The Sequel to Kingdom Come

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Kingdom’s Crest

I am happy to announce the sequel to Kingdom Come, entitled On Earth, As It Is. This book will be a standalone novel as well as a sequel. Most characters will return, and a number of new characters will be introduced. I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that more of this novel will be set on Earth than the first one. If you like the world of Kingdom, however, not to worry! There are many scenes on both worlds.

The novel starts with Earth couple Harold and Sondra discovering the queens of the fantasy world of Kingdom have been kidnapped. The queens have actually been transported to Earth and must find a way back. However, as part of the curse that brought them here, they must disguise themselves as regular women until they return. And with fairytale queens like sweet Snow White, lovestruck Cinderella, or warrior-minded Helga, the main characters have their hands full keeping them out of trouble.

Kingdom Come barely scratches the surface of the characters of the fairytale queens. As this novel takes place three years later, the queens have been ruling Kingdom and understand each other more. They’re less polite to each other (more like a family), but they also have stronger bonds with each other.

The novel will be classified as a new adult, fantasy novel acceptable for all genders and for a mature (14+) young adult. It contains mild profanity (lighter than a lot of YA novels), some violence, and a light, romantic scene. The novel’s themes explore what it’s like to be someone in their early twenties, and, while it’s certainly rooted in fantasy, the book has scenes of people raising children, worried about their jobs, and other “normal” activities. Before you can ask “What kind of a fantasy is this?”, rest assured, the novel contains sword-fighting and monster-vanquishing a-plenty as well.

Technically, the book will be about the same length, illustrated by the great Daniel Johnson, and available on all major bookseller sites. I strive to bring you the best product I can. It has been critiqued by a number of different people, and it has been professionally edited. I want to make sure you will get your money’s worth.

I hope to publish in spring of 2019. As time passes, I will update this post with a more accurate date. I hope you pick it up, read it, and enjoy it. I had a blast writing it.

Jim Doran

Review of Super

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Super is the first novel of (so-far) three books and multiple short stories. It depicts a world where certain people have fallen into a coma and emerge with superhuman powers — able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and all that.

An action adventure, Super starts with not-so-mild-mannered Zita Garcia on a blind date which goes bad quickly. We are introduced to Zita and discover she’s quite a handful to people who break the law. After Zita emerges from her coma, still powerless, she finds she and her companions are all stuck in a locked-down medical facility. While the world outside is starting to adjust to living with superheroes, Zita’s world is all about getting out of this “jail” to continue her extreme sports activities. Unfortunately, villains have designs on the people in the institution and one night, all hell breaks loose.

Without giving too much away, Zita discovers her powers and becomes involved in a kidnapping case. She doesn’t seek out justice, but finds herself often in situations where she must use her powers against evil-doers, both human and superhuman. I won’t reveal her abilities–as that would be spoilerific–other than to say she has multiple gifts and her primary power is quite creative.

While there are actions scenes aplenty, the characters also have time to themselves to interact and learn their new abilities. The plot engaged me from chapter one and I never wanted to put it down. Despite her abrasive nature, I enjoyed Zita’s personality and found it a refreshing change from the modern “dark” hero or the “I regret having any powers” anti-hero. While Zita doesn’t decide to become a crime fighter, she consistently makes moral choices in dangerous situations — always the true test of a hero. This made me root for her through the novel.

I’ve read a lot of comic books and graphic novels so superhero origin stories aren’t anything new to me, but I enjoyed the playful way Zita’s origin story was told. I liked how she and other characters had to learn their powers and how and where she exercised them. I also found Zita’s arc in the story interesting. And while I think others may want her to go from less snippy to more heroic, I’m glad she didn’t. It gave her an edge and makes her unique among other people in tights.

The story’s narrative style is difficult to follow at points and it took me a while to get into the flow, but eventually I got it. The plot and characters carried me over the rough spots, but you may want to read the first chapter to get a sense of the book. I think others may have wanted to dig deeper into Zita, but there’s so much going on in this novel, I’m happy to leave that for a future offering.

