Brother, Frankenstein by Michael Bunker

25451480Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a killer robot? Maybe you were curious about what goes through the mind of those who are considered “mentally handicapped” by the elitist society around us? What if you could experience both in the same package. Michael Bunker delivers a thrilling story of one autistic Amish boy stuck in the body of a killer robot. Talk about a culture clash!

The Good:
Bunker‘s writing style, once again, comes to the forefront. It makes you feel like an outsider looking in on the lives of a troubled doctor and his pet robot. This is not to say that the story in unengaging or the characters hard to relate with. On the contrary, the reader will feel conflicted as if this book is the type to be enjoyed on the back porch swing with a cup of tea but as equally practical in the low-light of a bus terminal at rush hour. You can relax with this book but can never put it down, even with the world screaming at you.

Bunker shows that research is important. He is so well-versed in the Amish culture that you feel like you’re there. His knowledge also shines in the mind of an autistic boy. It’s almost as if Bunker was autistic in his former life, providing an intense attention to detail with the inner-workings of a troubled mind. Believable is putting it mildly. The author provides just enough detail to get you invested, and just enough emotion to keep you there. The characters are believable, relatable, and cared for (even if one of them is a Amish autistic child stuck in a robot body).

The Bad:
Though not every book needs to have a long, sprawling plot, some could benefit from more. Brother, Frankenstein is one such book. It is by no means plotless, and what is there is engaging, but it feel like the story is just getting started as it ends. This shows Bunkers focus on characters and plot (which are essential), but it couldn’t hurt from a bit more plot intricacy. There was nothing here that surprised me.

Conclusion:
Bunker provides a pleasant journey through the a troubled mind. Every character is well developed and gives the reader a reason to cheer them on (or hate them). The setting is wonderfully laid out and the premise is unique, but nothing in the plot really stands out. If you are looking for a lighter read that sucks you in with its small-town feel while maintaining the elements of sci-fi that we all love, this book is right for you.

Where to buy it:
Amazon (COM) (CA)

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG (coarse language, mature themes)

A tragic tale of one girl, one mother, one father–one family–who loses everything: their sister, daughter, and the only thread holding life together. Eleanor desperately tries to keep her family from falling apart while dealing with her own grief in short snippets. Her world slowly drowns, waves of time passing, taking her sister further out to sea… but not forgotten. Eleanor is lost and time is out of her hands until she learns that time is a river, it flows in a circle, and she knows how to swim.

The Good:

First, it should be noted that anyone with a heart greater than a lump of coal might cry during the beginning of this book. Jason Gurley sets up Eleanor with her sister, mother, father, as this wonderfully happy family. It is such a delight to read their interactions and see the two little girls bantering back and forth like siblings will. The characterization is beautifully executed so that the reader smiles at the cute little girls, feels the nagging pain of a mother’s headache, and the longing of a father who is away from home. Why, then, would non-coal-lump-hearts cry? Because this is just the beginning. The book synopsis leaves no room for questions. Eleanor’s sister dies.

The set-up really makes the reader care about Eleanor as a character and able to feel and relate with her. The book is extremely depressing as any book should be about a girl who’s world is slowly falling apart. Gurley pumps emotions into the scenes so tangibly that they almost jump off the page and drag your heart into Eleanor’s world.

This book, however, has much more to offer than depression (thank goodness). Gurley shifts point of view adding much suspense to each encounter and heightening the emotional impact. This also gives the pacing a unique flavour as some of the POVs are in this strange “other” world that Eleanor finds herself slipping into. What is happening, where is this strange world, and who is in control?

This mysterious “other world” feeling lasts right up to the very end. There is little explanation until everything comes to a head in the final pages. Some things are still not fully explained, but this just adds to the fantastical nature of the tale. Does everything have to be understood perfectly in a fantasy world?

The Bad:

There is not much bad to say about this book. The only complaint I had was with a single scene that takes place far in the future of most of the book adding some pacing issues. Because of the amount of time that was skipped over, certain elements had to be explained using tell instead of show. Because of the emotionally wrenching potential that this skipped over scene could have had, I felt a little bit cheated as a reader (especially because Gurley is so good at pulling my heart out and slapping it around the page until it has nothing left to feel). This one scene, however, is short lived and does not detract greatly from the book over-all.

