Monday, November 30, 2015

(Guest) Fantasy Review: The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey

The Untold Tale, the first book in the Accidental Turn Series by J.M. Frey, is an altogether lovely deconstruction of epic fantasy, portal fantasy, and traditional romantic fantasy - and one that is delightfully entirely self-aware. While other reviewers have labeled it as feminist fantasy, I think that is a mistake. Such a view is simply too . . . well, simple (for lack of a better word). Yes, there are feminist elements within that deconstruction, but they are only a part of the story.

This is such a fun tale, and one that delights in twisting tropes and stomping all over stereotypes. Our hero, young Forsyth, is the traditionally younger, weaker, plainer, stuttering, less heroic brother. An oft-neglected noble and secret spy, he lives in the constant shadow of his stereotypically heroic (and barbarian-bimbo) brother. Really, it is Kintyre who would traditionally be the hero - he is, after all, who the women swoon over - and Forsyth expects his story to be usurped at any time by the warrior, but denying that literary rebellion is the whole point.

Our window into this world is a young woman named Pip, and that is where things get really interesting, She is a Reader from outside the story who made her way into the novel and survived brutal torture to arrive at Forsyth's side. She is a fan of the The Tales of Kintyre Turn, and is constantly surprised at how little she knows about Forsythe - since, of course, he has never been the main character. The whole world-building mythology here of a civilization that exists in literary terms is just marvelous. Frey has a lot of fun with that portal aspect, and even has Pip drop other literary references throughout the novel that only we, as Readers ourselves, have any chance of recognizing. At the same time, she presents us with a medieval fantasy world that is very real - as full of poverty and disease as it is magic and heroism.

Despite the fun, playful elements, and in start contrast to the clever rewriting of fantasy tropes and stereotypes, this is often a very dark story. Do not let the oddity of it fool you. Yes, it is often laugh-out-loud funny, but it is just as often cringe-and-shudder horrifying. Frey demonstrates a true passion for the genre, as well as a deep understanding of what comprises it. The Untold Tale is odd. It can often be unsettling. Once in a while it is even absurd. Yet, it can never be accused of being over-the-top, is never boring, and manages to delight as both an entertaining read and a clever skewering of the genre.

guest reviewed by Sally


About the Author

J.M. Frey is a voice actor, SF/F author, professionally trained music theatre performer, not-so-trained but nonetheless enthusiastic screenwriter and webseries-ist, and a fanthropologist and pop culture scholar. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, radio programs, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. J.M. lives near Toronto, loves tea, scarves and Doctor Who (all of which may or may not be related) and her epic dream is to one day sing a duet with John Barrowman.

Her debut novel Triptych was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, nominated for the CBC Bookie Award, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011, was on The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011 list, received an honorable mention at the London Book Festival in Science Fiction, and won the San Francisco Book Festival for Science Fiction.

www.jmfrey.net | @scifrey


About the Series

An epic fantasy meta-narrative about megafan Pip, who wakes up in the novel series that she’s loved since being a teenager. However, the world is darker, and far more dangerous than she could have ever predicted, especially as the hero is a bigger misogynistic ass than she knew. The Accidental Trilogy chronicles the adventures of Pip in a world whose tropes, clichés, pitfalls and loopholes she can predict and circumnavigate, and what happens when she pulls the characters outside of the comfort of the fantasy world for which they were written.

Master Forsyth Turn isn't a hero. He's never wanted to be one, either; not since his older brother Kintyre found the enchanted sword Foesmiter and waltzed away from his family, his estate, and his responsibilities to become one – and dumped all of his responsibilities on Forsyth.

And then, raiding the castle of a wanted criminal, Forsyth's men rescue Lucy Piper. A bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Lucy Piper claims to know things about Kintyre and Forsyth's lives that she can't possibly be privy to. She crashes into Forsyth's quaintly sedentary life like an errant comet and before he knows it, she has him convinced that he is the only man who can join her on her quest to find a magical gateway back to her far-away home. She drags Forsyth into the kind of adventure that only his brother could have imagined, testing his mettle and forcing Forsyth to confront his own self-shame and the demons, and the bullying that had characterized his childhood. But the Viceroy, Kintyre’s arch-nemesis, is after Lucy Piper and her magical gateway as well. And the truth of why threatens the stability of the whole Kingdom... Perhaps even their whole world.

Lucy Piper might be able to convince Forsyth that he can be a hero, but is it really his fate to defeat the one villain that even the great Kintyre Turn has never managed to best?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

Fantasy Giveaway of Opprobrium by Wade Lewellyn-Hughes

There's still time to enter Wade's giveaway, so if you want to get your hands on a signed copy, check out the post above.


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston
The beginning of an epic historical fantasy that rocks the foundations of the ancient world, revealing the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commencing a war greater than any mere mortal battle. 


Boston Lust by Wol-vriey 
From the creator of Boston Posh and Boston Corpse comes Boston Lust, the third installment in the BUD MALONE bizarro detective series! Bud Malone has to find the female vampire preying on Boston's lesbian population. 