This novel exudes fun. It’s a positive take on the superhero genre, and it hits all the required sequences you would expect. Overall, I’m glad I picked up Super.

Review “I’m Not Saying It”

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I don’t read romance novels, not as a rule, but because I’m more of a mystery, fantasy, sci-fi sort of reader. However, I love all things Ireland so when I saw the romance novel “I’m Not Saying It” was set on a small island off the coast of Ireland, I had to check it out. The story blurb intrigued me and I thought I’d expand my reading tastes a bit.

I’m glad I did.

The novel follows a week in the life of a successful travel blogger and vlogger, Shade and musician and mysterious guy Diarmuid as they meet on an island. They decide to not talk about their past or discuss much about themselves, but live as much as possible in the present. After one night of heavy drinking, they agree to meet again. And after a few days of being together, they find they are…let’s say they aren’t saying it.

I found Eóin Brady’s first novel quite a treat. The writing is first-rate, the characters are sufficiently complex, and the twists and turns well done. It has a lot of great humor and some scenes, especially those involving a drone, which were quite imaginative. The dialog is witty and snappy, and the emotions both Shade and Diarmuid feel are genuine. You get a sense of Shade early in the novel by “When travelling to a new country, one of the first things Shade learned in the language was how to say goodbye.” The novel is third-person omniscient so you bounce back and forth inside both of their heads.

Ireland comes alive as well. I felt I was on the island as I read the book and passages like “The gnarled, stunted trees shaped by the wind were like frozen, black tendrils of smoke seeping from the cracks in the stone.” and “The moon was only a quarter full, a great eye always looking off somewhere else, a curious moon.” The culture and atmosphere of the country add to unique story as I had hoped when I picked up the novel.

The chapters zip along, bringing us deeper and deeper into the worlds of Shade and Diarmuid. Music, shared fears of small creatures, blog entries, and unexpected wakes tell not only the tale of a romance but an Irish contemporary as well. I can almost picture a person doffing an Aran-sweater relaying one part of this story or another. I have a soft spot for Irish tales, so this was right up my alley.

The author noted he is working on a sequel to this novel. There are missing pieces in both the main character’s back stories, so I’m eager to return to the world of Shade and Diarmuid. I hope they end up on a certain Emerald Isle once again, drone in hand.

Kingdom Come References

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Kingdom Come Image

Warning: Many spoilers ahead for Kingdom Come!

One of my goals in writing Kingdom Come was to mix in traditional characters with my own characters to create a fairy tale world where everyone lives together. Has this been done before? Yes. Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”, Chris Colfer’s “Land of Stories” series, and many more. I found Colfer’s books after I had finished my first draft and enjoyed it, but was relieved I had done something different. My world is religious, political, and true to the origin stories. I read a lot of fairy tales researching the book, and one of my objectives was to sprinkle in the more obscure tales into the main narrative.

First, spoilers about the cover (above). The front cover is an acrylic painting Daniel Johnson made for me and it hangs, framed, in my room. He and I put a few Easter eggs in the painting. From left to right, we have Snow White, Cinderella, Penta, Valencia – the Little Match Girl, and Helga. All are fairytale princesses from various authors. My Snow White and Cinderella are Grimm’s version which differed from the more popular versions (e.g. Cinderella’s slippers are golden not glass like Perrault’s. See https://tinyurl.com/y8mm929p). Naturally, the large version of the painting has more detail. The rose in Snow White’s hair was placed there to evoke the thought of the character “Rose” Red without drawing her. I chose white instead of red because of the rose in Snow White’s hair when Hero first meets her. Cinderella’s banner is purposely folded because the slipper is a dead giveaway. Cinderella is the happy princess and somehow I wanted to express this, but I didn’t want her to smile at such a serious scene. If you look at the bottom of her coat, you’ll see two buttons and hem that curves upward. Smiley faces? You bet. The hem of Valencia’s shirt reflects her poor condition of course. But if you flip her upside down, you may spot sharp blue flames with black smoke (her skirt) . Originally I was going to ask Daniel to depict her with colors like a match, red at the fringe with a yellow band above, but I chickened out. Helga has her trustworthy flail by her side and knives in her belt. If you look close enough you’ll spot she’s wearing a cross. Appropriate for her nature. Let me say that a lot of creativity in this illustration is thanks to Daniel and his research. I came to him with a vague idea and he crystalized it. My wife and I chose many of the colors of the women’s clothes.