Conclusion:

I don’t suppose there is any better way of putting it: buy this book! I remember a number of times while reading where I had to stop, wipe an eye, shake it off, and verbally declare, “Jason Gurley, you are a god.” If you like an emotionally packed tale filled with mystery, suspense, drama, and fantasy this book is for you. If you don’t… then your heart must be a giant lump of coal.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

My Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Coarse language and violence)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start again? To some, this may be paradise–leaving mistakes beneath dust clouds of the past, but to others this may be a sad thought. Everything you once knew has changed: family, friends, way of life. Enter the mind of Jedidiah Troyer, emigrating to the planet of New Pennsylvania where he will work shovel and trowel to build an Amish paradise for his and his own. The question is, how much does one Amish man lose by entering a world of electronics, the internet, and spaceships, and is such loss of “plain” comforts worth the price of starting over?

The Good:

Michael Bunker has a unique way of blending the slow paced Amish world with the magic of new worlds on a thrill ride of culture clash. He speckles nods to “plain” living like stars set to contrast the black night of space itself. Way up there, science fiction thrives, yet never does Bunker forget his roots–seemingly oxymoronical, yet relevant. Cultural blending through compare and contrast has been something that I have come to love about Bunker’s writing style, and Pennsylvania does not fail my expectations of such brilliance. He sets the pace, builds the world, and defines the characters like Adam in Eden: placed just so.

Not only does Bunker have a handle on setting up his universe of Pennsylvania, but such is used as a launching pad for the thrills that follow. The reader is neither thrown blindly into the action, nor are they held back from the ride too long. As the pages turn, what seems at first to be a simple trip to some other world turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

Bunker has collected 5 episodes into this single Omnibus edition. Each episode ends with cliff-hanger excellence, but this does more than keep the reader invested in the series. Many episodes end with a nod to the next, revealing minute mysterious clues that keep the reader’s mind turning while they are hanging onto the edge of their seat for the next page’s revelation.

Unlike W1ck (see my review of W1ck), Pennsylvania has a satisfactory ending. The conclusion still comes rather quickly, but not overly so because of Bunker’s unique writing style. The wrap-up is much more conclusive while leaving room for some expansion into further forays of Amish/sci-fi delight. In short, it satisfies.

The Bad:

There is some amount of tell instead of show when it comes to describing the culture of this new world that Jed has entered. Instead of fully fleshing out the cultural discrepancies, Bunker glosses over them making the world and Jedediah’s integration with it less believable, and equally loses reader satisfaction points.

Much like W1ck (though different in it’s own ways), the whole Omnibus collection feels like a prologue. Bunker clearly has a plan for future books within this universe, but Pennsylvania has a distinct “book zero” feel instead of a “book one.” There is a lot culture/tech explanation as well as character introductions, but very little plot. Bunker has a handle on crafting worlds with nonchalant flavour, but his plots are the furthest thing from complex or surprising.

Conclusion: All in all, if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with Bunker’s ability to shape worlds and craft cultures. These pros are what keep me coming back to books by this author, but the lack of plot complexity and endings that leave things hanging, as if Bunker simply ran out of words, leave me a little dissatisfied. This, however, by no means dissuades me from reading more excellent Amish Science Fiction, but it does not put Bunker on my oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-wait-til-the-next-book-comes-out list.

Where you can find it:
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

W1ck

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (action violence)

From the mind of Michael Bunker and the political excellence of Chris Awalt comes this nice piece of dystopian fiction. It is not often evident what an author is all about simply by reading their art, but Wick is a pleasant exception. Not only do you get to know the characters and world being build, but also are afforded a unique opportunity to enter the mind of the author(s). Science fiction with Amish and political leanings makes this a wonderful piece of art that is hard to compare with. If you are the type of reader that likes lots of action and little thought this may not be your thing, but if you like to think there is no better piece of art. Throughout Wick there is a wonderful amount of matter-of-fact life philosophising built into the prose which make for a delightful ride that feels dense. No, not dense because it is hard to get through, but like a pit of tar: once entered, it will suck your mind right in, and you may have trouble getting out. Because of this, the point of view taken feels reserved, almost making the narrator/author a character of their own, allowing for wonderfully crafted observatory world building.

