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Book Review: Jala’s Mask by Mike and Rachel Grinti

Jala's MaskJala and her people live on the Five-and-One Islands. They are a proud race of raiders who have mastered the art of building magical ships from the reefs that surround and protect their islands. This has been the way of her people for the last two hundred years. But things are about to change. King Azi is looking for a new bride and Jala is on the short list. Jala has been raised to be queen and there is nothing that her father wants more than for this to happen. When the time comes for their meeting, Jala is the exact opposite of what her parents have told her to be. This catches the king’s eye and, despite his uncle’s reservations, he chooses to marry her. Jala is whisked away from her family and friends and thrust into the middle of island politics. She quickly learns that her father’s ambitions stretch far beyond just wanting his daughter to be queen. On the second night of her arriving at her new home, the island is attacked by mysterious ships arriving with a heavy fog that reeks of foul magic. One of the islands is decimated and others have not been heard from. In these circumstances, it falls to Azi and Jala to save their people, while trying to navigate the dangerous waters of island politics and trying to get to know one another.

This is not the type of novel I normally read. This is the type of novel I normally read. Those last two sentences are not typos. This is a fantasy novel that is filled with action and adventure, and I normally read those. This novel is a love story set in a fantasy world, and I don’t normally read those. In the end, the co-author team of the Grintis made this a coherent novel that should appeal to a larger swath of audience than your normal run-of-the-mill fantasy novel. This is the type of novel that could get someone who is interested in romance novels to read a fantasy book. This novel, like the Navy SEALs, does double duty at land and on sea.

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Book Review: The Wraith-Bearing Tree by James Enge (A Tournament of Shadows, Book 2)

Wraith-Bearing TreeFate and Chaos are fighting again. These two mysterious powers have decided to go on a killing spree, and their chosen victims are the little gods that permeate the land of Kaen. The people of the Wardlands, just across the Narrow Sea, fear that this wave of deicide could be the precursor to a Kaenian invasion of their country. With this in mind and a little internal treachery, Vocates Aloe Oaij and Morlock Ambrosius are dispatched to Kaen to find out just what Fate and Chaos are up to and to defend the lands they have sworn to protect as Graith of Guardians. After yet another at-sea disaster, the two guardians must confront and often kill many frightened gods. They must even face a murderous dragon who has been promised much power if he delivers the head of Morlock to the two powers (Fate and Chaos). If this wasn’t enough, they must fight a demon summoned by none other than Morlock’s absentee father, the necromancer Merlin. Oh yeah, and love is in the air…

I was glad that this book was broken down the way it was, but it almost could have been listed as more of a collection of interrelated quests rather than a single book. Enge is a student of history and is well versed in the legends surrounding Merlin and his ilk. I think he tried to capture this and, in 90 percent of what he did, he was spot on, but rather than breaking the book into five parts I would have preferred to see it broken into several novellas. This storyline reads like the old epics, and the title of the book ends up being misleading because of it. This book is called The Wraith-Bearing Tree, but said tree is really mostly in the beginning of the book and mentioned later on, but it isn’t important enough to be the title, so I almost felt misled. One other complaint I have about the book is the cover. The cover illustration is well done—an eye catcher—and it made me want to read the book. The problem I had is that Morlock looks nothing like his description; the guy on this cover looks like he could double on a bodice ripper, not the crooked-shouldered almost anti-hero that Morlock actually is. He is an amazing character and part of his amazing comes from the fact that he isn’t dashing. The guy on the cover actually lessens who Morlock actually is.

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Book Review: Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

Falling SkyA disease turned most of the world’s human population into ferals two generations ago. Most of the folks who survived took to the skies to get away from the highly contagious bug. They have taken to the air in dirigibles and airships, but, like all birds, occasionally they must land to forage for supplies and when they do the threat of ferals is omnipresent. Ben Gold inherited his ship from his stoic and practical father who taught him how to survive, and survive he has. To do so, he has teamed up with a group of scientists who are looking for a cure to the bug. At the same time, there is a resource- and power-hungry city that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals. While defending the scientists, Ben has his ship stolen and now not only must he learn to survive on terra firma, but he also must find a way to get his ship, the only home he has ever known and his strongest tie to his beloved father, back.

