Tag Archives: epic

Book Review: Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage

Glynn Stewart's Starship's Mage
Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage

Leo Champion described Glynn Stewart to me as one of the best authors he’s had the experience of working with. Since I also work with Leo, I took that as a bit of a challenge to step up my game, but as a reader, it made me want to check out what Glynn has written, particularly since he seems to be reading my blog and writing book reviews about my stuff.

I’m happy to say I haven’t been disappointed. Glynn Stewart’s Space Opera/Fantasy novel, Starship’s Mage, is excellent. The main character, Damien, is engaging and interesting and Glynn has created a fascinating world, one where technology and magic coexist in a science fiction setting, much like another of my favorite author’s works: Ryk Spoor.

The trials and tribulations of young Damien are vast and varied, as he tries to fix one problem only to create three more in the process. Damien is smart (possibly too smart for his own good), and he is hard working and a loyal friend. He’s also painfully naïve and far too eager to please, which make fun character flaws in a character as powerful as a wizard can be.

Overall, the book definitely feels like the first book of a planned “epic” series. While young Damien grows powerful, we still see that not only does he have limits, but those limits are profound compared to his opponents. The other characters, from ship’s officers to pirates are robust and rewarding in their own ways and in general, it was a fun read.

That isn’t to say it is a “perfect” book. There were a few minor gramatical errors (less, in fact, than some books I’ve recently read from major publishers), but there was also a nagging repetition where some things would be explained multiple times. I can understand the urge, in case the reader wasn’t paying attention, but for me, it actually broke my immersion a little bit as some of the technology and universe was explained once and then again, right before it became pertinent to the story. That said, it’s a very minor pet peeve in a book that I really enjoyed.  (Further note: I hadn’t realized it was originally released as novellas, so it suffers from the same problem as my own Renegades: Origins, so disregard)

My only question, at the end of it, is what do you call this genre? Space Fantasy sounds… trite and doesn’t adequately describe it. It feels like “Hard” fantasy, where the magic has rules and the story revolves as much around those rules as the characters. Science Fantasy just sounds odd. Whatever it is, it’s fun, fast, and enjoyable.

You can pick it up here from Amazon.

In a galaxy tied together by the magic of the elite Jump Magi, Damien Montgomery is a newly graduated member of their number.
With no family or connections to find a ship, he is forced to service on an interstellar freighter known to be hunted by pirates.
When he takes drastic action to save the Blue Jay from their pursuers, he sets in motion a sequence of events beyond his control – and attracts enemies on both sides of the law!

Starship’s Mage was originally released as five separate episodes.

Odin’s Eye Snippet Two

Here’s the second snippet for Odin’s Eye, coming this weekend!  Odin’s Eye is the sequel to Fenris Unchained and a novel in the Star Portal Universe.  You can find the first snippet here.

Time: 1200 Zulu, 24 June 291 G.D.

Location: Bliskin Station, Hanet System

 

“Yep,” Mike Majors nodded as he pointed out exterior damage to the ship’s forward ring, “That’ll need some repairs.”

It was a bit of an understatement, in Mel’s opinion. Having experienced the wrenching sensation of the off-balance warp drive, she would have said both damaged rings would have needed to be replaced. Their surfaces were covered in emitters designed to warp space… many of those emitters were damaged, out of alignment, or simply destroyed.

“I was hoping to get some upgrades,” Fenris said, his voice a gravelly baritone.

Majors didn’t even bat an eye at being addressed by the AI… which made Mel wonder just how many Guard laws that the Mercenary Guild bent or outright broke out here at Blisken Station where people paid extra to keep their secrets.

“That’s entirely possible,” Majors said. “Now, just off-hand I’d say it looks like you’re equipped with Tango-Seventeen drive field emitters, which were top of the line back a hundred years ago, but we can probably either upgrade or entirely replace them with something like X-Ray-Elevens.

“They’re the same series of emitters so we wouldn’t need to replace any power conduits or do any hull redesign. It would keep your drive field depth and give you even better speed at strategic warp, you’d be a match for most current military craft.”

“You have a good eye,” Fenris said. “Most humans don’t realize how deep a drive field I have.”

Mel rolled her eyes at that. She wasn’t certain whether the ship or the engineer was trying harder to flatter the other… either way, she knew it was going to cost the group money as the two worked each other over for more options.

“Oh, yeah,” Majors said. “I could tell that from just a glance. What I’m really interested in, is whether you’re satisfied with those disruptor cannon; they’re Mark Thirteens out of the Preserve, right?”

Like other engineers she had met, Majors wore a headset with an eyepiece that scrolled information to him. Mel could see ghostly text flit across it too fast for her to read anything.

“Yes,” Fenris growled. “Truthfully, I don’t think they provide the full output that they had on their specifications.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’d heard,” Majors said. “I also heard that they’re subject to projector failure when they’re fired in rapid sequence.”