Because of this feeling of separation between the narrator and the character, at times pacing issues are evident. It has been said that if do not enjoy slower books, this may not be your thing, but that is not the issue here (for if a book is meant to be slow, and does it in an engaging manner [i.e. W1ck] then it works). The biggest issues I had were with the “section” or “part” splits. This Omnibus was originally published in 4 different parts, three of which make sense on their own. The middle two parts should, realistically, have been one because of the way the story progresses. Also, at times, there are too many characters and it is difficult to follow.

The biggest issue, however, I had was with the ending. Much like the ending of the different “parts” of W1ck, the pages are just suddenly blank. No, I don’t mean that there is some kind of strange print error. Bunker just decided to call it a day, and that is that. I will admit that this format fits well with the reserved POV chosen, and if it were done any other way, the results would have been mind-jarringly worse. I suppose with this type of ending, it makes me want to read more to find out what happens next, but there is nothing that happens next. This Omnibus is the complete package. The “sequel” (if you will) happens 20 years later, being a world sequel and not a direct descendant.

All in all, W1ck is an enjoyable journey filled with great philosophical musings, and out-spoken activism that you can only not get in trouble for if it is folded inside the covers of a book labelled “fiction.” This, coupled with great storytelling and wonderful prose, makes Michael Bunker an author that I will definitely return to. His writing style is so gloriously fresh and interesting that I found it easier to ignore the pacing failures throughout and poor conclusion. Reading W1ck feels like watching a painting unfold before my eyes, colour splashed by the voice of God.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: R (Graphic visual descriptions and overt sexuality)

There is a world deep seated in history. This world is filled with the flavour of a simpler time, but no problem free society is found. Psychotic killers have a full-time job hunting out their next victims and keeping them under the influence of dark torture until finally releasing them to the Reaper’s scythe. Inspecteur’s are equally busy follow the clues dropped by Grimm and his acolytes: drying fast as blood. Mystery and murder weigh hearts and minds heavier than a judges gavel giving courtesan’s a full-time job relieving such stresses through their secret seductive arts. This world is historical France, and you may have to quit your full-time job so that you can spend as much time as desired reading Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey.

The Good:

Being not a historian myself, I cannot speak to the true accuracy of the facts, locations, and honourable mentions by Yves Fey, but I can say–as a reader–that it feels authentic enough. To me, art is about being drawn into a world and feeling like a character in the story as it unfolds. This, Fey does well. The book is quite character driven, and as a result, the reader is more invested with those involved in the plot than what is actually happening. This is not, however, to say that the plot is flat. By no means! It is, however, over-shadowed by the great characterisation.

Fey uses real French word and phrases speckled throughout to enhance that sense of immersion and add great flavour. This is not to say that one must know French to read the book. Most words are translated or explained through humorous pros with give the great sense of an American living in France (as one of the characters is said import) while appealing to the English speakers who will be reading Float the Dark Shadow.

Said import works as a painter. Normally this character setting would not be worth mentioning in a review, however, watching the story unfold through her eyes is imbued with great colourful flavours, giving a real sense that it is a painter’s eyes the reader is seeing this world through while, at the same time, adding intense pop to the description. Words and worlds come alive when the whole colour pallet it on the tip of your descriptive brush strokes.

The Bad:

I cannot say there is any one thing that bothered me with Yves Fey’s writing in this work. I have not rated it 5 stars because that spot it reserved for those books which leave me in tears, tie my stomach in knots, or make me laugh until it hurts (or all three). I believe such books should have a special place in the review process. Floats the Dark Shadow did none of these for me. Because of this, I say that it lacks a certain amount of emotional attachment between reader and character(s).

My only complaint is that the plot was less developed than it could have been. As has been said, this is a character driven book. The plot does not fall apart, but it simply did not draw me in as a reader. There were very few mysteries in this mystery-focus plot except “who done it,” leaving everything more like one big question mark instead of multiple tiny ones coming to a great exclamatory head at the end.

