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.

March Update

I’m busy as usual trying to get some writing done on a new series in amongst everything else. There are 2 big news items I had to mention though.

Firstly, Og-Grim-Dog and The Dark Lord has been longlisted in Booknest’s Fantasy Awards for best self-published fantasy of 2020. How awesome! There are 2 days left of voting for your favourite books so please go and take part.

Secondly, the audio for book one of the series is now live and for sale in most stores. I have all the links to the various places it’s on sale on the Audio Books page on my website. Chuck has already begun recording book two so hopefully there won’t be too long a wait on that one either!

Audiobooks Announcement

I’m excited to announce that all 4 books of the Me Three Series are going to be recorded in audiobook format.

Narration is by Chuck Wagner. A cult legend in the sci-fi & fantasy world as the star of 80s TV series Automan & with a long career in the theatre, he has the perfect voice to take on the role of the infamous ogre, Og-Grim-Dog.

I have listened to book one and I can’t wait for people to hear this performance. The audiobooks will be released wide to all retailers and I will post more updates when I have them.

Grimdark Magazine Feature

2021 looks set to be a writing (when I can) kinda year rather than a publishing year. There will definitely be some news on my current series coming, but brand new material will have to wait for 2022.

Given that, it’s nice to come out the gates of the new year with a short story featured in Grimdark magazine. Stiff’s Standoff was written as a piece of grimdark – a morally grey character, mercenary leader Lothar ‘Stiff’ Sauer, is trying to get by in a bleak world. Throw in some dark humour and you have (in my opinion) the classic grimdark blueprint. So it’s nice that the story has found its natural home in grimdark magazine.

You can check out issue #25 online at GDM or on Amazon/KU.