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.

The Great Halloween Book Boost

It’s the time of year for a book boost! Lovecraftian horror, knights in power armor, undead dragons, demons, Catholic schoolgirls with chainsaws, veterinarians, magical spears, vampires, bilocating cops, cyberpunk paladin samurais, and more!

For some reason many people associate the world of written horror with that one guy. The one who apparently writes twist endings about aliens that are also spiders or evil cars or something. That guy. But there are other authors! Better ones!

So if you are looking for something appropriate for the season, I’ve got a list right here.

Duel Visions by [Misha Burnett, Louise Sorensen]

Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen – Duel Visions

Is Death a dog or a cat? Would it be worse to be turned into a pig or a fish? After we die do we become characters in a movie, or parts for an old truck?

Weird fictioneers Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen explore the dark depths of the human psyche across ten spine-tingling tales of terror and macabre.

J. Trevor Robinson – The Mummy of Monte Cristo

In the aftermath of a brutal plague that swept across 19th-century Europe, Edmond Dantes is framed for treason by jealous rivals and a zealous prosecutor. He is left to rot in prison without trial or sentence. Edmond’s cellmate, thought to be a madman, tells him of a great treasure and dark power hidden away on the Island of Monte Cristo, waiting for someone to come and take them.

Chalk (Raven Mistcreek Book 1) by [N.R. LaPoint]

N.R. LaPoint – Chalk

Catholic schoolgirl Raven Mistcreek has no memory. Her family is missing, her home is gone, and she is being hunted by monsters. Why do demonic forces want her dead?Is her family still alive? And why do her chalk drawings become real? Across the Qualitative Continuum, levels of reality are sinking lower. A colossal terror lies sleeping. Waiting.

Let Sleeping Gods Lie: A Lovecraftian Gods Horror Story (Cowboys & Cthulhu Book 1) by [David J. West]

David J. West – Let Sleeping Gods Lie

Louis L’Amour Meets Lovecraft

Porter Rockwell, wanted for a murder he did not commit, is hiding out in Old California selling whiskey to thirsty forty-niners. When his friends dig up some monstrous bones and a peculiar book and offer to sell it for a helluva price, Porter can’t resist the mystery.

Declan Finn – Honor at Stake

College freshman, Amanda Colt knows few people and wants to know fewer still. She enjoys fencing and prefers facing a challenge every once in a while. She is beautiful, smart, and possibly the most interesting person on campus.

Then she finds tall, intense Marco Catalano in her fencing class. With a mind like a computer and manners of a medieval knight, he scares most people – but not Amanda. They both have secrets, for they are both monsters.

Adam Lane Smith – Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross

A holy crusader sworn to slaughter the dark cults of Ba’al the Ever-Hungry must rescue a band of innocent children with his blade and blood-soaked gauntlets, or die trying.

All of Hell thirsts for his blood, but a man of God will never be broken. This holy crusader’s vengeance will be brutal.

I reviewed this one here

Uriel's Revenge: A Dark Sci-fi Adventure (The Cliptic Book 1) by [David Roome]

David Roome – Uriel’s Revenge

For Brian Zaks, developing his skills as a space pilot and combat maneuvers specialist for Elwood’s Privateers took highest priority. But he couldn’t ignore fellow privateer and ex-girlfriend Evvie Evans when she begged him for help with her nocturnal hallucinations of a raven-headed demon.

Then Elwood’s treasure-hunting hobby uncovered the lost secrets of an ancient cult, thrusting Brian and Evvie into an interplanetary clash between the cult’s present-day descendants. Can they defeat a primeval power threatening to upend human civilization?

Prospero Lost (Prospero’s Children Book 1) by [L. Jagi Lamplighter]

L. Jagi Lamplighter – Prospero Lost

Miranda, daughter of the magician Prospero from Shakespeare’s Tempest, lives in the modern age. Upon discovering that her father has gone missing, she must discover the location of her other siblings and convince them to save their father, before the Three Shadowed Ones destroy the Family Prospero. She is accompanied by her company gumshoe, an airy spirit stuck in a body that looks a bit like Humphrey Bogart. Humor, mystery, wonder.