Conclusion:

Floats the Dark Shadow will draw you in; there is no doubt about that. The prose are flavourfully crafted and the characters are well balanced. Just watching them interact with each other and the world around them is a great treat. The plot is your standard “serial killer on the loose” motif. If you enjoy historical mysteries and like to be drawn into a book through some good word and crafting choices, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

A Shadow in the Flames

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (Coarse language and violence)

What would you do if in a single moment, the whole world you knew went up in flames? No, I am not talking about the proverbial flames of societal/relational loss, but actual flames. You know, the orange-tipped red tongues that lick at the night sky, dwarfing the stars with their wonder, fire exploding in arson’s wake, and there is only one obvious answer: find the bastard that destroyed your life. Enter the world of “A Shadow in the Flames,” a futuristic thriller with moon exploration, vampires, explosions, airships, and cybernetics. Sounds too good to be true? Well… it is.

The Good:

This is a real struggle for me. Normally I try to find what the author does well before getting into the bad, but I find myself scratching my head a lot while trying to come up with something to say under this heading. Why rate it 2 stars instead of 1? Short answer: I managed to finish the book. Long answer: there is a bit of humour in the dialogue… Okay, so that answer wasn’t much longer. Looking at the book with a broad perspective, it is not that the book fails to hit every mark, and indeed it tries for many of them, but it is just rather bland.

The Bad:

The biggest issue that “A Shadow in the Flames” had was consistency. Have you ever eaten a piece of meat that is full of tiny bones and you have to chew carefully, then inevitably stop eating to pull them from your mouth? Reading this book felt a bit like that. The POV jumped all over the place adding much confusion to things. Not only than, there is a completely separate POV/plot line where almost nothing happens and it remains 90% unrelated until the very end. A poorly written Epilogue tries to tie the two together, but mostly it just prolongs the ending. I wish that the moon exploration plot pieces were completely taken out of the book. I understand, based on the ending, that such plot lines will be the focus of the sequel, but if so, all of that plot should have been kept under wraps until that book was ready to be released.

Not only does the plot jump around, and the POV changes cause confusion, but one character has three different names throughout the book. This can work, if certain people call them by one name, and others call them by something else, but the names seem to be virtually interchangeable. There is some kind of mystery woven in about the character’s “true” identity being a secret to some people, but then everyone ends up using that “true” name at one point or another, so that left me confused. It especially becomes strange when that character is the POV focus for a scene. They call themselves by all three names throughout the scene, which made me wonder if the character was actually multiple people at times, but then I remembered that they just had three names for no reason.

Also, there are far too many elements involved. No, not in the plot, but in the general world that the story takes place. This wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem if the book was longer and the author spent more time addressing each cultural/world nuance, rounding things out. Instead, they are poorly explained, or just thrown in because someone thought it was cool. The book reads mostly as a police procedural without the procedure, even though it is marketed as a science fiction novel. Yes, it has flying machines, people with enhanced vision or hearing, and vampires (for some random reason), but they add nothing to the story and often get in the way of the plot.

The writing style feels a bit juvenile. There is an over-use of passive voice throughout (he, thought, he imagined, he wondered, he believed, he was scared, it was black, the job was simple, etc). Every POV change is littered with long drawn-out paragraphs filled with passivity in an effort to explain how someone is feeling, differentiating them from the other characters, but instead of rounding things out, it just make the writing quite bland.

Unfortunately, because this is exclusively how the author chose to develop the characters, once these paragraphs are over, all of the characters sound and act pretty much the same. There are slight nuances at particular points (one character being overly humorous) but for the most part, if the dialogue tags were taken out, the reader would not know who was talking when… and it wouldn’t really effect the progression anyway. This makes the characters feel flat.

Conclusion:

I wish there was more good things to say about this book, but too much poor writing gets in the way of the potential and it was hard for me to identify. “A Shadow in the Flames” is a light thriller with specks of uninteresting mystery and pockets of humour. It suffers from POV issues, pacing problems, and lack of characterization as well as a poorly stitched together plot. It will not leave a sour taste in your mouth, just not much taste to begin with. I suppose its ability to remain bland is at least consistent.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
NOTE: This book is available at other retails, but is not DRM-free

Thread in the Tangle by Sabrina Flynn

A fantasy tale about fiery nymphs and flaming lust

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (Sexual content, fantasy violence)

Fire. It is in us all. Sometimes it comes out, forged with passion or shaped by rage. Ears turn red, face ruby from infused flames licking beneath flesh. Fire can be strong or weak, fighting from beneath rain’s blanketing assault, or combusting the world with spontaneity like a desert: dry. Yes, I speak figuratively, but what if such flaming manifestations could be a reality. Imagine, living in a world full of wonder, a fantasy world with flames bursting from ears, licking beneath flesh, destroying all in its wake (wilfully or by accident’s design). If you can imagine such, then your mind is comparable with Sabrina Flynn, the author of A Thread in the Tangle.

