Review: Kamikaze, Dungeon Samurai Book 1 by Kit Sun Cheah

Dungeon Samurai Volume 1: Kamikaze: Cheah, Kit Sun, Cheah, Kit Sun:  9789811416613: Books

Yamada Yuuki is dragged to hell with his fellow martial arts students and their sensei. The only way back home is to enter the dungeon and fight to the bottom floor. There awaits the demon that took them to his domain. Part isekai, part litRPG, part military fantasy, Kit Sun Cheah’s Dungeon Samurai is like nothing else I’ve ever read. It goes above and beyond genre confines, aiming for something greater. And it succeeds magnificently.

This is a hard review to write because of the nature of the book. The first 150 pages is training. Lots of training and exposition. It should have been boring and tedious, but it wasn’t. Not even close. It was incredibly gripping and hard to put down. I don’t know how Cheah managed that. And none of it is wasted space, either. The training and Yuuki’s development and growth are incredibly important to the story.

Upon entering the demon’s realm, Yuuki and others are granted abilities from the mysterious skill sphere. Yuuki’s is potentially terrifying. Kamikaze is a berserker skill that turns him into a killing machine at the cost of his rationality. As useful as it is, Yuuki poses a danger to himself as well as the mole men and giant centipedes.

The magic in this world is also intriguing. It is all tied into religion and prayer. This includes Christianity as well as eastern religions and it isn’t treated relativistically, either. It’s intriguing and something Yuuki notices and ponders. Even in hell, a Higher Power has not abandoned Yuuki and his comrades.

Even with divine help, the dungeon is horrific. In addition to the regular monsters, the fighters must also face hidden traps and each floor has a boss monster that is bigger and deadlier than the other horrors.

Cheah set the bar high with Babylon Blues (I reviewed that one, too) so my expectations were absurd. They were met, though. This was awesome and I have the other two volumes of Dungeon Samurai, so I am looking forward to finishing up this series. If you want incredible action that also has substance, buy a copy and dive into the dungeon.

Review: Sworn to the Light by Denton Salle Sworn to the Light: The Avatar Wizard - Book 1 eBook : Salle,  Denton: Kindle Store

Sworn to the Light by Denton Salle is not your typical magic school story. Honestly, I didn’t know it was a magic school story when I bought my copy. I read the description about a boy who turns into a panda bear cub and thought it sounded fun. I was not mistaken.

Jeremy is brought to a magical school to help him control his unfortunate problem of (almost) randomly turning into a bear cub. Will he succeed in taming the bear avatar or will the problem get worse?

This book has everything you could want from a story. There is a clear sense of magic that remains properly mysterious (and even frightening). Magic has no moral ambiguity here, which is a wonderful change from other fantasy stories I’ve read. The Light is good, and darkness is something hideous that taints and corrupts. In fact, the magic is couched in some Orthodox language which made the magic and the world feel a lot fresher and more original than I was expecting. In fact, the magic in this book seemed like a character itself, permeating everything but remaining a mysterious, powerful entity lurking just out of the reader’s reach. And that just makes me want to read more.

There are some wonderfully tense action scenes that don’t get gory. The violence is brief, but the author doesn’t focus on gruesome detail. Salle gives us a great sense of character growth and development in Jeremy and in the surrounding cast and their backstories. The world is built very well, but we never get bogged down in unnecessary or boring details. Even the school bully trope is there, but actually serves the plot instead of being an annoying fixture.

Above all, Sworn to the Light is fun. Jeremy’s problem of turning into a panda bear cub could have been cutesy or annoying, but it isn’t. His struggle with trying to control his mischievous and often hungry bear form was well-written, periodically silly, and also completely serious. Elements of Jeremy’s shape-shifting confuse even the experts and the plot implications are bigger than what is hinted at in this book.

If you want a good story about magical Russian Vikings, this is for you. I’m not sure that’s an accurate description, but that’s the feel it had for me, and I loved it.

Buy your copy here.