I reviewed this one here

Anthology featuring Caroline Furlong, Josh Griffing, Declan Finn, Karina Fabian, John C. Wright, Karl Gallagher, Ann Margaret Lewis, Richard Paolinelli, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and more!

These are the tales of the orb that lights our night sky and drives the tides of our oceans. The bright companion that orbits our planet, invades our dreams and drives us mad. Told through the eyes of several well known Sci-Fi writers, Luna is a tour-de-force in the Sci-Fi field and a pleasure for any Sci-Fi fan to dig into!

Kit Sun Cheah – Babylon Blues

Faith, demons and firefights in neon-drenched streets!In Nova Babylonia, the New Gods rule with an iron fist. Only one group dares to challenge their reign: the elite law enforcers of the Special Tasks Section. Lethal and incorruptible, they form the thin blue line between humanity and Hell on Earth.Within the STS, the most dangerous assignments go to Team Black Watch. Six battle-hardened operators who will do whatever it takes to protect the innocent.These are their stories.Hugo and Dragon Award nominated writer Kit Sun Cheah presents six shots of hard-hitting cyberpunk action horror, interwoven in a grand narrative of conspiracy and corruption in a land ruled by demons in the guise of gods. Originally published as webserials, these stories have been remastered and compiled in a single massive volume, along with a bonus never-before-published novella.Welcome to Nova Babylonia. Try not to lose your soul.

I reviewed this one here

Hell Spawn: A Catholic Action Horror Novel (Saint Tommy, NYPD Book 1) by [Declan Finn]

Declan Finn – Hell Spawn

Tommy Nolan lives a quiet life. He walks his beat – showing mercy to the desperate. Locking away the dangerous. Going to church, sharing dinner with his wife and son. Everyone likes Tommy, even the men he puts behind bars.
Then one day a demon shows up and he can smell it. Tommy can smell evil – real evil . Now he’s New York City’s only hope against a horrifying serial killer that preys on the young and defenseless.
But smell alone isn’t enough to get a warrant. Can Tommy track down the killer and prove his guilt?

I reviewed this one here

La Danza de la Muerte: Seven Stories by [Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, Joseph Devon]

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt – La Danza de la Muerte

As the season grows colder, soft strains of music float on the breeze. You turn a corner and see a great throng. They all are dancing a slow, solemn dance, a great line of people dancing hand in hand with no regard for differences of race, sex, age, or culture. The last figure in line beckons you forward, asking you to take her skeletal hand in yours.

This collection contains seven stories about Death. Ranging from horror to science fiction to superhero fantasy, they wrestle with death in different ways. Is death an evil to be fought against with all our strength or a lover to be embraced?

Russell Newquist – War Demons

Driven by vengeance, Michael Alexander enlisted in the Army the day after 9/11. Five years later, disillusioned and broken by the horrors he witnessed in Afghanistan, Michael returns home to Georgia seeking to begin a new life. But he didn’t come alone. Something evil followed him, and it’s leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

John C. Wright – Awake in the Night Land

AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND is an epic collection of four of John C. Wright’s brilliant forays into the dark fantasy world of William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 novel, The Night Land. Part novel, part anthology, the book consists of four related novellas, “Awake in the Night”, “The Cry of the Night-Hound”, “Silence of the Night”, and “The Last of All Suns”, which collectively tell the haunting tale of the Last Redoubt of Man and the end of the human race. 

G. Scott Huggins – All Things Huge and Hideous

I’ve got orcs and trolls who might eat me and dark elf barons who might sue me if their bloodhawks and chimeras don’t pull through. And that doesn’t even consider the possibility that the old hag with the basilisk might show up. The only thing that’s gone right this evening is finding Harriet to be my veterinary assistant.She’s almost a witch, which just might save us both. If we don’t kill each other first.