“You know, I thought that was just a malfunction in my secondary systems, but that would explain the drop in rate of fire,” Fenris said.

Mel shook her head; this was about to get very expensive. She jotted down new main armament, even before Majors answered.

“Well, we’ve actually got some of their Mark Twenty-Fives in stock, pulled them off… well, I can’t really say what I pulled them off,” he winked conspiratorially at Mel, “but I’ve got a full set of those, which should be as easy as a one-for-one swap. There’s still a healthy market for the Mark Thirteens, so it wouldn’t cost much beyond installation and a bit of overhead. The Mark Twenty-Fives will give you a significant boost in firepower.”

It was a long moment before Fenris spoke, “I’ve looked at the specifications for the Twenty-Fives, I like that idea. What do you think about my power systems?”

“Well,” Major said after a glance at his eyepiece, “I’d say that they’re pretty solid. Power output is limited, but we could probably boost it with some…”

 

 

Time: 1400 Zulu, 25 June 291 G.D.

Location: Bliskin Station, Hanet System

 

“This looks like it’s going to be expensive,” Marcus said as he looked over Mel’s notes from the day before. “New drive emitters, new main armament, upgrades to the power systems, new secondary armament, and some defense upgrade options as well…”

Fenris’ growl answered him, “I’m worth it.”

“We know you are,” Mel said, “It’s just that we don’t know how much money we’ll have to do all this yet.”

She didn’t miss Marcus’s derisive snort; he thought letting Bob arrange things was tantamount to setting them all up to be murdered for their money or turned in to the Guard for a bounty.

“I offered to launder the money,” Fenris growled. “For that matter, I think I could probably simply hack…”

Mel held up her hands, “We talked about that, Fenris; the one place someone is guaranteed to notice hacking is when you start messing with money. Even just moving it around, someone is bound to notice. If you take it from accounts, even inactive accounts, they’ll notice sooner.” The last thing they wanted was anyone realizing there was a rogue AI on the loose.

“Fine,” Fenris said, “but I’d like repairs to begin soon.”

“They will,” Mel said. She didn’t mention how the ship had spent the past century making do with what it could manage on its own. The AI seemed to have exhausted much of his patience when he realized his freedom. At least he still values human life, she thought.

“I’d like to test my new systems out against an appropriate target after repairs are complete,” Fenris growled. “Maybe a pirate?”

Mostly values human life, she corrected herself. It seemed that like most men, Fenris wanted to play with his shiny new toys, even before he had them. “I’m certain we’ll figure something out.”

She looked around, “Bob left already?” The spy would have to physically travel to the Chrysalis system to make contact with the criminals he wanted to use to launder money.

That, in turn, meant that they had to use some of the cash to pay for his travel, as well as the travel of whoever went later after he set things up. Someone would have to carry the data codes for the money transfer and they would definitely want some backup and an escort of some kind. Probably Brian and Marcus, maybe me as well, she thought.

“He and Lace left this morning,” Marcus said. “I figure we’ll head out once it’s all set up. You bring the codes, Brian and I will back you up.” He didn’t bother to hide his suspicion of the agent. In his opinion Bob was just as untrustworthy as anyone else.

“We get a total value, yet?” Mel asked.

“Total account value is seventy-seven million, five hundred and thirty-four thousand, nine hundred and eighty-two Guard dollars,” Fenris said. “Though the exact value varies dependent upon exchange rates for the accounts in the Harmony Protectorate.”

Mel gave a low whistle, “That is a lot of money.”

She wasn’t certain about the going rate in the Harmony Protectorate. She knew they were a semi-autonomous collection of four systems that operated with a modified colonial charter under the UN Security Council… but still technically part of Guard Space. She hadn’t dealt much with them, since they had ruinous trade tariffs for foreign vessels.

Plus, she thought, there’s been a lot of ships disappearing out that way and even Vagyr’s pirates can’t account for all of them. It wouldn’t surprise her to hear that someone in the Protectorate was sheltering pirates.

Marcus grimaced, “I’m sure it won’t be nearly as much after we launder it. Standard cut for something like this is upwards of thirty percent.”

“Thirty percent?!” Mel demanded. “That’s extortionate!”

Marcus grinned, “It’s stolen money, so… yeah, it is extortionate. The kind of people we’re dealing with won’t do this from the goodness of their hearts and it costs them a pretty penny to do what they do. They’ll have to funnel the money through a dozen worlds, exchange it for bearer bonds or cash in transit and then funnel it back along the way. This much money, spread across a dozen worlds and systems, it’s going to take a lot of time and work. Plus they’ll probably have to bribe a few customs agents and several senior bank executives to hide those transactions.”

Mel just shook her head, “Still, thirty percent…” She hadn’t thought herself that attached to the money, but to see a third of it disappear so easily left her reeling.

“We’ll get cash to pay for some of the repairs, maybe enough left over to work some cover identities for us all, probably not enough to get a solid ID for you and I, though.”

