Paperback of Omnibus Edition Out Now

Until now, my omnibus title, The Weapon Takers Saga Books 1-3, has only been available as an eBook or Audiobook.

I’m pleased to say it is now available in paperback, too! Featuring three maps and clean formatting I’m really pleased with the way it has come out. It IS a bit of a brick, so check you have space on your bookshelf first! Or, just keep it by your bed and it can double as a weapon to stop intruders.

It’s currently available at all Amazon stores.

I Shall Return With Winter by CF Welburn

I Shall Return with WinterI Shall Return with Winter by C.F. Welburn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An intriguing fable of revenge and of prophecy, this was like reading a metaphysical Dances with Wolves.

Like Welburn’s Ashen Levels, there is a sort of dreamlike quality to this tale, so that you are never quite sure what to expect next. It’s a book that defies categorisation, both its strength and weakness.

Our setting is a sort of fantasy version of the Viking North Sea (for me). Oben, the mc, a farmer from lush Edale (England?) travels to Skaligar (Scotland?), occupied by the Skalgs (Vikings) from Eisalhelm (Scandinavia?)

He is on a mission of revenge. Except it takes us a while to understand why. Even then, there’s something about it that doesn’t quite make sense. When the fearsome Skalgs take him, they become convinced he is an agent of destiny and prophecy. And, of course, the reader is never quite sure if they’re right about him or not.

Despite this mysterious aura around him, Oben is one of those ordinary characters doing extraordinary things. Set a series of tasks like a character from Greek legend, it becomes increasingly clear that, whatever his own thoughts on it, he will be at the centre of a clash between his old home and his new, adopted one.

Written as a standalone, the author is obviously tempted to return to this new world he created. Good news, because I enjoyed the mystery of it – this is almost Welburn’s trademark. But at other times I wanted the fog to clear and get to know these characters and their world a little bit more than I came to.

For those who’ve read Welburn before, it goes without saying how well written it is. Have a read yourself for some grimdark style moral greyness, gritty adventure, myth, mystery and madness.

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A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree

A Wind from the Wilderness (Watchers of Outremer, #1)A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Among the many books that got some attention in the most recent SPFBO, this was one of those that got my ears to prick up. Set in the First Crusade? Hells, yeah! I’m the audience for that! Of course, should go without saying, that means it’s not right for other readers in the broad church of fantasy. If you prefer lots of magic with no connection to a historical period or place, this may not be your bag.

So, starting with the setting, we have the crusaders making their way from Constantinople to the Holy Land. Raymond of Toulouse is one of the 3 pov characters and you have Bohemond and all the gang as well. The characterisation and historical research is excellent. The political manoeuvring of those involved feels so real, as do the military engagements featured, and the desperate hardships of the endeavour. Top notch historical fiction.

Overlying this is the tale of Lukas Bessarion, a Greek noble teenager transported to these events from 7th century Byzantine Empire, where he meets Ayla, a Turkish girl. It’s this storyline that has the magical elements – sorcerers are interested in the outcome of the crusade. The magic is there in the background, but the dish is spiced just right, given the historical element. Initially, I was unsure if I was going to enjoy Lukas and Ayla’s story as much. It has a much more YA feel to it at times than the historical goings on. But I did, and it’s really a testament to the author’s skill and writing chops that she is able to blend so many elements into one novel and keep it as a cohesive whole. I tip my hat to the sheer work that must have gone into this book.

This is the first in a series which features other members of Lukas’ family – perhaps also transported out of time. It seems they are all related, but standalone, in nature.

Anyway, this is the kind of book where you probably know if a medieval historical fiction/ fantasy crossover is something you’ll like. If you’ve been unsure up to now, here’s hoping I’ve convinced you.

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A Ritual of Flesh by Lee Conley

A Ritual of Flesh (The Dead Sagas, #2)A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Been looking forward to getting back to the Dead Sagas because the first book set things up so enticingly, and man, I was not disappointed. I won’t say Conley turns it up to eleven, but…

I think because this series feels so huge, book one took a while to set things up, albeit with that air of menace. But if Ritual of Bone was the suspense laden, drum and bass led introduction, Ritual of Flesh brings in Iommi on lead guitar and Osbourne on vocals and releases all hell on the poor folk of Arnar.