I reviewed this one here

Brutal Dreams by [J.D. Cowan, L. Jagi Lamplighter]

J.D. Cowan – Brutal Dreams

After awakening in the woods, Christopher Archer finds himself trapped in a world outside of time. Fog monsters, armed gangsters, and a legendary spear, all await his arrival. But what about the fiancé who disappeared months ago?

As Archer explores this eternal midnight, he can only wonder—is this all just a dream, or is there something more hidden in the dark, watching his every move?

There is one choice. He must traverse the nightmare and learn the truth.

Black Earth Rises: Urban Fantasy in a Slavic-haunted Texas (Hall of Heroes Book 3) by [Denton Salle]

Denton Salle – Black Earth Rises

Like the black earth showing through the snow, the otherworld emerges into ours.

Texas – big, open, and strange. Stranger than you can imagine as the Slavic Otherworld leaks into it. With all the monsters and myths of folklore loosed in North Texas.

Jim’s planned on a night of dancing and drinking as a break from studying. His best friend, Mike, came a long despite his bad feelings about it. It got bad. Then it got worse than Jim imagined as the nightmares of myth came hunting them.

Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book 1) by [Brian Niemeier, Marcelo Orsi Blanco, L. Jagi Lamplighter]

Brian Niemeier – Nethereal

The Sublime Brotherhood of Steersmen holds the Middle Stratum in its iron grip. Jaren Peregrine, last of the Gen, raids across fringe space with Nakvin—her captain’s best pilot and only friend, apprentice steersman Deim, and mercenary Teg Cross.

Hunted by the ruthless Master Malachi, Jaren and his crew join a conspiracy to break the Guild’s monopoly with an experimental ship. But when its maiden voyage goes awry, the Exodus flies farther off course than its crew could have imagined.

Morgon Newquist – Hellgate

As she uncovers her grandfather’s double life, his mistakes are coming back to stalk the neighborhood in the form of a vicious, shapeshifting beast. Thrust into a world of magic and monsters, Emilia is out of her depth.

Can she save the neighborhood? And do it without falling for the fae across the street?

Pure Poison (Purity Wellman Book 1) by [Hawkings Austin]

Hawkings Austin – Pure Poison

She died the first time in 1958, and the devil stole her soul on her front doorstep. After more than fifty years in Purgatory, she returns from the underworld. Her brother, who saved her from the devil and handed her to Hades, is supposed to be there to meet her. But he isn’t. Purity has to find her way in a new, overwhelming world she doesn’t understand. But there is still evil, supernatural evil, in the world, and that she understands all too well.

The devil’s work is never finished and the family business is never done.

A graphic novel from Iconic Comics for the book boost!

Soulfinder: Demon's Match | IndieCron | THE INDIE HUB

Douglas Ernst and Timothy Lim – Soulfinder: Demon’s Match

Retter is the parish priest in the small, quiet town of Steepleton, Maryland. Assigned to the tiny locale despite his expertise in demonology and the occult, Retter is often called upon by county authorities to advise on matters with religious significance.

Things don’t stay quiet for long, as a series of related deaths imply that a great evil has been residing in Steepleton, waiting to arise. Father Retter isn’t alone. He is aided by a young detective and ultimately mentored by a mysterious figure who introduces Retter to an ancient, high order of exorcists known as the Soulfinders.

There you have it: The Great Halloween Book Boost!

Yes, not all of this is horror, per se, but there is plenty of magic and fighting evil to go around.

Enjoy!

