Dungeon Lord - Hugo Huesca
What a great book! I love LitRPG, and this one delivers on all points. It follows the average dude sucked into a fantasy RPG trope, but it throws such a cool twist: as the title would suggest, the protagonist becomes a Dungeon Lord—the bad guy. That's so cool! I'm a sucker for building, and by that I mean base construction and just building cool stuff in general, and Dungeon Lord had tons of that. My only complaint would be some minor copy editing errors, and then the book felt too short. But that's hardly a complaint.
Score: 9.4 / 10 - Just get it. If you like LitRPG, you'll love Dungeon Lord.
Entertaining Tales of Grin the Cheat - V. Moody
This isn't so much a novel as it is four novellas with the same characters and not much to link them together. That being said, it certainly warrants a read. Grin is an epic character full of tricks, cheats, and more than anything, poisoned daggers. His buddy Allard (on the cover) is basically a Baywatch model who happens to have swords. The duo made for a really fun combo. The stories are all good, and my only complaint is that they didn't last longer.
Score: 9 / 10 - A very solid read. The stories could have been fleshed out more, but I was still very pleased by the end.
Virtue and Vengeance - M. A. Liguori
A grand, sweeping fantasy full of well written combat, lots of political intrigue, and some really cool weapons. Virtue and Vengeance hits all the major fantasy tropes, it does them well, and the whole shell surrounding the characters is so intricate and detailed that it really brought the whole thing to life. The book might not be the most accessible thing for newer fantasy readers, but veterans of Sanderson, Salvatore, and Martin are going to love it.
Score: 8.6 / 10 - A little slow at times, but what an amazing journey.
Anaxagoras - Aaron Ward
Review: I liked this one a lot. Anaxagoras is a giant sea monster (think Ursula from The Little Mermaid) that comes to ravage a small Greek island every decade or so. The tale follows Linus, a cynical character who works as a sculptor alongside many others crafting a colossus they hope will scare the sea-beast away. The plot is pretty fantastic and the characters are very believable, but my favorite thing was the straight-forward writing style. I know not everyone would enjoy that kind of writing, but I liked it. I'm a huge fan of the Greek (and Latin) classics, and this book felt like it followed in the epic line of past stories. Not everyone is going to like this book as much as I did, but if you like plainer language in books, you'll like Anaxagoras.
Score: 8.5 / 10 - I had a lot of fun. It isn't for everyone, but I thought it was great.
Exile - Tom Stacey
Review: With a host of heroic characters set in a majestically sweeping landscape, Exile delivers the very definition of epic fantasy. Alien creatures that imitate humans in near-perfect fashion undermine the kingdom of Veria and herald the onslaught wrought by the Echoes, an ancient race of humanoids bent on recapturing their homeland. High atop a mountain, two young brothers stumble upon a Bloodforge and accidentally set into motion the death of their kingdom. Exile begins with a wonderfully heroic theme that is never lost throughout the entire novel. Fans of low (or urban) fantasy should be wary when picking up Exile - much of the background of not only the characters but the world itself is not revealed until very late in the novel which can make it a difficult read. Unlike most high fantasy series, Exile (at least in the eBook version) lacks a map to help guide the reader along. Some of the chapter transitions, especially before the characters are firmly established, can be quite jarring. Tom Stacey's writing style is reminiscent of Joe Abercrombie - stunning imagery, a large cast, and very well placed metaphors that bring the characters to life.
Score: 8.4 / 10 - A long read that can be difficult in the beginning, but well worth finishing. The ending is beautifully sculpted and Exile never loses the heroic feel that makes readers fall in love with epic fantasy.
Accidental Witch - Lydia Sherrer
Review: I don't read much urban fantasy at all, but I'm glad this one caught my attention. There are a decent amount of twists and turns so I won't give away too much plot, but the main story follows Sebastian (the guy on the cover) as he struggles with guilt, an overbearing aunt, and being bullied at school. Luckily for him, he comes from a line of magic users, and you can probably imagine where the plot goes from there. For me, the best payoff came at the very end in the form of a really dark, twisted, ending that certainly put a smile on my face. Life lesson: never try to summon demons. My only criticism is that a bit of the backstory and overall theme felt a little too close to Harry Potter, a series I personally detest, but that's my personal opinion. The writing was clean and well-crafted, the editing was spectacular, and the characters certainly felt believable. I'll be in for book 2.