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

It's been a busy week at the office, with more than a few late nights, but I've still managed to devour about 80% of Chains of the Heretic: Bloodsounder's Arc Book Three by Jeff Salyards and I can tell you February is going to be a great month for fantasy fans. Obviously, I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say this. Deserters are awesome.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fantasy Giveaway: Opprobrium by Wade Lewellyn-Hughes

Opprobrium (The Lamentation's End Series Book 1)
by Wade Lewellyn-Hughes

On the island of Merith, the Hansweighn holiday will begin at sundown. The people will feast in honor of the Chancellor’s victory over the magical races of Shallyghal. Unbeknownst to all, this Hansweighn brings a surprise: a vile peril has breached Merith’s Great Barrier and will soon enjoy its own dark feast.

As the sun nears the horizon, adult cadets enter a test designed to remove the less devout prior to ascension into the Chancellor’s Army. Cord Sullivan worries it will reveal his curse, the magic hiding in his bones, a trait worthy of a fiery execution.

Meanwhile, Rorry te Gwirion, a young noblewoman, plans to use the distractions of the holiday to escape Merith and a blackmail-enforced engagement. Only on the continent can she find her sister, whom her father sold into slavery. She and Kylan Nock, a young man interested in the wilder pursuits the seas have to offer—and perhaps a handsome dockhand or two, hope to convince their friend Scarlett Hywel to come along. Scarlett’s innate magic might unlock the secrets of Shallyghal, easing their flight to the continent.

As demonic invaders and their cursed wolfkin rip across the heart of Merith and through its people, the young ones will need help to survive. But, who can they trust? A band of foreign mercenaries comprised of a flirt, a half-ogre cook, two Ukrestian monks, and a peculiar sorcerer? Or their mysterious prisoner?

Discovering secrets of elves, dwarves, satyrs, and piks in the shadows, they learn why it is imperative to the entire world of Cyr that they reach the continent.



As part of his holiday push to get Opprobrium into as many hands as possible before the end of the year, Wade has generously offered three (3) lucky winners a copy of the book in their choice of formats:

Signed hardcover (USA / Canada / UK only)
Signed paperback (USA / Canada / UK only)
Mobi format e-book (Worldwide)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Born and raised in Arkansas, Wade Lewellyn-Hughes has always been a fan of “geeky” things. He collects action figures, binge plays video games, and watches new and old cartoons. In elementary school, he wrote his first "book" and never really stopped dreaming up new stories to tell. During his attendance at the University of Central Arkansas, he put some of the characters and ideas out there, but never took any serious steps toward publication because writing was not considered a viable career option. After graduating with his Bachelor's Degree, he moved to Seattle, Washington, and finally realized writing is his passion, financially responsible career options be damned.

Using some of the characters in that tale from college, he began writing OPPROBRIUM, a fantasy adventure of friendship and discovery. With the full story laid out in his mind, Wade has committed to following the adventures of the characters from OPPROBRIUM through a series called the Lamentation's End. This will include seven novels and a series of novellas along the way that will detail backstories of secondary characters.

Currently, he is writing one of those novellas, working his day job, and unpacking from his recent move from Los Angeles to Montana with his husband.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

#SPFBO Review of Bloodrush by Ben Galley

#SPFBO Review of  A Soul For Trouble by Crista McHugh

#SPFBO Review of Under a Colder Sun by Greg James

Thriller Review of The Mercenary's Bounty by CJ Davis

Fantasy Review of Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday

Fantasy Review of The King’s Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

Dragon Hunters: The Chronicles of the Exile, Book Two by Marc Turner
Once a year the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea, to be hunted by the Storm Lords, but one of their own has ordered the gate to be sabotaged, while assassins target the Storm Lord dynasty. 

The Sexorcism of Amber Holloway by Caspar Vega
An old school pulp romp provided you've never been to an old school. A crass adventure story your grandfather would enjoy if your grandfather was a thirsty anorexic sex wizard.


Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
I came across a discussion thread the other day talking about fantasy novels that had an Indiana Jones flair. Most I had already read, but this is a new series I'm excited to jump into.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Okay, I have been patient long enough. I've caught up on my release date reviews. I'm on a good pace for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I'm finally free to indulge myself, to pick up the beautifully thick ARC that has been starting me in the face, and ready to crack the spine on Chains of the Heretic: Bloodsounder's Arc Book Three by Jeff Salyards.

The cover blurb promises that "What Braylar What Braylar, Soffjian, Arki, and the Jackals discover beyond the Godveil will shake an empire, reshape a map, and irrevocably alter the course of history," and I like the sounds of that!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 20, 2015

#SPFBO Review: Bloodrush - A Soul For Trouble - Under a Colder Sun

For the first time in months I am caught up on my release date reviews, with not a lot of new fiction on the calendar for Nov/Dec, so I've started diving into the finalists of Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. While I had only planned to tackle a pair of titles for the month, one was rather short, and the other was a quick read, so I decided to slip in a third.

As much as I don't like assigning a number or a star value to a read, it's the only fair way for 10 of us to objectively compare the finalists. So, with that said, my trio of reviews . . . in ascending order . . . are as follows:

As much as I liked the setting of Bloodrush, with a faerie-infused old west frontier, I have a really hard time finding anything new or engaging in coming-of-age tales. To Ben Galley's credit, there's enough violence, gore, and profanity here to counter the YA feel, but we're still talking about a story that's centered around a moody, obnoxious 13-year old kid who is just as often wise-beyond-his-years as he is suitably-foolish.

