)
The Heart of All Worlds, Book One
The book’s dreamlike tone is a pleasant change from the grim and dark novels that characterize the modern fantasy genre.
In The Sidhe, author Charlotte Ashe portrays a world where the magical sidhe of the faerie world are enslaved by human nobility. Against this backdrop, a royal steward falls in love with a slave, unleashing a chain of events that rocks the foundations of human and sidhe worlds alike.
After winning a coveted position serving a prince, royal steward Brieden jeopardizes everything he worked for when he meets his lord’s newest slave, Sehrys. Falling desperately in love with the sidhe, he concocts a plan to help Sehrys escape and return to his homeland. Having endured atrocities at the hands of the prince and his previous owners, Sehrys finds it difficult to trust the human, even though he accepts Brieden’s aid. Both human and sidhe enemies pursue them on their journey to the faerie homeland, while scheming nobles take advantage of the distraction. But when Sehrys begins to reciprocate Breiden’s feelings, he discovers true courage not in casting off the mental and physical bonds of slavery but in learning to follow his own heart.
Despite the urgency of fleeing from a violent prince, the pair’s journey proceeds at a dreamlike pace. Their concerns about being pursued are often contradicted by how often they engage in sexual interludes. While the intimacy mirrors their growing emotional connection, the frequency and length of these graphic encounters sometimes veers into gratuitous territory and distracts from the overall plot.
During Brieden and Sehrys’s journey, political strife tears apart the human royal court as foreign nobles work to oust the prince and his family from power. Aid offered to the fleeing pair by one of these nobles maintains a tenuous connection to the main storyline, but the brief glimpses into the surrounding political machinations prove underdeveloped. The promise of change also leaks into sidhe culture; much like the political shift in the human world, the sidhe unrest remains unresolved, providing fodder for future books.
There are few technical errors in this high-quality package, although the amateur cover illustration lacks visual appeal. Extended snippets of untranslated sidhe dialogue require utilizing the glossary, but the narrative often provides enough context to make cross-referencing unnecessary.
Although it’s set against a backdrop of change and warring cultures, The Sidhe focuses on the healing and transformative powers of love as human and sidhe bridge the divide between their two races. More romantic fantasy than political fantasy, the extended sex scenes often bog down what would otherwise be a breathless escape from various potential captors.
The book’s dreamlike tone is a pleasant change from the grim and dark novels that characterize the modern fantasy genre.
VERNIEDA VERGARA (June 8, 2015)
Each character in this fantasy adventure has deep motivation, adding layers of conflict to a dark, creative story.
What happens when a crown prince is kidnapped and the most qualified rescuers are a monk and a cursed woman? Hunt for Valamon is an answer, and an amazingly inventive one. Australian writer D. K. Mok’s fantasy world here is familiar, but what it becomes is like dumping a handful of jacks on the floor and having no idea where they’ll come to rest.
Prince Valamon isn’t cut out for running a kingdom, so the king designates his second son as heir, which suits Valamon fine. He never expected that this would lead to his being snatched from a warm bed one night by a frightening creature and taken to an enemy stronghold. His additional misfortune is that the enemy is human, bent on revenge, and willing to use sorcery, whereas Valamon’s father the king has outlawed all such arts.
Seris, a cleric imbued with healing powers, is ordered to accompany whoever wins a contest to become the king’s champion and Valamon’s rescuer. This directive turns his quiet, humble world upside down, for he has no martial skills, no experience of the wider world, and no desire to leave his spiritual post. When the accursed warrior Elhan del Galvir, known by her sinister moniker the Kali-Adelsa, is the last warrior standing in the contest, Seris sees his future disappear, only to be replaced with death.
The characterization of all the main players here is meaty, visceral, and intelligent. Every one of them, from Valamon to the being who snatched him, has an agenda, and no two are alike. No one’s actions feel awkward or out of place; the pacing is like a roller-coaster ride; and the settings are imbued with meaning that’s subtly placed. The overall effect is a fantasy-thriller read that is intense, dark, inventive, and delicious.
