The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit by Storm Constantine – 5/5 Stars

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is a really ‘enchanting’ and absorbing story. There is religious mysticism, and it challenges stereotypical views of it. I’ve not read a book like this, having few references to compare with the themes and world, but some parts of TEOFAS really reached out to me.

There is a lot of anticipation and tension leading up to the ceremony and initiation into the beyond-human Wraeththu cult. It’s written from the point of view of the main character Pellaz reflecting on his journey getting acquainted with the Wraeththu and his ascent through the magical caste system. Pellaz feels like the perfect character to familiarise us with the Wraeththu with his inquisitive nature and his penchant for being spoilt with luxury, which allows the reader a sense of cultural discovery.

The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The unusual circumstances are exactly what pull you into Pellaz’s thoughts and the Wraeththu. The Wraeththu and the difference they embody, physically and psychologically, are very much the main focus of the story compared to the more violent groups of humans who are retreating from the new countries and lack the unity. Human desires appear base and almost immature next to the advanced system of the Wraeththu and I suspect this is exactly how author Storm Constantine wanted these desires to appear. The momentum is very much with the Wraeththu, who are both secretive and mysterious, and possess differentiation.

Yet despite this, there is the ever-present concern they have that they’re not much better than humans and are susceptible to the same hurtful feelings of love and vengeance that we are … it’s worth reading to see what I mean. There is a lot of thought and background put into TEOFAS and it made reading feel like a rich three-dimensional exotic adventure. There is so much depth to the world that it would be worth reading more by Storm Constantine.

*Oh, and the interior of the book layout was beautiful, with illustrations, so I recommend you at least purchase the paperback.

Storm Constantine’s Immanion Press

Legend by David Gemmell – 5/5 Stars

Legend by David Gemmell - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First I’ve read of David Gemmell, having spoken to a big fan. I bought the paperback and expected something only warlike and medieval. I was right, but I didn’t foresee how much I’d enjoy reading the characters and their outcome. Druss the Legend comes out of his solitude to step back into the boots of his younger self when the Drenai Empire is at risk of being conquered by a MASSIVE barbarian horde. I couldn’t help enjoying every moment Druss stepped into the story, to offer sage advice or prove that he wasn’t a broken old man as he appeared, having reflexes with his double-edged axe Snaga that made the best fighters envious.

Legend by David Gemmell - back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the plot is concerned with the endangered fortress of Drenai Empire’s Dros Delnoch – six walls and a keep – that is threatened and then under siege by an overwhelming number of Nadir tribesmen led by Ulric who styles himself as a-legend-to-be. Much of import happens, around Druss, unlikely hero Rek, Robin-Hood-like character Bowman, and many others, before the siege. The best part is when the siege arrives, and battle is met. Though the defenders of the fortress are doomed you can’t help but want to discover how they will meet their end, and at what cost. It’s not just blood and fighting either – there are shamans, spiritual monks, and timeless supernatural forces shaping events.

Legend was one of the best heroic fantasy experiences I’ve had, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to continue with.

A Brush With Magic by Sonia Leong – 4/5 Stars

A Brush With Magic by Sonia Leong - front book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not my usual read, not being well acquainted with manga or light novel adaptations of it. I picked A Brush With Magic up at a Japanese convention late 2018, having seen author Sonia Leong at a stall, and the artwork and light novel concept reached out to me. The artwork was striking, and the personality of the characters fit perfectly with the written versions. The story was pleasant and made me chuckle a few times. It has a heart-warming tone and a sense of light-hearted adventure combined with dark peril and exaggerated threat.

The author has a great awareness of character and perception, related through her characters, who both have tragic powers that mark them as different from the norm and make them unable to fit in. Vulpine warrior Rua saves Mage Silas from bandits and they both develop a connection, understanding each other and yet with there being enough to be discovered about each other. Ultimately, I felt the story was about acceptance and reliability, which were things both characters wanted from each other and they couldn’t get enough of either.