Tonmerion (Merion) Hark is the son of the murdered Prime Lord Hark, forced west across the Iron Ocean to the very brink of civilization in Fell Falls, Wyoming. Far from home and denied the luxuries of a life of prestige, he's also far from friends and family - with a 12-inch faerie named Rhin as his only company.

What we have here is an imaginative alternate history novel wrapped in the trappings of both the western and fantasy genres. Galley makes good use of that genre clash, inventing a system of blood magic that's rather intense, and offering us monsters like the railwraiths. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to overcome the weaknesses of Merion as a protagonist. In addition, the narrative was often awkward and uneven, with an annoying habit of changing POVs within a scene.

Paperback, First, 480 pages
Published December 16th 2014 by BenGalley.com

Given that it's more a romance novel with fantasy elements than a fantasy novel with romantic elements, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed A Soul For Trouble. This was a very quick read for me, and one that I found to be a lot of fun. Crista McHugh has a comfortable sense of narrative style, a good grasp on her characters, and a flair for witty dialogue. It's not a laugh-out-loud type of story, but one that I found myself smiling over on a regular basis.

Arden (Trouble) Lesstymine is not just the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed soil in town, but she's also a witch. As a result, she's used to getting more than her fair share of attention, but nothing could prepare her for becoming the next vessel of Loku, disembodied god of chaos. On the one hand, she gets to wield his god-like power but, on the other hand, she's slowly losing her mind. Of course, it doesn't help that she has suddenly acquired a Knight of Gravaria as her sworn protector, become the sworn enemy of a dangerous necromancer, and found herself the object of a Prince's obsession.

As much as the love triangle between Trouble, Dev, and Kell drives much of the action, I liked all three characters enough to roll with it, and the insanity angle, with Loku's insanely funny (and brutally inappropriate) running commentary pulls it altogether. There's a lot of cheesy romance and overt sexism to the tale, but it's all clever and self-aware, not quite satire but clearly deliberate. It's a fast-paced tale, and one that I breezed through in just a few nights. Sure, it could have used a few more action sequences, and I would have like more in the way of mythology or world-building, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Kindle Edition, 343 pages
Published April 2nd 2012 by Crista McHugh

Take a very grimdark sort of tale, put an uncomfortably dark anti-hero at the forefront, and you have the basic recipe for Under a Colder Sun. I've read a lot of fantasy, and I do tend to enjoy the darker side of the fantasy genre, but even I was a bit shocked at what Greg James pulled off here.

Khale the Wanderer is a man who would be the villain in any other tale. He's "a reaver with a demon’s soul" who is equal parts warrior and bandit . . . a rapist and a murderer. He is an ugly sort of fellow, deeply flawed, and amoral - a man who willingly does evil, but does so for the right reasons. Princess Milanda, the young woman he's charged with escorting across the land, is your typical sheltered innocent, but she grows and evolves (rather sadly, it must be said) as the story moves along. Her protector, Leste, is an unusual sort of woman, a trusted guard who possesses far more luck than skill.

There were a lot of dreams and memories here that tugged at the overall pace, but James is a strong enough author to carry the read through those soft spots. I was concerned with how the novel might progress, once the novelty wore off, but this was a solid sword and sorcery story, set in the grimdark mold. It could have used a bit more world-building, but I loved what we were told about the magic and the mythology. Similarly, the characters could have used a bit more depth, with a few lighter aspects to balance out the tale, but they fit the world.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending, and I kind of like that. It was suitably over-the-top, but this is one of those stories that just leaps into the climax without warning. In addition, it's a story that relies on a huge twist/reveal to justify that climax, but even if I didn't see it coming, it made sense in hindsight.

Kindle Edition, 215 pages
Published August 28th 2014 by Manderghast Press

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thriller Review: The Mercenary's Bounty by CJ Davis

Take a dash of Indiana Jones, give him Jack Bauer's violent sense of bravado, add a little Jack T. Colton romance, and polish it off with some Michael Crichton style science, and you've got The Mercenary's Bounty by CJ Davis.

This is an old fashioned adventure serial translated to the page, full of exotic dangers and cliffhanger escapes. A scientific expedition, sent to retrieve a rare plant that may have the power to cure cancer, has gone missing in the deepest jungles of Papua New Guinea. Chase Dumbar has been hired to find any survivors and bring back the plant, while Samson Treveski has been hired to simply retrieve the plant. The two men have a shared history, which drives much of the tension in the tale, while the looming eruption of the jungle volcano creates a sense of urgency.

Fun, violent, and fast-paced, the story careens along with barely a moment to think about where we're going. There's time for romance for both men, however, and even a little tugging at the heartstrings with a father dying of cancer. Plane crashes, gun play, knife fights, cannibals, and crocodiles are just part of what we encounter along the way. All told, Mercenary's Bounty is a fun diversion that definitely delivers on its promise.

ebook, 149 pages
Published July 18th 2015 by Arjean Publishing

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fantasy Review: Dragonborn by Maeghan Friday

Every great fairy tale has layers of meaning behind it. Beneath all of the magic and the mystery is a message, designed to teach the reader a valuable lesson about morality. While fairy tales often work best when that message is subtle, there's something to be said for wearing your heart on your sleeve and proclaiming it proudly from the rooftops.