It takes some heavy creative muscles to write something this good, and Mok’s work meets all expectations. An empire rises and falls, lives are forever changed, business-as-usual ends, and a new form of governance is in the wings, all in one book. It’s always a pleasure to find a writer who shows such great writing chops straight out of the gate.
J. G. STINSON (May 27, 2015)
Four Feasts Till Darkness
Christian A. Brown
Softcover $19.99 (540pp)
Brown writes each character in this thrilling epic fantasy with passion and heart, and within the action and suspense are tales of love and loss.
The clash of two immortal kings is felt throughout the realm in Feast of Fates by Christian A. Brown. No tired story lines or boring characters here; Brown has created a thrilling, action-packed fantasy suffused with elements of folklore and legend, and spiced with a bit of metal magic for some steampunk flair.
Geadhain is on the brink of an all-out war, and the fates and prophecies seem bleak. The peaceful kingdoms of Eod and Zioch, led by mystical brothers Magnus and Brutus, are in danger; a mysterious dark force is invading from within. To the east, the ever-menacing city of Menos looms, led by the Iron Queen as she waits for revenge and watches for a chance to strike.
Heroes, heroines, villains, sages, sorcerers, knights, kings, witches, thieves, necromancers, and shape-shifters converge in a plentiful cast, each with a unique history, voice, and role to play in Feast of Fates. No one is quite who they seem, and when a humble sorcerer’s errand girl, Morigan Lostarot, whirls into the Wolf’s blacksmith shop, the gears of fate put into motion an unstoppable force.
Across the realm in Menos, “a grim metropolis of dark metal towers that stabbed at a polluted sky as if in hatred of its existence,” Mouse, a professional messenger focused only on survival, stumbles into her own nightmare and, later, redemption when the Broker—part metal, part man, and all monster—takes notice of her on the same day the queen’s mad son decides she has a darker destiny. Brown writes each character with passion and heart, and within the action and suspense are tales of love and loss.
The events unfold neatly in two parts. Each chapter is further subdivided into sections marked with Roman numerals, and prologue-epilogue bookends tie everything together. Brown’s organization and pacing allow every stage to unfold naturally, and despite the many flashbacks, subplots, twists, and turns, the events remain clear as the narrative marches forward. There is some confusion in the usage of commas, semicolons, and colons, but since each prompts a natural pause, it does not hinder the cadence. However, the improper usages may stand out to punctuation perfectionists.
At a glance, Feast of Fates seems like pure fantasy, but there are also traces of science fiction, paranormal romance, action/adventure, and even a historical feel for those who enjoy knights and queens and kingdoms. Strong female leads and equally intriguing male characters ensure that Feast of Fates will have mass appeal.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (September 26, 2014)
Book One of the Dragoon Saga
Japanese mythology blends with an epic fantasy adventure to create a vivid world and a lovable young hero.
In a time when being left-handed is believed to signify a demonic nature, eighteen-year-old Iren is doomed to a life of near-solitary confinement. Constantly ridiculed and ostracized by everyone around him, his life begins to change when he is drafted into a dangerous mission to save his village from a vicious invasion. The Wings of Dragons brings readers on a fast-paced adventure inspired by Japanese folklore and led by a compelling cast of characters.
As his family legacy is revealed to him, along with the responsibility that comes with it, Iren must discover his natural, unique abilities and place in the world. The isolation he has suffered most of his life leaves him ill-equipped to deal with something as simple as a hug, and readers will root for him as he overcomes his reticence and opens up to possible attachments. Betrayals and danger abound, and Iren must figure out who—and how—to trust. Josh VanBrakle keeps the mysteries going throughout the novel, revealing the truth bit by bit, allowing Iren’s heroic nature to surface as he grows ever closer to discovering his fate.
Although The Wings of Dragons may be considered somewhat evocative of epic fantasies such as Lord of the Rings, the novel never feels derivative; VanBrakle takes the tale down an innovative and intriguing path. The community of Kodamas, for instance, resides in a forest among the trees, similar to the Japanese mythical race of the same name. Yokai monsters and their more vicious Oni counterparts also derive from Japanese folklore, and VanBrakle brings them to frightening life.
