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December 18, 2019

7 Books for Fans of Fantasy

by MK French

For an escape from the day to day, exploring new and different worlds can be fun and exciting. The stakes sometimes feel high if there are troubles involved in these worlds; they're not always full of fun and games. Dangers have to be maneuvered past, and it will take a team to make sure it all works out.

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The Emperor's Doom by R. A. Denny

The Emperor's Doom
February 2018; ebook (363 pages); YA
With a new ruler for Tzoladia, there is a lot of uncertainty among the people. This was Metlan's dream, but peace hasn't come yet. The three Deliverers are facing many battles still, and the seals are still just as necessary to save the people. Amanki is helping people with the blue sickness and spreading the word of Adon. Brina's path to getting her seal back is full of surprises, and Moshoi is tested when Tuka becomes close to Metlan.

This is the conclusion for the Tzoladia series. Prior books in the series have been reviewed here: Refugees (read my review), retitled The Emperor's Harvest (read my review), The Emperor's Trap (read my review), The Emperor's War (read my review), and The Emperor's Visions.

As with the other novels in this series, things aren't as simple as they seem. Metlan has everything he ever wanted, but has to deal with the knowledge of who his mother actually was, and that Adon was important to her. In addition, he never thought he would have to deal with actual rule, juggling religions of his people, and trying to be strategic with who he trusts. Amanki had fallen ill with the blue sickness, which sounds like a fantasy version of the plague. In addition to wanting to help others suffering, he has to deal with the ramifications of his birth and the potential politics. This is unlike anything a countryside boy ever would have dealt with, especially one who is a Webby. Molshoi seems to have lost his faith in Adon, and isn't the strict and conservative boy he once was. Brina is far from the capital, and I feel more tension in her sections of the novel than in the others'.

I feel a little bad with the end of the book. The prophecy is fulfilled, and it certainly was the end times for Tzoladia. The struggles that the characters all went through at times were difficult to read because I wished I could sit them down and talk out the confusion with them. There was so much death and pain here, and so much more that they had gone through when I thought there wasn't much more for them to have to endure. The epilogue ties everything together and smooths over some of the tragedy with the conclusion of this saga. It fits, and everyone had grown a lot by the time the last sentence ends.

Buy The Emperor's Doom at Amazon

Land of the Beasts by S. F. Claymore

Land of the Beasts
September 2019; ebook; epic fantasy
Psykoria is about to fall into civil war, and King Breetor decides to try to win peace by presenting the people with a trophy. The great beasts in the center of the continent are dragons, and bringing one back will impress the lords enough that they will respect him again.

It seems a little ridiculous for a king of a country in chaos to go on this trip himself, because that would leave the throne up for grabs by any eager noble willing to take control. Even his wife questions whether others will accept her regency, and I was absolutely expecting a coup during his absence.

Breetor and a team sail south to the other continent and meet various mystical creatures. Each time, Breetor relies on his sword and is braver than the men he brought with him; he is ultimately the only one left. This forces him to rely on the natives to learn how to survive the ecology of this strange land, and he comes to understand the creatures that live there.

This is a novella, so it is a very quick read. Breetor has to face his ignorance about the other creatures and be more open-minded. That ultimately saves him and allows him to return to Psykoria. It’s similar in scope to other stories where the protagonist is stranded with strangers, with a hefty dose of magic to ease the way. That also gives some complications in the form of the magical beasts, but a fair number of them do have an awareness and intelligence. It proves that the creatures can’t be judged on their appearance, and it will take extra effort to build a bridge and communicate between them. I liked the sequences with the dragons the best, and lost my patience with the nobles in his court. He's far more lenient than many other kings in novels like this!

Buy Land of the Beasts at Amazon

Julian Fox, Dream Guardian by E. J. Miranda

Julain Fox, Dream Guardian
September 2019;  978-1733798204
ebook, print (376 pages); YA
Dreamers might receive creative wisdom as they sleep, or they could be visited by a Defiler, former humans hoping to give pain and misery in dreams. Kelsdrant are dream guardians, willing to defend the dreams of others at risk to their own lives.