With Dragonborn, Maeghan Friday definitely takes the latter approach, but she so slowly and carefully weaves those multiple layers into the story that it works. By the time you realize there's more than one message to be proclaimed, you're already enthralled by the world she's created, and completely invested in Ben and Cecily's plight.

Ben and Cecily are two souls trapped in a body that shape-shifts between male and female each sunset. Since they were born in male form, only Ben is accepted by their parents, who see Cecily as an intruder to be discarded. While their unique bond would likely be celebrated elsewhere in the world, Aethier is a small-minded, isolationist kingdom that rejects the social progress of the rest of the world.

At its heart, this is a fairy tale about love and acceptance. In addition to Ben and Cecily's interesting gender situation, their best friend is more traditionally transgender, while one of the tutors brought in to end their 'curse' is gender-fluid. Additionally, Cecily's bodyguard is a young woman with romantic feelings for her charge, while Ben himself develops romantic feelings for the both their gender fluid tutor and jeir male partner. On top of that, the young Princess brought in by the King and Queen to marry Ben and free him from the dragon's promise is an asexual young woman who is keen to bond with everyone in a romantic polyamorous fashion. It does get a bit confusing - and altogether comical at time - but it's all in the spirit of pursuing a happily-ever-after.

For a story that certainly didn't develop the way I anticipated, and which introduced far more layers than initially seemed wise, this was an altogether enjoyable fantasy that's entirely reminiscent of Mercedes Lackey or Robin McKinley. It's fast-paced, with strong characters, and well-written dialogue. The romantic elements work very well, and the looming sense of fairy tale tragedy drives the suspense effectively. So long as you're not rooting for the King and Queen, and can at least accept the right to a happily-ever-after, Dragonborn is a comfortable little fantasy that's well worth the read.

Kindle Edition, 174 page
Expected publication: November 18th 2015 by Less Than Three Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fantasy Review: The King’s Justice by Stephen R. Donaldson

This review originally appeared on The Speculative Herald.

Stephen R. Donaldson is an author who (for better or worse, depending on how you feel about its deliberately unlikable protagonist) is largely identified by his three Thomas Covenant trilogies. It’s such a massive epic, and such a defining force in the fantasy genre, that it’s easy to forget he’s also written a pair of lighter portal fantasies (Mordant’s Need), an even darker science fiction saga (The Gap Cycle), a contemporary mystery series (The Man Who), and multiple short stories and novellas.

The King’s Justice is his latest collection, pairing two wildly different novellas in a surprisingly slender volume. Together, they make for an interesting read, showcasing two sides of his narrative talent.

First up we have the title story, The King’s Justice, which actually has something of an Old West feel to its flavor of traditional fantasy. Here we encounter a mysterious figure in black, known only as Black, who arrives in the village of Settle’s Crossways on the trail of murder. This was a dark, violent sort of tale, complete with magical compulsions and abhorrent sacrifices, that walks the sword’s edge between justice and vengeance. For such a short novella, there’s actually a lot of history and mythology hinted at in its pages, making it feel bigger than its page count. The narrative here is simple, without unnecessary flairs or flourishes, but it fits the rather sad and angry events that drive it.

The Augur’s Gambit, meanwhile, is an almost gothic fantasy tale of politics and prophecies. Mayhew Gordian is hieronomer to the Queen, reading her fate in the bloody entrails of beasts and (in one dark case) stillborn babes. Queen Inimica, meanwhile, is a woman desperately seeking to preserve her doomed kingdom through a complex (and somewhat comic) plot of marriages. In between them is the Queen’s plain-faced daughter, who serves to breathe some life into the rather dour, sterile narrative of Mayhew. It’s an interesting story, but slowly paced, and held back by the weakness of its narrator. While I wouldn’t mind revisiting the lush world of Indemnie, it would have to be with a more engaging guide, and there would have to be more going on to move the story forward.

While not nearly as bleak as the Thomas Covenant stories, these are still dark tales with a lot of edge. Fortunately, they’re also imaginative and well-crafted, making them solid additions to Donaldson’s shelf.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

Sci-Fi Review: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

Waiting On Wednesday: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

Rules of a Responsive Reality guest post by Michael R. Fletcher

Trilogies and Tribulations: a Conversation with Julie E. Czerneda & Karina Sumner-Smith

Congrats to Monique, Ryan, and Kayla for being the lucky winners of Julie & Karina's giveaway!


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.


Blood Moon Rising: An Anthology of Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy Tales by S.K. Gregory
What horror awaits when the Blood Moon Rises? What monsters lurk in the dark? A collection of twelve horror, sci-fi and fantasy tales.


Mystic by Jason Denzel
Mystic is the start of an enchanting new epic fantasy series from Jason Denzel, the founder of Dragonmount.


Cross Keys by Ally Shields
Conspiracy, murder, and magic…and the death of all they hold dear. Elves from rival guilds in New Orleans, ancient magic, an illegal smuggling operation, the human CIA, a band of conspirators, and a rebellion deep in Elvenrude.

For Review:

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I'm largely caught up on my release date reviews, with not a lot of new fiction on the calendar for Nov/Dec, so I'm diving into the finalists of Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I'll be posting the reviews as I go, so here's hoping I can celebrate some awesome reads over the coming weeks.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sci-Fi Review: This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda

This review originally appeared on The Speculative Herald.