The Good:

The above description does no justice to this book, but instead (like a raging fire) is a spark to catch the dry wood in imagination’s realm, drawing in the reader before consuming them completely. A Thread in the Tangle implements a similar technique, drawing in the reader with beautifully crafted prose and life philosophising from the first line. I can say it no better than the author herself.

Time is fickle, ever chang­ing and flow­ing, ebbing like the sea.  A vast ocean of mo­ments brush­ing against the next, rip­pling be­neath wa­ters both turgid and calm.  It slips be­tween our fin­gers when we wish to hold it, yet moves with slug­gish stub­born­ness when we seek to flee it, rid­ing upon our shoul­ders like an op­pres­sive yoke.  Time is a bur­den we can­not es­cape.  Our lives are swal­lowed in the cold, dark wa­ters of its un­fath­omable depths; never to be re­mem­bered or re­called, fad­ing like a whis­per that never was.  On oc­ca­sion—a very rare oc­ca­sion—one mo­ment will brush against the next and a spark will flare to life that re­fuses to be ex­tin­guished. This is the mo­ment, the spark, and this is how the end be­gins for a shat­tered realm—with a small nymphling who was cold.

This prologue drew me into a story full of emotional turmoil, political intrigue, love, loss, and all that is in between. The characters are wonderfully crafted so that, by the time this story’s fire is raging, the reader can see all shades of blues and reds amidst the orange flames. The banter between said characters is delicious. It adds a fresh element of humour to some of the longer scenes that would be, otherwise, dry. This keeps the pacing up during character development.

Most of the story is told from select points of view. Shifting between these, speckled with a touch of intrigue, works great for building suspense. Some of the concepts have just enough explanation to make them believable, then are left to linger, keeping the reader invested, turning pages faster before the flames catch hold — the story dying in such wake.

The Bad:

Despite all of the glory seen in this flame, sometimes fire can be destructive, leaving nothing but charcoal and death behind. The story is mostly believable and manageable, but in a few places it rages out of control, getting lost in it’s own beauty without realizing there is a story to tell. Behind all the character magic and descriptive excellence, the plot stands still, like logs waiting to be lit. Once the plot starts, it progresses nicely, but lighting this flame earlier would have enhanced this book immensely.

Once fires rage too high, they begin to lose some beauty. This is the case with some longer, drawn-out descriptions of the world’s history and concept explanations through dialogue. These are brief and easily forgettable, but bring the book to a screeching halt like a water barrel to snuff out flames. These wet logs, then, take some time to get started again, creating pacing issues.

Conclusion:

Despite some too-extensive, dry world development and a plot coming too long over-due, A Thread in the Tangle is enjoyable. The philosophising through prose is wonderful, and the characters are well developed. If you enjoy fantasy with flame-eared nymphs tangled in the treads of time, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

The Man Who Ended The World by Jason Gurley

All he wanted was to be alone…

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13

Dystopian fiction is exploding in today’s culture. Everywhere you turn, there is some new end-of-the-world piece of media, ready to be consumed. What would happen if it came true? What would you do if the world ended, and you were one the survivors? More importantly, what would you do if you knew the man who was going to end the world?

The Good:

The Man Who Ended The World is the first thing I have ever read by Jason Gurley, and I must say, that it was a treat. The story is told from two different perspective — the man who ended the world and a young boy who finds out about him. These two select POVs add flavourful suspense as two lives work toward each other. The POV split between this little boy and the man adds different layers to the sociological reveals as they mirror each other wonderfully with the book’s progression. As the plot progresses, the chapter endings and POV switches are particularly punctuating, adding suspense by leaving the reader hanging, but informing about what is to come.