SUPERVERSIVE: Pinkerton's Ghosts are Here - castaliahouse.com

Honorable mention – Pinkerton’s Ghosts

Not a book, but a horror podcast featuring short stories read like radio dramas

Review: Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero Lost (Prospero's Daughter, #1) by L. Jagi Lamplighter

This is a difficult book to write a review for. Why? Because it deals with a mystery that spans 500 years of history, involves demons, air spirits, fey, elves, angels, supernatural powers, Santa, shape-shifting beings, magic staffs, estranged siblings, and hell. There is so much going on and so much of the plot revolves around the cast figuring out what’s going that elaborating on plot points would give away a lot of spoilers. That isn’t to say the story gets bogged down in its strange, fantastical trappings. Far from it. It is very cohesive and the world building with all its revelations is exceedingly charming and fun.

Our tale starts with Miranda Prospero (as in Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest) receiving a magically-encrypted message from her father warning that he unwittingly released demonic beings that pose a threat to her and her siblings. There is an explosion when one of these Shadowed Ones shows up, leaving Miranda with her magical flute, an air spirit named Mab (whose earthly body was designed after Sam Spade), and a quest to find her siblings before demonic powers kill them all.

Miranda and Mab risk their lives to seek out Miranda’s siblings in order to warn them about the demonic threat. Mystery after mystery unfolds as they meet with knightly Theo, insane (and continuously amusing) Mephisto, and her rather unsettling sister. These are mysteries that have been brewing for the five hundred years of Miranda’s life. In addition to facing supernatural threats, Miranda and Mab have to parse through centuries of information and unreliable memories (How can memories be reliable when the human mind isn’t built to hold 500 years of them?). And at the end of this book we still haven’t met all of Miranda’s siblings.

With so much going on in Lamplighter’s seemingly limitless imagination, Prospero Lost is absolutely entertaining. The only comparisons that come to mind for this level of off-the-wall fantasy would be the works of John C. Wright and Zelasny’s Lord of Light. There are explosions, narrow escapes, hell hounds, and hints of a love triangle involving Miranda, an elf lord, and a man returned from the gates of Hell. While this is the first book in a series, we are thankfully not hit with a painful cliffhanger. Yes, the story doesn’t end and there is more to happen, but we are given a very intriguing plot development that made me want to keep reading and devour the rest of this story.

Highly, highly recommended.

Get your copy here.

Review: Chaika The Coffin Princess

Chaika the Coffin Princess [Blu-ray]

In the first episode we get to see a young girl shoot an evil flying unicorn in half with a magical sniper rifle. That’s just the first episode. You eventually get used to the crazy. Sort of. This is the kind of story that keeps you guessing up until the end while you gnaw off your fingernails from the edge of your seat. I have mixed feelings about anime. Shows are hit or miss. This was definitely a big hit.

The story revolves around Chaika, a young woman who claims to be the daughter of Emperor Gaz who was killed by eight heroes five years ago. She hires mercenaries Toru and childhood friend and “sister-in-arms” Akari to gather the late emperor’s remains so that she may mourn properly. They aren’t actually blood related, and the honorifics “brother” and “sister” are usually played for laughs due to Akari’s obvious romantic interest in Toru and Toru’s hilarious obliviousness to it.

The plot gets even stranger once you learn that there are multiple girls all claiming to be Chaika. And all of them are seeking to gather Emperor Gaz’s remains. If that doesn’t sound weird enough, it gets weirder, but I’ll refrain from spoilers.

Thematically, the story’s main thrust was an examination of the psychological effect of constant warfare on societies and individual characters. Emperor Gaz kept the world in a constant state of warfare for 500 years. Some characters have a hard time moving on, but the story never gets preachy. You won’t find any heavy-handed messaging here. This is much more about individuals trying to figure out what is worth living for. Loyalty, love, the power of memories, and sacrifice are all important, but there is a lot more show than tell here so if you aren’t paying attention you might miss a wonderful nuance to character development.

Chaika has an enormous amount going right for it. The art direction is wonderful. The character designs are great, the monsters are perfectly creepy. Even the opening and closing themes are great. Chaika defies genre and does so exceedingly well. There are fantasy elements and magic is pervasive, monsters seem dragged from a horror universe, there is mad science, and there are flying fortresses. Plenty of action is tempered with just the right amount of humor.