The Clan Chronicles is a series of books (This Gulf of Time and Stars is the first book of the third trilogy) set in a distant future of interstellar travel, alien races, and telepathic abilities. The Trade Pact, the first trilogy, introduced us to the alien Clan, a humanoid race that has doomed itself to extinction through selective breeding. The fact that Clan females kill their prospective mates, though, isn’t the scariest thing about them – it’s the way they exist in secret, disguised as Humans, using their telepathic powers to erase memories and control people without them knowing. Stratification, the second trilogy, is actually a prequel, introducing us to an earlier version of the Clan, long before they joined the Trade Pact, and before they bred themselves to the brink of extinction.

Reunification, the third trilogy, is a direct sequel to both stories. This Gulf of Time and Stars advances both the story and the Clan’s situation, introducing us to an era where they have been secretly invited into the Trade Pact, and then just as secretly exposed, adding the threat of extermination to that of extinction. While it could be read on its own, readers will get a lot more out of the story with knowledge of what’s come first. Julie E. Czerneda doesn’t waste a lot of time ushering readers into the world, instead throwing us right into a crucial negotiation between leaders of the races threatened by the Clan.

While The Trade Pact was about Sira, Reunification is very much about the Clan and Sira’s search for answers. For those who are new to the universe, Sira is an interesting character, a sympathetic heroine who is nothing like the terrifying monstrosity you’d expect of her race. When we first meet her here, she’s preparing for a “baby-rainshower-occasion” with her human partner, which is just as awkward and humorous as you might expect. In fact, Czerneda uses a lot of humor to establish the cultural differences between her races, which is a large part of what makes this such an accessible story.

At the same time, while some of the alien customs may be humorous, the aliens themselves can be creepy as hell (the Assemblers may be my favorite alien race ever), and the stakes in the story are about as high as they can get on an interstellar scale. This is often a very dark story, with a large cast of characters, and multiple shifts in POV (including shifts from first to third person). Even I found it a little bit dense at times, and I was coming into it with knowledge of the previous books. New readers may require a little more patience, but it’s worth the effort, especially since Czerneda has such a free-flowing lyrical style to her narrative. Once you get to know Sira and Captain Jason Morgan, and begin to piece together the backstory from their discussions with others, you’ll find yourself caring about the central mystery a lot more, at which time that style will carry you along nicely.

This Gulf of Time and Stars is a blend of hard science fiction and interstellar space opera, with a solid basis in biology that makes for some fascinating reading. It’s a very different sort of story from her Night’s Edge fantasy series, but it shows the same love for her characters and the worlds she’s created.

Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by DAW

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday - Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner
Expected publication: February 9th 2016 by Tor Books

The sequel to When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods

Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords, but she has no intention of standing down graciously. As part of her plot to hold on to power, she instructs an order of priests known as the Chameleons to sabotage the Dragon Gate. There’s just one problem: that will require them to infiltrate an impregnable citadel that houses the gate’s mechanism — a feat that has never been accomplished before.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. And when Imerle sets her scheme in motion, that enemy uses the ensuing chaos to play its hand.

Mark's first book, When the Heavens Fall, was a print ARC that landed on my doorstep earlier this year. I knew nothing about him or the series, and hadn't seen any fanfare at the time, so I was genuinely surprised to find it something of a throwback to the epic fantasy of the late-80s/early-90s. I'm incredibly anxious to see how he follows it up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rules of a Responsive Reality by Michael R. Fletcher (guest post)

Michael R. Fletcher

Remember how the best episodes of any TV show were the ones that came in two parts? Remember how awesome the two-parter episodes of Magnum PI were? Anyway, this here is part one of a three part post on the rules of a responsive reality. Part two will be hosted by the Mighty Thor (James Schmidt) at https://wordpress.com/post/82427466/1416/ on November 11th, and part three will be hosted by the excellent Wendell at http://bookwraiths.com/.

Some background: My dark fantasy novel, Beyond Redemption, takes place in a world where reality is responsive to the whims and desires of humanity. Mass belief—be it shaped by religion, politics, or public opinion—can cause sweeping changes in physical reality. Conversely, a single person, if insane enough to believe the impossible with utter conviction, can also twist reality. What follows is a brief discussion of some aspects of that reality.

I hesitate to give too much away. In part because I believe a large part of the enjoyment of a fantasy novel like Beyond Redemption is to be found in the discovery of a new world. If I spell everything out there will be nothing left to discover. And frankly, in many cases, I'd rather you figure this stuff out for yourself. Your interpretation might be different than mine. Maybe even cooler! That's fine; just 'cuz I wrote the thing doesn't mean I'm right! Also, I want to save things for later books.

Any discussion of reality, real or imagined (the reality, not the discussion), must start with definitions. If we don't define our terms, we can never know if we are discussing the same subject.

Definition: Geisteskranken
This is the single most important word we need to understand. In simplest terms a Geisteskranken is someone who believes something so strongly reality bends to their convictions. Simply wishing something were true is not enough to effect change, a person has to know something is true—believe it to the very core of their soul—to alter reality.

Wanting to believe you are the best guitar player in the world—or thinking that you might be—will not suffice. You must live your life as if that belief defines you (and it must), knowing deep in your heart that you are the greatest.