A Brush With Magic - back book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were some neat ideas in the story too, of a magical inbox Silas can create to withdraw items and send them, like an ‘enhanced postal system’. I liked this concept. It was my opinion that the writing was very good where description and action was concerned. Check this out: ‘Before anyone could take another breath, Rua drew her hand back and flung the dagger at him with full force. It spun, end over end, embedding itself square in the middle of the bandit’s forehead with a sickening thunk’.

There was a scene involving Silas and Rua where they intended to go to a club and I wanted to see what happened when ‘they got there’, and I was disappointed when it was related to other characters instead, but this was my only qualm.

Reading ABWM was a positive and enjoyable experience, with humour and real and lovable characters. The story had thought and care put into it, and the illustrations certainly did! What an excellent and well put-together story!

Sonia Leong’s Author Website

Publisher’s Website

Adventures of a Vegan Vamp by Cate Lawley – 3/5 Stars

‘She’s out to find her killer… and maybe a vegan cheese that doesn’t melt her nose hairs.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first, I didn’t get into it. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and I didn’t know where the story was going. I continued reading to see how things changed, and I started to appreciate it. There is subtle humour in this story, in the way the language is used by the author, and I had a light chuckle every few pages. More and more, I became invested in the main character’s frustrations with understanding exactly what vampires are, and the light-hearted take on vampires was refreshing.

The story itself was about Mallory finding the ‘rat’ who bit her and turned her into a vamp, with the help of the attractive and mysterious Society enforcer Alex, and it’s clear that she’s a bit of a strange vamp, not intimidating in the least with her baby fangs, and preferring to eat foods such as carrot juice doesn’t exactly scream ‘predator!’

The lower rating is because I didn’t think the style of the story was what I would usually go for, preferring more serious reads. I chose to read Adventures of a Vegan Vamp based on the humorous title, to see what differences a vegan vamp would exhibit and if there was any humour value based on this – to laugh with, not at – but beyond similarities not much was made of it.

Cate Lawley’s Website

2018 – In Books

Non-fiction

It’s an unusual year in books for me. I read six non-fiction, and it’s not often I read one. The non-fiction I read was educational and inspiring: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham, and Appreciating Asperger Syndrome by Brenda Boyd. Editing-wise, I read humorous Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss and insightful Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. Near the end of the year I was fortunate to have read Writing Fantasy Heroes, a useful collection of writing-expertise chapters by reputable authors, edited by Jason M Waltz.

Fewer fiction books read

Fewer fiction books were read in 2018, perhaps as a result. I finished eighteen books, ten below my twenty-eight book target on Goodreads. I would have liked to have read more. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them much.

Goodreads books

Best book I read in 2018

What stands out most in my mind was the first book I read in the year, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I loved it – the clever use of language, the political reality of Britain in those times, chivalry, heroic fights and jousts. It was a story to remember, with surprisingly addictive dialogue, scene description, and conflict.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott - front cover

New fantasy pick

Throughout the year I couldn’t stop reading Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honor omnibus – comprising three fantasy stories – based on Tarma and Kethry, a warrior under oath and a sorceress. One of the main differences of first book The Oathbound at the time it was first published in 1988 was that both protagonists were female and with a unique outlook and approach, and I thought this made novel their solving quests, fighting evil, making alliances, and growing as characters. The books took me on imaginative puzzle-oriented quests with intelligent sub-characters. It taught me about the strength and importance of bonds between friends and what was new to me were the practical thinking skills covered to survive in this world. There was humour in these stories, and characters I couldn’t help but like.

The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey - back cover

New science fiction pick

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton has been a fantastic science fiction spy/action thriller, at the time of this writing. It has flair. The quality action scenes and the thinking of organisations with motives in space surrounding the Thieves Guild have been top-notch and enthralling. Sh*t happens, and a lot of it, to Hil.

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

Other tremendous reads

Other amazing reads I stumbled across in 2018 include grounded epic fantasy Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe, terrific horror Bag of Bones by Stephen King, multi-faceted science fiction dystopian Augmented Reality by James Jackson, engaging Victorian and steampunk alternate history A Switch in Time by John Paul Bernett,  and fantasy-with-a-twist The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper.

How was 2018 in books for you?

