Review: Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross by Adam Lane Smith

In a world where the veil between humanity and demons has been severed, knights stand against the demonic forces that threaten to devour mankind. Gideon Ira is one such knight.

Adam Lane Smith gives us an absurdly action-packed story set in a dystopian future. Demons act as warlords, ravaging and raiding towns and villages, taking humans for their bloody sacrifices. It’s a grim future, but one that is well built and imagined. Throughout there are wonderful tidbits of information thrown at the reader, giving just enough of a tease to the woes befallen the world to genuinely intrigue and amuse. References to previous missions and adventures also serve to immerse the reader in a world that is surprisingly well-developed for what is a fairly quick read.

The author’s understanding of human psychology paints some wonderful side characters. They all felt like real people. If given just a glimpse of motivation the characters are realistic, sympathetic, and fully realized. Even a character beaten down into despair has motivations that make sense.

If you like action, this book has loads of it. From tense stealth scenes to big brawls, the action is plentiful and varied. The demonic monsters are frightening and grotesque. The only real complaint I have about the book is that I found the descriptive nature of some of the violence to be excessive. I’m not likely to forget that cultists have intestines and are filled with blood. Other than that, the reader is treated to some very fun stuff here.

As someone who enjoys stories about knights destroying monsters, I recommend this book. If you don’t like stories about knights destroying monsters, this book might just change your mind. It is billed as a heavy metal Christian pulp adventure and the designation if fitting. The action hardly lets you stop for a breather and Christianity is portrayed in a positive light, especially as a force for good against terrible evil.

Cry “Deus vult!” and buy your copy here.

Review: Pyre and Ice by Josh Griffing

For being only a novella, you get a lot of story and character here. Importantly, you get characters you care about and a story that is hard to put down. It is never a slog and a few asides give you glimpses of a larger, well-thought-out universe that the cast is partaking in.

I’ve read sci-fi with a similar feel and thematic elements. Those bored me. Pyre and Ice avoided every pitfall those other stories had. There are no painful info dumps that I couldn’t follow. There were no meandering trips into nowhere that did nothing to develop character or plot. The science speak you do get was quick and sounded real enough. The terraforming ideas and trials were intriguing and seemed fresh and clever. If only more science fiction was like this.

I didn’t know what to expect in making this purchase, and what I got was a wonderful surprise. The title might seem like a fun play on words, but about halfway through it struck me as downright ominous. After a while I still come back to thinking of the implications with a chill. If you’re looking for a brief sci-fi diversion (specifically, this involves the trials of terraforming), this is well worth the attention.

Author Josh Griffing is somebody I am going to keep an eye out for. I hope we all see more from him. This was good stuff.

Buy it here.

Dragon Awards

With the Dragon Awards coming up this year, I am excited to announce that my novel Chalk is qualified to receive nominations for the Best Fantasy Novel Category.

Click the banner to get your ballot

Below are some suggestions for other categories. If a category is not listed… I got nothing:

Best Science Fiction Novel

Storm Between the Stars – Karl K. Gallagher

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel

Penance – Paula Richey

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

Unmasked – Kai Wai Cheah

Best Alternate History Novel

Educated Luck – Mel Todd

Best Horror Novel

Hussar – Declan Finn

Best Comic Book

Soulbound, #2 – Paula Richey

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series, TV or Internet

Pinkerton’s Ghosts

Review: Babylon Blues by Kit Sun Cheah

Here we have a cyberpunk epic from Kit Sun Cheah. It’s the first tome I’ve read from this author, and I do mean tome. This book is a beast. It is a collection of six action-packed novels collected into one volume. Every one of them could stand on their own and every single one is immensely satisfying. Keep that in mind if you are taken aback by the price. You aren’t buying just one book, you are buying six fantastic books.

My experience with cyberpunk before this book was limited to the Keanu Reeves movie Johnny Mnemonic and the music video for Billy Idol’s Shock to the System. So… very limited. Thankfully, Kit Sun Cheah decided to go and completely own the genre.

At the start, we’re thrown into a dark, bleak, horrifying future where technology and mankind are blended together in dehumanising ways and cosmic horrors masquerading as gods push and pull mankind like pathetic flesh puppets. Standing against them is the Special Tasks Section, an elite police force that specialises in bringing down husks, people who have been turned into monsters by the New Gods. Think of a Faustian bargain offered by a Lovecraftian abomination and you get an idea of what the STS is dealing with.

You get plenty of guns and action and, thankfully, the author knows his terminology. You also get my favorite action hero in a long time: Yuri Yamamoto, part mystical samurai, part crusading paladin. Every time Yuri takes out a blade or his silver cross, awesome happens. Sometimes what he does reads like poetry, at other moments the words on the page are like fireworks. There were times I had to reread passages because they were so good.