One must lose their mind, embrace insanity and believe the impossible, to make lasting changes. In short, Geisteskranken are delusional. Bat-shit crazy. They are insane enough to believe impossibilities so completely reality bends to their will.

Most Geisteskranken suffer a host of minor delusions above and beyond the one or two (or, occasionally three for the truly deranged) that define them. These secondary and tertiary delusions generally remain undefined as their effects on reality are negligible. Or at least incapable of harming others. Sometimes however these secondary delusions are powerful and the Geisteskranken becomes Comorbidic. Comorbidity general presages the final fall of the Geisteskranken, that moment when their delusions overpower their sanity and they lose control, spiralling over the Pinnacle. But more on the Pinnacle in Part Two.

Gehirn, the powerful Hassebrand in Beyond Redemption, is a perfect example. She is primarily a pyromaniac. She does, however, suffer at least one secondary delusion: Her self image is desperately warped. Gehirn believes (knows, in fact) that she is overweight and this delusion keeps her overweight. No matter how little she eats, as long as she knows that she is fat, she will remain so. Even the paleo diet won't help her! Arguably, her belief that someone is trying to poison/assassinate her is another delusion.

Definition: The Sane
Odd, perhaps, that I need to define this, but there you go. The vast majority of the populace is completely sane and unable to alter reality. At least on their own. Bring a crowd together and convince them of something (through advertising, religion, politics, economics, or any other popular mass delusion) and they become—as a group—capable of defining their reality. The sane are not powerless; far from it. In fact, the sane define most of this reality. Almost everywhere you go things fall down, night follows day, politics is real and important, and there's somewhere to go after you die. Almost.

The sane are even capable of countering, or even nullifying, the beliefs of the deranged. Surround a Geisteskranken with enough sane folks and their ability to twist reality will be limited or even nullified completely. But there's a catch. Convince that crowd that the person they're surrounding is a powerful Gefahrgeist (sociopath) capable of demanding their utter worship, and that Gefahrgeist will become more powerful, backed by the united faith of the masses.

Want to know more?
Tomorrow I'll detail the factors that define and limit the insane as well as how one becomes a Geisteskranken. Who doesn't want to warp reality with their madness?

Should be fun!


About the Author

Michael R. Fletcher is a science fiction and fantasy author. His novel, Beyond Redemption, a work of dark fantasy and rampant delusion, was published by HARPER Voyager in June of 2015.

His début novel, 88, a cyberpunk tale about harvesting children for their brains, was released by Five Rivers Publishing in 2013. 88 is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and elsewhere.

The next two Manifest Delusions novels, The Mirror's Truth, and The All Consuming are currently in various stages of editing while Michael tries to be the best husband and dad he can be.

Michael is represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.


About the Book

Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher
Paperback, 512 pages

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn't an axiom, it's a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one's delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is:

Who will rule there?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Trilogies and Tribulations: a Conversation with Julie E. Czerneda & Karina Sumner-Smith

Trilogies and Tribulations
a Conversation with
Julie E. Czerneda & Karina Sumner-Smith

When writers get together, shop talk is a given. We each have our own styles and approaches. We all learn from one another. Case in point: trilogies…with occasional tribulation!

Julie: I’ve had stories morph into trilogies (and so on) much to my surprise and occasional chagrin. How about you?

Karina: Oh, yes. Stories have minds of their own, don’t they? The Towers Trilogy was actually supposed to be only one book! And, well, just look at how that turned out.

I thought I was working on this simple little story about a homeless girl in a magic-run city who attempts to save the ghost of a girl who hasn’t died. It wasn’t until I was knee-deep in story that I realized I’d never, ever finish it in one book. By the time I reached what I thought would be the end of the whole thing, I’d barely scratched the surface of the world or its workings—and, to be honest, I’d fallen in love with the characters and wanted to know what happened to them next.

But science fiction and fantasy authors are teased that our books always seem to come in threes. (Okay, guilty as charged!) What is it about this structure that works for you as a writer? Do you plan your stories in trilogies, or do trilogies just ... happen?

Julie: I didn’t plan it, but I quickly found I plot books in thirds: start, middle, end. That said, my fantasy isn’t doing trilogy and the Esen books are pretty much like episodic television. But where I see a strong finish ahead, the trilogy gives me the room and means to get there.

When writing the final book, I find the first two have locked in much of the coming story. Hopefully. That’s satisfying, but I find the middle book the most fun to write. How about you?

Karina: If the Towers books are anything to go by, then it’s definitely the final book that’s the most fun!

Looking back, I feel that the first book, Radiant, introduced the world and the characters, and showed how it all worked—how the magic-as-money concept worked in this society, that the flying Towers in which everyone resides are actually sentient beings, and the connection between the main character and the ghost that she rescues. The sequel, Defiant, was all about the personal and societal fallout from everything that happened in the first book. But the third book—oh, goodness. It’s the big payoff! I feel almost like I’ve been setting up dominoes for two full novels, and now I finally get to watch them all cascade.

I wonder if part of the difference between our experiences might be our approaches to plotting. While, for me, the first two books definitely lock in the world-building and set up the story—as well as give me ideas of what’s going to happen—I don’t entirely know how it’s all going to play out until I’m there in the story. So I have some version of the experience that I hope the reader has, rushing toward the end to see how it all turns out.