Denton Salle and I both have stories published in the anthology Fantastic Middle Schools. Buy a copy for even more magical school fun! Fantastic Middle Schools eBook : Nuttall, Christopher G.,  Salle, Denton, Sanderson, Cedar, Lamplighter, L. Jagi, Grey, Fiona,  DeJardins, Lucca, Furby, Erin N.H., Sorensen , Benjamin A., Johnson, Steve,  LaPoint, N. R.:

Review: Heroes Fall by Morgon Newquist Heroes Fall: A Superhero Mystery Adventure (Serenity City Book  1) eBook : Newquist, Morgon, Plutarch, Thomas, Słupecka, Kasia: Kindle Store

One part murder mystery, one part superhero story, Heroes Fall might sound like a fairly straightforward tale. In some ways it is, but like other stories in Silver Empire’s Heroes Unleashed collection, it does what big comic book publishers refuse to do and refuses to duplicate their mistakes. We get likable characters, heroes, and sure there is plenty of gritty content (thankfully most of it is off-screen and only referenced), but the characters are able to act above their problems and hindrances.

We’re thrown into Victoria’s story twenty years after the prologue (and holy moly what a prologue it is). Achilles, former icon within the world of primes, is jailed for a murder he may or may not have committed. The city’s news cycles are still obsessed with the fight that destroyed chunks of the city and left its famed superhero team ruined. Victoria’s a prime with super strength and a mystery power she really doesn’t like to talk about. Victoria has been (rightly) disillusioned with so-called superheroes who use their powers to gain fame and glory so she keeps watch over the neglected part of her city and her tangential relationship to the events of twenty years ago tosses her into a deadly mystery when kids with superpowers start disappearing.

It’s hard to describe this story without massive spoilers. It’s a mystery filled with political intrigue and masterminds plotting from behind the scenes. Plenty of superpowered action. Schoolgirls that can turn invisible, gas station owners that are surprisingly amusing, easter eggs featuring at least two characters that appear in other Heroes Unleashed stories, and heaps of city-level world-building that felt completely genuine. It’s all brilliantly executed.

Morgon Newquist has dreamed up some great characters here. Victoria could have been Depressing Marvel Character 2.0, but thankfully that wasn’t the case at all. She has plenty in her life that could have pushed her to wallow in depression and drag the reader with her, but looking after her little corner of the city and solving the insane mystery that surrounds her lifts her beyond that. This could have been a seriously dark book. The fact that it walked that line but gave us a bunch of good guys worth cheering for instead is not only impressive, but sorely needed these days.

Having said that – content warning: There are references to mind control and a character being raped. It happens off-screen, thankfully. Usually this would lower my rating, but the story was so completely riveting and, ultimately, it’s a tale of redemption – a rather powerful one – so my 5/5 rating stands.

Who will like this? Anybody who likes solid character-driven stories with flashes of superpowered fantasy will enjoy this. It’s awesome. People tired of Marvel and DC deliberately ruining their own intellectual properties and who want seriously good alternatives will especially love it.

Buy your copy here.

New Release: Fantastic Middle Schools

Fantastic Middle Schools by [Christopher G. Nuttall, Denton Salle, Cedar Sanderson, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Fiona Grey, Lucca DeJardins, Erin N.H. Furby, Benjamin A. Sorensen , Steve Johnson, N. R. LaPoint]
Severinus the bunnyslug approves

The new anthology Fantastic Middle Schools (Fantastic Schools #4) features my short story Night of the Bunnyslug. The blurb for my story is as follows:

Centuries after the Crusaders retook the Holy Lands, Antioch is a kingdom of peace. Mostly. Necromancers, warlords, eldritch horrors, and evil wizards still inhabit the world. But the forces of good don’t rest. They train.

Originally constructed as a defensive fortification during The Great Crusade, Darbask Fortress is now a school where hundreds of students from all over the world come to learn. Ivan longs to become a knight and fight against the forces of darkness, but when the girl he likes convinces him that the school just might have a rat problem, he finds himself in the company of a strange, conjured creature. And Darbask Fortress might have something worse on its hands than a rodent infestation.

Night of the Bunnyslug is the first glimpse into an alternate history universe by N.R. LaPoint where Latin has power, magic is real, and not everything is as it seems.

This was a fun one to write. It incorporates my love of weird horror which is heavily influenced by the likes of John C. Wright, H.P. Lovecraft, and John Carpenter. But isn’t actually terribly frightening. This alternate history world is something I will be expanding upon, possibly in 2022. Ivan and Verity are delightful characters and the bunnyslug deserves more attention as well, so it might result in a short novel revisiting these characters specifically.