Highly recommended for fans of cyberpunk, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International, or Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40K work. Or, I’d imagine, anybody looking for an absolute blast. The action is less gorey than the aforementioned, but no less exciting. The supernatural elements had me grinning at how well they were handled. Not an easy thing to do. At the end of the final story, White Cross, you’re left feeling like you just watched an immensely satisfying series finale that could stand on its own or drag you into what could be an insane second season.

Also, the cover is awesome.

Buy a copy here and keep an eye on the author’s other work. I will certainly be doing so.

Review: Whom Shall I Fear? by Anne Clare

Anne Clare’s debut novel Whom Shall I Fear? is not my typical read. I’m not big on realistic war fiction or romance novels. This is both of those things, and yet I found myself drawn into the characters and their dilemmas. It’s a great story and surprisingly compelling.

Why did I like it even though it falls outside my general taste? Part of the reason is that Anne Clare made her characters likable. Without that seemingly simple ingredient, there wouldn’t have been any point to the story. It is heavily character-driven. Sergeant James Milburn reminded me of male leads in classic films. In fact, while reading this I felt like I was watching something like I’ll be Seeing You or It’s Always Fair Weather. And that is a very good thing.

The relationship between Sergeant Milburn and Evie Worther is believable and charming. Achieving that is no easy feat. Is it a little cheesy? Maybe, but it ends up being a good contrast with the incredibly slimy villain.

Anne Clare also did an enormous amount of research and it comes through in the text in a big way. The attention to little details, whether it was some bit of geography, parts of a soldier’s kit, or some off-hand reference to surrounding events all made the story feel very real and solid. This wasn’t some half-hearted attempt at historical fiction. The author took her research seriously and it was clearly thorough.

Truly setting it apart from anything else that might be considered “Christian Romance” were the punchy action scenes. Sergeant Milburn doesn’t spend all of his days writing letters. He’s a soldier and the action in this book is full of tension and are executed with the precision of a sniper. And it really is war. Side characters you like might not make it out of the book.

If you are a history buff or tired of the slush typical of romance novels, give Whom Shall I Fear? a try here.

Review: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering by L. Jagi Lamplighter

With book 5 of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series, things explode. In many ways. In The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin we were introduced to a charming, magical world. By the time The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering is over, that world has expanded and become enormously complex and the dangers more frightening and sinister. As if they weren’t already after book 3!

Many of the plot points surrounding Rachel Griffin have enormous payoff. From revelations about the Master of the World and Amber to development with Nastasia and Astrid, L. Jagi Lamplighter gives us an incredibly satisfying continuation of a series that has become one of my primary go-to recommendations. If you haven’t started this series yet, do it. You won’t regret a second of the time spent diving into this world. The characters are well-developed and feel like real people.

With the Heer of Dunderberg loosed, nasty creatures cause problems across the campus of Roanoke Academy. Redcaps and an each-uisge feature in their own little adventures and that’s one of the fun things about this series. There is a slice of life element to Rachel’s experiences at the school. They don’t detract from the story, but add to it and make the world the characters inhabit feel much more full and lively than a certain other magical school series that will illicit automatic comparisons. This series is much better than that one, however.

Most satisfying for me were the developments surrounding Rachel’s friendship issues. Hints of what might come surrounding Astrid and Nastasia took some turns I wanted to see happen and some turns that I didn’t expect (partly due to the fact that Rachel is a much more kind person than she would probably ever give herself credit for).

As a parent, the plotline surrounding Rachel, her family, and Amber was wrenching. L. Jagi Lamplighter delves into the (sometimes) horrifying consequences of altering memories and perceptions via magic. You’d have to be an automaton to not have to blink back tears while reading this volume. The moral choices that Rachel has to make toward the end are more poignant and overwhelming than anything I’ve read in other YA fantasy. Or much other fantasy in general, for that matter. I was holding my breath reading the build-up to the final stroke (or roar, in this case).

And this brings me to Leander. If memory serves me correctly, L. Jagi Lamplighter said in an interview that she prays before writing scenes involving the comfort lion. It shows. It shows enormously and helps explain why those scenes are so perfect. The mysteries surrounding Leander and Jariel come more and more to the fore as the series progresses and has become one of my favorite aspects to this ongoing tale.

And of course, there is more Siggy and Lucky the Dragon. The ridiculousness surrounding those two is always a treat.

There are angels, demons, magical lightning throwing imps, and even a masquerade. I can’t wait for the next book.

