Magic: The Gathering Artist Thomas Gianni Passes Away
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Science fiction novels, fantasy epics, literary classics, or even DIY magazines: Hannah is constantly searching for a new reading experience. When she's not devouring her latest find, she's writing her own stories for other hungry readers. Hannah plans to graduate with a BA degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in December 2016.
This novel is a sequel to a novel I previously reviewed. There are unavoidable spoilers for Nightlord: Shadows in the book review below. If you wish to avoid these spoilers and read instead about Nightlord: Shadows, you may find it here.
Whited’s staple method of telling a fascinating story shines through in the third installment of his Nightlord series, Orb. Eric is freed from his own dark influences, the same demonic forces that seemed to have overwhelmed him at the end of Shadows. With the help of steadfast companions Firebrand, Bronze, and Tort, Eric escapes from his mind and retakes his body. He immediately leaves Rethven through a portal to another universe, and that’s where the meat of the story really begins.
The new universe Eric finds himself in is much less magical than the universe of Rethven, and he soon finds that even simple spells require large amounts of effort to draw in enough magical energy. This new universe presents Eric with a tremendous problem: with little magic, how is he to get back to Rethven?
I have recognized in Shadows and Orb Eric’s typical reaction to a life-altering, potentially dangerous situation: to go with it. While Whited is still very careful to make it clear to the reader that Eric is not omnipotent or omnipresent, he does display Eric’s exceptional ability to recalculate and reevaluate his choices. Eric assumes the guise of Vlad Smith, an eccentric art and antique collector, in this new universe, as he works to make it back to Rethven.
The universe Eric encounters is as rich in its descriptions as Rethven, and its mere existence offers the opportunity for the setting in the Nightlord series to be as varied as Whited desires. Eric learns that the new universe he escaped to is one that is parallel to his own Earth, though further advanced in time and some technology. A certain search engine and technology monolith is responsible for the majority of transportation in this universe, but other than the notable lack of automotive industries, many things are familiar to both Eric and the readers. The Internet is the Cyber in this universe, and online shopping is still very alive and well.
Whited does an excellent job of making it clear to the reader that Eric is not only a stranger in a strange land, but a man who is searching for more than a way back to a place he had come to love. Eric settles into a home in this new universe and ekes out a living for himself, but as much as he tries to pass notice longer enough to make it back to Rethven, many forces converge on him. He escapes these forces, narrowly, and must uproot his life again.
The challenges Eric goes through in Orb may seem less dire than those he faced in Shadows, but Eric has lost some of his confidence, both in himself and in his abilities. He meets a new companion in the character Mary, a vampire from the new universe he encounters. He takes her under his wing, teaching her magic and how to make the most of her power, and at the same time their relationship blossoms in interesting ways. It is Mary that makes the most difference in Orb, and therefore the most difference in Eric. In Rethven, Eric’s opinions and beliefs were often accepted at face value, or even revered as divine, but in this universe Mary challenges many of Eric’s thoughts about himself, his friends and companions, and the many worlds he’s lived in.
Whited uses Mary – and other characters – to stimulate Eric’s growth as a character, and it results in some of the most interesting reading I’ve had in a while. Sometimes it can seem as if Eric is hung up on some thought or concept, and that’s because he is. Whited dares to follow Eric’s development in the first person, exactly as it comes, and his efforts are rewarded. Orb is more than 650 pages long, but every word is important to the narrative and, ultimately, to Eric’s development. Every word is also extremely readable, and I found myself returning the novel even after I had read it to reread some passages, or to reconsider a thought Whited, through Eric, had provoked.
The same unique characteristics that made Nightlord: Shadows such an enjoyable and unique novel can be found in Nightlord: Orb, and then some. The novel ends with almost as many questions as answers, if not more. I was left with a craving for the worlds that Whited crafted in his Nightlord series, and while I anxiously wait for another installment, I will recommend the series to any fantasy fan and any avid reader. In this market of ephemeral stories and forgettable characters, Whited’s novels offer the selective reader much, much more.
Space-faring adventures are a staple of the science fiction genre, and can take many different shapes, from Firefly to Star Trek to Babylon 5. Neal JB Verne adds another example to the list with Imminent Domain: Finding Goldilocks, and what an example it is!