I love heroic characters and Toru’s growth was great to see and wonderfully written. His mercenary personality next to Chaika’s girlish innocence was completely charming. Even the relationships between side characters are incredibly well drawn.

As far as content? There are some shocking moments of violence, but nothing truly pervasive. Definitely not for kids, though. Language is pretty mild and PG. There is no sex. There is almost nothing close to fan service. The closest thing is in the OVA and involves Akari bathing and having to sneak up and knock somebody unconscious. Even that is played more for laughs than purely prurient interest.

This is a superb show and if you understand what is going on thematically, the ending is beautiful and enormously satisfying. I can’t recommend this enough as it might be my new favorite anime.

Get it here.

Review: Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger by Adam Lane Smith

This is the second book by Adam Lane Smith I’ve read, and it was glorious. He claimed he took the action and dialed it up to eleven, causing his editor to try to reign things in. I think his editor must have had his hands full because I’m not sure much got dialed back. In any case, it seemed like Smith kept trying to crank the dial… and broke it off. That’s a good thing.

Smith clearly understands what makes classic action films good and fun and wrote accordingly. This is exactly the sort of story I was expecting to be part of Vin Diesel’s career and never was. It’s teh sort of action story that has been missing since the early nineties. Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger seemed like it was designed to fill in the sad space where quality action films used to reign.

Cain is a cop who isn’t afraid to put down violent thugs, even if it means the city won’t get to collect fines criminals would otherwise pay for their crimes. Yes, you read that right. This story takes place in the future, where criminals are basically given free reign to commit crimes as long as they pay the proper fine for their wrongdoing. How ridiculous is this future? Think of a crime-ridden Demolition Man and you come pretty close. There are ads for disgusting food concoctions and other things everywhere. Many of them urging the viewer to tap the ad to have the product drone-dropped to their home. On a train? Ads. Starting your car? Ads.

Max “Bloody Rain” Cain gets fired from his job for taking down a handful of thugs. His chief doesn’t like that kind of policing, so Max is left to figure out what to do next with his life. Little does he suspect that his lunch will be ruined, and his burrito destroyed. What follows is an explosion of almost non-stop violence, cartoonish mayhem, and one-liners. It’s enough to leave one parched. But in the words of Max Cain: “I don’t want water. I’m thirsty for blood.”

Amidst the chaos and piles of dead gangsters, Max meets Kate Valentine. The blonde bombshell joins forces with Max and they weave a tapestry of destruction throughout the city. Their banter and interactions are genuinely funny. Smith has a knack for writing enjoyable secondary characters and jokes that warrant a good belly laugh.

There’s also action. Did I mention that? There are a lot of gangsters, so Max and Kate never run out of targets. Don’t bother trying to keep a body count. You’ll lost track quickly. Explosions, car crashes, shootouts down hallways and in parks, helicopters, train fights, explosions… This book doesn’t let up.

I’ve seen this likened to John Wick, but with a burrito instead of a dog. The biggest problem with that comparison is that this book is way better than John Wick. There’s no angst here and you aren’t going to be tricked into reading about peoples’ feelings. The closest thing you get to that is Kate explaining her backstory. I won’t ruin that because it’s a great backstory.

Fans of 80s action flicks will love this. There are notes of Invasion USA, Delta Force, and Commando, there’s even a touch of Die Hard. This is a love letter written to action movies back when they used to be filled with fun and heroes to get behind and root for. If you miss stories like that, don’t hesitate to grab a copy of Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger.

Get your copy here.

Review: Storm Between the Stars by Karl K. Gallagher

Imagine if 1984’s Big Brother were an interplanetary empire run by an inefficient bureaucracy filled with people who are more concerned with following protocol and looking good in front of their superiors than anything else. In other words, a realistic bureaucracy. This is what Niko Landry and his crew stumble upon. And it is creepy as hell.