Score: 8 / 10 - Not my favorite genre, but it hits all the right buttons. If you like Harry Potter and urban fantasy in general, grab a copy.
Into the Aether - T.C. Peace
Review: Into the Aether is a hard book to categorize. While it fits snugly into the broad genre of Urban Fantasy, it plays out more like a good mystery. Three separate story lines drop the reader straight into the action in a way very reminiscent of many fantasy series. Several characters move through the plot seemingly unrelated to one another, but all the while they build more and more suspense as bits of information are dropped at just the right moments to leave you guessing. Occasionally, at the introduction of a new character, a few pages are spent on expository background, but only seldom was the exposition uneventful. Undoubtedly, the strength of T. C. Pearce lies in unique plot development. The characters are intricately woven together in a logical and ultimately surprising fashion. By time you reach the end, there are so many unexpected turns that you never know what you're about to read on the next page - that's the mark of a good urban fantasy.
Score: 7.9 / 10 - Some background exposition felt a bit sluggish, but the overall plot was riveting and suspenseful. This book has the serious potential to keep you up late at night reading.
The Kingdom through the Swamp - Kell Inkston
This was a solid read. It could certainly benefit from a couple passes by a good proofreader or editor, but don't let that stop you. The characters are awesome, and they all have badass names. Plus, and this is a big plus, the magical weapons are ridiculously cool. For indie fantasy with kind of a strange title, this one caught me off-guard. The more I read, the more I enjoyed. Definitely worth a read.
Score: 7.5 / 10 - Certainly needs some polishing, but the characters are good enough to let me look past all that.
Skysail Book 1 - Josh Rhoades and Mike Rutledge
Review: I'm a sucker for steampunk fantasy. I'm also a huge sucker for airship stuff. This one delivered it all. The plot follows a boy from a backwoods town who happens to the be the descendant of a legendary airship soldier, and all the boy wants is to follow in his father's footsteps and take to the skies. He jumps on the first chance he gets, but adventure isn't as glamorous as he once thought. If you like rollicking airship adventure, Skysail is sure to please. The characters were wonderful, the world was surprisingly well developed, and the plot kept me turning pages late into the night.
Score: 7.5 / 10 - This book had a few dull moments and a few area where I was a bit confused, but I still really enjoyed it. I'll likely be in for book 2 when it comes out.
Steps of Power: Kings or Pawns, The Kings Book 1 - J. J. Sherwood
Review: This book is tough to review. I absolutely love many aspects of the story and the writing, but certain things actually made me stop reading it for a few weeks. Kings or Pawns (borderline cliche name, I'll let it slide) follows a few different elves through a fairly standard fantasy world with a lot of the tropes you expect. Thankfully, the elves here don't fall into the trope-laden world of generic elves that exists in fantasy today. The elves of Kings or Pawns don't live in trees, sing to squirrels to pass the time, or even shoot bows while surfing on their shields. No, these elves are ruthless, deceptive, backstabbing bastards - which is certainly a good thing. Kings or Pawns is really (as the title suggests) much more about political intrigue rather than anything else. If you want political treachery in the vein of A Song of Ice and Fire with an all-elven cast, this is the book for you.
Here's what I didn't like: The first half of the book needs serious editing. The phrase, "knit his brow" and similar expressions appear so many times it is almost comical. In one scene, I believe I counted the phrase three times on the same page. I don't know how that kind of repetitiveness slipped by the editor or author, but somehow it (thankfully) nearly vanished in the second half of the book. A few major plot points felt a bit contrived or absurd, i.e. an unknown character charging into the king's council meeting seemingly uncontested, claiming a character has been kidnapped with no proof or any reason to be believed, and promptly hired by the king to retrieve the missing character for the sake of forward plot movement, but once the plot starts to seriously take off in the second half, the writing flourishes. Several scenes had me on the edge of my seat, the descriptions were beautiful, and the dialogue was witty, humorous, and genuine.