In Imminent Domain, it is the year 2116 and Earth will soon cease to exist, as the Sun loses hydrogen and begins its transformation into a red giant. The spaceship Parche I carries a five-member crew that hopes to discover a Goldilocks planet, a planet whose conditions and distance from its star is “just right” for human habitation. Commander Jake Conley and his four crewmembers are the only ones aboard the ship and must make difficult decisions that will affect the future of the human race when they find a Goldilocks planet that is already inhabited.
While the novel is always in third person, sometimes Verne switches the perspective of the narrative. One chapter may be from those back on Earth, following them as they make decisions of how and who to evacuate out of the planet’s population, while another may focus on the five crewmembers of the Parche I throughout their journey and their first contact with the Goldilocks planet and still another may focus on the beings of the Goldilocks planet and their ideas about their soon-to-be neighbors. Verne manages to weave all of these perspectives into a cohesive story, making every side equally as effective a part of the story.
Some science fiction space adventures focus heavily on world building or intergalactic diplomacy, while some treat these aspects as less important. Imminent Domain reaches a happy medium, discussing the possible advances of current technology such as 3-D printing while also exploring the personalities and relationships between the crewmembers.
Although the characters start out with only simple descriptions and standard dialogue, readers are slowly able to deduce what each crewmember is like. It’s a diverse set of characters with different ideas about what to do, and this occasionally brings conflict, especially in such close quarters. There are circumstances where the crewmembers disagree with their commander, and where tension frays nerves and causes the characters to snap at one another. The conflict feels genuine and never forced, and the situations where conflict arises are relatable. The characters are never too noble or too wicked to elate to, either. Everyone knows a guy like Greg or a woman like Brenda. The characters are excellent representatives of the variety that human beings naturally possess, the variety that is worth striving to save.
The Goldilocks world and its inhabitants bring up interesting questions to ponder. In this new world that Jake and his crewmates hope to settle for the pending masses of humanity, the social hierarchy is extremely different, based more on a socialist model than the capitalist model readers may be used to. This brings more understandable conflict into question: will humans be able to conform to this new social system? Will they be willing to submit to the rules and laws of a new land or will they instead wage war and conquer this new world? Jake and his crewmates, as the first human ship to come in contact with the Goldilocks world, set the precedent for relations and circumstances on their new home, and Verne explores the consequences of their actions thoroughly in Imminent Domain.
Reading Verne space-based novel was a thrill – he describes the details of space travel in easy-to-understand ways that can interest even science fiction beginners. His explanations are never too technical but still capture the imagination. Imminent Domain: Finding Goldilocks is an excellent addition to space literature, and its sequel, Imminent Domain: Left Behind is sure to be just as enthralling.
For more information about this book, check out Verne's website at - http://www.nealjbverne.com/
High fantasy, even when taken in the vein of constituting a world entirely different from our own, can be intimidating. The genre often invokes images of epics such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table, or complicated worlds and cultures that take serious concentration to unravel. Rarely does high fantasy come across as easy to capture or easy to read. The Pygmy Dragon is an epic story that is both vastly different from our own world and yet strangely familiar.
Pip, a moniker that is a much-shortened version of her Pygmy tribal name, is a plucky young protagonist who begins the story in tragic, harsh circumstances. These circumstances never completely take her spirit, however, and Pip comes to life almost as soon as the novel begins. Her journey from her home village to a zoo and finally to the Dragon Rider Academy, where she faces physical as well as mental challenges on her path to become a Dragon Rider.
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Pip’s journey is never ordinary, but the extraordinary twists and turns that the narrative takes are always believable because of Secchia’s characters. The characters’ reactions read as they would in our world: shock, delight, contempt, even jealousy. There is infighting and rivalry, as well as a sort of bonding and friendship that only occur under extreme pressure. The dragons, too, are all afforded their own particular set of characteristics. They are a noble and terribly proud race, as fantasy usually designates them, but each dragon has their own personality, often eschewing the stereotypical temperament of their “type.”
The characters are as nuanced as those found in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and indeed The Pygmy Dragon brings to mind much about the later Harry Potter novels that I enjoyed: dark and magical circumstances mingled with the typical teenage angst and longings, a serious and intense struggle with opposing forces that has real costs and real consequences. Friends band together to support a protagonist who is trying to remain as true to herself as possible, even as she is unsure what form that self make take. There is real humor, snarky comments and snide dialogue and an abundance of puns, and moments that truly delight. The Pygmy Dragon is a serious novel about real issues – self-identity, belonging, love and friendship – but it is not a novel that takes itself too seriously. It is as fun to read as it is thrilling.