Following in the footsteps of epic literature, we have a hero introduced to a quest, with a mentor to teach the idiosyncratic aspects he would need to know. It's in conversation form in some places, but it's still a lot of information dumping relatively early in the novel. As the novel progresses there are more really long conversations and pages that are from biographies and histories in the dreamscape, adding to the info-dumping feel. It throws me out of the action, and I have a harder time getting emotionally attached to anyone in the book.

Though there are mentions of TVs and other electronics, the language used is more formal and reminds me of the early 1900's usage. It's beautiful, but not common in contemporary fiction. An example: "Hours later, when the moon was once again the queen of the firmament, Jennifer came by taxi to the Fox villa." Yes, the Fox family is rich and learned, easily mentioning multiple languages with ease, but the juxtaposition of words brings to mind a much older style of writing. I find it difficult to really get emotionally attached to the characters to start with, and the language choices make it even more difficult for me.

That being said, I did enjoy the actual battles that Julian went through as a Guardian. I can appreciate the problems and pressures of Julian's double life, especially when a lot of people in the waking world seem superficial. Other than those aspects, I was not really interested in the overarching plot.

Buy Julian Fox, Dream Guardian at Amazon

Absence: Whispers and Shadow by J. B. Forsyth

Whispers and Shadow
April 2016; 978-1530819805
ebook, print (290 pages); epic fantasy
The world of ghosts and spirit demons isn’t too far from that of the living, who are highly superstitious. Della hides in plain view, keeping the secret of Absence close. If she reveals it, she would be branded a witch. When she’s burdened with shadow, she has to go on a journey. She has to figure out if she can trust the boy whose dead sister haunts the lake, or the exorcist she spent most of her life running from.

This was a finalist in the 2016 Wishing Shelf Book Awards in the category for adults, and was described as “a superbly plotted fantasy.” We definitely see the aspects of High fantasy right away: superstitious people that think of an eclipse as the Black Eye and a curse upon the fearful people, villages full of people that don’t know much about villages over fifty miles away, and the bullies that prey on the helpless. Della’s skill of Absence is astral projection but also arrests her growth when she uses the skill. Because it also kept the poison from invading her entire body when used daily, she looks perpetually fourteen. She at least has her uncle to help her throughout the years, traveling and teaching her more about Absence and the things that can still harm astral beings. Her story thread really drew me in, and it was a bit of a narrative shock to have it switch abruptly without some kind of marker to indicate that it was coming.

Kye’s story is heartbreaking; his dead sister somehow lingered on as a ghost after drowning, and his mother retreated from him emotionally while his stepfather grew drunk and abusive. It makes sense to have his story in this novel, as he does eventually intersect with Della, but I would have preferred to have his chapters dovetailing with Della’s. That way, when the two threads intersect, it makes more immediate sense. The villagers are caricatures, and the exorcist’s introduction is full of drama and intrigue. Even afterward, when we get to Ironwood, again we shift POV without warning to get back story and insights into the exorcist. I would rather find that sort of thing out over the course of the story as he interacts with others, rather than several chapters of his boyhood and training. In spite of this, the book is engaging and sucks me right in until we get to the cliffhanger ending.

Buy Absence: Whispers and Shadow at Amazon

Absence: Mist and Shadow by J. B. Forsyth

Mist and Shadow
July 2016; 978-1533486127
ebook, print (254 pages); epic fantasy
Della's kidnappers are dragging her farther into the Wilderness, and their only directive is that she's needed alive. Kye and Ormis are trying to save her while Kass Riole and the rest of the exorcists in Irongate try to find new solutions to the problems that have arisen in the city.

This novel picks up immediately after the end of the first, so it absolutely is necessary to have read that one first. There is no time spent in characterizations of any of the characters from the first book or doing any of their back story, and we jump right into the search for Della. There is still beautiful language used in this, such as the phrase “now there was a fist of jet where his heart used to be.” At other times, there are long paragraphs of extended back story for the new characters we meet breaking up the tension in the story. There is definitely a lot still present. The Wilderness is truly dangerous, with carnivorous trees and plants, oddly shaped creatures that tried to eat people, as well as free-roaming spirits. There is enough drama with that trek, which reminded me a lot of Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” sequence. (ugh. I still shudder when I think of that sequence!)

