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

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)

Illiom: Daughter of Prophecy by Claudio Silvano

A fantasy tale of hermits and prophecy.

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG (Fantasy violence and coarse language)

Have you ever fantasised about living in the woods? In a world full of high-rises and busyness, it could seem pleasant to try and make a home for yourself in the wilderness, back to the roots of those caveman days. I don’t know if Claudio Silvano has thought about this or not, but he has created a character who went further than thinking about it. She lived it. Illiom, a self-made hermit, lives in the mountains with naught but her animals and own thoughts, until she is rudely disturbed by a prophecy and royal summons. The nerve!

The Good:

From the first pages, I was impressed by this book. It opens with a piece of lore that lets the reader know about some of the history and working of the world, adding magic one word at a time. Such “fragments of lore” are speckled pleasantly throughout the book, uncovering some of the mysteries of the spiritual nature of the world through subtle hints, making the culture come to life. It was intriguing to see the Biblical parallelism they had, while still being new creations in their own right.

After a clever and inviting piece of lore, the story kicks off with Illiom in the mountains. Right away, the writing style grabbed me. The prose are coloured with personification making scenes come to life, and further building upon the lore of the land. The scene setting is well done, making a simple thing like a journey from point A to B a pleasant romp through the scenery as words are crafted around the road ahead.

The third person narrative style that Claudio Silvano chose, allows for camera manipulation. The camera swings seamlessly from a close-up on the characters, re-telling word for word what they are saying, then pulls away to reveal the scene at a glance. I have seen this done poorly, and was glad to see it done well here. It allows for not every single word to be dictated, while still having pointed dialogue sections.

The Bad:

The book starts out great, but sadly does not keep up the momentum. I enjoyed some of slower sections at the beginning while the world was being developed, but the magic dies quickly. Purple prose make it drag in spots. What makes the prose well done during travel sequences is that it builds the scene and gives a sense of progression. The obsessive description of static locations, later on in the book, does little to set the scene, but instead paints in pain-staking detail, thus slowing down the progression to a stop, instead of informing the journey as it progresses.

There are long sections of dialogue that do little more than describe the ins and outs of certain cultural particulars. Such long-winded tell instead of show descriptions are dry and uninteresting, also not aiding some of the pacing issues already evident. Illiom is inexplicably clueless about the workings of the world in order to inform the reader of how things are. She asks a lot of questions to be answered in bland and uninteresting dialogue which does the job, but is less than appealing.

I have touched on it before, but that is because this is the biggest problem with Illiom; the pacing is way off. It starts off strong, and then the plot stops altogether as the characters (and reader) wait for something to happen. A lot of the book is spent with the characters “in conference” deciding what to do. These scenes lacked interest, contained lots of tell instead of show about the inner workings of the world, and at the end of the day, could mostly be skipped over to get the plot back on track quicker.

Sadly, the plot never does really pick up. The first 20% is great, and the last 10% is okay, but the rest of the book is just a bunch of characters sitting around, learning about a world they should already know about, and twiddling their thumbs. The whole time, I was waiting for the plot to get moving, and by the end it still hadn’t really moved. It feels like a giant set-up for book two.

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, great potential does not always equal a great book. Illiom offers a beautiful world with some artfully implemented prose, but this does not make up for most of the book being a stand-still. The pacing issues are immense, and, sadly, the potentially good writing is hindered by the plotting. If you are willing to stick it out, and see if something happens in book two, this book might be for you.

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

Joshua by John S. Wilson

A dystopian novel all about the money

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Mature themes)

Money… it’s just paper with writing on it! Not many of us stop to think about this. What would happen if suddenly people stopped accepting cash? They would look at your wad of paper and say, “I don’t care what famous person’s face is on there. It’s just paper!” This fear, the de-valuing of cash, may have been more realistic before my time. Today, money is nothing but a figure in the sky, printed on screens, telling you “value” from on-line accounts and ATMs. Despite this fact, imagine with me for a second a world where cash is market central. Without cash, the economy would fall, chaos would ensue, and people would be brought back to their roots; what does it take to survive? If your imagination is as vibrant as that of John S. Wilson, you may have imagined a world similar to that of Joshua.