High fantasy is characterized not only by epic characters and story, but by the creation of a world separate from our own. Secchia creates a geography, a lore, and a thousand cultures that are truly unique. While some customs of certain cultures may draw from real-world counterparts, it never derives from the story. I particularly admire Secchia’s commitment to telling a story where the majority of characters are coded as people of color and their cultures are described in respectful, matter-of-fact ways. Yaethi, while described in a Nordic fashion, dresses modestly and wears her hair covered at all times. Pip’s own culture is also respected, though the Pygmy penchant for going without clothes confuses and scandalizes her instructors, classmates, and friends during her first few weeks at the Academy. Dragon culture is also explained well, so that readers get a sense of how interacting with magical, renown creatures would actually play out.
The floral and fauna that make up the Island-World are described minutely, and the overall social aspects of Pip’s world are just as methodological. There are scholars who study supposedly “primitive” cultures, whose people are all-too-often colonized or kidnapped and sold as slaves or attractions. The slang found in Island standard, the main language spoken across the Island-World, relies heavily on expressions dealing with the Islands themselves or the Dragons: “Dragon-swift” for quickly, or “by the Islands!” as an exclamation of surprise or excitement. This devotion to specific detail actually makes The Pygmy Dragon extremely relatable to readers, as it reflects our world just enough to make things familiar.
Pip’s journey is not only about riding and fighting with Dragons, training with weapons, or learning complex lore. She pursues an education just as much for herself as she does to better her life and to improve her circumstances. Pip stands up for what she believes in, even to the point of physically fighting for it. She protects others with ferocity but also seeks to understand those who antagonize her. Pip is also flawed: she’s clumsy in her new environment, she is mischievous and teasing, and sometimes she doesn’t realize the impact she has on others and her own surroundings. Still, Pip is a wonderful character for readers to interact with, and an excellent representation of what women-of-color can be in fantasy.
The Pygmy Dragon is an excellent showcase of how accessible fantasy novels can be, while still retaining their magic and allure. I recommend this novel to any fans of dragons, adventure, and coming-of-age stories. It has quickly become a favorite of my own, and I look forward to joining Pip for another adventure in Marc Secchia’s sequel, The Onyx Dragon.
Fantasy tales, with all of their adventure and excitement, can sometimes be a chore to read. Authors often take the majority of a book to introduce the worlds and its ways, creatures, and conflicts, and while this often leaves the reader with a richer sense of the world in which the story takes place, it is accompanied with a distinct lack of action. Even what could be considered one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written, The Lord of the Rings, has a first book that could be said to contain little more than exposition and walking. This is not necessarily a fault of fantasy novels, but finding a lively, adventurous fantasy novel is always a pleasant diversion from more complicated fantasy stories. The Rainblade is such a novel.
In The Rainblade, David Jones exhibits a startling lack of exposition: less than ten pages in, the protagonist Kade Hollander finds the eponymous Rainblade, and within thirty pages is well on his way to beginning the quest that will define the novel. The novel actually takes place over the course of only a few days, as Kade fights for his life against a grave illness and mysterious forces. This quick pacing makes for lively encounters, and with a length of barely more than three hundred pages, the story is both easily digestible and easily read. I finished The Rainblade over the course of a few days, but anyone with a few hours to spare could finish the novel in one sitting.
Don’t let The Rainblade’s length and pace fool you, however – it’s a read with a powerful punch. Over the days I read The Rainblade and even the days after, I found myself mulling over the story in idle moments. What would become of Kade, the Rainblade, and the rest of the host of colorful, interesting characters that Jones built throughout the novel? The Rainblade packs a heaping dose of fantasy elements into a small package, together with humor and battles enough to entertain any fantasy lover.
Kade is a fascinating protagonist. Readers first meet Kade as a solitary, out-of-shape drunkard with a muddled past that once included wielding a sword in preparation for knighthood, whose days are spent drinking and roaming the land and whose nights are spent finding either women to bed or places to sneak into and sleep. He isn’t the most inspiring character at the beginning, not too smart and not too courageous, and he even attempts to sell the Rainblade immediately after finding it. As often happens, however, the story forces Kade into situations that test his true nature and his inner strength, pushing him beyond himself to help others in their times of need. He seeks his cure and rediscovers himself along the way.
