First Keeper by Steven Kelliher: A (mini) Review

First Keeper tells the story of the first Ember of the northern sands, and the nightmarish scenario that led to his awakening. fbdf95e4e244cbe2ab51e211f45e4f77

It serves as a prequel that takes place roughly 15 years before the start of The Landkist Saga, and features cameos by many of the main characters whose trials are chronicled beginning with Valley of Embers.

First Keeper by Steven Kelliher is a short story, only 33 pages long by my Kindle’s count. I have not yet read the Landkist Saga (beginning with Valley of Embers) but I’ll begin this review by stating that this little tease of a tale makes me look forward to diving in to the rest of Kelliher’s work.

The writing has an evocative style, some lines and paragraphs almost carrying a touch of something poetic about them. We’re introduced to Ninyeva, who in turn introduces us to the story of the first Ember by way of a tale told by the fireside.

Keliher’s way with prose might not be for everyone, but I found it to be rich and beautifully detailed right where it needed to be, and the scene of the “birth” of the first Ember is a skillfully wrought thing, one that still sticks in my head several days later.

It is available on Instafreebie here and you can also find it on Goodreads here. This is a quick shot of a story that I definitely recommend.

Advertisements

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton: A Review

The gods of myth, monsters of legend, heroes and villains of lore.

They’re real — and they’re coming back to finish a war that’s been waged since the dawn of time.

Fi Patterson and Zeke Prisco’s daily routine of caring for the elderly at a local hospital is shattered when a catatonic patient named Peter unwittingly thrusts them into a conflict between ageless beings beyond reckoning. A war of which he is the primary target, and perhaps the cause.

In order to survive, Fi and Zeke must forget everything they know about the world and come to grips with the astonishing reality of the Firstborn. Only then can they hope to learn the secrets locked in Peter’s mind, help stave off an ancient evil that’s been known by many names and feared by all, and discover truths about themselves perhaps best left hidden.

51DIp5SRjAL._SY346_That’s the description from the book. I loved American Gods (with which this shares a faintly similar feel.) I love mythology. This was an easy sell.

I want to say that the story starts with… But, no. The story starts laying down pieces from all different parts of the puzzle right from the beginning. There are parts about Fi (Fiona) simply trying to navigate the regular ups and downs of near-adulthood. There are monsters and fights in the back alleys of our own contemporary world. There are lovely passages with equally lovely prose that follow the gods and heroes from yesteryear – the ones who have survived the last few millennia of fighting and family squabbles – and give us glimpses into their current shenanigans away from the prying eyes of humans.

It sounds like a lot to juggle, but Ashton handles it well, leaping from one character’s viewpoint to another without the fear that he’s going to leave any loose ends hanging. Instead, he manages to weave together all the parts of myth and legend we’re familiar with into something that feels like an entirely new mythology, one that holds a promise of being even more sprawling and intricate than what the first book delivers.

Now, all of that said, this is me avoiding mentioning more than what’s in the description above because I don’t wish to spoil anything. But there are a fair amount of well-paced action sequences balanced with plot and character reveals in order to let one catch their breath. Things happen. Stuff… does stuff. There. That’s about all I can say without fearing I’m going to ruin something for someone.

Now, it took me a few days after finishing to decide what star rating to apply to this. While I loved the mythology and reveled in the information and the knowledge of how much research it probably took to write Paternus, I have a few quibbles that kept this from being a stunningly perfect read.

There is some head-hopping in the book, which pulled me out of a couple of scenes, especially near the beginning. But it smoothed out as it went along (or I simply became used to it and so didn’t notice it as much.) I was also less entranced with the “contemporary” or “normal” sections with Fi and Zeke as I was when the various characters from mythology took the wheel, so to speak. Perhaps because of the contrast with the more timeless, mythology-heavy chapters, those bits seemed weaker? Or perhaps it was just a subjective thing, and it took my brain a bit longer to make the jump from one section to another.

But aside from my own nitpicky things, this is an excellent book. My kindle said it was around 500 pages in length but it didn’t feel anywhere near that long. There is violence in this book (it’s based around characters from world mythology, so…), there are beheadings, and yet it isn’t a non-stop bloodbath (not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of thing.) It’s a solid story all around, and one that sets an impressive stage for the next in the series…

 

Sapphire’s Flight by K.S. Villoso – A Review

Disclaimer: I am acquainted with the author. Unfortunately, I’ve been acquainted with the author for a dozen years. That could mean I’ll be nice. Or… it could mean I’ll be as honest about her work as I would be with an irritating cousin or sibling. But I thought I would get that out of the way. 51Q24q6zIKL (1)

Originally I intended this review to encompass my thoughts on the third book in The Agartes Epilogues, Sapphire’s Flight. But Sapphire’s Flight isn’t a standalone book, and the more I attempted to gather my thoughts on it, the more I realized it would be equivalent to reviewing only the last third of a book without any mention of the previous chapters.

So, let’s begin with the description from the book itself:

The battle at Shi-uin has left scars. The rise of Gorrhen yn Garr to power seems unstoppable. As nations fall, the lines between love and duty become blurred and Kefier, Sume, and Enosh must learn to live with the choices they have made.

That’s not a lot to go on, but then once we reach this point in the story, not a lot can be said without a giant SPOILER tag attaching itself to everything.

All the way back in Jaeth’s Eye, the first book of the trilogy, we’re introduced to our three main MAIN characters (there are other characters who become almost-main characters – it’s a fairly large cast – but we’ll stick with these three for the moment) Kefier, Sume, and Enosh. The former two are not the type who want to get into your usual fantasy shenanigans. So there’s no staring off at a binary sunset wondering how cool it would be to find out you’re heir to some spiffy Jedi Agan magic. They just want to make it through the typical day to day.

