The 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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Christopher Sinclair is a normal mechanical engineer who lives in Arizona. He has dogs and is married. About the only thing about Christopher that is really unique is his love of the ancient art of Kendo. One evening he takes his dogs for a walk and never returns. He awakens in a strange world that is in the throws of a severe winter storm under a night sky that is not the one he knew on Earth. He stumbles into a small village and collapses on the steps of what passes for a church in this world. He is taken in and nursed back to health. An act of chivalry leads to a brawl with a nobleman and gets him placed under a death sentence. The only way to avoid this ultimate punishment is to join an eternal war serving as a priest for a goddess known as The Bright Lady.
In this world, magic is real, and The Bright Lady is the goddess of healing. Christopher, when seeking the acceptance of The Bright Lady, is intercepted by her consort, Marcius, the god of war. Marcius promises that if Christopher serves him, he will help him get home to his wife and the world he knows. Every action Christopher takes seems to lead him to duels to the death or unspeakable violence, all of which gains him magic that will help him become powerful enough to survive and possibly get home. Being an engineer, Christopher has plans on using his knowledge of modern Earth technology to try to survive his enlistment, but Christopher isn’t the only one with plans. Between his plans and the plans of the gods, they could change the world he is stuck in, or destroy it.
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Widdershins is a renowned thief who has her own personal god named Olgun. Olgun lives inside Widdershins (or Shins, as she is known by her friends). He lends Shins portions of his limited powers, and these loans allow her to perform tasks that would be far beyond a mundane person. Shins has decided to return to her home city after spending an adventure-filled year away. They say you can never go home, and, sadly for Shins, this is true. Not only must she find a way to make amends with her friends, but also it turns out that her nemesis Lisette is back in town and she brought some heavies with her—the kinds of heavies that have the ability to cause supernatural harm. To top all this off, something strange has put the city into a siege mentality. Now Shins and Olgun must mend fences, face Lisette, and figure out what plagues Shin’s hometown.
Ari Marmell and the iconic Widdershins are back, and they are both at the top of their games. Marmell had me from the first novel of his that I ever read. I had used several of the products he wrote for Dungeons & Dragons, but it was from his novels that I finally learned how talented he really is. No, he is not the second coming, but he is a damn good author. Widdershins as a character really is proof of Marmell’s depth of talent.
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Alaeron is a killer—or at least he was. He’s not your normal stone-cold killer type, but more the “I caused the death of a very powerful captain of the Technic League in the mysterious and treacherous land of Numeria” kind of killer. But that was a long time ago and in a land far, far away. Sure, he lives his life in fear. So what if the league sends assassins after him every so often? Who cares if they want back the gizmos, gadgets, and magic items he spirited away when he fled the country? These days, Alaeron is living a semi-secluded life as an alchemist. All was sort of normal until a semi-incorporeal messenger was sent from his former master whom he thought dead. She asks Alaeron to return to Numeria to do some work for her and possibly clear his name in the process. The chance of not being hounded by assassins and his over-developed sense of curiosity leads Alaeron to accept the invitation. Accompanied by his only friend, the street savvy thief Skiver, he heads off to a land full of wonder that has fallen from the stars: a land ruled harshly by evil arcanists and a mad barbarian king know as the sovereign. Will Alaeron find the peace he is looking for or will his curiosity kill him and his only friend? This novel is tied to the Pathfinder Iron Gods Adventure Path.
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Cassandra Kresnov is not human. She is a synthetic—a manufactured being that has been designed for violent action. Operation Shield opens with a fight on the planet of Droze, a hive of scum and villainy. It seems that a localized rebellion of her fellow synthetics, or GIs as they are called, has started, and Cassandra is trying to assist them. This rebellion has far-reaching implications that could change the already fragile treaty that has stopped intergalactic war. Cassandra has to make tough decisions, and some of them will haunt her long after the fighting has stopped. After making those choices, she heads home with three street-smart and highly advanced youths she has decided to adopt. Because of her fame and notoriety, she must balance her work life with raising children who have endured the horrors of war, the loss of parents, and the quick death of their innocence. As Cassandra learns how to become a mother, the results of some of her actions on Droze come back to haunt her, her children, and the entire federation. Lock and load—this is going to be a wild ride.
Joel Shepherd, why have I not been reading more of your books? This book is the fifth book in the series and the first book I have read in this series. Starting on the fifth book in any series is normally not a good idea, but the folks at Pyr were kind enough to send me a review copy. I figured if Shepherd is as good as they say he is, I should catch on to what is happening at one point or another. I like doing this sometimes since it lets me know if an author can tell me the backstory through the current narrative. I don’t fault authors if they don’t, but it is cool to see if they can tell the current story while giving me enough backstory so that I do not feel lost. Yes, a quick summary at the beginning of any book in a series is a good thing, but it is interesting to see how each author (and sometimes each publisher) handles that. After reading Operation Shield, I can say without any doubt that Shepherd expects that you have read his previous books. If you haven’t, the catching up is on you.
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