Kade still maintains a sense of humor as he moves along his journey, and even as he becomes a changed man Kade is still a reluctant hero. He is presented with power and magic beyond belief, but he only pursues finding a cure to his illness, and perhaps some good mead and pretty women. He’s a simple man with simple tastes and simple desires, an everyman that faces impossible odds and harrowing battles with determination and grit, and a few jokes. Reading about Kade was never boring, and combined with the way Jones paces The Rainblade, I never found myself skimming sections. I was genuinely invested in the fate of Kade and the friends he makes along the way, and I couldn’t wait until I could pick up The Rainblade again.
I devoured every word of The Rainblade and savored it, enjoying the battles and the magic and the characters I encountered without needing a map of the world of a complete index of the political structure of the government. If you’re looking for a fun read with lots of action and humor, or even if you just want a break from in-depth high fantasy novels, pick up The Rainblade as soon as possible.
Science fiction and fantasy are all about expanding new horizons and augmenting the knowledge we currently hold. It is only fitting, then, that a new first for myself as an Epicstream reviewer come in the package of a fantasy and science fiction novel. This is the first time I have had the pleasure to read both the beginning novel of a series and its direct sequel, and that it is The IX Series by Andrew P. Weston makes that first all the sweeter.
In my review of The IX, I mentioned it is a refreshing blend of the classic elements of science fiction and fantasy. In Exordium of Tears, Weston continues this tradition of mixing the best of the best with new, thrilling storylines. The sequel follows the majority of the characters from The IX as they move toward a more democratic, established society in the wake of a long battle with the Horde, enemies with a surprising origin. This development into a more civilized way of life eventually leads the characters into interstellar travel as they attempt to resettle and reshape colonies affected by the Horde.
Although the novel itself is satisfying and fulfilling as its own work, I highly recommend readers first take in The IX before reading Exordium of Tears. As a reader who did so, I found the experience enriching. The sequel has enough nods to the first novel in The IX Series that understanding the events of The IX is helpful to reading Exordium of Tears, but it never felt like a rehash of the first novel, nor like Weston was trying too hard to expand the universe and characters he built up in The IX. The progression of the story was understandable and logically follows from the conclusion of The IX, and the same themes of honor, duty, and the survival of humanity that made The IX a favorite of mine are also present in Exordium of Tears.
One of the best aspects of reading Exordium of Tears is the way that Weston allows characters who once had minor or even passing roles in The IX a chance to flourish in new and unexpected ways. Several characters are far more prominent in Exordium of Tears, and while this growth is certainly necessary for the success of the novel, Weston writes his characters in such a natural way that the growth is never forced.
Weston doesn’t hide his characters’ flaws or mistakes, which makes them all the more admirable: they’re allowed to be human. This humanity is explored and expanded, almost to the breaking point, by the circumstances the characters encounter. These situations are neither artificial, nor forced – they’re logical consequences of decisions made or actions taken by the characters, and thus more dramatic than any deus ex machina set-up more mainstream books may employ.
The attention to detail of both the ancient Earth culture of some characters and the new, expanding culture in Exordium of Tears is astounding. Plausible explanations are provided for scientific advances, problems are solved thoroughly but realistically, and conflicts occur that seem organic and understandable. While some characters are neither sympathetic nor likeable, they only enhance the world that Weston has built in The IX Series. Relationships between characters, be they platonic or romantic, blossom in a way that feels genuine, and the perspectives that Weston shifts through to provide a multifaceted mode of delivery never complicate the overarching story or its themes. Weston maintains a precarious balancing act, an act which pays in dividends as the story of Exordium of Tears unfolds.
As Weston continues to expand The IX Series, I look forward to following the progress of the world he has crafted. If Exordium of Tears is any indication of the growth Weston will continue to undergo as a writer, the story will only get better from here.
Tales involving fairy folk haven’t reached popular fantasy book lists for a while. There have been a few young adult renditions in recent years, and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher has certainly given adult fantasy readers a new interpretation of fairies, but stand-out novels solely about the Fae have been few and far between. The Old Ways by R.K. Summers has become the most recent addition to that rare and illustrious list.