The setting and worldbuilding makes these books, for me, unique and stand out above the crowd. Arnar feels like an authentic Anglo-Saxon/Norse land, a fully realised society and landscape that makes sense and feels real. Thus, when the dead arrive, you feel like it’s all happening to real people, not some cheap scares that you don’t really care about.

We spend more time with the main characters, get to know them more and their paths begin to cross with one another. Some poor bastards simply don’t get a break, but this is fantasy horror, so these characters are gonna get pushed to breaking point. There are some great twists, shocks and reveals as well, and by the end you are excited to find out what is going to happen next.

Plot wise, well. Arnar’s gonna have a hard time of it with threats from all angles. You kind of know what’s coming. But I admire the fact that Conley hasn’t rushed his storytelling, so that when it arrives, it’s much more effective.

There’s at least one more book coming. Feels like there could be quite a few more. Looking forward to the next!

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Ogre’s End Game: Final Audio Release of Me Three

The final book of the Me Three series, Ogre’s End Game, recently got its audiobook release. What a fun project it’s been, listening to Chuck Wagner bring the series to life!

Even if the writing’s gone a bit slowly this year, I can content myself with the release of four audiobooks! It’s been great to hear the positive feedback for Chuck’s performances – thoroughly deserved.

Remember, this series is WIDE, so there are several options to pick up the audio – check out the audiobooks page of my website for all the details.

 

 

 

 

 

Orconomics by J Zachary Pike

Orconomics (The Dark Profit Saga, #1)Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With both books satirising the D&D side of fantasy – from a place of love – it’s no surprise this one has a lot of similarities with my first Og-Grim-Dog book. Many fantasy authors of a certain age recall the freedom of delving into a dungeon with a group of adventurers, happily looting and killing whatever inhabitants they found. Now we’re older and wiser, we tend to complicate simple pleasures. What would that life really be like? Surely, it would only be a matter of time before adventurers unionised and some organisation and bureaucracy grew around the whole process. Hence Pike has the Heroes Guild and I have the Bureau of Dungeoneering. And what about those hapless dungeon dwellers? Shouldn’t we spare a thought for them?

I had feared the books would be too similar. But while mine focuses on one character and is content to be silly about the whole thing, Orconomics is a full fantasy novel, with multiple points of view, backstory and original worldbuilding. It leans into the economics of the subject and by the end has delivered some pretty blistering social commentary.

First things first though, if you’re going to dare to enter this territory, it had better be funny. And this book delivers on the laughs. They’re not try hard; they’re not “look, I’m being hilarious, aren’t I?”; they’re genuinely giggle inducing – the goblin got me, more than once.

The main character is Gorm Ingerson – the classic tough, cynical dwarf. I thought this was a great decision. Because we look at much of the story through his eyes, the madness of the world and the people who inhabit it are made all too clear. He is supported by a great cast, especially his fellow adventurers. Some of these get their own POV sections and all have their own storylines. They are all twists on the stereotypes to some degree and I think the author got the balance between characters and plot/humour just right – it’s not easy juggling so many balls.

There is one sequel at the moment. It doesn’t surprise me to see such a big gap between titles – a lot of thought and care and love has gone into this novel and I highly recommend.

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The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids (Amra Thetys, #1)The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Inaugural winner of the SPFBO competition and I can totally see why this will have picked up high scores across the board.

We get a first person narrative from professional thief Amra Thetys who is a fantastically engaging main character. She has a hard and cynical outer shell beneath which lies honour, bravery and loyalty.

The city of Lucernis is arguably the second most important character. Everything is set here and you get a great feel for its streets, which suits the noir detective style plot. There are some dark and horrible and some noble and some somewhere in the middle characters living there. The book has been edited so tightly that you KNOW there is a much wider world beyond the city, that no doubt gets explored later in the series, but there is no wasted worldbuilding. I found it quite amusing that the author dumps all this extraneous worldbuilding in an appendix at the end, like he had been holding his breath the whole time.

But this story is all about Lucernis and it makes it a focused, relatively low stakes tale of vengeance, treachery and criminality. Amra navigates her way through this. I suppose a bit like a hardboiled detective, she is often saved by others or by events rather than her own actions. She’s certainly not an all powerful character and that makes her more admirable in my eyes. While she does some spying etc I don’t recall her doing a lot of thievery or using her skill set to further the plot, which I often think is a shame when you have thieves as main characters.

It’s not a long book by any means which I found entirely appropriate given the type of story. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and makes you keen to read more.