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton – 5/5 Stars

‘It’ll be far better for him that I find him before,’ she paused for effect, ‘certain other practitioners of my profession.’

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions were mixed. For the first two chapters I wasn’t grounded in the world. I didn’t know what was happening, feeling displacement, and chapter introductions only confused me more. Things got better and better, not long after. Basically, what we’re dealing with here is not any Thieves’ Guild urban fantasy. This is sexy spy stuff in space with gadgets, physical training programs, intelligence departments, assassinations, and secret packages. Imagine James Bond mixed with Ender’s Game. The action was non-stop, and every chapter was essential. Before reading Residual Belligerence I wouldn’t have imagined such a novel was possible to write.

Residual Belligerence by CG Hatton - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My one criticism is that I wanted to see Hil, main character and top agent, to be in good condition so we could see what he was capable of when he was on top form. How would it have been different? I realise part of the point of the story was that he was left in the dark about what was happening and he was injured, which could explain why he was helpless throughout; it certainly added to my stress reading because I was concerned for his welfare, being so invested in the story. The roof comes down on him a few times, in style, and only other characters’ expertise keeps him in the loop. Maybe CG Hatton will cover this in one of her sequels, which are serious options on my to-read list.

Residual Belligerence’s publisher

CG Hatton on Goodreads

 

The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper – 4/5 Stars

The Road to Corlay by Richard Cowper - front cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a fantasy story set on the British Isles, now the Seven Kingdoms. The Drowning has already ended the Isles we know. The setting is in a time we would categorise as the dark ages, with the Church Militant, soldiers on horseback, peasants in homesteads, inns, and hard times for all.

To be honest, the first thirty pages were bizarre – a wondrous boy with pipes and a special forked tongue trained by a deceased dark wizard is the focus of a family’s attention. Tom, the Piper, goes to York, on the advice of his trusted and yet selfish guardian, the experienced Peter the Tale-Spinner. As Tom plays his special pipes stories of their performances follow them on their journey and the coin they receive from peasants makes them rich. Tom is said to be the harbinger of a prophecy regarding the White Bird of Kinship, foretold to come at the beginning of the third millennium.

This is all to the dismay of the Black Bishop at York, who fears his order and its teachings will be undermined by their presence and performance at York. He wants them dealt with, with subtlety. The contrast between light and dark is seen through tormented soldier Gyre, conflicted between his duty to the Black Bishop and the joy he felt at hearing the pipes play. This same conflict is repeated through other important characters later in the story and is mirrored by a theme that is a wish to either escape into fantasy or return to reality.

My attention waned through new characters, places, and situations and I wasn’t always sure where the author was going and how the story would tie up together. That being said, I’d say it was a novelty read, and I liked thinking about the possibilities of reality it brought up, combined with mysticism, along with the dark ages setting. The last sentence really got me thinking about what really happened, and I do think it concluded the story and removed doubt, but it’s up to interpretation. The Road to Corlay isn’t your typical dark ages fantasy. After all, the entire story is set in the future!

Richard Cowper books on Amazon

A Switch in Time by John Paul Bernett – 4/5 Stars

A Switch in Time - front cover

A Switch in Time (ASIT) is a ‘switch’ in lifestyle for two siblings, who swap with another two. We see through the eyes of 19th century coal barge workers John and Alice, how strange our modern world really is to the average Victorian young person: a world of motorised vehicles, mobile phones, global warming; and of noises, people, and futuristic buildings. It’s a time of great opportunity, but gross inequality and I think inequality is the main message in ASIT.

Much of ASIT is about spoilt, wealthy, and hateful Alicia who treats people ‘beneath her’ like dirt in modern times. She is chosen to leave these times with her brother Jamie, perhaps so she can see the value of a proper day’s work, doing as she is told, getting her fingers dirty, and of being in a loving family. She must live on the coal barge vacated by John and Alice.

Some of the values author John Paul Bernett shares include the benefits of being poor, of having more love for people than possessions, valuing hard work above reward, and respecting other people. These themes fit in nicely with the Victorian setting, where it brings forward the toil, suffering, and hardship. It’s not a Victorian novel that conforms to modern times and attitudes, and I think that’s the point.