The story centers around Thomas Rhymer, a seemingly normal young man living a mundane but peaceful existence with his mother and his younger sister, Alissa. Although the characters could have easily taken a backseat to the plot in this some of semi-high fantasy, Thomas is fully fleshed out with flaws equal to, if not sometimes greater than, his more positive attributes: though he undertakes a quest to save his sister, she annoys him and he loses focus more than once; he is young and strong, but he becomes embarrassed and sullen when he makes mistakes; he holds family in high esteem but he holds a deep resentment to the father he believes abandoned his family. Summers paints a picture of a classic fantasy hero that readers can easily relate to – he has quirks and grievances, he has failings and successes, and ultimately Thomas represents what is it to be human.
Summers also paints a great picture of the other two races presented in The Old Ways, the Seelie and the Unseelie. Their features and types of magic are crystal clear and the animosity between the two races never feels forced or overdone. The plight of the Seelie underneath their Unseelie oppressors is dire and gruesome, and accordingly some Seelie fall into despair while others rally for their freedom and for their queen. The Unseelie who rule over them, too, are not united as a featureless mob, and some Unseelie grapple with moral choices and the often fatal consequences of those choices.
It is the choices and circumstances present in The Old Ways that make it so difficult to recommend a specific age range. Summers does not hesitate to confront dark subjects, like death, betrayal, rape, and slavery. In fact, while he is never graphic in his descriptions, it is clear at all times what is happening: Summers respects her readers enough to deliver to them a story complete with ethical quandaries that can sometimes be uncomfortable to read through. She never delivers these circumstances for mere shock value, however – there is always a deeper purpose to everything included in The Old Ways.
Adults and older teenagers are the ideal audience for this book, though mature younger teenagers, too, will find this a worthwhile read. There are references to classical mythology and literature for every level of reader, from the character of Queen Mab to the Great Hunt, to the legends of selkies and creation gods, and including the dichotomy between pagan “old ways” and the “new” Judeo-Christian religion. Younger readers should probably wait to enjoy The Old Ways.
Enjoying The Old Ways is easy, however, thanks to the attention Summers gives to the world he molds. I say that this novel is semi-high fantasy because there are many aspects of our world that carry over into the world in which Thomas lives. There are enough differences, however, to deem it a totally new place for fantasy lovers to explore. The land of Albion in particular is wondrous in both landscape and inhabitants, with more creatures mentioned lurking in the forests, air, and sea than the novel could feasibly portray. The interactions of these creatures with the humans, Seelie, and Unseelie that live in Thomas’s world are fascinating, and include pirates that fly on feathered harpies as well as giants who live underground.
While one can certainly read The Old Ways simply for the pleasure of encountering the incredible world that Summers shapes, the storyline itself it captivating. I mentioned before the dark topics that Summers explores through the choices and circumstances of his characters, and I stress that the events that unfold never seem too predictable or too rushed. Summers weaves clues as to Thomas’s true identity throughout the novel and there are moments where characters take advantage of the knowledge – or even lack of knowledge – of the other characters in surprising ways. There are prophecies that come to fulfillment through unexpected ends, and people and creatures who are not what they seem. The interplay of the characters and plot in The Old Ways is a large part of what makes Summers such a master at his craft. He uses subtleties and clues in ways that make reading and discovering the answers gratifying, never frustrating.
The Old Ways by R.K. Summers is a fantastic fantasy read dedicated to exploring both the nuances of faeries and the worlds they inhabit and the consequences of choice. If you enjoy tales of surprising depth, I highly recommend The Old Ways. I’ll be anxious to see if Summers continues to write about the adventures of Thomas in the world of the Fae.
A power-thirsty ruler sends his armies to slaughter a peaceful race because a prophecy foretells that the savior of the earth, the only one who can foil the ruler’s nefarious plans, will be one of those people. The genocide leaves only a handful of survivors, mostly children, who flee with a guardian who hides them for their own survival. One of those children is the one destined to save the world and must be trained and protected until ready to do so.
Sounds familiar, right? Many fantasy works play off of this basic coming-of-age theme, including the esteemed Avatar: The Last Airbender series. There are several additional aspects of the Legacies of the Lore Master series that may seem familiar to fantasy lovers, but the story can stand on its own as well thanks to the magnificent world that J.T.F. Dvorak builds.