Julie: I like that. It explains why I feel so satisfied at the end of the last book of a trilogy, despite all the angst and detail checking. I should add the payoff in Towers Fall is wonderful. Well done! Readers will be thrilled.

Karina: Thank you! But your upcoming book, This Gulf of Time and Stars is something a bit different: the first book in a new trilogy, but in a familiar world. You’re returning to the Trade Pact universe, the setting of not one but two of your previous trilogies. What keeps this setting feeling fresh and exciting for you?

Julie: Long before I considered sharing my stories with anyone else, Story X, that of Sira and Morgan, was my favourite unfinished daydream. I’d think about them and the worlds of the Trade Pact before falling asleep at night. I’d imagine interstellar adventures waiting for the dentist to finish or a bus to arrive. I’ve never lost that sense of wonder. It’s a future I’d love to come true: cosmos-spanning travel, intelligent species, humanity in the midst of it all. Weird alien biology. Characters who do their best and care about others.

To share the story, I had to finish it, so I did. But only one small part. That’s why I’ve kept such passion for the Clan. There are things I know—things I’ve dreamed all these years—still to come forth. That’s a special feeling. The flip side? When I write those final words, when I end it, I expect to cry. It’s a big story.

“Trilogy” is a bit misleading. I think of a trilogy as four stories in one, namely each book has its start/middle/end, but so does the combination, the big story. How do you balance the needs of the book story with that of the trilogy as a whole?

Karina: Four stories in one—that is an excellent way to look at it! For me, each book is like a building block; you want it to be whole and real and solid in and of itself. Yet when you put them together, you create a larger, more interesting shape that gives more meaning and purpose to each individual element.

I realized recently that I’d structured the meta-novel of my trilogy the same way that I did the individual books. Each novel is divided into three parts, which I think of as the introduction to the problem, the complications stemming from that problem, and then the “explosions”—the big events of the climax and resolution. Now, with a bit of distance, I see that each book also follows fulfills that structure: Radiant is the setup, Defiant shows the complications, and Towers Fall is all about explosions (both literal and figurative).

Julie: That’s the structure of the entire Clan Chronicles series as well. Stratification, all three books together, is the setup. The Trade Pact? The complications in the middle along with raising the stakes. Reunification will be the payoff. And why yes, things blow up!

Karina: Okay, last question! You know I’m a big fan of your work, and that I’ve loved Sira since your very first book. (My much-loved and much-read copy of A Thousand Words for Stranger on my bedside table right now, in fact!) Any hints about what readers can expect in this new trilogy?

Julie: I’m just going to glow for a moment. Thank you! I’m a huge fan of yours as well, as you know. (This happens more than you might realize, dear readers. After all, similar hearts and minds lead not only to friendships but to stories that speak to both.)

Hints? Reunification will answer the questions raised in Stratification. How the Om’ray, Oud, and Tikitik came to inhabit Cersi and why. How the Hoveny Concentrix rose and why such a galactic civilization could fall all at once. Readers can expect more of the aliens they already know, such as the Carasians, and more aliens they haven’t yet met. Most of all, they can expect to finally know who the Clan really are.

Big story stuff. What happens to Sira and Morgan? I honestly don’t know. Yet.

My last question. What’s next for you?

Karina: I’m working on a new fantasy novel, a strange standalone set in a fictional southern Ontarian city, where people can shift reality through the power of thought and belief—often to disastrous consequences. Of course, I say now that it’s a standalone, not a trilogy. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope that it stays that way!

Karina and Julie will be launching their latest books together, at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto ON November 28th.


About the Author

Author Photo Credit: Lindy Sumner-Smith
Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Nov 2015), published by Talos/Skyhorse. In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a small dog, and a large cat. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.

Author Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography
Julie E. Czerneda's first novel, A Thousand Words for Stranger, was published in 1997 and made her a finalist for the Campbell Best New Writer award. Since then, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has continued to share her love and curiosity about living things through science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, soon followed by A Play of Shadow.

But the story begun in Thousand remained in her mind, growing into the Clan Chronicles series. Julie’s presently writing the finale, the last two books of Reunification. For more about her work, visit www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


About the Series

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

Listen now to a sample from the upcoming audiobook of THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS!


Just because we Canadians are so darn pleasant and polite, we have not one, not two, but three prizes to giveaway! There will be three winners (one for each prize), so please be sure to leave a comment letting me know in which you are interested!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, November 7, 2015

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .

Science vs Superstition, Military vs Monsters guest post by John F. Allen

The Fantasy Heroine of Today guest post & giveaway by Stephen Zimmer


Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.


The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
A generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

For Review:

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
The second spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America where the original heroes are now figures of myth and legend.

Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe 
Detan Honding and his trusted companion Tibs have set their sights on their biggest heist yet - the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia, but when a doppel starts murdering key members of the government, they find themselves in the middle of a revolution and a crusade.