First the book is called Falling Sky, not to be mixed up with the television series Falling Skies. No aliens here, but plenty of ruined stuff. This book is what would happen if Woody Allen piloted an airship in a post-pandemic world. Now don’t let the Woody Allen thing scare you away—hear me out. Like Woody Allen, Ben worries about a lot of things: his ship, ferals, the bug, the ground, not being in the air, the scientists—you name it, he worries about it. His worries are founded; however, his constant worrying rivals Allen’s characters’ in many of his movies. Keeping with the Woody Allen comparison, Ben says or does the wrong thing almost always with women. I almost forgot: like Allen’s characters, Ben seems to jump from one out-of-control situation to another.

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Book Review: The Lady (Marakand #2) by K.V. Johansen

The LadyAhjvar the Leopard, the cursed and undying assassin, has been captured. Well, actually, he is possessed by a ghost that gains power from death, and the capturing part came from the Lady of Marakand. He has been enslaved by her fell powers and, through the dark art of necromancy, has become the captain of her elite, undead red masks. His sidekick/shieldbearer/groom/caretaker Ghu is trying to free his friend and former master Ahjvar. Ghu has the ability to break the necromantic bonds that tie the undead to the living world, and Ghu’s loyalty knows no bounds. He is willing to do whatever it takes to free his friend, even if it means destroying what little is left of Ahjvar’s soul. Deyandara, who is the last of the royal bloodline of the Catairman, rides into a war-torn land that is as pox-ridden as it is blood-stained, seeking help from allies she abandoned months ago. They stand little hope of holding up against the terror-inducing, nigh-indestructible red guard, led by Ahjvar and the divine powers of the Lady. Meanwhile in the city of Marakand, rebellion stirs as the entombed gods Gurhan and Ilbialla seek to displace the Lady. The mortals leading this rebellion are a wizard, the shapeshifting Blackdog, and a bear-demon named Mikki. They can’t breach the divine magical defenses the Lady has established, and Moth, the only person who they think can help them, has vanished with the powerful sword Lakkariss.

This book, like its predecessor The Leopard, was difficult to finish. The Lady left me feeling like I had wasted my time. This book felt like a long trek through the desert with a very limited amount of water, no protective clothing, and a quarter bottle of sunscreen. I was lost, I was tired, and I was confused and not really happy. Johansen went big when she should have gone small, she went right when she should have gone left, and, in the end, The Lady was just as big of a hot mess as The Leopard was.

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Book Review: Fire in the Blood by Erin Evans

Fire in the BloodThe Sundering is a world-changing event that is ushering in the newest edition of the iconic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. The activities surrounding this move by Shar, goddess of loss and secrets (amongst other things), were captured in a book series aptly named The Sundering. One of those books was written by Erin Evans and featured her two iconic tiefling twins, their dragonborn adoptive father, and several love interests and some folks from the Nine Hells—you know just for flavor. Erin Evans has continued this tale with Fire in the Blood. This epic fantasy novel takes place mostly in the land of the Purple Dragon, the kingdom of Cormyr. The kingdom is at war with Sembia, who has allied itself with Shar and her forces of darkness. As is typical for the forest kingdom, internal political matters threaten to overshadow the external war that threatens to destroy the kingdom and give the forces of darkness the foothold they need.

Both of the twins are involved with love triangles that make the most jaded soap opera viewer salivate. These triangles actually involve more than three people because when the twins are involved, the other twin is always a factor, then adding in their dragonborn adopted father makes things more complicated. In one case, the future leadership of Cormyr is at stake, and in another a warlock’s powers and soul are at stake. To further complicate matters, the current heir to the throne has gone missing in a magical mishap and the son third in line for the throne has fallen into a magical coma resulting from the same accident that sent his father to places unknown. Agents of Shar have been discovered inside the walls of the capital of Cormyr, and trying to uncover their plots while not upsetting the delicate political balance is proving more dangerous than anyone could imagine. As if all of this wasn’t enough, trouble is brewing in the Nine Hells. Oh, and did I mention that gods once thought dead are rising again?

This book is epic fantasy. Normally I don’t expect this much intricate story from individual Forgotten Realms books, but Evans jumped in with both feet and showed zero fear when she did it. In past reviews, I have been in awe of Evans’s ability to balance the Machiavellian plots of the Nine Hells, and while those still rage in this story, her ability to bring those plots and schemes above ground to the Land of the Purple Dragon is one of many things that make her as successful as she is. Evans never seemed to lose control of all of the sub-plots that she balanced, and all of them combined with the very complicated relationships in this book. The combination of all of these could have quickly turned into a flaming wreck of a runaway train, but in Evans’s hands it felt more like watching freestyle skiing from a Go-Pro type camera. There are all of these twists and turns, and at times you think you are disoriented, until the actual skier hits their landing and you, as a voyeur, realize that you were safe the entire time.

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