The story, though occasionally changing points of view, focuses on Zhenlar, a fourteen-year-old boy, along with his adoptive siblings and friends Sydney and Soethe, and their master Sanakan. After the town they’re staying in is raided by a swarm of soldiers, they flee on their black dragon, Leon, and Zhenlar learns the truth about his background: he, along with his three friends, is the last of the Erenden race. Furthermore, he learns of his destiny: he is the Lore Master, the only being capable of mastering the three different types of magic that exist in his world, and a promoter of peace.
Cerraterra, the world where Successor of Erenden takes place and the world Zhenlar must protect, is host to three types of magic: Human magic, Aeserith magic, and Erenden magic, a hybrid of the two available only to the Erenden race, born of a union between a Human and an Aeserith. Each system of magic has its specialties. Aeserith magic is subtle, all about influencing the environment, the real, and the unreal; Human magic focuses on brute force and elemental features, launching fierce attacks and landing hard blows; Erenden magic is a middle ground, influencing the environment with power and twisting the real and unreal to go on the offense. There are other magics too, subsets of these three divisions, and some that are so ancient or so unique that the characters themselves are unable to definitively put them into any one category.
The characters, too, are masterfully crafted. Zhenlar is mature, “wise beyond his years,” and although he must grow quickly to fulfill the role of Lore Master, Dvorak is still careful to show his readers signs that Zhenlar is still just a teenager. After giving in to a phenomenon called the Possession and witnessing the consequences, Zhenlar falls sobbing on his master, unable to comprehend the damage and death he has dealt. Any character like Zhenlar runs the risk of always asking the right questions and figuring out the right answers but Dvorak balances his successes with failures, mistakes, and missteps. Like any other teenager, Zhenlar becomes anxious and fearful, he loses his temper, and sometimes he is arrogant, he argues with his friends and he gives his trust too freely. It is the faults that Dvorak gives Zhenlar that make his journey to fully become the Lore Master a highly believable one.
King Nesaelay of Naderadd, the ruler who seeks more and more power, is also a believable villain. He is the master of himself and his kingdom, expecting respect and obedience from those who serve him, and he is firm in exacting any punishment he feels necessary when his subjects fall short. He is brutal, he is tyrannical, yet ultimately readers will find that there is more to Nesaelay than there first seems. Still, he seeks a power that he barely understands and is not above torturing a young man to determine what he must do to safeguard against any that would stop his plans. He is vicious, he is brutal, and he is a villain worthy of persevering against.
Dvorak writes Successor of Erenden in a truly wonderful way, incorporating wit and humor into a story that could have easily become centered solely on action. He, too, expands the novel into dark, grim areas, and the characters often face difficult choices, the consequences of which are very explicit. Lives are lost, both innocent and evil, friends betray one another, and there are moments of pain and agony that will linger with readers long after the novel. Yet Successor of Erenden is ultimately a novel of hope and growth, and as the climax of the story unfolds that hope becomes evident.
Successor of Erenden is a fabulous novel for almost all readers, though the youngest I would recommend would be older teenagers due to some of the darker themes it explores. J.T.F. Dvorak has certainly interested me in the Legacies of the Lore Master saga, a series that I highly recommend you delve into.
Many fantasy novels written in modern times are too…well, fantastic. The creatures and their hierarchies, the various groups that use popular corporations as fronts, the millions of details that are all so carefully concealed from the rest of the world, be them mundanes or Muggles. While there are fantastic leaps of logic in William Little’s Magadon, the novel is also surprisingly grounded in the way that characters think and feel and the reactions they have to fantastical and magical phenomenon. The fantasy of Magadon is subtle and encourages readers to contemplate the questions the novel presents in new, different ways.
If I had to give Magadon a specific subgenre, I wouldn’t be able to, and that speaks to Little’s varied writing. There are elements of buddy-cop detective stories, true crime novels, wilderness and survival tales, and Arthurian royal fantasy, all wrapped into a very accessible tale about a man who has lost everything he loves and dares to continue living.
“Life happens, and the aftermath is the stuff that determines who we are.”