Mel nodded at that. It seemed to be something of a fixation for Marcus, yet she couldn’t blame him. Without a new, solid identity, they were ghosts in the system. They weren’t free to move about any world, to step aboard any civilized space station, really, to accomplish anything. “We’ll have to register Fenris, too,” she said, “and pay for a Guild Charter if that’s what we’re going to do.”

“If we’re going to stay in civilized space I guess it’s our best option,” Marcus said. She didn’t miss the disapproval in his voice though. He didn’t like that option and he hadn’t yet explained why.

She looked down at her list and the preliminary estimates. Given how their funds were about to shrink, she didn’t know if they would have the money. Certainly they wouldn’t have the money for everything. So where could they afford to cut corners?

It wasn’t a question she could answer. For now, she just hoped Marcus was wrong about the going rate for money launderers.

 

I like Big Books and I Cannot Lie…

really-big-bookThere’s an ongoing trend in SF and Fantasy (particularly in Fantasy genres) for books to get longer and for series to be longer.  Many authors like it that way, many readers like it that way… but why?  We can all harken back to the golden age of SF when many authors wrote stand-alone novels… or can we?  Asimov’s Foundation series began as a trilogy and eventually became not just seven novels, but also the spiritual sequels to his Robot and Empire series.  Heinlein often wrote stand-alone novels, but later on in his life he also tied them together, linking older books together through time travel and having old characters act as mentors to other characters.  Granted, there are and continue to be many authors who write stand-alone books, where the story arc follows just the one set of characters through one book.  But currently, this is becoming less the norm and more the exception.

In fact, as you look further back than the “Golden Age” you might notice something of a trend.  Jules Verne, Robert Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Doc EE Smith were some of the founders of Science Fiction as we know it.  They often wrote in serialized formats, either for magazines or pulp markets.   Why, you might ask?  Because that was the way to draw and keep an audience.  As stories go on, the readers become more and more attached to the characters and invested in the universe.  For an author, that is exactly where you want them to be.  Reading is an investment of time and money… and if the reader has already invested time and money into your characters and story, then they are more likely to continue, particularly when money is tight.

The same holds true today and in more forms of media than that of books and ebooks.  Movies are increasingly becoming either series or reboots, the former to build “bigger” story arcs and delve into characterization that you can’t accomplish in a mere ninety minutes.  The latter is a coldly calculated rationalization that name recognition and recycling ideas is a way to get people to put their butts in the theater seats.

Video games have become franchise sequels or like World of Warcraft or Eve Online, become longer, with ever more added content.  This is all a means to the same end: they know that the consumer has invested time and money into their products, they want to get a bit more of it to continue the draw.

Coming back to the original statement, why is this so prevalent in SF and Fantasy?  The easy answer is that readers want it.  They like seeing more of their familiar and loved (or hated, see Game of Thrones) characters.  The investment of learning a new author’s universe is paid back by the enjoyment of continuing adventures within that universe… as long as it doesn’t change too much.  Reading is an escape, a means of enjoyment, and we want that escape to continue as long as it can.  That is why we like series and broad, epic books.  Because once we’ve invested the time into that story, we don’t want it to end until we’re ready for it… and one book is seldom enough.

The Prodigal Emperor is Now Live!

The Prodigal Emperor, Book III of the Shadow Space Chronicles
The Prodigal Emperor, Book III of the Shadow Space Chronicles

The Prodigal Emperor is now available from Amazon and will be coming soon to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Itunes.  The Prodigal Emperor is the third book of the Shadow Space Chronicles and concludes the story arc of Lucius Giovanni’s battle to save Nova Roma from the Chxor Empire.

Baron Lucius Giovanni has done the impossible: not only has he held the alien Chxor at bay, he has taken the fight to them and liberated human worlds. Yet humanity’s implacable foe has drawn a line in the sand. They will hold Nova Roma at all costs… or see it a scorched ruin.

Lucius must aid Nova Roma’s Emperor and liberate his homeworld, but along the way he must also deal with old and new adversaries and with a conspiracy that seeks to usurp control of his fleet.

Nova Roma’s Emperor is going home, and Lucius will go beside him, for if he cannot overcome these obstacles, then humanity’s last hope will be overcome and the Chxor will enslave and exterminate the remaining free worlds.

Pick up your copy of The Prodigal Emperor today!

Wrath of the Usurper Audiobook Live

Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga
Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga

The audio book for Wrath of the Usurper is now live!  It is available on Itunes, Amazon, and Audible.com.  Links are below.  As with Echo of the High Kings, Eric G. Dove is the narrator.  He did a fantastic job once again and if audio books are your thing, then you should check it out!