Score: 7.2 / 10 - The first half feels more like trudging than reading, but the second half is awesome. I'm definitely in for book two.
How to Avoid Death on a Daily Basis - V. Moody
Review: This is the first LitRPG I've ever read. If you don't know what that means, don't worry - I didn't know either. Basically, LitRPG is a genre that feels like an RPG video game in pretty much every single aspect. The characters level up, gain new skills, upgrade their gear, go grinding on bunnies (and unicorn bunnies), and they get quests. So what happens in the book? How to Avoid Death on a Daily Basis is the tale of socially awkward Colin who was randomly transported with a bunch of other people into a fantasy RPG. The story is hilarious, as you might expect, and it really hits all the right RPG buttons. If you've ever played an MMO, you'll love this game. I would have scored this book a lot higher than I did, but it has some series editing issues. A myriad of typos and sections of poor word choice really drove me nuts a few times.
Score: 7.1 / 10 - If you can look past the lack of editing, you'll have a great time.
Crucibles - T.C. Pearce
Review: As the cover image indicates, this is book two of Into the Aether. For a review of book one, please scroll down. Crucibles picks up right where book one left off. It is a bit shorter, but comes with a couple short stories that help flesh out some of the lesser known characters. Since this is a sequel, I won't give too much of the plot away, but know that Crucibles is faster paced and more action packed than Into the Aether. While book one focused more on the mystery of the plot and the investigation, book two is full of epic battles and horror-esque dream sequences reminiscent of Silent Hill. My only negative comment on the writing stems from occasional dryness and more 'telling' rather than 'showing'. I also counted about half a dozen instances of flat out bad writing that aggravated my largest writing pet peeve. An example:
"Lara gave a small smile at this. She decided to take a walk."
That kind of dry description only happened a handful of times throughout the entire book, but each one was cringe worthy. Personally, I hate the word this. It makes no sense. If I forget why she is smiling in six words, I'm not paying attention. I wrote a lengthy blog post on the issue here.
Crucibles could use a few touches of polish here and there when the writing gets dry, but overall, the plot is gripping, the characters are real and engaging, and the story lines are wild enough to keep anyone guessing.
Score: 7 / 10 - It isn't as good as book one of the series, but that doesn't mean it missed the mark. Crucibles is an action packed tale that wonderfully entwines elements of fantasy, horror, and mystery into a very enjoyable read.
Sand and Blood - D. Moonfire
Review: Sand and Blood follows Rutejimo, a boy born into a desert clan known for their speed. In order to pass their clan's rite of passage and to harness the ancestral magic that gives them their running abilities, five of the clan's teenagers are abandoned in the desert and left to fend for themselves. The setting is epic and wonderfully established, the characters have depth and personality, and the overall descriptions of the different clans are fantastic. Unfortunately, the plot hits a lot of roadblocks. The character and location names are complicated and unfamiliar enough to be jarring, especially at first. While the action is fast-paced in the beginning, it quickly slows down nearly to the level of boredom. The teenagers muddle through the desert in a manner reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, but ultimately do very little. Although two of the characters experienced growth and change, it was drawn out and agonizingly tedious at times. The rite of passage event felt like a plot point that should have consumed half of the book, leaving the second half open for the characters to explore their new identities. There simply wasn't enough happening to fill the pages without long, repeated expositions on the benefits and joys of running.
Score: 5.8 / 10 - The setting is wonderful, the characters are great, but the plot lacks movement and substance. In addition, a dozen or so typos really hijacked my attention and frequently repeated phrases and words reminded me that I was reading. I really wanted to get lost in this book to fully enjoy it, but I never could.
The SIlverblade Prophecy - Scott M. Sandridge
Review: This one started out pretty cool. I liked the characters, I liked the traditional epic fantasy premise, and then it went downhill from there. In all honesty, this book isn't ready to be published. Frequent typos really hijacked my attention, and if a professional editor ever saw the manuscript they should be promptly fired for the horrendous treatment of em dashes. I know I'm a very pedantic reader, but the lack of editing here really ruined it. Furthermore, I felt like the general story was very disconnected. I wanted a novel, and I get a collection of short stories. It just didn't mesh at all.