The book opens with a young boy tailing the man who will end the world. This early reveal of him is a great suspense builder as well. It keeps the reader guessing what will happen next, already knowing where the story will end up, but not how it gets there. Watching the man progress from a lonely bachelor, who just wants solitude, to a crazy psychopath killer is a wonderful psychological trip. His character is wonderfully developed, and the progression is believably sadistic.

A number of times, the story jumps backward in a “memory” scene. This adds incredible flavour to the character(s) while keeping the pacing up and functioning as a world building mechanism.

When the “computer” becomes a character, you know that the book is going to be a classic science fiction treat. Witnessing the human-AI interaction is a wonderful comedic treat, adding humour to this dire-straights end-of-the-world plot.

Conclusion:

From beginning to end, the book is wonderful. Jason Gurley has a handle on character and plot development that leaves many other books swimming in a post apocalyptic wasteland while Gurley hides out, safely underground, imagining worlds and breathing life back into the death above. If you like well-rounded characters, science fiction, comedy, and dystopian art with a touch of psychological thrills, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

The Clinic by David Jester

The Rating: 

Mature-content: R (Coarse language, gore, and sexual content)

Sometimes petty crimes aren’t satisfying enough, when the mother-load is just on the horizon. Why steal from a sleeping drunk when a clinic looms just out of town, filled with rich rehab patients? This is the question that Malcolm, Darren and Eddie ask themselves — three delinquents raised by the streets.

The Good:

This book starts out really well. The introductory scene draws the reader in with a unique third-person omniscience point-of-view that makes everything from the thieves, to snoring man, to creaking floorboards come to life. From here, the story progresses into a wonderful telling of three adolescents ignored and abused by their parents. It is not wonderful in the sense that these boys have “wonderful” lives, but the intense focus on this character development through back-story is refreshingly pleasant.

Once the action picks up, it doesn’t let go until the very end. The heist is pleasantly set-up so that it doesn’t feel like a bunch of random teenagers running across the pages, but instead a group of semi-friends brought together because of their horrible lives at home. From their very first step into The Clinic, the suspense is invitingly creepy. David Jester uses internal monologue and prose together for such suspense, causing the reader’s heart to beat out of control with each slapping foot as it comes closer, closer, closer, and each bulb buzzing to life, ripping secrecy from the shadows.

The Bad:

I loved the back-story presence, and Jester knows his way around setting up a scene, but sadly, The Clinic falls flat after this. The first 20% was wonderfully promising, but then things start to fall apart. There are so many editing issues that I struggled to make sense of certain sentences, and the ones that did make sense just sounded choppy and ill-crafted. An editor would have helped this book immensely… at least some of its issues.

There is no easy way to say this… okay, maybe there is. In short, The Clinic is unrefined. No, it is not just the editing issues that make it so, but the writing style is stilted and juvenile, making this feel more like a first draft than a final sellable product. There are many repeated words in close proximity to each other, applying the breaks to any style points afforded through word craft. Jester seems to particularly have a problem with third person pronouns and their over-use… or perhaps he doesn’t have a problem with their over-use. This is not just a word-craft issue, killing any potential magic the words have to share, but it even gets in the way of some sentences making sense, particularly where there is more than one “he.”

“He wanted to scream. He wanted to see what his face looked like when he took his fist from his face; he wanted to see the damage he had done to him. He also just wanted to sit there on top of him, bathing in his own victory.”

This is the biggest issue with The Clinic, as it runs throughout. It, however, might not have taken so many points away if the plot was good… or existent. 80% of the book is just mindless gore speckled with a few key moments of suspense. The last 20% is when the plot finally gets introduced, and then promptly concludes. This constitutes a total of about 30 pages. The plot was not necessarily bad in concept, but some presence of it before the final confrontation would have been nice.

Conclusion:

Sadly, despite the promising introduction, I cannot recommend this book. True, I managed to get from beginning to end without setting it aside, but that is all that really can be said. The Clinic is full of editorial errors and juvenile word choice. This coupled with the lack of plot does not do the book any favours. The first 20% is The Clinic’s only redeeming factor, setting up the characters well. If you like mindless gore, that is what The Clinic has to offer.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Thieves and Kings by Tommy Clark

Note: A unique author spot-light follows this review.