Civilization is dying. The lands of the Five Duchies are in chaos. They are leaderless and each land stands alone. Besieged by barbarians, savages, fell beasts, and infighting, few doubt that the end times are upon them. Yet all is not lost. In the East, Lady Katarina Emberhill has begun an uprising against the Usurper and those who follow her carry relics from the time of the High Kings. In Boir, Lord Admiral Christoffer Tarken forges alliances and defends his lands. And in the Eastwood, powers that have been silent for eons are stirring and turning their eyes to the outside world. But the key is the Usurper Duke, a man drawn to savagery and battle. His victories in his personal war against the Armen have swelled the ranks of his army. Who will draw the wrath of the Usurper: will he turn it against his own rebellious people or levy his forces against the threats to all civilized men?

Wrath of the Usurper on Audible.com

Wrath of the Usurper on Amazon

Kal’s September 2015 Forecast

September is another busy month for me, though there seems to be a lot of that going around.  Today I’m at Dragon Con in Atlanta, I’ll be enjoying the sights as well as participating in the convention.  If you see me wandering about, feel free to stop me and talk.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about my writing or even just talk about Dragon Con.

For the rest of the month I’m finishing off the final edits for the sequel to Fenris Unchained, finishing the final chapters on the currently titled Valor’s Child, a young adult science fiction novel.  I like to think of it as a cross between Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, and I’m hoping people will enjoy reading it when it comes out.  This month, subscribers to my newsletter will get a sneak peak at it as well as Fenris Unchained’s sequel (Currently titled Odin’s Eye).  Sign up for the newsletter today to be a part of that!

Other than that, I’ve already finished outlining Fate of the Tyrant and as soon as I finish work on Valor’s Child, I’m going to get started on it.  I should be able to get a good section of that done by the end of the month, with a goal of having it published in December.

Don’t forget, I’m running deals this weekend for my ebooks.  The Fallen Race is only $2.99, Look to the Stars is free, and Echo of the High Kings is on a countdown deal, $0.99 today and steadily increasing in price for the rest of the weekend.

 

Wrath of the Usurper Available Now!

Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga
Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga

Wrath of the Usurper is now available on Amazon and will be available soon in paperback form.  If you’ve missed the snippets from it, they are here, here, and here.  The cover was made by the very talented Zoe Frasure.

Civilization is dying.

The lands of the Five Duchies are in chaos. They are leaderless and each land stands alone. Besieged by barbarians, savages, fell beasts, and infighting, few doubt that the end times are upon them.

Yet all is not lost. In the East, Lady Katarina Emberhill has begun an uprising against the Usurper and those who follow her carry relics from the time of the High Kings. In Boir, Lord Admiral Christoffer Tarken forges alliances and defends his lands. And in the Eastwood, powers that have been silent for eons are stirring and turning their eyes to the outside world.

But the key is the Usurper Duke, a man drawn to savagery and battle. His victories in his personal war against the Armen have swelled the ranks of his army. Who will draw the wrath of the Usurper: will he turn it against his own rebellious people or levy his forces against the threats to all civilized men?

You can buy it from Amazon now!

Wrath of the Usurper Full Book Wrap
Wrath of the Usurper Full Book Wrap

Wrath of the Usurper Snippet Three

Here’s the third scene from Wrath of the Usurper for your reading pleasure.  As a reminder, Wrath of the Usurper comes out tomorrow, May 30, 2015.  The first two snippets are available here and here.

Aerion Swordbreaker

The Eastwood

15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

Aerion ducked under a blow and brought his shield around to block another. Aerion’s face was drawn in concentration. His opponent struck again, faster than he had expected and far faster than he could react, and the blow caught him painfully in the left arm. His wooden practice blade spun out of his numb arm, his fingers unable to hold its weight.

Aerion took several steps back and held up a hand, “Alright, enough, I yield!”

“So quickly, then, Swordbreaker? You may one day find yourself fighting without a blade, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to practice that,” Simonel Greeneye said with a smile as he lowered his own practice weapon. The other man didn’t use a shield or another weapon in his off hand, instead he wielded the long blade ambidextrously and sometimes with two hands. Of course, his ‘practice blade’ was almost as ornate as his actual sword, what Aerion had heard called Mede Khmali. Simonel was tall for a Wold, a bit taller than Aerion’s own six feet of height, lean and muscular. His long, raven black hair normally hung free, though for their sparring session he had it braided, while his reddish bronze skin had a light sheen of sweat.

Aerion, on the other hand, was well aware that his blonde hair, pulled back into a tail for the sparring session, had come loose and was sodden with sweat. His skin and clothing were both drenched as well, and he caught a whiff of himself, a mix of rust and oil from his scale mail and sweat from exertion. The tall Wold was disgustingly capable, to the point that Aerion had come to judge his own success not on scoring hits, but upon lasting a few seconds longer in one of their sparring sessions.

It would have been disheartening, yet it seemed that the Wold King was just as effective against his own people, some of whom had not just decades or centuries but thousands of cycles of experience. As if to punctuate that thought, Aerion felt a hand clap his shoulder, and he turned to find another of the Wold. Ceratul smiled at him, “Well fought, young one. If nothing else, your persistence is admirable.”