Score: 4.5 / 10 - I loved the setting and characters, but this is a first draft.
The Destroyer - Michael-Scott Earle
Review: The Destroyer was an interesting book. The plot centers on the titular character and the team of adventurers who recently roused him from hundreds of years of sleep. Spliced with very interesting tidbits of history from Kaiyer's past, the story moves through a good bit of adventure, political scheming, and well-written fight scenes. The action occasionally got bogged down by deus ex machina plot devices and the ending was basically just a straight Game of Thrones ripoff, but the combat and characters were good enough to still keep me mostly enthralled. Had the story been just that, a great fantasy tale, I would probably have to say it was one of my favorite reads. But... a couple poorly executed and (extremely) graphic sex scenes really detracted from the book. Honestly, the sex scenes were so explicit and contrived I nearly stopped reading. I don't mind sex in fantasy books, but I do mind unwarranted erotica, especially when it is not mentioned in the blurb.
Score: 3.5 / 10 - I loved the fantasy parts and hated the erotica. I won't be reading book 2.
Malice - John Gwynne
Review: Where to begin... I bought this book at a local bookstore after seeing it on the shelf and reading the back blurb. The cover is pretty badass and it was only $16 for a 630 page paperback. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst novels I've ever tried to read. Page 2 is where I began to regret my purchase. Take a look at the following two lines:
"His brother's face filled his mind, smiling, controlling, ruling him. Then his mother, her lips twisted, judging, discounting."
The use of three consecutive descriptive words was a bit jarring, but I thought it was cool in the first sentence. Especially with the last one being emphasized, I liked it. A bit of advice I learned from my own editors is to never repeat a very memorable literary tactic without at least 50 or 100 pages between. You can imagine my horror when I read the very next sentence and found the exact same thing. OK, I thought, if that's it for consecutive description lists, the book will be fine. Well, I was wrong. That same construction was present throughout the novel whenever anything dramatic happened. It made the writing feel stilted, overblown, unnecessary.
Sadly, my disquiet was not contained to long lists of descriptors. For whatever unholy reason, Gwynne and his publisher (Orbit) decided to only use one quotation mark instead of two. For someone used to reading normal books, that was incredibly confusing the first time I saw it. I actually thought it was a typo. Due to their choice of quotation formatting, every piece of dialogue reminded me that I was reading and ripped my attention right off the page. It was very unfortunate, confusing, awful.
As far as the plot was concerned, it felt average. Granted, I stopped well before the end of this weighty tome, but there was a huge mess of characters, an entangled plot trying too hard to be A Song of Ice and Fire, and not enough character development to facilitate immersion. As such, I found it predictable, uninspired, flaccid.
Score: 1.5 / 10 - There is certainly a rich world to be discovered somewhere between the first and last pages, but I never found it. While the cover is certainly beautiful, the content was severely lacking.
Sunsword Chronicles: He Who Wields the Sun - Brenden Parkins
Review: Calling this a book is a bit of an exaggeration. He Who Wields the Sun is a short story that takes about 30 minutes to read - if you even make it that far. Get ready for a host of hard to remember characters, a hero with only one quality, and a confusing plot so boring it'll make you weep. The Sunsword Chronicles attempts to follow a young man on a journey to acquire the titular object. In only a few pages, there are far too many cities, families, characters, and interactions to count. Without a map, it is very hard to follow. Confusing background aside, the plot is terribly ill-conceived. The hero wants to get a powerful sword. No one knows where the sword is or if it even exists - except the hero's own father, who happens to know just about everything there is to know about it. That one event felt so contrived that I nearly stopped reading. On top of that, the eBook is riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes. After only a few minutes of reading it became abundantly clear that no one, professional or not, edited this train wreck. The formatting was just as bad. On Kindle Fire, many paragraphs were not indented, some lines started in the middle of the page, and the kerning changed frequently.
Score: 0 / 10 - Don't bother. No editing, no plot, and no character development. Even the concept is bad.