The Good:

Joshua is the story of a man and little boy making their way through a dystopian wasteland. The first thing that struck me about this book was how character driven it is. So much time is spent walking alongside “the man” (yes the protagonist is simply identified) that the reader becomes engaged in his life and journeys. From start to finish, the reader will follow this man through the joys and sorrows of what it might be like to live in a post-apocalyptic world.

John S. Wilson does an excellent job at make the destitution in this world he has created seem real. It doesn’t just feel like random looting, killing, and destruction for the sake of it, but instead the world bleeds hopelessness with tangible and heart-felt realism. Not everyone is seeking to make the best out of what they have, or hoarding, or fighting for their survival. Many give in to their inner demons, the reality of life too much to bear. Joshua has a quiet, sorrowful tone to it that I have rarely seen penetrating a book from cover to cover.

The Bad:

John S. Wilson had some great ideas, but the execution was, sadly, quite poor. The first half of the book is a series of flashbacks which attempt to develop the world and the characters therein. Though they work well considering such intentions, they do nothing to further the plot, and, in fact, put it on hold, making the whole book feel disjointed in the same way a jumping POV would.

The jumping back and forth in time makes the book very slow and allows for large sections told exclusively in passive voice thus forcing the reader to take a step back from the action and see it as an outside observer, instead of being fully engaged. With such destitution running rampant, there is plenty of opportunity for this book to bleed with emotion, drawing the reader in with the raw power of helplessness, but unfortunately these opportunities are missed entirely.

So much time is spent with the back-story of why “the man” is where he is, and what happened along the way that once the story gets going, there is hardly enough time for anything to happen before the book is done. It almost feels like the book is split into two sections: what happened before, and what is happening now. I applaud John S. Wilson for attempting this unique narrative style, but sadly he did not pull it off.

Conclusion:

John S. Wilson had a great story to tell, but sadly didn’t know how to tell it. The reader spends most of the book feeling like an outcast, the word choice and language almost purposefully pushing them away. If you can get past the poor story telling and dive into the actual story, there is a hopeless world waiting for your discovery. If you like dystopian fiction, this book may be for you.

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

Heath:Exile by M. R. Jenks

A fantasy tale about amnesia, but not alcohol induced.

The Rating:
Mature Content Rating: PG-13 (mild sexual content and language)

Have you ever had too much to drink? Have you ever woken up with an awful headache, maybe wearing less clothes than would be your preference, or in a strange place? How did you get there? Floating in this haze, you reach for the nearest pain-killers or strong cup of coffee. Maybe you have woken up half-in half-out a trash can with no memory of how you got there. This is the case with the man we are introduced to in Health:Exile. From this point on, we are led through the streets of New York by this homeless man with amnesia. Luckily, when we drink too much, and maybe don’t remember how got to the bed, floor, or back alley that we wake up in, this is a brief and quickly explained condition. Not so for the protagonist of Hearth:Exile.

The Good:

Hearth:Exile is nothing like I expected it would be. I don’t truly know what I was expecting, but when a book is labelled “fantasy” there is a certain understanding of what that book might contain. You will find none of that in Health:Exile. The story plays out more like Indiana Jones as an orphan kid with amnesia minus the action. A strange and refreshing mix to be sure.

The biggest draw for this book is that the protagonist (revealed to be Br… something) had no idea who he is or where he came from. The reader gets to learn about Br as he learns about himself. This gives a wonderfully mysterious feel to the story, the world, and provides a sense of drive to keep reading. Who is this Br guy and how did he end up in a trash can?

Though the reader doesn’t know what is going on (because the characters don’t) little snippets of brilliant third-person-omniscient use provide the reader with just enough external hints to push on. Reading about a homeless man combing his hair can only hold reader interest to a point. Eventually a strange bird with red eyes has to swoop in and let the reader know that there really is a story here. This heightens the suspense and keeps things rolling, even through the slow beginning.