Aerion flushed a bit, but he gave the other man a smile. Ceratul was the Wold’s Warmaster, their military commander, though, from what he had seen, Simonel took a large part of that authority himself. While Amelia, the other royal guest, had said that Ceratul seemed to dislike non-Wold in general and Starborn in particular, Aerion had found Ceratul to be nothing but friendly.

“Though if we doubted that, our first meeting would have proven your determination,” Ceratul said. Aerion shook his head at the reminder. The long, running fight that had led him to the Eastwood was almost a blur now. He was more amazed at his own survival than anything else, particularly after the fight in the ravine where he had faced a seemingly unending stream of Armen raiders and their Noric allies. Aerion had led them away from Lady Katarina and the rest of his friends, fully expectant that he would not survive, yet the Wold had appeared at the last minute, apparently drawn by the horn he had found in the ruined fortress of Southwatch.

Simonel seemed to notice his discomfort, “Ready to go again?”

Aerion bent to pick up his practice blade. It was new, made by one of the Wold craftsmen, and it was almost exactly the same weight, length and shape as the broken blade he had also found at Southwatch. When Simonel had first offered to spar and Aerion had declined with the excuse that he only had the weapons he carried. The next day, the Wold King had gifted him with the weighted wooden practice blade.

Aerion gave the other man a nod, still somewhat uneasy at the free ways of the Wold. They seemed to hold Simonel with great respect, but their informality still caught him off guard at times. Aerion settled into a defensive stance and waited, his feet set and his weight centered. Simonel gave him a slight smile, “You’ll never win if you fight entirely on the defense, Swordbreaker.”

Aerion felt his face flush at the title. He had told Amelia about the label given to him by his friends, for his knack of breaking every sword he’d ever taken into combat. The only exception was the broken blade he’d retrieved at Southwatch. Since that’s crafted out of star metal and already broken, Aerion thought dryly, that isn’t saying much. Still he hadn’t expected the Boir noblewoman to take such glee in spreading the story.

Yet the amusement that the Wold showed when they used the title was tempered with something like respect, Aerion knew, which embarrassed him all the more. I’m a low-born, commoner, from a remote village, who will never know his father’s name, Aerion thought, somewhat bitterly. He knew he had accomplished much, but he also felt uncertain about the praise, almost as if he took credit for the deeds of someone else.

Simonel gave a war cry and came in. His long practice blade flashed in a sharp, downward arc. Aerion caught the strike with his shield, confident that his own strength could match that of the Wold King. Despite the fact that they were nearly even in height, Aerion had a heavier frame, with muscle gained from cycles of working the forge as a boy and months of combat and training. Simonel backed a bit, “I forget how strong you are, sometimes, Aerion.”

Aerion smiled in return, “Best to play to my strengths.”

“Indeed,” Simonel said with a smile of his own. A moment later, without changing expression, he leapt forward into a lunge. Aerion managed to deflect it with his shield, but Simonel spun into a series of attacks, mixing fast slashes, lunges and blows from his feet and hands that forced Aerion to parry and block more and more desperately, until finally, the Wold King swept Aerion’s feet out from under him to drop Aerion on his back.

Aerion grunted as he forced his lungs to draw breath, “Well fought.”

Simonel offered him a hand and pulled Aerion to his feet. “Well fought, yourself, you’re improving, Aerion.” His voice was warm and reassuring, but Aerion didn’t miss an edge of something else there, almost concern, though he couldn’t guess why.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Aerion said with a snort. “I certainly can’t match your speed and skill.”

“I’m only human, Aerion Swordbreaker,” Simonel said with a frown, “And don’t underestimate your skills, I think you’ve a natural talent, and once you reach your full growth, by Amuz Nebeli, you’ll really be a monster to face.”

“Thanks,” Aerion said, “Though I think I’m done sparring for the day.” Aerion was only eight cycles of age, he knew, but he still towered over many older men and many of the Wold.

“Giving up so soon?” A light voice asked from behind him. Aerion turned to find Lady Amelia Tarken. “I thought the indomitable Swordbreaker would last longer.”

Aerion gave her a quick bow, “Thank you, Lady, but I’m afraid that King Simonel has the advantage.” While she had been friendly and seemed to adopt much of the Wold informality, she was still a Starborn noblewoman and part of Aerion rejected any notion of treating her as anything else. In the outside world, no one would care how he might interact with the Wold, who were almost mythical due to their isolation. However, a low-born commoner showing familiarity to a noblewoman was likely to have very bad things happen as a consequence. While he was unlikely to encounter Lady Amelia in the greater world, she wasn’t the one he was really worried about, he could privately admit.

And it’s a good practice to maintain here, he thought, to better prepare myself for when I rejoin Lady Katarina. Even at that thought he felt his heart ache a bit. He had known all along that he should never dream of friendship, much less the attraction he felt for the exiled heir to the Duchy of Masov. Still, her words at Southwatch had hurt, especially the acknowledgment that she felt that same attraction… and that they could never give into it.