VanBrakle has undoubtedly put a great deal of effort into this fantasy, and the results are laudable. Each main character is multilayered, from protagonist Iren to Rondel, his unusual mentor and sometimes nemesis. Although there are several fierce battles, violence is not excessively graphic beyond an intense opening scene.
The Wings of Dragons is Josh VanBrakle’s first novel, and it’s an impressive debut. The compelling story line, characters, and myths are certain to intrigue adventurous readers and leave them eagerly anticipating book two of the saga.
JEANNINE CHARTIER HANSCOM (November 30, 2013)
A dragon and a human fall in love in this incredible fantasy tinged with symbolism.
In a mythical kingdom, passionate love between a young man and a female dragon transcends the ordinary romantic fling. Enter an incredible fantasy that defies even magic in Alex Gordon’s Emerald, a story that takes place in a medieval-style realm teetering on the brink of disaster after an exhausting war.
Akron is a gifted man with the special ability to heal sick and wounded dragons. A nurturing soul and a gentle companion, he holds Emerald close to his heart, and they become inseparable. She is his soul mate, his loyal protector, and his closest friend. Their touching interaction is reminiscent of committed teenagers, a reciprocal relationship that no one dares to cross even though it is frowned on by the harsh society in which they live.
Sweet descriptions of the romantic dragon, catlike in behavior, strike a universal chord of empathy:
Emerald wakes up (with her paw on Akron’s chest) to the last light of a dying fire and stretches out and kneads the pillow with her claws. She looks to see if daylight has come. But she realises she and Akron are underground. Emerald leans over her slumbering human … her warm, soft, smooth under-scales caress a small patch of Akron’s bare skin. He stirs awake and tickles Emerald’s neck.
The gradual manifestation of this couple’s unique attraction is fascinating, but a deficiency of both content editing and copyediting detracts from what could have been an outstanding novel with a tender message of compassion. Hasty production methods often lead to a loss of quality, regardless of the viability of the story, and this intriguing plot is yet another example. Meticulous scrutiny before publication would have benefited this book tremendously.
The concept is quite appropriate for a young-adult crowd that gravitates toward fantasy tinged with symbolism. Every scene is subject to interpretation, even though the majority will likely take these situations at face value. Gordon brings all senses into play—foul odors, teeth-grinding pain, gruesome sights, grating sounds, unpleasant flavors—a mark of keen observation.
For those who like immersion in a potent experience, the detailed descriptive passages will more than meet expectation, as in this scene when Akron lances an abscess on an unfamiliar patient: “The dragon roars as puss and green, thick infected mass spills on to Akron’s hand.”
Alex Gordon is a native of Australia and a self-taught writer. His passionate characters reflect stamina and strength. Emerald will delight fans of mystical kingdoms where fantastical creatures take on distinctive personalities, lending a unique voice to the narrative.
JULIA ANN CHARPENTIER (May 8, 2015)
Awakening manages to be both thoughtful and full of action, combining the best of science fiction and fantasy with intriguing and original characters.
A remarkable blend of science fiction and fantasy, Awakening, the second novel from Andi O’Connor’s The Dragonath Chronicles, finds sorcerers, queens, and kings preparing to battle over the future of Dragonath and her sister planet, Earth.
Still reeling from his transformation from average college student to last remaining Keera heir, Darrak struggles to become a wise and worthy leader of his people. His advisers, powerful sister and brother sorcerers Iornwen and Ipzaag, face deadly struggles of their own as they each react to the uncertain future of their beloved home. Add romance, betrayal, magic, and the imminent threat of war for an entertaining and surprisingly emotional journey.
Although the men of Dragonath are certainly forces to be reckoned with—including Darrak; Ipzaag; the ever-loyal Captain of the Guard, Rorend; and evil, power-hungry Garenth Denthald, King of Dréyan—it is the women who truly shine in Awakening. Perhaps because O’Connor writes with such sensitivity and emotional expansiveness, every liaison and decision made carries weight. It is no surprise, then, that when Darrak is being escorted over treacherous and hostile terrain, his protectors are all strong and independent women.