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG (course language and mature themes)

Thieves and Kings by Tommy Clark is the first book of the Rogue’s Phoenix series. It is the story of squires desiring for knighthood, the gods and how they relate to their created world, people and how they relate to each other, robbery, kidnap, political games, rogue factions battling for power: in short, it is about thieves and kings (oh, and also, there is a dragon. It is a fantasy book after all). With such a complex plot and world built, filled with all the goodies that fantasy readers have come to love, what is there not to love? First, let me share with you what is to love, and we will go from there.

The Good:

The first thing I must say is this: Thieves and Kings will grow on you. I was not blown away by the beginning, but as the reader gets to know the world, characters, and plot, eyes travel faster than pages can turn, morphing reader into a book zombie shambling for the next chapter (or maybe just for lack of sleep). The plot is wonderfully paced, rises and falls flowing seamlessly throughout to bring the story from its humble beginnings to an epic conclusion.

From beginning to end, the reader is treated to a story from multiple different perspectives. Instead of breaking up the flow, such point-of-view changes are speckled in wonderfully to introduce characters, concepts, build suspense, and generally round out the book as a whole. They are often related closely, and scenes are kept short enough to allow for a continuously succinct flow. Instead of getting lost in a messy soup of characters, the reader is afforded the sweet luxury of seeing this tale unfold from different angles like multiple cameras for stylistic, panoramic excellence.

Tommy Clark has a philosophical mind (or so I imagine based on his writing) and it bleeds from the pages. The world building is not just thrown out there for reader enjoyment, but meticulously mulled over to add a holistic feel. There are brief scenes where this magic comes through, and I would have loved to see more of what hides behind the curtains in this world called Rogue’s Phoenix, but… there are more books to come.

The ending blew me away. I was ready to rate Thieves and Kings as a three star wonder until the epilogue rolled out. It is almost a mini-tale of its own, going back to describe much that was left hanging in suspense. This side-quest epilogue really brings the world to life and even adds some great plot teasers for future books, while still wrapping things up beautifully. In short, it was a very satisfying ending, leaving the reader thinking about how everything fits together even after the last word is read. A story that sticks with the reader because of the well thought-out and implemented conclusion is, indeed, one worth time and money.

The Bad:

This book did a lot of things right, but sadly, it didn’t get everything perfect. Though I loved how the world develops, a few things were left far too open ended and “assumed” for my liking. Because of this, a magic system is introduced seemingly out of nowhere. I excused the brief mention of a dwarf having clairvoyance as a one-off fantasy gaming carry-over, until fireballs start getting thrown around, super speed manifests, and all in the middle of a fight scene. It seemed that, all of a sudden, numerous characters (previously introduced) developed magical abilities like they always had them. In truth, such magic always existed, but there was so little (in fact no) mention of them before hand that it messed with my head once it was revealed.

Waving hands at the presence of magic, let’s move on to the action scenes. Most action is close combat, small-time scrapping. Because of the one-on-one sort of focus in battles, Clark chose to go all out with the description. Clearly, this would not work in a larger fight with POVs jumping way too much, but it doesn’t really work in a smaller-scale fight either. Does it matter that much to the reader if a sword hit above or below the knee, and is it that important to mention that is was indeed the left appendage being assaulted? The biggest problem with this is not gratuitous description, but it messes with the pacing. Slower scenes have a right to feel slower, and in fact are better when they do, but faster scenes should, conversely, feel fast. Short, to-the-point sword jabs breathe life into an action scene, a life that, sadly, much of Clark’s action lacks. The odd scene is well done, but for the most part, the action feels more like a spectator’s sport than the blood-rushing adrenaline fest it should be.

I mentioned that the plot is well done and the POV changes are wonderfully implemented, but this does not mean that the beginning of Thieves and Kings doesn’t feels a bit scattered and unfocused. Because of the short scene changes, this can be mostly excused, but it is a minor point against the book, thus deserves mention here.

Conclusion:

Thieves and Kings is a wonderful fantasy tale filled with the highs and low of life, political upheaval, and battle with men and gods alike. It has an extended “epic” feel to it without getting weighed down, and captures reader attention throughout. Save for a shaky beginning and some pacing issues with the action, this book is a wonderful trip into the potential of indie fantasy. If you love fantasy, you will love this book (especially if you stick it out until the end. The Epilogue is particularly choice).