M. R. Jenks gives the reader a brilliant understanding of the characters in Hearth:Exile. Jenks slides easily between third-person limited and omniscient points of view in a way I have never seen done well… until now. Internal monologue runs rampant never leaving the reader in the dark about character motivation. Specific character back-stories are woven right into the middle of everything, making good use of the “external narrator” role that Jenks implements through his unique writing style.

The Bad:

I wanted to like this book more than I did. The biggest problem I faced was that I just wasn’t drawn in by M. R. Jenks’ writing style. Long sections of Hearth:Exile are told in a passive voice, which makes it read like an unengaging biography instead of the intriguing and suspenseful fantasy story that it is. The book had a lot of potential, but I had a hard time caring about anything that was happening or the characters because of the hands-off word choice implementation. When reading, I want to be sucked into the pages so intensely that when I come up to breathe, my mind is swimming in a haze of the reality I live in, still invested in the fantasy of ink and paper. There is almost as much passive voice as there is active voice, which is a surprisingly large amount. This was the biggest downfall of Health:Exile, by far.

Along the way, Br meets an orphan girl. She is the most intriguing character in the whole book. I loved her back story, and how she reacted to the world around her because of it. The problem was that she didn’t always act this way. Sometimes she was the street-hardened brat, and like flicking a switch, she turned into a happy-go-lucky little girl living life to its fullest. Instead of showing two sides of a complex character, the implementation came across as jarring and unbelievable.

If the best thing about this book is that Br doesn’t know who he is or where he comes from, then naturally the book begins to go downhill once he figures out the mystery that is him. The magic I experienced in the first couple chapters was lost as Br learned about himself. It felt like he was lifting up stone in the desert looking for water, but there was nothing but sand. Sadly, as the stones are lifted, Br is perfectly happy with knowing just enough about himself to make him realise he is different, but lacks the motivation to figure out more.

Hearth:Exile has no “antagonist.” True, there is some big bad guy that is trying to take over the world, or destroy the world, or something like that, but he barely makes an appearance. Subtle hints are sprinkled throughout, but he never really effects the lives of the characters in any real way, except for in the classic “final encounter.” I felt like the book would have been just as strong, or maybe even stronger, without this slapped together antagonist. It was almost like as Br is gallivanting about, figuring out who he is, M. R. Jenks decided “this book needs an antagonist,” and thus he was born. I saw the potential for this antagonist to effect the story in the long-run, but there was not enough in this book to make him feel real or relevant in any way. Br and friends have a strange sense of urgency that “something is afoot.” Unfortunately, that is a very thin thread to stand on as the driving force for an antagonist.

“I have a feeling that there is an evil force. I think it wants to destroy the world. We had better hurry up and figure out who we are so that we can stop this world-destroying monster.”

It almost feels like someone running around yelling, “the sky is falling!” but instead they are yelling, “evil is afoot” without any real evidence of it.

Does Br figure out who he is? In a sense. Is the “evil” dealt with… not really. Is anything dealt with?… not really. The ending of Health:Exile falls flat. There is a lot of build up to the conclusion, and when it comes, the book just ends saying, “thanks for all the fish.” It’s like a story about some crazy scientist trying to figure out how to make a teleportation device. He gets it working, steps through, evil is on his tail, and then… The End.

Conclusion:

Health:Exile had a lot of potential. A man trying to figure out who he is. A fantasy world, but not like you would expect. The characters are well motivated and engage in the story. Sadly, the ending leaves too many question marks, and rampant use of passive voice makes it read more like a biography than fantasy literature. The story is intriguing, but the story telling is unflavourful.

Where you can find it:

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

Thread Strands by Leeland Arta

Epic fantasy of demi-gods and dragonflies. Yes, they have something in common… Thread Strands.

