Eye of the Storm, Frank Cavallo

Eye of the Storm, Frank Cavallo

Eye of the Storm

Gathered in the wake of a series of reports of odd weather and odder events in one of the most remote areas of Kyrgyzstan, a group of scientists, TV personalities, and mercenaries hope to establish the truth – or the lie – behind the stories of Neanderthals in armour attacking army and air force detachments in the area. On the other hand, no matter how prepared, no team is ready for chasing a flight of pterosaurs into the eye of the storm in a helicopter – and that’s not even the strangest thing Dr. Fayne and Eric Slade will face in their adventure.

Frank Cavallo’s Eye of the Storm offers an adventure of peoples and creatures caught out of their times and worlds; a fantasy take, if you will, on Arthur C. Clarke’s Time’s Eye. Anna Fayne’s ill-fated group is merely the latest of a series of unfortunates and adventurers who have been caught up by the storm, and now they share a world with everything from completely alien species to mammoths, ancient Etruscans, and pterosaurs. I found this was by and large an enjoyable read; some of the characters and interactions felt to me as if they would have benefited from a little more polishing, and the overarching aim of the plot took a little while to come clear, but generally the story hung together well. Definitely worth the read.

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth: Unveiled, Book 1

A car smash was the turning point for all three sisters, and especially Emlynn, traumatised and with a head injury that apparently kick-started her on-again-off-again ability to perceive the dead. Isolated, and struggling with her own problems, there’s no-one Emlynn can tell about the cold patch on the stairs, or the figures she sees watching their house, or the sense of sheer menace she’s getting off her oldest sister’s new boyfriend. Each of the sisters has their role to play, and it seems the harder Emlynn tries to fight, the more ground she loses.

I Belong to the Earth is a complex story with a depth and richness far beyond most of the YA genre I’ve read. It’s welcomely free of stereotypes and miraculous solutions, and the fantasy elements are solidly thought-out and woven into the plot with a realism that chills. Author J. A. Ironside writes the side-effects of trauma with an understanding that adds dimensions to Emlynn’s struggle. With excellent pacing and incredibly convincing characterisation, this book totally earnt its five stars. I read it in a couple of sittings, and actually read all the teasers at the end looking for more (I never do that). I strongly recommend this read – one of the best fantasy books I’ve come across this year.

The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti, Maria Luisa Lang

The Eye of Nefertiti

The Eye of Nefertiti: A Pharoah’s Cat Novel is a fantasy story following the adventures of Wrappa-Hamen, a cat from ancient Egypt who, due to an encounter with the goddess Bastet of the Egyptian pantheon, has the ability to walk and talk (and eat) like a human. When he is forced to flee Egypt with his chief ally, Gato-Hamen, High Priest of Amun-Ra, after the death of the Pharoah, the invocation goes a little awry and lands them both in modern-day America, where a chance liaison between Gato-Hamen and a woman named Elena results in a second chance for both of them to serve their Pharoah.

This book plays into the classic stream of books with a lovable animal protagonist. Wrappa-Hamen is the ultimate spoiled housecat, but to the usual options of ‘nap on the keyboard’ or ‘knock the glassware onto the floor’ he adds the ability to speak and use door handles. I found this book something of a mix between a young-adult – most of the story is light-hearted, simply-written, and the protagonist is an ideal match for the genre – and a couple of darker, more adult themes that start to wrap in towards the end, leaving me with a somewhat odd contrast at the end of the book. Overall, though, this is a well-researched story, a very pleasant read.

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette, Vanta M Black

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

Veronica’s interior design business is failing when she gets a call from France early one morning. The call is the opportunity of a lifetime – an offer to renovate an ancient chateau in the Loire Valley, the traditional holiday destination of French royalty, all expenses paid. Veronica and her sister, Nikki, both agree that a few months working on a French chateau sounds like just what a couple of poor American girls need. What neither of them realises is that the Chateau du Feu Ardent isn’t just a medieval French castle, but more a thin veneer over a yawning pit of history.

Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place is a nicely-paced urban fantasy spiced with just enough horror to keep a reader’s attention. The characters are a particularly strong point of this book: Nikki, especially, shines as a trashy, selfish type, guaranteed to get a reader response. The utter normality of the characters, and their typically American complacency, is a particularly nice offset to the horror aspects of the plot. It’s a classic plot construct because it works, and this story is no exception. Vanta M. Black has done an excellent job of weaving in the cameo stories of the castle’s past inhabitants and keeping all the various storylines in sync for the final twist. I can recommend this book to anyone who likes their legends with a little darkness.

The Eagle’s Flight, Daniel E Olsen

The Eagle’s Flight, Daniel E Olsen

The Eagle’s Flight: The Chronicles of Adalmearc, 1 – 3

The Eagle’s Flight tells of a troubled time in Adalmearc’s history; with an infant king on the throne, Sigvard’s line is weakened, there is insurgence among the barbarians on the far side of the Langstan wall, and powerful nobles jockey for power that rightly belongs to the throne. Rivalry is the order of the day, and there are influences within the capital of Middanhal willing to play those forces against each other, no matter the cost to the kingdom. As the net of information stretching across the kingdom trembles to the news, the Order of Adal has no choice but to try to keep the peace.

This book offers a rich and complex fantasy epic with a distinctly Nordic feel. The story’s perspectives span a kingdom, and its cast of characters reaches from the commander of the Order’s armies to a kitchen girl. Despite or because of the number of pieces in play, author Daniel E. Olsen has a masterly hand on the threads of the story. Although in some sections the level of description occasionally slows the pacing, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from enjoying the read. The characters are by and large well-developed, with plenty of depth and their own motivations, which always helps to draw me into a story, and the political backdrop of the various areas is convincingly detailed. Fans of this genre will be certain to find this a treat.

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Enden, David Kummer

Enden, David Kummer

Enden: A Dark Fantasy Novel

Enden is a young-adult fantasy adventure, with its protagonist, Jonathan, a farmer’s son from a remote settlement with a talent for archery. In the aftermath of a barbarian raid on his village, Jonathan attracts the attention of the king’s grandson.

It’s a tradition of the YA genre that the rebellious but otherwise unremarkable teen rises to prominence through luck and coincidence, and Jonathan certainly fits the bill. However, the character failed to gain my sympathy; Jonathan gave me the impression of an entitled pain in the rear for most of the book, more concerned with how everything affects him than anything else that’s going on around him. I do grant that this is a stereotypical teenaged attitude, but it switched me off the character, which is a bit of an issue with a protagonist. Ideally, even an anti-hero should have something that draws a reader in, even if only horrified fascination.

The other thing that made it difficult for me to really get into this book was plausibility. The populations are small enough that gossip about one boy picked up under odd circumstances by a prominent knight can spread fast and far, but there is enough of a population for an enemy army of 100,000 or more to be gathered, trained, and equipped, and not least, supplied as they travel across the kingdom fighting. Horses were able to travel at a gallop almost indefinitely. Items like that kept pulling me out of the story.

For me, this book had some undoubted strong points, not least the fact that the text was thoroughly and competently copy-edited, but the story as a whole didn’t enthrall me.