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Audiobook Release

Og-Grim-Dog and The War of The Dead is now out on audio and is live in all stores.

I have updated my Audiobooks page: it’s now much cleaner and easier to see where you can buy the various titles.

Wrath by John Gwynne

Wrath (The Faithful and the Fallen, #4)Wrath by John Gwynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being book 4 of a 4-book series, this review of Wrath is inevitably also a review of the entire series.

The Faithful and the Fallen does little, if anything, new. Instead, it is almost a love letter to the heroic fantasy genre. In hitting the tropes and doing everything very well, it succeeds in meeting reader expectations and deserves to stand as one of the most popular series in recent years.

Characters

There are so many, and Gwynne does a fantastic job of paying attention to each one, generously giving them the space and time in the story to grow. For one writer to keep in their head so many characters and storylines is an impressive feat. So, we have heroes operating in different areas of The Banished Lands, as well as the villain point of views. And yes, most of them fall into the good and evil categories fairly early on. I enjoyed the fact that the female characters had just as much agency and personality as the male.
The series, then, needs to be recognised as an ensemble performance. This isn’t a single character study and so we don’t get the character depth that we might from a single or three pov series. And honestly, no single character really stood out for me. Corban, the YA male hero was a little vanilla for my tastes – very much the farm boy model so common to the traditional, big series in the genre. But for someone coming to this genre fresh, no doubt a great lead character, for the others to work off. And I always got the sense with this series that Gwynne was at least in part thinking of a teenage audience when he was writing this. The animal characters arguably steal the show. With all the attention on grimdark in recent years a bit of simple heroism, loyalty and Truth and Courage is refreshing.

Worldbuilding

The Banished Lands have I would suggest a sort of Dark Age setting that I enjoyed. Technology is limited, there are no great cities. There are various human kingdoms and the remnants of the previous civilisation to enjoy power – the Giants. Other than that, no other creatures (in the world itself). The political, social and military aspects all made sense. All in all, it leant historical authenticity to the setting which allowed me to settle into the story.
Magic plays a role in the storyline, but it’s kept low key and mysterious. Gwynne makes some attempt to introduce a basic magic system, but he doesn’t go on about it. Few pov characters have magic themselves.
Most characters, therefore, contribute with their military skill – we have swordsmen, axemen, archers, knife-wielding cage fighters etc. This is where Gwynne’s interest lies and it’s in this area I would argue that he excels. Combat feels real and gritty. One-on-one duels, ambushes, through to large-scale warfare with set piece shield wall battles are all handled with real skill and these (for me) are the exciting moments.

Plot

As indicated, there is a good-evil storyline at the heart of this, with some decent twists along the way. The return of good and evil gods and what could perhaps be called a spirit realm or at least another dimension enter the story from time to time and of course come into the finale – a familiar epic fantasy device. This part of the story was perhaps the least successful for me and fortunately wasn’t over-used. It is when Gwynne is dealing with quite brutal, real situations – like Maquin and his revenge storyline – that his writing comes alive.
The search for the seven weapons gives the plot some momentum and requires the characters to travel around the world. There are also political upheavals as kings and queens are overthrown and replaced. With so much going on, Gwynne manages to keep the whole thing action-oriented and fast-paced. Of course, the enemies need to come together for regular showdowns and the grand finale. But there were moments, including in the final book, when I felt the plot became a bit forced or unrealistic and lacked the grand scale of Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.

All in all, this is a great series, epic in every respect. There are no real weaknesses, and I would say every definable aspect would score at least 8/10. It’s in the combat scenes that I would argue it sticks its head above its peers.

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April 2021 Update

Feels like I’ve done a lot of plate-spinning recently, which means there’s lots of news to give you all at once this month.

Firstly, the audiobook version of Og-Grim-Dog and the Dark Lord is now published in all stores. See my audiobook page for the links. Chuck is already busy recording book three!

As for the eBooks, the entire series is now out of Kindle Unlimited and up on pre-order on all retailers stores. Check out the links here for book 1 which releases wide on May 1st. Og-Grim-Dog has got into the top ten (semi-final stage) in ISFAB – the Indie Sci-fi Fantasy Author Battle – the top ten are revealed here.

My short story collection, Mercs & Magi, releases as an eBook on June 21st. It’s now available, for free, for members of my newsletter.

Finally, I am hosting a Humorous Fantasy fair on my website. Check out the fun books and find a new series/author to read.