The Rating: 
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (For mild to moderate language)

Thread StrandsTicca and Lebuin are at it again. This time they are not searching for a missing mage, being chased by Knives, and casting enough magic to keep the dirt off their clothes – blame Lebuin for that last one – but instead are involved in… much more. To quote Leeland Arta himself “… the Gods and kingdoms find themselves preparing for war with the Nhia-Samri,” or at least that is some of what is happening. What else is going on in this book? What about that demi-god and dragonflies thing I mentioned? I suppose you will have to read the book to find out. (But for real, there are dragonflies, okay. I know it seems crazy, but just check out the cover art if you don’t believe me. Ooooo, pretty.)

The Good:

So, in case you couldn’t figure out from my crazy antics above, the cover art is amazing. Don’t believe me, just look at it… oooooo. Okay, enough of that. Leeland Arta slaps on a beautiful cover and again includes those nice hand drawn graphics inside to wet your whistle for what is to come… but that is all formatting gimmicks and things that we should be applauding the artist for, not the author. So… plus plus to the cover artist.

On the good about the actual writing… okay, on second thought… The glossary and numerous appendixes are a must mention once again. There is even more (I know, right) content in the back of this book than there was in Thread Slivers. You could almost read all the goodies in the back and make up a whole book of your own. Yes, it’s that intense. Arta really knows what he is doing when it comes to research and making the world fully developed.

Finally, on to the writing goods. The action scenes are pretty amazing. The reader does not get bogged down in pages and pages of spelling out every single sword swipe, but there is just enough description to keep you invested while still moving along nicely. In short, well detailed, but not overloaded like those cheeseburgers with “the works” on them that sometimes you can’t even get into your mouth. In the longer, more involved, fight scenes, Art switches up the POV just enough to get a flavour of the battle from all sorts of angles and perspectives giving the scenes a well-rounded feel. This also helps to keep things moving, while building suspense with the characters that Arta just left bleeding out. Are they going to die, you ask? Too bad. You will have to wait to find out. POV change time! This not only keeps the action going and builds suspense, but adds more emotion to the scene as the reader gets into many characters heads throughout the action.

Not to save the best for last, but this was the selling feature of the book for me. I absolutely fell in love with the history of the world and the mystery and tech involved in that. Arta gave us a taste in Thread Slivers, but Thread Strands definitely delivers. All of that glossary work finally begins to shine as the reader learns more about this well thought-out world that Arta has created. The presence of these reveals give Thread Strands a significantly different feel than book one. At times it almost takes on a Science Fiction flavour, which is quite unique in the midst of a militaristic epic fantasy novel. It’s like seeing a spaceship dropping aliens in the distance while Frodo makes the final climb to drop the One Ring to its fiery death… Okay, maybe not that drastic.

The Bad:

If you read my review of Thread Slivers, you may note that I rated it 3 stars, and this book only 2 stars. The biggest factor for this change is not that Arta‘s writing got worse with this sequel, but the bad parts of book one bled into book two, reducing its enjoyability. The ending of book one was poorly implemented, and this issue crosses into the first few chapters of Thread Strands. So many things are left hanging in the air that Arta has to spend a lot of time re-explaining what happened in book one to get the reader back up to speed. The tell vs. show model implemented for this purpose feels especially awkward because (in case you don’t recall) book one ended in the middle of a fight scene. This means that all of this dry explanation and re-telling is still happening in the middle of that same fight scene. This, unfortunately, slows the fight down to a crawl. Stab. Pause. By the way, in case you forgot… many paragraphs later… Slash. Parry. Oh, and do you remember this other thing that was happening? Dodge. Slice.

Another major issue that this book suffers from is poor implementation of explanations. Character A says, “And as everyone knows… blah, blah, blah.” This again is a poor use of the tell vs. show model. Many times the characters stop to chat about the world they live in and what is going on, or has gone on in the past. This does get the reader up to speed, but it comes off rather dry and unrefined. Sometimes characters are thrown into the conversation at appropriate times to ask the questions that the reader wants to ask, thus making the writing feel a bit rough. This bleeds into the sometimes rather lengthy thought processes of the characters in Thread Strands.