These women, along with a detailed cast of supporting characters (be they human, wolf, dragon, or other), fight battle after battle in a war that began years ago, prior to the start of Awakening. As with many a sequel, there is a bit of catching up to do since the action and relationships are already firmly established. A list of players, complete with their loyalties, magical abilities, and romantic connections, would go a long way toward clearing up any initial confusion caused by the numerous casual references to unfamiliar people and places, as well as their roles in the drama.
Likewise, some unique words and phrases are bandied about but never fully explained, such as méno, Vantelaith, kraylock, The Organization, and even the Chosen. A glossary of terms would be invaluable to those who missed book one, The Lost Heir, particularly since, aside from some bad blood between the people of Dréyan and Mystandia, it is not clear why the countries of Dragonath are at war in the first place. As Iornwen so simply and eloquently states, “It is war. It’s not the first. It’s not the last. And sadly, it is only just beginning.”
Awakening manages to be both thoughtful and full of action, combining the best of science fiction and fantasy with intriguing and original characters. Fans of either genre will appreciate O’Connor’s style, and hopefully will have the chance to enjoy a continuation of The Dragonath Chronicles.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (October 24, 2014)
Examining society through the lens of a fairy tale, this fantasy quest lends a hand toward making our contemporary world a little better.
Fairy tales are quite often relegated to the realm of children. And while they might make for good bedtime stories, they can equally serve as critiques of the more-difficult-to-discuss aspects of society. Tod Davies’s The Lizard Princess is the coming-of-age story of a princess on a quest to find a missing key once possessed by her mother, the late queen of Arcadia. It is also a brilliant polemic on the destructive forces of patriarchy and capitalism, and the obsession humanity has with besting death.
After finding herself transformed from the waist down into a lizard, after a game of chess gone awry, Princess Sophy sets out with her lemur companion Leef to find a way to reverse the spell. Of course, the path of fairy-tale quests never runs smoothly. In the course of her adventures, Sophy stumbles through the Dead Wood, lives in the slums of Megalopolis, and works on the perfect False Moon. She also finds the love of her life, meets her long-lost father, accepts her fate to find the missing Key, chats with Death herself, and comes into her own as the queen of Arcadia.
The Lizard Princess holds all the hallmarks of a good fairy tale—a princess on a quest, a daring hero, a curse, magical creatures, a fairy godmother (of sorts), an evil witch, talking animals—but these elements simply sit atop a deeper critique of society. Megalopolis provides a harsh look at the direction in which society is headed: a population hooked on anti-aging pills, diet pills, mood stabilizers, and drugs to suppress every quirk a child might exhibit … a society solely focused on expanding, with no appreciation for the destruction to the environment these actions cause, which has created a place that’s the perfect artificial environment but where life cannot seem to thrive. It is set up in direct opposition to Arcadia. Patriarchy versus matriarchy, industrial farming against organic, a desire to conquer death and an understanding that death and life go hand in hand.
The story is never heavy-handed and offers no easy answers. It is fairy tales such as this that may allow us to examine our own world with a critical eye and perhaps even change it for the better.
ALLYCE AMIDON (August 27, 2015)
A Misfits and Heroes Adventure
Rollins’s lucid descriptions allow a twenty-first-century eye to discern the humanity and heroism of a primitive world and time.
Travel fourteen thousand years into the past in this realistic depiction of primitive society. Powerful and evocative, Kathleen Flanagan Rollins’s novel reveals a distant world where humans are motivated by the basic need to survive in a rugged environment. Set in the vicinity of southern Mexico, A Meeting of Clans focuses on the experiences and emotions of its characters.
This third installment of Rollins’s Misfits and Heroes series takes a turn into a familiar realm that those in the twenty-first century can understand—love and war. Faced with risky choices, a bonded group of humans—much like a contemporary family—must cope with the discovery that they are not alone when they encounter another clan. This unsettling realization is the catalyst for an unforgettable adventure, as the group’s outlook on life changes dramatically. Nervous and wary, they learn to accept their now humbled status.