A great deal of what happens to our main characters over the course of the series is not important people making big decisions about epic things and wars and sword fights and dragons. Those things are there. They happen, but they happen off-screen for the most part. A lot of what we see is the after-effects of those decisions, a small band of warriors left to face off against a larger army because a Big Decision was made off-screen, and our beloved characters are abandoned and left to pick up the pieces.

Now, so far, I’ve been rather vague about things, and that’s on purpose. There are quite a number of reveals in this series, especially in the final book, so I’m treading carefully so as not to SPOILER anything.

So let’s try to sum up a few things and do some thought-gathering: This series tries to bite off a lot. There is a tremendous amount of history and world-building on display, but not to the point that I was bored to tears by it. Much of it is deftly woven into the story (one moment that stands out is when a bit of world-building is presented in bedtime story form, which meant I didn’t even realize I’d just seen Villoso’s world expand a little more until later, so smoothly was it presented.)

There is a mix of viewpoints, interludes, and prologues, which are all important. When I first read Jaeth’s Eye, I will confess that I was confused at moments because it seemed like there was so much to keep track of, along with a few pacing issues, but as I moved through the book, it all seemed to contract on itself, pulling the various threads together, until I suddenly hit the pay-off and realized just how detailed and well-constructed this world was going to be.

With each successive book, Villoso’s skills grow stronger. By the time I arrived at Sapphire’s Flight, her prose had graduated to a beautiful thing. Her characters are flawed, which means that sometimes I wanted to smack them upside the head. But it made them real, and it made me care. And made me cry in bed at one o’clock in the morning when I arrived at the end of the trilogy.

It is a solid series. It is a remarkably solid fantasy debut. I feel special because I was lucky enough to see some snippets of the early versions of this story. At its heart, it’s about its characters, caught in the machinations of an epic fantasy world that simply will not leave them be. I look forward to reading more of Villoso’s work, because I suspect she’ll only improve and enthrall more and more with each story she creates.

***

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft – A Review

I’m going to start out by saying I don’t often review books here. I’ll leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but not always on my website/blog. Mostly because I don’t feel that I have the critical chops necessary for stripping a story down to its nuts and bolts and slapping an arbitrary number of stars on it.

Because it would, in many ways, be arbitrary. I’ll give points for good prose, good editing, and all of those other little things (flow, story, dialogue that doesn’t sound rinky-dink awful) but I’ll give points for things beyond the measurable “quality” of a story. I’ve awarded high ratings/reviews to books that simply made me feel good during difficult times, just because.

So!

All of that being disclaimered away, let’s dive in. 518+9kYvi0L

First up, what it’s all about:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Within the first few pages, the menace of the tower and the areas surrounding it are put on display. Before we’re given more than the briefest of introductions (and yet enough of an introduction to know early on something of the personality of Thomas Senlin and Marya) his wife is swept away from him, a “victim” of the overcrowded market that shifts and bustles near the base of the tower.

And as quick as one can turn away and look back again, Senlin’s almost obsessive love of the Tower and the order depicted in the handbook he carries around with him earns its first, rather large, crack.

Because, as is demonstrated in a few flashback chapters sprinkled throughout the book, Thomas Senlin loves the Tower of Babel. It leaks into his teaching, the wonder of its well-ordered levels – or “ringdoms” – perfectly fits his personality, one that craves order and logic and everything to be just so.

But of course, we wouldn’t have a story if Senlin and Marya had arrived for their honeymoon to find everything just as the guidebook had described.

And so Senlin has to enter the tower and climb if he wants a better chance of finding his wife. Thomas Senlin, this mild-mannered man who wants nothing more than to teach his students and build his kites and enjoy a sedate life with his new bride is now forced to tangle himself with people he’s repeatedly told not to trust, in a whole new world that doesn’t seem to follow any set of rules or instructions, or at least not any set that he’s been given.

Now, I could go into further description of his climb upwards through some of the tower’s levels, but because I fear accidentally spoiling something, I’m going to begin a slow summing up.

The pros:

The writing itself is glorious. Josiah Bancroft has a gift with words, creating lines that I wanted to pause and read again simply because of how beautifully crafted they were. I read some reviews that said the story started off too slow, but it’s a deliberate, gorgeous build, one that slips under your skin, almost lulling you into comfort until a brief, keen shot of violence or injustice sears as hotly as a brand.

Thomas Senlin himself is an unlikely hero, which is why many of his actions are not textbook heroic at all. Instead, there are moments of cowardice and disbelief and guilt and fear. Instead of weapon-totingly, one-liner-flinglingly heroic, he is human. Which makes his every experience in the tower more visceral for the reader (well, for me, at least.)

The supporting characters are strong enough that I found myself wanting to read each of their own stories from life in the tower. It’s a wonderful thing that we’re given side characters who, instead of existing merely to prop up our protagonist, serve to show how large and rich and fleshed-out this world really is.

The cons:

I’m honestly trying to think of some. I can say that this book is not for everyone (though neither is any book, really.) There is no great action moment to start us off, very few “DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNNN!” scenes to take one’s breath away. And yet it succeeds at pulling in the reader, at keeping the pages turning because you really, truly don’t know what might happen next.

And for those who pay attention to such things: There is only mild language in the book, the violence – while quick and shocking – is not described in every moment of bloody gore, and there are no scenes of a sexual nature (so no hanky-panky time, if you were looking for that sort of thing.)