The sequences involving the city are a different kind of intrigue. There was so much going on there, and Kass Riole is at least willing to entertain the thought of unconventional means to fix the lack of leadership in Irongate. To some extent it works, but that also leaves the city vulnerable. At the same time, the reader gets a look into aspects of history into the world and the creation of the Reader. There’s more of the journey through the Wilderness than this particular part of the story, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

There are plenty of fantastic fight scenes, and it does have a very cinematic quality. It’s a strength in this novel so that you really feel as though you’re along for the ride with the characters. There is a little twist with some of the characters until we get to the final quarter of the novel. At that point, there is constant action and devastation, but it closes in a way that makes sense. It’s a massive, sprawling story overall, and is definitely worth the finalist nod that it had received.

Buy Absence: Mist and Shadow at Amazon

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

October 2019; G.P. Putnam's Sons; 78-0525518211
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); YA
A brutal revolution had swept through the country, leveling the playing field for the chance to test into the dragon-riding class of rulers. Annie was born to highland farmers, executed by dragon fire, and Lee is the son of the Dragon Lord, who was murdered by revolutionaries. The two grew up in the same orphanage and were close friends. Both had trained for years in order to take the dragon-riding test, and both will be forced to chose the family of choice or the family of blood.

This is the first book in the Aurelian Cycle, and there is plenty of political intrigue and politics as well as lore and world-building to set up the series. The story alternates between Annie's and Lee's stories, with flashbacks of the revolution. What we think we know of the revolution is seen through their eyes, as well as the difficult choices that they face as they have to face off against classmates for the honor of being first in the class, and they also struggle with memories of death and the class warfare that isn't entirely gone. Annie has to face the people that don't believe she's worthy, that she's only tied to Lee because of infatuation, or that she is simply the poster child of a serf risen to glory to elevate the new regime. Rumors also abound about Lee, for whom many lessons come far too easily.

There is a lot of nuance in this book, and it treats the characters all with great respect. There are flashes of history that really give the story weight, like differences in accents, languages, even depth of bows given in public. The horror that the people had gone through, the new class creations and the inevitable comparisons to the Dragon Lords are given the proper gravitas. Children are being given responsibilities that they really shouldn't be, and it's up to them to save the people of their island as best as they can. And isn't that the way of it? The leaders can have their ideals, but when starvation is imminent, they aren't willing to sacrifice themselves as readily as the unskilled workers. War dehumanizes on so many levels, and we see it in these teenagers of different backgrounds.

This is a fascinating story, and one that doesn't give easy answers or outcomes. It ends neatly at the conclusion of this novel, but I know there is far more to come in future novels of the Aurelian Cycle, and I look forward to reading it.

Buy Fireborne at Amazon

Calico Thunder Rides Again by T. A. Hernandez

Calico Thunder Rides
November 2019; Sanita Street Publishing
978-1734033007; ebook, print (218 pages)
sword & sorcery
The Ban on magic led to the rise of crime syndicates. Jake Strickland is in charge of a magical traveling circus set in an alternate 1920s America. He used to be a dragon rodeo rider, but had to take over his father's circus after an injury. He thought he was able to make headway in paying back the debts so that he was generating a profit, but one of the magical mobsters is trying to collect on an old debt. Jake is left juggling too many things to try to pay it back in time and still take care of the people in his circus.

The prologue hints at the magical mobsters, but it's not explicitly revealed until much later. The story proper begins with the actual circus, which involves the usual animals and fantastic ones as well. The circus is short on people to work with the animals, so they're all stretched pretty thin making it all work as they move from city to city. While we know something is up, that doesn't stop us from rooting for Jake. He really does have the best intentions at heart for the circus, the magical creatures under his care and the workers. He was set up from the start, but didn't know until it was too late. The harm done is callous and everything you would expect from mobsters, especially those with magic at their disposal.

It feels almost as though all hope is lost when we see Jake's hopes dashed. There doesn't seem to be enough book left to fix it, but he doesn't have anything left to lose and Grace is definitely the brains of the pair. She is prepared for just about every possibility, and really does help Jake come back to his usual optimistic self. It's dangerous but worth the effort. I almost wish there was a bigger consequence for the mobsters, but at least the ending is realistic to their situation and in line with the kind of people that Jake and Grace are.

Buy Calico Thunder Rides Again at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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  1. i see a lot of dragons. thanks for sharing so many cool looking books
    sherry @ fundinmental

  2. I love reading really cool fantasy novels.