Steeped in ancient superstition, this vivid story provides a descriptive account of events. In a stream-of-consciousness style, irrational thoughts spill forth, offering a glimpse of a disturbed mind: “You have to pour salt over the dead; otherwise the angry spirits come back and haunt you. So you left him roaming the hillsides, angry. Always angry. I was angry when I burned the village. I liked the fire.”
The threat is real. The heroism is real. A mixture of lore and legend, friendship and romance, this novel traverses a natural earth that few ever saw. A touching portrayal of star-crossed lovers enriches the narrative and invigorates the dialogue with lyrical passion.
A heroine known as Sula relates her private interlude, a memorable initiation with a man she once adored: “I know the taste of the sweat on his skin, the rough feel of his wrap, his touch going through me like lightning. All night we make love while the stars circle the night dome. We don’t care about the stars or the rock or the sound of the sea. I can feel his hand on my skin, his breath on my neck even now.” Tragically, he later believes her to be a witch.
Sights, sounds, and smells mingle with near tangible descriptions of harrowing accidents and excruciating medical conditions. In a time when doctors and dentists did not exist, even simple procedures could be traumatic. Rollins proceeds through her story with gritty courage, allowing readers to live through hideous incidents vicariously—enough to achieve a horrified response.
A professor of composition and literature, Rollins has infused her work with extensive knowledge of early Western civilization. Research backed by extensive travel to the locales she illustrates shows through on every page of this captivating book. Lovers of adventure and fans of the Clan of the Cave Bear series will find in Rollins a talented, fresh voice.
JULIA ANN CHARPENTIER (June 3, 2014)
The Corridor of Doors Trilogy - Book One
Never pandering to younger readers, this fast-paced and exciting YA fantasy features rich characters and a compelling plot.
In Between & Betwixt, the first book of the Corridor of Doors Trilogy, B & T Pecile introduce the fast-paced and exciting story of a pair of orphaned siblings who discover that the world is not at all what it seems. With a nod to the conventions of other young adult fantasy novels, the book quickly sets itself apart with a complex and layered world, motivated and rich characters, and a plot that keeps readers guessing.
The lives of Khia Ashworth and her little brother, Devon, don’t hold much hope. Bounced between foster homes, they quickly realize they can only rely on each other. Just as things are starting to calm down with their newest host family, Khia begins to feel that something is wrong. After their church mysteriously burns down, they find themselves on the run, pulled along by a pair of bumbling protectors as they run from the persistent and terrifying Burdock and Cocklebur. But they’re followed by something else as well, something that shouldn’t be real. A shadow, slippery and cunning, whose only thought is to do its master’s bidding. To survive, they will need to trust their unlikely guardians, and seek the help of those who hold an ancient power. As they flee, Khia feels a stirring deep inside, and knows their lives will never be the same again.
The characters, plot, and writing style combine to make this an ideal book for young adults. Readers of fantasy will recognize some familiar themes—a young girl as the chosen one, pursued by evil, and helped by a spiritual teacher—but instead of slipping into cliché, the authors tell a unique and engaging story. The result is a tale of resilience and inner strength led by a young girl’s desperation to find the truth about her family.
The characters are varied and rich, and like the story itself, they play into archetypes without losing their individuality. Norbert and McBride manage to be both menacing and silly, and act as excellent guides as the story travels from the mundane to the fantastic. Khia herself fits the young hero role well, with an admirable inner strength combined with a sophistication that lets her face adversity without faltering. Readers grow with her as she learns to trust those around her and discovers the truth about who she really is.
Critically, the authors never pander to younger readers, and instead write with a clarity and respect that many in this genre fail to achieve. Though there is an overuse of ellipses, capitalized nouns, and words said directly to the reader (“You many recall that…”), overall it is a pleasant and compelling read.
More importantly, when the last page was finished, the wait for part two already seems too long. Between & Betwixt is recommended to anyone who loves sophisticated young adult fantasy and is looking to jump into an exciting new series.
ERIC ANDERSON (October 26, 2015)
Michelle Anne Schingler