Amelia’s companion cleared her throat and Aerion started a bit, realizing that he had paused longer than was socially acceptable. “Princess Tirianis,” Aerion nodded respectfully.

King Simonel’s sister gave him a wicked smile in return, “So formal, still, young Swordbreaker? We’ll have to break you of that, else the outside world will come to doubt our savage ways and decadent natures.” She was almost as tall as her brother, with the same raven black hair and bright leaf-green eyes, though her skin was a red-gold color somehow softer than Simonel’s. Instead of Simonel’s leather sparring armor, she wore a green dress that clung to her figure in a fashion that would have made him blush and stammer only a few weeks earlier.

Aerion flushed a bit, suddenly reminded of the bathing area where men and women gathered irrespective of sex. It had been an enlightening experience upon his first visit. Combined with the variety of behavior and the odd ways they had tried to make him feel welcome, he could only shake his head and smile, “Don’t worry, Princess Tirianis, I’m sure they won’t believe my tales anyway.”

***

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Civilization is dying.

The lands of the Five Duchies are in chaos. They are leaderless and each land stands alone. Besieged by barbarians, savages, fell beasts, and infighting, few doubt that the end times are upon them.

Yet all is not lost. In the East, Lady Katarina Emberhill has begun an uprising against the Usurper and those who follow her carry relics from the time of the High Kings. In Boir, Lord Admiral Christoffer Tarken forges alliances and defends his lands. And in the Eastwood, powers that have been silent for eons are stirring and turning their eyes to the outside world.

But the key is the Usurper Duke, a man drawn to savagery and battle. His victories in his personal war against the Armen have swelled the ranks of his army. Who will draw the wrath of the Usurper: will he turn it against his own rebellious people or levy his forces against the threats to all civilized men?

Once again, Wrath of the Usurper will be available tomorrow, 30 May, 2015.

Review: Phoenix In Shadow

Phoenix in ShadowPhoenix in Shadow is the sequel to Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising. The first book introduced the main characters and gave the reader some idea of the level of threat (as well as capabilities) of the heroes and some of the antagonists. What Phoenix in Shadow did was blow all this up. The villains are shown to be that much more powerful, the threats the world faces are all the more terrible, and the heroes have to step up their game or face the consequences.

The great part about this is that we see the consequences of the heroes actions magnified. The not so great thing is that the tension is ratcheted up to the point that it becomes a little too intense at times.

Again, Ryk Spoor delivers what he’s great at. We have heroes whose actions matter and who stand up to defend those in need. More than that, we see opportunities for redemption for those who struggle against the evil within themselves. The villains are powerful, sometimes incredibly so, but they are still motivated by real emotions and motives.

Power and the effect it has upon those who possess it is a strong theme in both the book and the series. The difference between the good and bad people in these books is not only how they use the power they have, but also how they go about obtaining more… or even if they dare to do so.

My one complaint would be that some of the action sequences towards the end felt a bit… anime-esque. I enjoyed them, but at times I couldn’t help but feel the action was too big, the energy dealt with was too much.

I really enjoyed Phoenix Rising and as a sequel, Phoenix in Shadow had large boots to fill. It did that, and more, it brought a level of adulthood to the characters that they didn’t have before. They were faced with evil darker than they had before seen and they grew as a result.

Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix in Shadow

SEQUEL TO PHOENIX RISING

When Kyri Vantage, Phoenix Justiciar of Myrionar, with the help of her companions Tobimar Silverun of Skysand and the unexpectedly dangerous little Toad, Poplock Duckweed, defeated monstrous killer Thornfalcon and unmasked a conspiracy of treacherous False Justiciars, she knew the job was only partly done. A dark power stirs on the far side of the terrifying Rivendream Pass. Now, as the world shudders at the arrival of the Black City, of the King of All Hells, Kyri, Tobimar, and Poplock must venture beyond Rivendream Pass and into Moonshade Hollowa place from which none have ever returned. What they find there will challenge everything they believe in and conceals a menace they cannot imagine.

Wrath of the Usurper Snippet Two

Here’s the next section of Wrath of the Usurper.  We get a glimpse of Kerrel Flamehair and where she is headed:

Commander Kerrel Flamehair

City of Longhaven, Duchy of Masov

15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

Commander Kerrel Flamehair led Nightwhisper slowly down the ramp and onto the solid stone pier. Though the war horse did so with slow, calm steps, Kerrel didn’t miss the chuff of relief from her stallion as all four of his hooves stood again on dry, stable land.

She gave a snort and patted the stallion on one broad shoulder, “You’re getting worried in your old age, Nightwhisper? Maybe I should trade you out for a younger, braver horse that’s not afraid of a little water or too feeble to swim if the ship goes down?”