Ben Smith begins Magadon living a “charmed” life in Oceanside, California, a fact that he readily acknowledges. He is successful and well-respected in his field, moderately wealthy, married to a beautiful wife with four children. Life is perfect for Ben Smith until it goes tragically wrong. In the wake of the death of his beloved wife and children, Ben loses the drive and purpose he once had in life. It isn’t until a minor accident changes the course of his life that Ben finally heads out to Colorado, purchasing a ranch sight-unseen.
Magadon is presented through multiple viewpoints, which is necessary given the complex world that Little creates. The novel is seemingly set in the present-day United States, but as readers continue through the novel it becomes increasingly clear that all is not what is seems in the world of Magadon. Little treats these discrepancies with reverence but never self-importance: the fantastic elements of Magadon are whatever the readers interpret them to be. Little also treats his readers with respect, offering clues throughout the novel for those inquiring minds who attempt to discover the secrets on their own, but also presenting a wonderful story in itself for those who prefer to simply see where their reading takes them. As I read through the novel I began to piece together some idea of what was going on, but there were still enough unanswered questions to drive me on. Detectives and pleasure readers alike will appreciate the tale they discover in Magadon.
Little’s world is magnificent in itself, but the added layer of varied characters in Magadon is what truly gives the novel life. There are aspects of Native American culture incorporated respectfully into the novel, as well as the charms of a small town, the allures of a sunny city, and the fierce nature of an untamed mountain wilderness. Every character, from Oceanside, California to Fenton, Colorado, adds a unique flavor to the overall story, giving it an authenticity that I couldn’t help but appreciate. Even the villains are well shaped, as I learned their true natures slowly throughout the story. There are a few moments where the characters don’t seem fleshed out, but more often than not Little provides an interesting cast of people to tell the story of Magadon.
I am reluctant to give too much detail about the fantasy aspects of Magadon, as I don’t want to spoil the surprising twist that accompanies those aspects towards the end of the novel, but suffice it to say that Little has created a unique sort of fantasy. There are mentions of power unimaginable, of abilities both magical and terrifying, early enough in the novel that it is clear that elements of fantasy come into play, but readers are able to discover those fantastic elements along with the characters they read about. Little does a great job of balancing show with tell, exposition with simple reveal, and thus he makes the world and story of Magadon as interesting as it is detailed.
Little’s writing is extremely accessible to readers of all levels and most ages. While I recommend a mature audience for this novel due to some of the rather graphic details included, the story itself is a remarkably fresh one, a tale of love but also individuality, of destiny and fate but also the idea that everyone has the ability to choose where their life leads. Magadon was, for me, surprisingly insightful, as it told a universal sort of story even with the specific details Little uses to paint his world for readers. The multiple character perspectives that Little uses are never confusing, even as they meld into one another – at any given point in the novel, it is easy to determine who is thinking and speaking.
Magadon is more than a fantasy novel, and more than a tale about a man learning to define himself again after the unthinkable occurs. It’s a story about how choice can affect circumstances and fate, about the drive and will to live in even the worst situations, and about the ways in which our lives are our own, even when everything seems out of our control. Ultimately, William Little’s Magadon is a story about humanity, and it’s definitely a story you should read.
Note from the Reviewer: Happy New Year to all of Epicstream’s readers! Be sure to keep up with Epicstream in the new year to see what’s in store for 2016.
Time-traveling, second chances after certain death, distant planets, overcoming a powerful, dangerous enemy – all of these concepts have been major staples of science fiction and fantasy since the genres were first conceived. I have read so many novels that often felt like a retelling of a specific plot structure, so many that featured these aspects in the same ways as fantasy or science-fiction “classics,” so many stories simply updated for a new generation. While there is truly nothing new under the sun, Andrew Weston’s The IX is a refreshing read that incorporates all of these classic aspects in a way that truly feels new.
The blurb for The IX describes the novel thus: “Soldiers from varying eras and vastly different backgrounds, including the IX Legion of Rome, are snatched away from at the moment of their passing, and transported to the far side of the galaxy.” I honestly didn’t think all of this would mesh well in the narrative, but Weston’s finesse with character and powerful command of language made even this most audacious idea read smoothly. In fact, The IX has quickly become one of my favorite books, period.
While reading The IX, I summarized its plot as working in the same way that the premise of the Night at the Museum movie series works. Both works feature characters of note and of legend from different points in time and vastly different cultures, taking even sworn enemies and pitting them together in the face of a common enemy. Night at the Museum is a fantasy-comedy movie, but while Weston’s The IX does have comical moments, it ultimately goes to much darker places with much higher stakes.