Why is Character A doing that? Thinks POV character. Oh, it must be because of this and that and the other thing. That makes perfect sense now!

This model leaves no room for the reader to ponder for themselves what is going on. If the motivations of the characters were more refined, such thought patterns wouldn’t be needed to explain certain elements.

Some scenes seem to jump ahead, leaving the reader lost a bit, trying to figure out how the chapter previous leads into the chapter present. It makes the book feel unfocused and leaves the reader confused a lot of the time. It is hard to follow character’s motivations because the reader is never sure who is who and why they are doing what they are, or how they got where they are. There is a lot going on in this book, and if more time was spent on leading the reader through some of the unwritten scenes, Thread Strands would feel more complete and be an easier read.

Again I have to talk about the ending. Thread Strands almost ends on a real cliffhanger (unlike Thread Slivers). Hurrah! There is a wonderful build-up to the final scene that leaves the reader with that give-me-more-right-now sense. This is what a cliffhanger is supposed to do. Unfortunately some of the other plot lines that are being followed do not resolve in any meaningful way, or at all for that matter. This leaves the reader scratching their head a bit. It was especially troublesome for me because there is even more glossary and appendix work in Thread Strands than there was in book one, so I thought there was still a fair amount of book left to read. My Kobo said page 316 of 381 when I was done, which translates to 82%.

Conclusion:

Thread Strands is a continuing tale filled with intrigue, intense action, and world building that will leave your senses tingling. The graphics on the cover and throughout show how much attention to detail that Arta puts into things… or maybe they are just good in their own right. Unfortunately, despite the wonderful world coming to life, histories being revealed, and battles being fought, the book doesn’t pull together as much I had hoped. The end is rough and the beginning is even rougher. The reader is babied a fair amount with tell vs. show and passive voice sections that keep them at a distance instead of invested into the glorious world and intriguing tale that Arta has created.

Where you can find it:

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

Dragon Fate by J.D. Hallowell

WARNING!  This book is not DRM-free!

The Rating:

What would you like to be when you grow up?  We have all been asked this question, but who has ever been asked what it’s like to be growing up.  If you are a dragon (which you’re not… unless there’s something you’re not telling me 😉 ) and someone asked you this not often asked question, J. D. Hallowell would respond with, “Hey, I wrote a book on that!”

Wait a minute, doesn’t the book description talk about intrigue?  Renegades?  World threatening “bad guys?”  Yes, and so does this book… eventually.

The Good:
Hallowell definitely thought a lot about this book before and during the writing process.  The highlight of and primary content in Dragon Fate is watching a dragon growing up.  Throughout this journey the reader has to opportunity to learn about dragon anatomy, biology, chemistry, culture etc.  Dragons being present in a fantasy novel is nothing novel (oh noes!  The puns!).  Mostly, however, they are involved mostly like any other non-character object would be in the world building process.

Author: “Let’s see here.  In order to make a good fantasy novel I need magic, swords, elves, mountains, forests, bad guys, heroes… oh, and dragons.”

Dragon Fate not only uses dragons because it is the thing to do, but it is about dragons.  Some would say that this book is a concise introduction to dragons.  If you don’t know anything about dragons, read this book and you will know everything there is to know about them: growth rate, diet, flight, fire-breath, etc.  I applaud Hallowell for putting so much thought and effort into what it means to be a developing dragon.

Something else that stands out in Dragon Fate is the relationship between dragon and rider.  This is by far the best part of the book.  The reader gets to experience their relationship as it buds and grows through the whole process of dragon development.  The dragon and her rider have a special bond that is not easily broken (unless you consider death easy… and if you do, don’t spread it around unless you want to be locked in a padded room wearing nothing but a straight jacket).

The Bad:
I could sum this up just by saying “the first two thirds of the book,” but that would be boring and doesn’t explain a whole lot.  Why did this book only deserve 2 stars?  Well, it was a hard choice between 2 stars and 3 because the last third of the book is actually pretty good and definitely deserves 3 or maybe even 4 stars.  This is where the plot starts picking up, and things happen, the story moves forward.  For the first two thirds of the book, however, we are simply watching a dragon grow up.  If you are a parent and you just loved sitting and staring at your kids while they grew, this may be the book for you.  It is not necessary the growing up that is the problem, but the way that it was done.