Interior Darkness: Selected Stories by Peter Straub
Celebrated author Peter Straub's mastery of the short form shines in this wide-ranging collection of his most chilling, intense, and compelling tales from the past twenty-five years.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Office Adventure by Mike MacDonald & Jilly Gagnon
A modern-day tale of woe where there are countless "options," but they rarely end well. It's okay, though. A life of adventure would require so many uncomfortable sleeping situations. Besides, you have dental. Keep reminding yourself about the dental.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I'm largely caught up on my release date reviews, with not a lot of new fiction on the calendar for Nov/Dec, so I'm diving into the finalists of Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I'll be posting the reviews as I go, so here's hoping I can celebrate some awesome reads over the coming weeks.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Science vs Superstition, Military vs Monsters by John F. Allen

Science vs Superstition

Throughout the history of speculative fiction, there has been a correlation between Science and Superstition, most often as polar opposites. In this mindset, science is fact and superstition is fantasy and never the two shall meet. Science is proven from the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Whereas superstition is a disproven belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.

Another mindset is that they are in fact one and the same. With this line of thought superstition (magic), is merely a form of science which isn’t fully understood at the time. Either way, superstition (magic) is stripped of its mysticism, wonder and otherworldly mystery, while it’s assimilated under the umbrella of science.

Both science and superstition (magic) are generally governed by laws and principles of how they operate and thus given restrictions and limitations within the confines of what knowledge is available at the time. It is in this way that both ideals share a key similarity.

In reference to writing within my literary universe, I subscribe to the former as the mindset of people in general and the latter as the reality. However, I don’t discount the role that faith plays in either science and/or superstition (magic). Despite what proponents of science may have you believe, they place at least a modicum of faith in science from the onset which is based on knowledge passed down from others and their own personal experiences. I will say that in science, as opposed to superstition (magic), some scientific concepts have been proven through experimentation and are accepted as factual.

With superstition (magic), faith is much more integral to the overall concept, as it has yet to be proven within the context of the scientific method. However to be fair, magic is relative to the scientific knowledge base of the individual(s). Take for example, modern technology of today compared with that from two hundred years ago. Inhabitants of that time period would marvel at the commonplace technology we take for granted on a daily basis. Also, some would be terrified and label it as magic because they would be unable to conceive the possibility of its existence.

With writing science and superstition (magic), it’s extremely important to establish rules on how things work within your literary universe. More often than not, science fiction becomes science fact if not entirely, at least to some degree in the future. Having the science used be grounded in what actually exists in the present, is important to suspend disbelief in the story. The same is of course true regarding superstition (magic), in that established rules grounded in some form of reality, will lend to the suspension of disbelief.

When pitting science against superstition (magic) it’s important to distinguish the advantages and disadvantages of both sides. What one lacks, could be an advantage to the other and vice versa. This would put both sides on a more equal footing and make it so that what determines who wins or loses are the wielders.

Personally, I utilize both science and superstition in my literary universe and while sometimes I play them as direct opposites, mostly they’re one and the same to some degree.

Military vs Monsters

When writing stories where human military is pitted against monsters, I find that having the monsters be more physically imposing and/or technologically developed (as in the case of aliens), is key. This establishes the fact that the humans will have to fight that much harder to survive, let alone defeat their monster enemies.

Usually, the humans find a weakness which the monster(s) possesses and they exploit that in order to prevail. This almost always done to a “Hail Mary Effect” or last ditch effort. And, while this is certainly a way to go with a story, I choose to exploit human technology and perhaps advance it a bit from what actually exists in the real world at the time, to help them better combat their monster enemies.

As with the Science vs. Superstition (magic) segment above, rules have to be established which pertain to the weapons/technology available to the human military and the physical attributes and/or technology available to the monsters.

Once the rules have been set, it’s up to the writer to decide which side are the “true” monsters. Humans can be portrayed as the monsters who want to take over an alien species or those who humans consider to be monsters traditionally. An example of this would be James Cameron’s Avatar.
In my writings, I’ve had instances where the humans have to band together, despite their prejudices and hatred, to defeat a common foe. However, I’ve also written stories where the humans are the “true” monsters of the tale. In either case, it all boils down to the weapons/technology of both sides and how they are used.

Thanks for reading and I hope that you’ve found this post to be thought provoking and insightful.


About the Author

John F. Allen is an American writer born in Indianapolis, IN. He is a member of the Speculative Fiction Guild and the Indiana Writers Center. He began writing stories as early as the second grade and pursued all forms of writing at some point, throughout his career. John studied Liberal Arts at IUPUI with a focus in Creative Writing, received an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force and is a current member of the American Legion. John’s debut novel, The God Killers was published in 2013 by Seventh Star Press.

John currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, son and daughter.


About the Book

Knight Ranger
by John F. Allen

Captain Alexandre Cornelius “Neal” Du Bois is a US Army Ranger and decorated war hero. When his unit is ambushed by supernatural hostile forces while in Afghanistan, only Neal survives. When he wakes up in a secret government facility, Neal discovers that his whole life has changed forever.

A shadowy government agent named Elijah Bishop arranges for Neal’s brain to be transplanted, without his permission, into a bio-engineered body capable of amazing feats. Armed with advanced body armor and weaponry, he becomes the epitome of the Ultra Soldier.

To protect his family and those closest to him, he must let the world and everyone he loves believe he is dead. With assistance from Dr. Avery Clarkson–the scientist responsible for his new body–Neal reluctantly utilizes his superhuman abilities to work for Bishop and his organization called G.E.N.E.S.I.S. (Global Espionage Network of Elite Supernatural Intelligence and Surveillance), in order to track down those responsible for the slaughter of his unit and keep the world safe from supernatural terrorist forces.


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