If you’re looking for a great story about a magic school, read this. Rachel Griffin is one of the most likable heroines I’ve read. Most female protagonists I’ve read don’t feel feminine or have a solid moral compass. Rachel has both and is an incredibly endearing kid that comes off as very real. If you loved Harry Potter and are looking for another magical school fix, you should find this series much more engrossing and satisfying.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering challenges Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland for the place of my favorite book in the series.

Buy a copy here if you’ve read the first four books.

If you haven’t, the first book can be found here.

Happy reading!

Dinosaur Warfare! Contest!

I am currently working on a rough draft for a science fiction adventure series tentatively titled “Dinosaur Warfare!” The crew of a stolen ship crash lands on a remote planet terraformed to a include an ecosystem filled with prehistoric creatures.

Captain Ambrose Weaver leads a group of refugees in a bold struggle for survival against dinosaurs, aliens, and the unknown.

Survivors need names! What I’m looking for are names for some of the survivors and crew of The Aequitas. Man or woman, I want suggestions. Will they get eaten by a spinosaurus? Swallowed by a titanboa? Will they ride a velociraptor armed with plasma cannons into battle?

This is just for fun and winner(s) will have the name(s) I like best placed in this series. They might be side character or they might become part of the important ensemble.

Comment suggestions here or find me on Twitter or my author page on Facebook!

Review: Justified by Jon Del Arroz

Deus Vult!

Crusade!

Space knights! Laser swords! Explosions! Fuzzy alien waifus!

Bored of terrible new Star Wars movies that have nothing but contempt for you? Stories that try to tell you that heroism is stupid and futile? Tired of postmodernist dreck? Try Jon Del Arroz’s action/adventure analog for crusading… in space!

The story features Drin, a Templar who has something of an existential crisis but instead of bemoaning everything in the universe, he prays for guidance and seeks to do what is right. Anais is a space princess that gets kidnapped by degenerate slavers. The villains in this story are so slimy and awful you can’t wait for them to get justice.

Religion is taken seriously by the characters, which is a nice change from the usual fare of it either being nonexistent or a thin, phony veneer. It’s actually a pretty big deal for the plot as Drin does a lot of contemplation in trying to figure out the universe he exists in. The last time I saw science fiction treat religion seriously was in some John C. Wright and in reading Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40k Gaunt’s Ghosts series.

Drin witnesses the horrors of war and abandons his vows in order to make sense of his world. His revelations aren’t lazily written, tired ideas. Jon Del Arroz actually throws some wonderful nuance into the tropes he explores and I enjoyed watching Drin grow as a character from his doubts at the start to the very satisfying conclusion.

There aren’t a lot of big surprise here, but that doesn’t matter. This is a book that sets out to be fun and succeeds. You get a genuinely masculine hero that pummels evil. You get a space princess that has a pretty solid character arc. Altogether, this had the feeling of a good 80s-to-early 90s action flick. Cast Dolph Lundgren circa 1988 as Drin and throw in some simultaneously awesome/cheesy 80s special effects and you’d have an instant action classic.

If you want a fast-paced, fun ride buy a copy here.

Review: Hell Spawn by Declan Finn

This is the best horror story I’ve ever read. I say that having not read the second book in the series… yet. What makes this book such an absolute win? Finn goes against the trend of so many authors in recent history and created a likable hero. Tommy Nolan doesn’t wring his hands and mope. He doesn’t sit around and curl up into existential dread. Instead we get a devoted family man, an unapologetic Catholic, and an action hero that discovers he has what are essentially super powers. He’s also funny and a genuinely good person. Good riddance to the boredom that is the anti-hero.

With Nolan’s partner Packard we get glimpses of the buddy cop genre. Always a plus. Packard might come off as annoying in any other capacity, but amid the gruesomeness of some plot points his odd, dark sense of humor helped to break up the horror elements. Nolan had a few thoughts and lines that had me laughing out loud throughout.

The supernatural elements reminded me of the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. This is much more horror than that. The antagonist here is about the most disgusting, hateful villain I’ve seen on the page. I won’t go into detail, because I don’t want to revisit the actions of our hero’s opposite. The back cover tells you right out that Nolan goes up against a demon. And demon it is.

While the gruesome bits were hard to handle, the payoff was well worth every cringe. The action scenes were more gripping than those found in a Brad Thor novel. They gave the likes of Larry Correia and John Ringo a run for their money. Each bit of action tries to outdo the previous action scene and succeeds. They actually grab you because, as mentioned before, it’s impossible to not like Detective Nolan. When something bad happens to him, you want to keep reading to see if he comes out on top or not. And just when you think the book has hit its climax, Finn pulls the rug out and hits you over the head with a big finale.

If you like the horror genre, you can’t do much better than this. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy for yourself and a few for your friends right here.