Like I said, what was good about this book is all of the time and effort put into what it means to be a dragon growing up, but this unfortunately doesn’t translate into good writing.  Most of the description was Delno (the protagonist) asking a question and the dragon, or someone else who knows a lot about dragons, answering.  This leaves giant sections of the book for extensive dialogue and in-depth explanation of the inner workings of dragons.  Unfortunately this is neither thought provoking or engaging from the reader’s stand-point.  Have you ever had someone explain something to you with such great detail that your eyes begin to glaze over and you lose focus on what they are even saying?  I can’t imagine how Delno didn’t experience this, because as a reader, I sure did.  This is the only issue with this book, but it is a big one.  If it takes two thirds of a book for the action and plot to finally start, many people will put it down not knowing if it will ever go anywhere.  I was tempted a number of times to set it aside for something else more engaging, but I pressed on and found that eventually it gets better, but you have to drudge through a lot of less than engaging sections before getting there.

When a book is done, usually the plot ends.  Yes, Dragon Fate has an ending, but I wouldn’t say it is a good one.  There is some conclusion and certain elements of the plot get resolved, but a lot is left unanswered.  I found myself wanting to know more about the characters in the story and the cultures of the world and less about the dragons and their anatomy.  I suppose this leaves room for the sequel, but what was introduced was not finished in an climactic way.  Because only the last third of book focused on plot and character development, a lot of it felt like Hallowell was done explaining about dragons and now just wanted to rush to the end to get the book over with.

There were a few spelling grammar errors that I noticed, but all in all this did not take away from the book.  Mostly they were incorrect or missing words and there maybe 4 or 5 in the entire 377 page book.  This, at least for me, was not a big issue at all, but it wouldn’t hurt for Hallowell to give it one more run through with the editor(s).

Conclusion:
All in all, this book was bearable, but barely.  I enjoyed the ending and I was glad to see the book through, but the journey there was like pulling teeth in slow motion.  Sometimes it is necessary to pull teeth, but if so, do it and get it over with instead of dragging it out like some sadistic dentist.  I hope that Dragon Blade (the second book in this series) progresses the plot better and does away the extensive explanation of the magic system and the inner workings of dragons, these having already been explained in this title, but am not crossing my fingers.  Dragon Fate had great potential and a good plot, but it was all fairly poorly implemented and left me feeling dry and unengaged by the tale.

Special Note:
I did not purchase this book, but was gifted it by the author.  As there is currently no way to buy a DRM-free version and I wanted to check out this title, I directed my concern to Hallowell and he gave me a copy Dragon Fate as well as Dragon Blade both DRM-free.  Hallowell assures me that he is currently working on offering e-book versions of these two title for purchase on his website, and the copies sold there will all be DRM-free, but until this feature is implemented, there is no sane way to purchase these titles.  If you are interested in this book, I would encourage you to contact the author directly or wait until you can purchase a DRM-free copy directly from him.

Where you can find it:

Nowhere DRM-free

Rise of the Aligerai by Kira R. Tregoning

A DRM-free Urban Fantasy tale

The Rating:

Would you rather have wings or hold destructive magic at the tips of your fingers? In Rise of the Aligerai you can do both! The first in an urban fantasy trilogy (I presume. Kira R. Tregoning shows that she is editing the second book as well as writing the third… so at least a trilogy anyway.)

This is a story of parallel realities… but not really. It’s a story about some college girls just trying to find their place in the world… but not really. Well, what does the description say? “Sita Newbury and her college roommates must protect both Earth and Corá from soul-stealing occultists or face the destruction of both worlds.” I guess that’s the best we’re gonna do.