Buy your copy here and enjoy stories by other great authors like L. Jagi Lamplighter, Chris Nuttall, Denton Salle, and more!

Review – The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene The Last Ancestor: The Swordbringer Book 1 eBook : Hellene,  Alexander, Guzman, Manuel, Red, Emily: Kindle Store

The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene is a sword and planet adventure that features almost non-stop action. Between giant snakes, the threat of war, violent lizardmen, and an aggressive warrior society, there is plenty of peril to go around.

Eight years ago, our protagonist Garrett’s father was killed in the war with the Growlers, a war that was never truly stopped. It was only paused and turned into a tense cold war between the brutal warrior society of the Growlers and the Christian “invaders” that essentially crash-landed on the planet while escaping persecution on Earth.

There is a lot to unpack in this book as far as psychology, religion, society, politics, and general human interaction go. Everything in this book is done right. The Growler society makes sense. They are terrifying and have no real concept of mercy, so how they view the Christian religion is treated from their viewpoint with intellectual honesty. The opposite is true as well. So, the fact that Garrett’s best friend is a Growler is fascinating and leads to many interesting developments. There is no preaching here, but the moral choices that the characters are forced to make (especially Garrett) lead to an enormously edifying conclusion.

The Last Ancestor is everything Christian fiction should be. There is no shoe gazing about problems that aren’t really problems. There isn’t a sickly sweet, unbelievable lack of violence and tension. There were actually a couple fairly shocking moments of brutality. The world the Christians find themselves on is brutal, after all, but thankfully the violence isn’t dwelt upon, either. A romance involving Garrett is also dealt with very well. The couple is innocent, and their relationship is supremely charming rather than saccharine and forced.

The touches of backstory and the chapter bumps make the book feel rich. The chapter bumps add flavor, character, and nice touches of worldbuilding. Glimpses of backstory offer insight into both societies. There’s even a nice aside referring to reconciliation between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, which I appreciated.

I enjoyed every page of this story. From Garrett befriending a Growler to unveiling the secrets surrounding the Growler religion and their Ancestors (which was a stroke of genius, especially once the meaning of the title is puzzled out) I had a hard time putting this one down. It says ‘book 1’ and there is a sequel out, but this wrapped up very nicely into a complete, self-contained story. The Last Ancestor had everything I desire in science fiction.

Buy your copy here.

Review – Light Unto Another World, Volume 1 Light Unto Another World: Volume 1 eBook : Merkin, Yakov, San  Gaspar, Philip: Kindle Store

Isekai often gets slammed for a number of ongoing problems. The main character is usually a wimp that gets transported to the other world where they suddenly are superpowered. The world often operates like an RPG with obnoxious levels of infodump and exposition that detract from actual story. Religion somehow disappears, which is absolutely baffling and nonsensical. Other problems arise, too, which has cast a potentially fun genre into a negative light. Yakov Merkin utterly destroys these problems and gives us an otherworld light novel fantasy series that shows us what isekai should be.

Uriel is a soldier with the IDF who gets sucked into a different world within the first few pages. Thankfully, he has a few supplies, including his rifle. Shortly after he arrives, he rescues a pair of young women from goblins. One of the women is capable of support magic like healing and shield spells and quickly becomes friends with Uriel, in spite of her surprise that a human would be so helpful to a demi human (yes, plenty of people in this otherworld have animal ears and tails). The young women aren’t at all surprised by the soldier’s sudden appearance and it turns out that he is one of four Heroes summoned by the king to fight some evil. And there is rumblings about a demon lord that may or may not be related.

While he could spend the rest of the book worrying about getting home, Uriel instead tries to be useful. He has skills he’s learned as a soldier as well as some brains. In fact, one of his greatest assets is his ability to think quickly and come at problems sideways. Armed with his rifle, his brains, and an unwavering faith in God, Uriel vows to help the villagers deal with an ongoing goblin problem. He doesn’t completely ignore the magical pull he feels dragging him toward the capital and the king that summoned him. He’s already in a place that needs his help and discerns that there is a good reason he was brought there. The king can wait.