History is forbidden within the Censor’s reach to the point where an artist’s art dies with them. Star maps are forbidden, and nobody knows how many planets are in the empire. That information is available only to high-level officials and even then, if they want to access it, it gets logged and reported to even higher officials that they’ve accessed it. The people in the Censorate aren’t even allowed to know what year it truly is, lest they think for even a moment that their oppressive government has lasted fewer than a million years.

Landry and his crew can’t simply leave and escape because the planet they land on is racked with violent hurricanes. Also, leaving would be suspicious. What starts out as a fairly Star Trek-esque adventure quickly turns into something far more sinister. They are stuck and the tension is so masterfully written that I found myself almost glad to take breaks and recover. Almost. I also didn’t want to put the thing down.

This isn’t the type of science fiction I usually jump at, but Storm Between the Stars had everything going right for it. Everything I don’t find terribly interesting in science fiction was made interesting and drew me in. There weren’t any tedious, drawn-out explanations or bogs of info dump. Scientific stuff was brief and believable enough.

The vision of hyperspace is intriguing and brilliant. It isn’t hell like in the Warhammer 40k universe. Nor is it the super simple ‘plug in a calculation and go’ that seems to be the standard go-to for science fiction. Gallagher’s hyperspace is a dangerous ocean of color and shifting landmarks. Any wrong move could crash a ship through the aether into a shoal or run it into a violent, deadly storm that could tear the ship apart.

As far as stories with dystopian tyrannical governments go, this is the best I’ve read. Far too many stories like this fall into ham-fisted sermonizing or scenarios that don’t make sense intellectually or logically. Gallagher avoids every possible pitfall. And thankfully, we get a competent, cautious leader in Niko Landry. Nothing in the plot is centered on a character carrying an idiot ball. From the operations of secret societies trying to hang on to history or religion to self-serving bureaucrats, Gallagher crafted a story and universe that holds believable characters. This is probably why the creepy, looming presence of the Censorate was so successfully frightening. This type of story should serve as a warning and not a how-to manual or road map.

Highly recommended for fans of David Weber, Star Trek, and dystopian fiction like 1984 or The Giver. This is top notch science fiction.

Get your copy here

Review: Penance by Paula Richey

I love superhero stories. I’m also very critical of them so I was very pleased that it delivered on the amount of hype that had accumulated in my head. In short, Paula Richey’s novel is awesome.

Penance is the story of Penance Copper. To sum up Penance, think Jubilee from the X-Men as something of a southern street urchin but with powers that are actually fleshed out, interesting, and written well. We get to see some seriously cool use of energy powers here. Penance is basically a living nuclear reactor. This doesn’t mean she’s overpowered, though. There are some scary implications surrounding her powers, as there should be, and her limitations are treated appropriately and interestingly.

The story revolves around Penance trying to redeem herself from being the pawn of abusive psychopath Acid. Acid is, at first glance, a petty thug with a drug problem. He’s also a Prime (this universe’s designation for superpowered individuals) with corrosive touch. The plot jumpstarts right into Acid ordering a hit on The Justice, a superhero. Penance is to be the assassin, but she starts to have second thoughts about where her life is headed.

Things spiral fast into a very fun story that never gets boring and moves along at a comfortably brisk pace. From an alien invasion at a football stadium, to a jailbreak, human trafficking with intergalactic implications, to androids, empaths, jailbreaks, and superpowered fights, Paula Richey treats us to a healthy dose of action and imagination.

Penance is everything a superhero story should be. The heroes are heroic and likable. The villains are nasty and underhanded. The story is uplifting and a lot of fun. The trend in comics and superhero stories lately has been to be murky, grimdark, and subversive. Paula goes the opposite direction and gives us something wonderful and classic that also feels fresh and new.