If I thought anything could be improved in ASIT, I thought the inclusion of some scenes that related to the author’s Reaper series stuck out and didn’t conform to the general feel of the story, in my opinion. These scenes were very few. I feel the same about how some elements of the story concluded in the last chapter.

One of the things I liked best about A Switch in Time was the level of research and care taken into giving it that Victorian feel, with steam engines, barges, coal, museums, and canals. Note that my words do not do the author justice in the last sentence. Many of the locations were set in Leeds, such as Armley Mills, where I’ve been fortunate to have seen the author at steampunk events and I know and trust that he knows his steampunk as much as his horror. This is why he’s the best person to have written A Switch in Time.

Author’s Amazon Author Page

Writing Fantasy Heroes – Edited by Jason M Waltz – 5/5 Stars

Writing Fantasy Heroes - front cover

There was informative and practical advice in Writing Fantasy Heroes, from masters of the craft. Each chapter is written by a different author, and many of the authors use past heroes as examples or relate heroic deeds to how we feel as heroes and how society perceives heroes.

I found the cinematic action scenes chapter by Brandon Sanderson particularly practical and useful, by taking it in stages and making the scenes more meaningful. The examples here were superb.

Of interest to my writing was a chapter written by Jennifer Brozek on how to involve NPCs, your supporting characters, in helping to construct a story and add ‘character’ to them that can also impact how we view the main character or what it says about the main character’s personality. I found this really helpful in looking at the bigger picture of writing stories as opposed to focusing on a single main character.

Glen Cook wrote a chapter on ‘Sh*t Happens in the Creation of Story, Including Unexpected Deaths, with Ample Digressions and Curious Aside’. I found this chapter one of the most interesting reads because it was about that aspect of writing, and life, that isn’t often acknowledged: sh*t happens. And sometimes you can’t do anything about the fact that sh*t happens, only that you need to respond to it. There were enough ironic examples here to keep me fascinated in the chapter and point of view.

Writing Fantasy Heroes on Amazon

Publisher’s Website

Augmented Reality by James Jackson – 5/5 Stars

Augmented Reality by James Jackson - front cover

What was remarkable about Augmented Reality was the ideas and how they evolved throughout the book, changing society in new ways and giving the characters new problems to tackle. As a science fiction reader, I felt I got more out of it than just any dystopian society with characters fighting the status quo. Events run at a fast pace in first person, present tense. The story reads a bit like a film, based on fast-moving description with events brought to Joe’s eyes in real time or moving so fast that each chapter is relevant.

Joe is being manipulated, for the reason that the Central Authority is trying to rid itself of enemy subverts. He’s given a job position predicting stocks and a suite in a prestigious block, and is acquainted with beautiful women. Joe is shocked at his newfound success, but he keeps having dreams about coming to the rescue of a young woman and her daughter. Learning the truth about human society and the past will bring Joe revelations he could only have imagined. Acting on what he finds, with the help of many talented people, is the real challenge if they are to escape the augmented reality they were brought up believing in.

Unlike most dystopian society science fiction, author James Jackson lets us know from the first chapter that hiding the truth is normal, almost hinting that there will be no conspiracy or betrayal to come, as in Philip K Dick novels. Why is the truth being hidden? Most science fiction blames a government or corporation, but we don’t often hear the reasoning, with a mind to accept it for its virtues. At first Augmented Reality seems to be about how happiness and perfection in society is just an illusion, but there is so much more to the book than illusion. The hidden truth may be the literal opposite to happiness and perfection.

I took a lot of pleasure from reading this book, and I couldn’t stop reading the last third to see how the characters would end up because their situations kept changing in response to new problems. That being said, I especially liked the scenes with Joe, Miranda, and Gordon earlier on because they brought out Joe’s innocence and I got a good sense of what was at stake. I suppose I was curious where the story would take me. I got more out of Augmented Reality than I expected. Author James Jackson is full of surprises in his fiction.

Author James Jackson’s Website

Augmented Reality on Amazon