The stallion turned his head and bared his teeth at her and Kerrel laughed and patted his shoulder, “Okay, maybe you’re not that old and feeble.”

“He’s not the only one to be glad to be ashore,” Baran’s gruff voice spoke from behind her. “And begging our newly promoted Commander’s pardon, but if she’d be gracious enough to move her younger backside out of the way there’s others that would like to be getting on with the gratitude of being ashore.”

Kerrel rolled her eyes at that and led Nightwhisper out of the way while her second in command led his own horse down off the transport ship. Kerrel gave him a stern expression as he came down the ramp, followed by Jonal and his horse. “It’s a good thing I’m such a calm and patient sort, Baran. If I had any kind of temper then such language might draw penalties, especially were I given to letting my new promotion go to my head.” She tossed her head and her red hair swung over her shoulder. Normally she kept it tied back, but it had come loose during the unloading.

“Yes,” Jonal said gravely. “A very detached and calm individual our fearless leader, never one to hold a grudge or get emotional.”

Kerrel leveled a green-eyed gaze on the shorter, red-haired man, “You should be glad for that temper of mine, cousin, else you might still be spending your days a prisoner to the Vendakar… or worse!”

Baran grunted, “She’s got a point, lad.”

“She might,” Jonal admitted after a moment.

“Captain, uh, that is, Commander,” a voice spoke from nearby. Kerrel recognized one of the new recruits by his accent, the Duchy of Asador burr still harsh and strong and not yet worn down from dealing with men of the other Duchies. “Sergeant Lamar asked me to take care of your horses, said that you probably need to get to see him about some of the logistics.”

Kerrel grimaced. She had enjoyed a bit of respite from Lamar while operating under Lord Hector’s Northern Army. They had an entire logistics company to deal with paperwork and the actual movement of supplies and equipment. Sergeant Lamar knew his job and knew it well… but he had a tendency to take an unholy joy in drowning her and Baran in paperwork, all of it vital, but still dreary.

“I guess I should let her Commander-ship get to her duties then,” Baran said gravely.

“Begging your respects, sir,” the new trooper said, “but Sergeant Lamar specifically said that he wanted you and young master Jonal to come as well.”

Kerrel laughed at Baran’s grimace. The old soldier hated such meetings. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t understand their importance. “Very well,” Kerrel said, laughter still light on her voice, “we will all meet with him, where has he set up?”

“He’s set up a temporary headquarters for you, Commander, at the Black Oar Inn,” the younger man said. “He said he’s warm food since you’ll have had nothing but ship food over the past few days.”

“True enough,” Baran grunted. “And old grumble-belly always finds the best food in town.”

“Thank you, trooper…” Kerrel paused and cocked her head, “are you one of Stanis’s boys?”

The younger man’s eyes went wide with surprise, “Yes, milady, uh, that is Commander. I’m Jurgan, his second son.”

“Glad to see you here, Jurgan, and mind the dark one. Nightwhisper has a wicked temper and likes to bite,” Kerrel said. She heard her horse chuff in disappointment behind her, but she ignored that. Her regular troops knew the horse’s ways, but someone like Jurgan would need the warning. She passed over the reigns and waved for Baran and Jonal to join her. A glance around the docks showed that the bustling port had taken no more notice of them. The traffic of mercenaries into the Duchy of Masov, called by the Usurper Duke’s offers of coin had become common here. Southern mercenaries took the bridge across the Ryft at the Ryftguard, but most mercenaries from Boir and Asador came in through the ports, and Longshaven was the largest port in the Duchy of Masov.

“You know the way?” Baran asked.

“I do,” Jonal said quickly. He flushed as Kerrel raised an eyebrow at him. “They, uh, have the best vintages in town.”

“Do tell,” Kerrel said.

He shrugged self-consciously, “They don’t serve any Vendakar wines, trust me.”

“Oh, I’ll trust you on that, all right,” Baran grunted. The Vendakar who had kidnapped Jonal and then framed him for the assassination attempt against Duke Hector had used drugged Vendakar wine, Kerrel remembered. That they had used his own enjoyment of fine food and drink against him had embarrassed him. That they had killed off the patrol he was supposed to ride with and then nearly killed Kerrel herself in the assassination attempt clearly still left him angry.

Not that anything of Vendakar make was in high demand anywhere in the Duchy of Masov, just now. When the full measure of their treachery had come to light, they had switched sides mid battle, it had taken five companies of heavy cavalry, led by Kerrel herself to bring back the tide of victory. If their treachery had succeeded, they and the Armen they had sided with would have wiped out the Usurper Duke’s Northern Army. The Armen raiders that Duke Hector fought would have come south and raided the rest of the Duchy and presumably the traitorous Vendakar mercenaries would have taken their own measure of loot and slaves.