This is an origin story of sorts, but it is also a redemption story. On her journey, Penance encounters religion. I’ll make a quick note here that the author does not browbeat or smother the reader with messaging. The religious content is tasteful and handled very well. Well, enough that I am confident anybody would be able to read and enjoy this. The encounters help impel Penance toward what she truly desires: A better self and a better life.

This is exactly what a superhero story is supposed to do. Superhero stories were always meant to be uplifting and fun. They’re supposed to be inspirational and show people trying to do their best. Paula Richey does more for the superhero genre than any big comic publisher has done in over a decade.

We’re also given a second protagonist in Kail, an eight-foot-tall alien from an absolutely terrible planet. Think of a society where the people who love taxes are in control of everything. Now, add a god-emperor who believes he owns everything, and an oppressive caste system and you have an idea of Kail’s planet.

His part of the story has the best ‘fish-out-of-water’ element I’ve read in a long time. The cultural misunderstandings and interactions are fantastic. The alien culture feels incredibly well developed without getting bogged down in over-explanation of nuts and bolts. This is top-notch world-building. Kail’s personality and situation serve as a good foil for Penance and their interactions are charming and amusing.

Anybody who likes superhero stores and is tired of the current depressing trends in DC and Marvel will love this. If you liked Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy but thought it had too much focus on mechanics and had a somewhat convoluted plot, this is definitely for you as it does not have those trappings. It’s also clean young adult fiction, which is as rare as a unicorn, these days. A huge point in favor of this book. The language is tame and there is no sex. I’d be comfortable giving this to a teenager that wants a good superhero story. Or an adult, for that matter.

Get your copy from Amazon here.

Or you can get it direct from the publisher here.

Note: This is part of Silver Empire’s Heroes Unleashed shared universe which features other great authors like Kai Wai Cheah and Morgon Newquist. CHeck out the series here.

Note 2: Penance is eligible for a Dragon Award. Go here for information on how to nominate it and other eligible book suggestions!

Review: How Black the Sky by T. J. Marquis

How Black the Sky by T.J. Marquis is a fun fantasy romp in a strange universe where the sun is red and magic is pervasive. Truly, it’s everywhere. Glowing swords, gems that power gauntlets, thrown lightning, and even color itself can have magical quality. This is an imaginitive world.

At its core, it is a Get the Band Back Together story. The book starts with a bang as a young warrior named Pierce flees a Monstrosity (yes, capital M) in order to deliver very bad news. The news is bad enough that Pierce drags the legendary heroes known as Gorgonbane out of retirement. It doesn’t take much doing. They’re heroes and it’s what they do. It helps that Pierce is earnest and completely free of guile. Gorgonbane sees this and doesn’t hesitate to welcome him along (to his surprise).

The plot revolves around Gorgonbane and Pierce trying to thwart the Underland from invading Overland. The world has multiple layers (not just continents or feuding kingdoms), transversed through portals. Then there is the Chasm, a deep break surrounding the land and populated by flesh-rending, horrible banshees. The worldbuilding is very well done and thankfully Marquis doesn’t bog the reader down with nuts and bolts. We’re thrown into a rich, intriguing fantasy world and given room to wonder at it.

Throughout the story, the author gives a handful of stories of Gorgonbane’s past exploits. We learn of Gorgonbane’s start as a group of mercenaries and get glimpses of their rise to the status of legendary warriors. It was a risky gambit, but it paid off big. Throwing in little stories here and there could have ruined the pacing, but it didn’t. If anything, the intermittent tales helped the pacing along, made the characters feel more fleshed out and established in their world, and aided in worldbuilding.

Also of note is the author’s treatment of religion. There is no flippancy or demeaning of the system the author has created. The characters worship a figure called the Blacksmith. The Blacksmith forged the world and its creatures and, fittingly, the people of the world work toward tempering themselves into their best form and follow the Glorious Path. In this world, that usually means becoming a virtuous warrior. Just about every character is named after a weapon, so the societal dedication to following the Blacksmith is quite present. The current trend in fantasy has been to ignore or demean religion so this was a refreshing change of pace. And a very welcome one.