Author Spotlight:

While reading Thieves and Kings, I noticed a pattern running throughout. Many of the characters are effected by father/son relationships in different ways. (Such a profound statement, I know!) I had the opportunity to interview Tommy Clark, and asked him the following question about it:

There are some father-son tragedies in “Thieves and Kings” that alter plot and character dynamics, forcing particular characters into situations that they were, perhaps, not prepared for. In reading about your life story, I see that you have experienced a lot of death/sickness in the family over your short 9 years of marriage. Could you talk about personal dynamics between fathers and sons that you feel are integral to effecting how fathers view themselves, and how children are raised?

Now, to introduce the author of Thieves and Kings, Tommy Clark. Enjoy his thoughts and reply to my question. It is quite informative, and really brings to light a lot of the relationship implementations in his writing:

My father was a great man. I was named after him and I could not feel a bigger honor in this world. My dad, known by many as Cowboy, was one of the nicest guys a person could know. He took me fishing a lot and would always invite my friends, many of whom didn’t have their own fathers in the picture. I can remember several occasions where my friends would tell me how much they appreciated my dad and how big of a role he played in their lives. Other friends I had did not get along well with their overbearing fathers and found mine to be a break from their relationships with their own.

My dad played a major role in helping me to grow into myself. He was the sort of guy who would say “I don’t want you to do something stupid, but I don’t want you to regret your choices in life. You’re going to do some things that you will later look back on and know they were stupid. I want you to accept those things. Those decisions will help you grow.”

My dad always seemed to get it – understand what I was going through. He was always willing to listen and offer guidance if needed. I put a lot of stock in him.

When I lost my dad during my first year of marriage, just as I was stepping into this new chapter of my life, I was heartbroken. It has been nearly 10 years now and it still chokes me up to think about that loss.

When I started writing Rogue’s Phoenix, I hadn’t quite noticed the effect my dad had on me or my creativity. As the book came together – and these relationships came together – I noticed all of these differences between characters and their fathers/sons. It doesn’t affect the book on a direct level, but there are elements there that speak to this. Whether it be a king and his son or Kryon (the god) himself, the effects their fathers had on them become evident. For the princes, the effect their fathers have on them seems to have affected their very nature. The development of these relationships unfolds throughout the first book as well as the second.

I tend to write with inspiration from my life. I never really put much thought into it, but looking back I have began to notice a trend. Many of my characters don’t have a father in the picture. I think it’s an easy place to put characters. It’s a great place to start a character. Without this figure in the story it creates a challenge to push these guys to grow. Where there would be a fatherly figure, instead, we have the buddy who seems to always have some insight.

I really enjoy this writing mechanic. I have the main character who needs to learn something; I have the mouthy, immature buddy; then I have this voice of reason, the one with the level head. I can then use the immature one to lay the ground work for the comic relief. He’s also a very handy hurdle for the main character to jump. The voice of reason allows for the main character to have someone to converse with – to brainstorm. I think this character fills the role of father when a real father is absent.

I lost my father in June of 2005 and found out I was going to have a son in January 2006. After the initial fears of being a new dad for the first time, a different type of fear settled in. My son would not get to know his grandpa. I would not have him to lean on for any fatherly advice. My dad raised me with respect and that laid the foundation on how I treat everyone I know. My dad didn’t know an enemy-and I feel the same about myself. I know a lot of people and therefore have a lot of friends. I raise my son, Dylen, as best I can with the same values my dad taught me. I hope to live up to the image I hold of my dad. I think the way a child looks at their father says a lot about how good a man that person is – how compassionate, loving, strong and intelligent.

As Dylen grows up (and now Braelyn, my daughter), I hope to fill the same shoes to him and his friends that my dad did for me and mine. I want to be the guy they come to when they need advice, or when they mess up. I want to be a disciplinarian but with compassion and understanding. I hope that as Dylen and Braelyn grow up, they feel I was a good dad, that I did my best for them. If they can tell their friends that their dad was firm but just and a good man, then I’ve done a good job.