The religious aspects of the book add a wonderful depth to the story and the main character. He’s not just some bland self-insert character and his strong adherence to his faith (he’s an Orthodox Jew) make his problems all the more intriguing. What foods can he eat? What day of the week is it? (that one was cleverly handled). He is tempted by the attractive women of the world. There is even an issue over travel restrictions.

Uriel also discovers he can do light magic. I’ll refrain from any spoilers on how that plays out because it was one of the more enjoyable bits seeing how he developed his newfound ability. Uriel isn’t dumb and some of the stuff he comes up with is quite brilliant.

Yakov Merkin gives us a hero worth rooting for and a story that corrects so many of the tired mistakes seen in otherworld fantasy. If you like isekai, manga, and anime buy this right away. Towards the end, the plot ramps up to crazy with some great twists that I loved and did not see coming. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on volume 2 soon.

The interior artwork is also superb.

Buy your copy here.

Review – Brutal Dreams by J. D. Cowan

J.D. Cowan’s Brutal Dreams is off the wall horror at its finest. It is a bizarre drop into an insane world that only grows stranger the further you delve. There’s nothing I can truly compare this to. The entire story is well and truly weird. It begins that way and stays that way right up to the end.

Christopher Archer wakes up after crashing his car in the forest. A red fog rolls in and he is quickly lost. And there is some THING in the fog. His memories are also an unreliable mess. It sounds like a fairly standard horror plot, but it gets difficult to describe how strange this story gets without giving away massive spoilers.

Archer’s goals center on trying to rescue his fiancée Ariane, believed to have been dead for months. He is driven by the hope that she is still alive and winds up in a mansion outside of time, encroached upon by a demonic force woken by Ariane’s father. The monstrous entity is trying to claw its way into reality while Archer is coerced into retrieving a magical weapon to fight or control it. All the while Archer fights to maintain his sanity, his humanity, and uncover the mysteries surrounding Ariane’s family, the small army of undead gangsters that her father has surrounded himself with, and also figure out what happened to Ariane and if she is still alive. If she is still truly alive, can she be rescued? And who is the young woman that looms just like her but claims she isn’t?

Armed with only a handgun and his fraying wits, Christopher Archer faces horrors he can only begin to understand. Good luck putting this book down.

If you want a horror story with a likable, heroic protagonist, you will enjoy Brutal Dreams. Christopher Archer might be a bit of a loner, but he tries to do what is right, even when tempted by forces that threaten to crush his humanity and damn his soul. Incredibly hard to put down up to the satisfying conclusion.

Buy your copy here.

Review: Infernal Affairs by Declan Finn

Infernal Affairs (Saint Tommy, NYPD #3) by Declan Finn

Declan Finn’s third installment of Saint Tommy, NYPD starts with a bang and doesn’t pause to breath. What starts as a shooting at a church quickly spirals into non-stop action ending in a very satisfying conclusion to a story arc that started with Hell Spawn (which, if you haven’t read, you should).

While some of Tommy’s battles may have ended, the warlock spoken of in Death Cult wants him dead and has put a huge bounty on sending Tommy to the grave. There’s no hiding when crooked cops, vampires, necromancers, and huge fire-breathing drones want you dead. Infernal Affairs doesn’t let up with the insane levels of fun, either.

Along with Finn’s blow-by-blow action Tommy is no less witty, and we get treated once again to the great cast of characters. His partner has some fantastic, laugh-out-loud moments as he becomes exasperatedly resigned to go along with the supernatural craziness around him and fight at Tommy’s side. We get to see more of D and the wise, bearded, and well-spoken Assistant District Attorney Carlton.

The big mystery wrapping up the first trilogy in Saint Tommy, NYPD is why the warlock wants one cop dead so badly that he’s willing to put up a ton of cash to do it. It’s a good reveal once that bit of information comes out. As outlandish and wild as other plot points are (don’t forget the vampire hit men or the car chase with the magical drone that spits fireballs like bullets), the warlock’s motivation turns out to be the logical conclusion to what he’s been doing behind the scenes. There’s no sympathy for the devil here. The warlock is simply and completely evil.

Infernal Affairs is yet another 5-star book from Declan Finn and Silver Empire (seriously, is there another publisher that comes remotely close to releasing such consistently high-quality material?). If you like non-stop action and urban fantasy with horror elements, this book and this series are not to be passed up.

Get your copy here.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of book 1, get Hell Spawn right here.