A warrior society in which the heroes are virtuous was a nice touch. You won’t find the boring “everything is a shade of black-grey” that has permeated fantasy here. Everything as a darkedgy deconstruction is a boring storytelling choice. T.J. Marquis went the opposite route and wrote an interesting story with likeable characters I found myself rooting for. My favorite would probably be Agrathor, the once handsome guy who lost his skin and went around as a magical, lightning-throwing skeleton.

Not everything is all rainbows and smiley faces, however. There is plenty of tragedy, but the characters are capable of overcoming it. It doesn’t define them completely. They have depth instead of soul-crushing ennui. Even the villainous characters had a surprising amount of depth to them. Not everything is as it seems and some of the plot twists were unexpected. One even managed to completely blindside me.

The action is well done and the violence isn’t over the top gory. This is a good, solid fantasy adventure and I have a hard time believing it is a first novel. Fans of fantasy that are tired of depress-fests and anti-heroes will enjoy this. I know I’m looking forward to the sequel (but don’t worry, the ending is satisfying enough in its own right, even if it does leave a sequel in expectation).

Buy your copy here.

Dusklight is Out Now!

Taking place 6 months after the end of Chalk, Dusklight is the second book in my series featuring Raven Mistcreek, a Catholic schoolgirl that can make magical constructs by drawing them with chalk.

You can purchase the paperback here.

You can purchase the ebook version here.

I’m not sure why they aren’t linked together. I’ll be looking into that.

In celebration of the release of Dusklight, the Dragon Award eligible Chalk is on sale! Buy it here and be sure to nominate it for Best Fantasy here. For other suggestions on Dragon Award eligible books, take a look here.

Review: Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters is one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. It is certainly the funniest book I’ve read.

As a science fiction humor story, comparisons to other science fiction humor stories is inevitable. So how does it compare to the oft-touted science fiction humor novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? It is MUCH funnier than Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, in my opinion, that’s also a very low bar. Robert Kroese has no regard for that bar and instead makes his own bar and beats other bars with his new bar until they ask him politely to stop. Writing comedy is difficult. My experience with humor stories is that they start off strong, but the hilarity tends to fade quickly. Robert Kroese conquers this problem magnificently, and Starship Grifters remained consistently funny throughout.

The protagonist Rex Nihilo is an absurd character who continuously (and miraculously) rolls 20s on every charisma check. The plot revolves around Rex trying to get out of massive debt. En route, Nihilo faces off against an evil galactic empire, a rebellion based in a car park, and Space Apostles who appear out of nowhere. Kroese tips over many sacred cows with finesse and without being coarse, vulgar, or insulting to his readers. Modern comedy writers should take a note. Or several. Star Wars gets several jabs. Bureaucracy, usury, corporatism, stale tropes, and likely many things I didn’t pick up on get jabs. But all of this is done without getting bogged down in painful, unwanted Pop Culture ™ references. Yay! The only thing remotely bog-related is the forest moon, which is mostly swamp.

Memorable characters abound. From the narrator robot Sasha to the beautiful and… er… impressive bounty hunter Pepper and gibberish-spouting Ted there’s a lot to love. Perhaps most memorable is the villainous Heinous Vlaak who seemed to me to be a ridiculous combination of every 1980s dystopian gang lord I’ve ever seen (complete with outlandish outfit and wraparound sunglasses) and Skeletor.

Who would enjoy this? Fans of Larry Correia’s The Adventures of Tom Stranger certainly. Fans of Star Wars spoofs like Spaceballs would also find immense enjoyment within this books many text-filled pages. Who won’t enjoy this? People without a sense of humor will hate it. People who are fans of massive debt and bureaucracy might be offended as well.

In any case this book comes very highly recommended. I do not recommend reading it while eating, however, as there is a distinct danger of choking on said food from laughter. Er… don’t ask.

Buy your copy here!