As unpopular as the Usurper Duke might be, particularly in the south, no one had any complaints about his victory. Indeed, when word had gone out that it was open season on Vendakar merchants and mercenaries tied to the Houses who had plotted that betrayal, the popular reaction had been extremely violent. Since the Vendakar slavers had something of a reputation and there wasn’t a single Vendakar merchant who didn’t deal in slaves on the side… well, there were a lot of dead Vendakar within a few weeks of Duke Hector’s proclamation.

And anyone who had dealings with them is keeping low, she thought, even going as far as to destroy any of their goods they have rather than try to sell them. Which would probably lead to some economic issues as the trade dried up, she knew. The only people who did more trade than the Vendakar were the people of Boir, but relations with the Grand Duchy of Boir were tense. That tends to happen when you take power by killing off your uncle and his entire family, Kerrel thought sourly. She had seen much of Hector’s ruthlessness, but it still shocked her to think of just how willing he was to kill if he saw it as the best course of action. She knew the murder of his relatives weighed upon him, but he seemed to view it as his only course of action. Just as he views sending me south to make peace as his only option, she thought.

“I still don’t know why the hole company is headed south,” Baran grumbled. “Be a right pain to move us all, especially with all the new people, and still get them trained and properly integrated. Waste of good troops, too.”

Jonal looked over his shoulder, “I don’t expect much fighting to be had up north, not until the raiders return next spring. I mean, we destroyed the entire Armen army there on the Lonely Isle, there shouldn’t be anyone else to fight, right?”

“Might seem that way,” Kerrel said softly, “but that’s only looking at our battle in isolation.”

Baran grunted and spat to the side, “Damned Armen raided the Grand Duchy of Boir, sacked Port Riss, besieged Boirton, and, if the rumors are true, killed their Grand Duke and half their nobility. The raiders who went south will need to return home and the Lonely Isle has long been their staging area. They’ll be coming through by the thousands.”

Kerrel nodded, “Plus there were enough surviving Armen to defend their raid camps. Lord Hector will have to attack each of them, one by one, in order to burn them out. Meanwhile, the raiders coming home will be rich with loot and slaves and eager to protect it all and prove what great warriors they are.”

“Lots of skirmishing and fighting,” Baran nodded. “Lots of bastards need killing.”

Jonal led the way in silence for a bit. His voice was thoughtful when he spoke, “So then, why are we headed south? Lord Hector can’t have unlimited pocketbooks, he’s already leveraging heavy taxes on Masov, and he’s paying for our company to grow… shouldn’t he need us up North?”

Kerrel nodded in approval, though more for the thought he put into it and the economic implications he saw than in agreement of his final outcome. “Those taxes of his… and the way he took power, those caused him some issues in the South.” She sighed. Really, talking this over in the street was hardly the ideal location. While most people in Longhaven had their heads on business rather than listening in, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that there were spies abroad. She was certain there would be some who would pay to hear what Lord Hector’s recently promoted Commander of Cavalry and Ducal Investigator had to say about it all…and what she did have to say could be damaging.

Yet at the same time, what she had to say was no more than what most people already knew. “The southern nobility are angry over his treatment of them, they don’t like how he’s appointed men like Covle Darkbit to watch them.” Not that I blame them for that, she thought darkly, Darkbit is a bastard of the worst sort, “They also don’t like how Hector has taken away a lot of their autonomy.”

“Commoners are worse, though,” Baran grunted.

“Yes,” Kerrel nodded. “He’s hitting them the hardest with his new taxes, then setting men like Darkbit and Grel to collect those taxes. The taxes fund his campaign against the Armen raiders, but they are turning the general population against Hector in the process.”

Jonal pondered that and Kerrel hoped he would see the lesson and learn from it. The single-minded determination of Duke Hector the Usurper was admirable, in some ways. He certainly had spared his lands from the savage violence that had descended upon Boir, but he had brought a different kind of savagery to Masov, one where the people no longer trusted in their protectors, one where families on the ragged edge had to start thinking about survival come the long winter ahead. And if anyone understands how brutal winter can be, it’s the Duchy of Masov, she thought. The coastal Duchy often had the heaviest snowfall of all the Five Duchies during the long months of winter, with the southern highlands receiving forty or more feet of snow. Some places, she had heard, had up to eight months of snow-fall.

They came at last to the Black Oar Inn. The cheery sound of laughter and the warm glow of light from its windows “So what can we do?” Jonal asked, his voice uncertain.

“What we must, to keep the peace,” Kerrel said softly. She thought, suddenly of Lord Hector’s private discussion with her, before her departure. He asked me to be his assassin, she thought, knowing full well what it would cost me. She wasn’t sure she could do that, but she knew full well the stakes. Civil war loomed, with the dead Duke’s daughter backed by the southern nobility and the commoners and Hector backed by the northern merchants and tradesmen. That kind of war would leave the Duchy of Masov shattered, much like her own home of Asador. Could she kill an innocent woman to preven that? Even if I do kill Hector’s cousin Katarina, Kerrel wondered, would it do any good?

***

Wrath of the Usurper will be available on 30 May 2015