The characters within The IX are from different times, different cultures, and even different planets, but it’s never confusing as to who is who. Weston’s use of diction makes his characters distinctive. Be they Roman legionnaires, Native American warriors, or twenty-first century high-tech mercenary teams, every nuance of personality comes through. There is no real main character in the novel, but instead a rotating cast of characters. Though this many points of view could have spiraled out of control in a less experienced author’s hands, Weston has a real mastery with balancing so many characters in such a complex narrative.
Speaking of the narrative, other than the basic premise that brings all the characters together, Weston makes calculated leaps of logic: Roman legionnaires training other members in marching movements, twenty-first century diamond miners leading expeditions, ancient folklore of Native Americans and highlanders leading the fight back against a persistent enemy. The cultures from various eras interact and mesh in extraordinary ways, and yet The IX always preserves those cultures distinctly. They cooperate but always retain the characteristics that make them unique, and the conflicts that develop are understandable. Weston works suspense and danger into the novel in digestible doses: enough to keep it interesting, but never overwhelming.
If you come back from watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens and find yourself pining for a galaxy far, far away with a few familiar elements, I highly recommend The IX by Andrew P. Weston.
Most of the books I have reviewed lately have dealt with supernatural elements that exist beneath the notice of ordinary human lives. Secrecy is of the utmost importance to those who combat the more sinister side of the supernatural, as the world would crumble if faced with forces it could never understand or control. Chris Philbrook’s Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death, from the very first page, counteracts this secrecy. Philbrook creates a world where the fantastic and the mundane coexist, where dragons are asked for autographs and wizards are on the payroll of governmental agencies. This sort of freedom leaves interesting spaces for the narrative of the story to explore, and in this regard Philbrook does not disappoint.
Similar to many of the books I have reviewed, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death is a sequel in a previously-established fantasy universe. There is enough information given that even though I began the novel with only a vague sense of who the characters are and what is happening in their universe, I soon picked up the thread of the story and continued reading without a hitch. It helps that this second novel of The Reemergence follows Ambryn and a cast of characters that seem to be distinctly separate from the previous novel. In fact, aside from recurring characters and a few allusions to events in the first novel, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death could almost stand alone.
One of the most important points that carry over from the first novel is that magic, which was once dying in the world, has been reborn with the birth of a new purple dragon. This is both a source of hope for characters who had believed they were the last of a lineage or practicing a dying art, and also a major source of conflict, as more ominous characters use the reemergence of magical power as an opportunity to expand their evil enterprises.
Though written as urban fantasy, Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death has a distinctly detective feel to it, as readers follow the efforts of Ambryn and the agents and affiliates of The Paranormal Agency to link horrific accidents to Las Vegas vampires, the eponymous Cheaters of Death. There are cover ups, conspiracies, and double agents, and Sin City as the setting of the novel lends it a certain aspect of noir fiction. The novel has everything a fantasy lover craves, with the kind of gritty realism that even the most hardboiled detective novel lovers would appreciate. Philbrook weaves a tale that manages to incorporate magic and the supernatural into the modern world quite efficiently, in a way that neither denies the overall existence of the paranormal nor disregards the affect human recognition has on supernatural creatures and abilities, making it accessible to many different readers.
Philbrook’s writing, too, makes Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death a universally appealing novel. His dialogue flows naturally, a hard task when characters are discussing vampires and other paranormal activity. The characters feel authentic and the action scenes are genuinely thrilling, as unpredictable as real life. Even though there was clearly a side I felt I was supposed to align with, the morals of all of the characters and the themes of the novel are never clearly black and white, another success on Philbrook’s part. The novel makes dragons and vampires and other things that go bump in the night feel honest because it never reads like a fairy tale. Good isn’t guaranteed to win in the world Philbrook has crafted, and both good and evil may not be at all what they seem.
Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death was a delight to read, a wonderful universe to explore with Chris Philbrook’s writing as an excellent guide. I highly recommend anyone interested in urban fantasy, detective fiction, or good books in general to read Ambryn & The Cheaters of Death as soon as possible. The only problem I expect you’ll find is that you’ll have to wait a little while for a sequel.