If you have read this plot synonsis, you have read the book. Don’t get me wrong this is very lengthy book (164,000), especially for the price tag (free)… but is it a good book? I put that book at the top of my to-read list because I haven’t seen any hype at all about it, and thought it deserved at least one person to read it and say what they think. I guess I am that one person.

Tregoning gives a thank you in the forward of this book for all those who helped her via beta-reading, editing, or just general encouragement. The editing quality of this book really shines, as I don’t think that I found any poor grammar or spelling (not that I was reading with the criticizing eye of an editor, so there might be a few poorly placed commas or something). For such a lengthy book this must have taken a lot of time and I applaud Tregoning for doing this. There is nothing worse than struggling through poor editing to try to find the gem underneath. With the poor spelling/grammar out of the way, the read is free to find the gem… but there is no gem here.

Tregoning has a great idea for a great story, but that’s where the greatness ends. There is such great potential in this story for mystery and suspense, but the writing style throws that out the windows. It is told from a third person omniscient perspective to the point that the reader becomes very omniscient. There were a few parts in the story where the potential of a plot point or character drew me in, but soon enough the mystery was revealed to the reader in very plain words… and usually more than once.

For example (Minor Spoilers): At the beginning Sita Newbury is attacked. She then goes to college afterwards like nothing happens and the reader is left wondering what that was all about. Once arriving there they meet some guys (because who wouldn’t as a girl at college). The story switches perspectives to one of the guys (the attacker from the beginning) who avoids eye contact with Sita as to not be recognized. Nice hint, but not obvious. Then we switch back to Sita who thinks, I recognize that guy, but where from? not bad, but making it a little more obvious. At this point the reader knows that this guy is the attacker so the writing can go one of two ways A) reveal them to be who the reader thinks they are B) throw in a twist and be like, “actually, just kidding! You were wrong!” Tregoning chooses the former, but in a really bad way.
“That guy is bad news! He works for the enemy.”
“I knew I recognized him! He attacked me house.”
“That’s right, that was him.”
“What? He attacked your house?”
“Yes.”
“Yes.”
–Scene–
“You know, she remembers you attacking her house.”
“Well I did, so good on her for having a memory.”
–Scene– The next morning
“I can’t believe he would attack your house!”
“Well, he did.”

This is a glaring fault of this book that rears its ugly head time and time again. The reader is not left with any suspense at all. Though sometimes the characters may not know what is going on, the reader does, so it makes it less interesting when they find out, making the story predictable. One of the main drives of a good plot that keeps you reading is wanting to know what happens next. If you already know what happens next, why are you reading?

The second problem with this book is coupled with the first in that again I think it stems from the writing style. Everything is explained vs. shown. If the reader and characters need to know about a concept, there will be a dialogue section explaining it in great detail leaving a dry taste in your mouth. After the explanation nothing more need to be said because the other characters make sure to ask all the obvious questions along the way and clarify multiple times just to be sure that the reader gets it. Often-times concepts are explained more than once by different characters in different situations.

And the third problem? This book has basically one character… But wait? doesn’t the book description say “Sita Newbury and her college roommates?” Sure it does, but there are all one character. There are 5 girls who are part of this Aligerai, but they are all the same. All of them are the happy go lucky pre-teen squealing-at-everything-in-site-because-I-can person. Despite the fact that I find these people annoying in real life thus have no desire to encounter them in a fictitious world, I saw no reason to have five of them. The story would have worked just as well with just Sita Newbury at college. When they are all in a room together talking, it really doesn’t matter which one of them says what because they all will pretty much say the same thing in every situation. For the first third of the book I didn’t even remember their names because they were always together and talking, so it was basically irrelevant.

The Conclusion:
With all of these problems, why then did I give it 2 stars? Well, I thought about it for a bit, but I don’t think that it deserves one star simply out of respect for all of the work the author put into this. If someone sat day at their favourite text editor one evening, wrote until their fingers bled, opened paint and scribbled or a while for cover-art, and then posted the book… that is a one star review. This book is well editing, the plot is well thought out, it had some neat (though not new) concepts when it comes to magic and for this it deserves 2 stars.

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