Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes (The Buried Goddess Saga Book 1)

Torsten Unger is Wearer of the White to a dying king. With one sickly son and a foreign-born, unstable Queen, he’s all too well aware that the conquered lands around the Glass Kingdom will be planning their invasions before the throne goes cold. Despite this, the Queen insists that more knights be sent into the deadly Webbed Woods in an attempt to retrieve a doll for the heir to the throne – a doll that she insists holds a piece of her son’s soul. To stand a chance where so many others have failed, Torsten knows he needs to enlist some help – the kind of help he wouldn’t normally consider.

Web of Eyes has a lot going for it – a truly excellent, attention-catching title, imaginative world-building, and complex politics with a variety of nations and influences. On the other hand, the characters didn’t do much for me; if they had benefited from the same level of development that clearly went into the world-building, I would have been ecstatic. As it was, Torsten and all his entourage came across as takes on various well-established types – the emotionally fragile queen, the muscled warrior hero, the trickster thief…you get the idea. However, with a little tightening up on the storylines, and a bit more character development, this would have been solidly in the running for five stars. I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure fantasy.

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set: If There Be Giants and Second Son

If you enjoyed Indiana Jones, and the interweaving of fact and myth, past and present, this series is for you. Author Ellison Blackburn takes a solid grounding of English weather and archaeology, and adds a breath of mythology and mystery that raises the plot from merely interesting to a delightful exercise in what-if.

If There be Giants

Mallory Jacks and her best friend, Paisley Bourne, shared a passion for archaeology as children. Years later, Drs. Jacks and Bourne, once again working together, are summoned to a farm where the farmer has uncovered a possible henge site. As they begin to unearth the stones, they make a discovery that has the potential to overturn both the scientific and the religious communities.

If There Be Giants is a story of archaeology and myths, giants and visions, set in Cornwall, the seat of all British legend. Ellison Blackburn has created a story richly woven with archaeological detail and Christian mythology, and peopled it with her strongly-characterised protagonists. This is one of the author’s strongest books to date, a fascinating debut to the new Watchers series.

Second Son

Second Son is the second in the Watchers series, following  Grey’s point of view more closely as he learns the truth of his infamous heritage – and how to reconcile his existence and that of his family with their beliefs.

Author Ellison Blackburn’s trademark ability to weave thought-provoking concepts into stories that are gripping, well-developed reads is back on display in this series, as she explores love, fidelity, and faith through the lens of Grey and Mallory’s lives. The handling of the Christian mythology displays the depth of research that went into the story and provides a strong framework that underlies the choices the protagonists must make in this book.

Beyond the Vale, Kerry Alan Denney

Beyond the Vale, Kerry Alan Denney

Beyond the Vale

Logan isn’t sure if he’s dreaming, dead, or simply finally lost his marbles. There’s a woman he should know, a personal history he should know, and all he has is a blank in his head. There are doors that lead to impossible geography and photos that could never have been taken. However, crazy or not, something is clearly very wrong – and like it or not, Logan has apparently been elected general saviour of the world.

Beyond the Vale is one of those books where you spend the first few chapters just as confused as the protagonist, trying to figure out what’s going on. The author succeeds in conveying that utter disorientation particularly realistically in this book. However, coming out of that disorientation, you will pretty much perforce be very keyed in on the characters in the plot; Logan’s development through the book is a key theme and provides a lot of food for thought, especially since his development is all you find out about him until the latter stages of the book, where some of his missing past comes to light. The storyline is richly layered, and provides more thinking material the deeper you choose to delve into it. Definitely something to pick up for all the fantasy fans out there.

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Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster

Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place (The Alastair Stone Chronicles Book 1)

Stone and a Hard Place is a story of magic, academia, and a demon for good measure. Alastair Stone has a quiet job teaching Occult Studies, to classes mostly composed of would-be horror authors. Unlike his colleagues, Alastair actually knows what he’s talking about; he’s a mage. It’s a fact he goes to some lengths to keep hidden, and he’s got pretty good at his cover. However, a late-night call from an old friend lands him with something he’d never seriously contemplated having: an apprentice. After that, it’s only a matter of time until Alastair finds himself facing personal and demonical upheaval in his quiet life – and the odds aren’t stacked in his favour.

R L King’s writing offers memorable characters with their own goals, histories and conflicts, and a setting straight out of urban legend, all spiced with touches of well-timed humour. The tension develops very neatly, with the layer of subterfuge and deceit adding depth to the main plot, and villains and victims who come to vibrant life in the pages. I found Stone and a Hard Place had everything a good urban fantasy needs, including a really credible magic system. The writing style is excellent, making it very easy to lose yourself in the story. I’ll definitely be making my way through the rest of this series.

End of a Girl, Nia Sinjorina

End of a Girl, Nia Sinjorina

End of a Girl (Folio 55 Book 1)

Nia Sinjorina’s End of a Girl is the story of a teenage Molly Peterson, at school in an English comprehensive that she hates, told alternately from her own diaries and the point of view of one of her acolytes, tasked to write her history in the last days before Earth’s defeat. Molly, the class misfit, finds herself unexpectedly developing powers beyond her understanding; powers to destroy, but also powers to communicate…and powers to raise the dead. As the incidents become more public, Molly finds herself teetering on the edge of exposure, with not one, but two, covert organisations desperate to get their hands on her.

End of a Girl offers a story written from two very different viewpoints; one from the perspective and in the dialect of an English teen, and the other from the point of view of an acolyte who has passed beyond the use of language to communicate, and whose writing style is dense, obscured by the attempt to fit full-spectrum mental communication into marks on a page. While the container of the story is distinctive and well-done, the high level of the language may discourage some readers from giving the book the attention it deserves. Certainly an interesting and unique take on the genre.