Regarding the novel itself, the queens are all fairy tale characters although you may not recognize them all. Penta is a combination of the Italian story “Penta” but her origin story more resembles “The Girl Without Hands.” ( In Kingdom Come, she refers to it on pages 256 – 257). Cinderella/Radiance is, of course, Cinderella herself (P. 279 – 280), but she’s also the ballerina in the “The Steadfast Soldier.” Snow White is the famous “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (P. 66, entire “The Lady under Glass”) but also  Snow White of “Snow White and Rose Red.” (P. 57, 71). Valencia is of course, The Little Match Girl (P. 204 – 205, et. al.). Helga is the Marsh King’s Daughter (P. 160 – 161). There is another Icelandic fairy tale entitled “Helga.” She based on that one too, but I removed most of the chapter dealing with that origin story.

The other characters are from famous fairy tales too. Rose Red is from “Snow White and Rose Red” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” (P. 45). Jorinda and Joringel are from the fairy tale of the same name as is Honest John. Roger, particularly his leg, is from “Ten Brave Soldiers” as well as the “Steadfast Tin Soldier.” (P. 303). He’s actually also the prince in Cinderella too as they marry after the novel. I liked the idea he becomes royalty because of her and not the other way around. Bettle’s children are “Hansel and Gretal.” (P. 216). Goldilocks appears on page 196-197. The donkey, dog, cat, and rooster are “The Bremen Town Musicians.” And Turducken fulfills the “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” In all, there are eighteen fairy tale references in the novel.

More spoilers.

Planet speaks in contractions only when talking to Harold. When Harold wakes and overhears her talking in her sleep, she is clearly having an amorous conversation with someone. You can tell it’s Harold because she uses a contraction.

These lines, in a conversation between Harold and Penta back at the Inn of Five near the end of the book, have a funny backstory.

Harold: “Do you think Daemon will return?”

Penta: “As sure as the Lions will lose the Superbowl.”

Originally, Penta was supposed to go to Chicago and her original response was “As sure as the Cubs would lose the pennant.” I thought her ending up in Chicago a lot more of an overwhelming experience than in Detroit — larger buildings, more activity. As they say, “man plans and God laughs.” Well, God laughed at me because a few months before I went to publish, the Cubs won the pennant! This left me scrambling. I wanted a pop reference and a sport reference, and it had to be a failing team. I like the Lions and hated writing that line, but if it had to be, it had to be. On the plus side, knowing Detroit better than Chicago, I was able to pinpoint exactly where Penta appeared in the city and where she went instead of the vague nameless alley I had in mind in Chicago. I hope to share Penta’s backstory with you one day — there’s a lot of interesting tidbits that define her character.

This blog has gone on way too long, but I’m happy to pull back the curtain a bit in the hopes you enjoy the story even more. If you haven’t read it, shame on you for reading this blog, but I hope it piques your interest enough to give it a try.

 

Review 30 Days Without Wings

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The novel, 30 Days Without Wings, a fantasy novel aimed at YA readers, tells the story of Elise, a fairy who trades in her wings for legs and her tiny size for human height. Elise is at the age where she must declare what she will do for the rest of her life in front of a fairy council. She makes an unusual request and asks for a manifest, a leave of absence for 30 days, to live with another colony. In her case, the other colony is a human neighborhood. Elise thinks she’ll be more comfortable in the world of homo sapiens than fairies. Don’t try to guess why she wants to leave the fairy world. I guarantee it’s darker than what you think.

The council grants her leave, and with the reluctant help of a friend, Elise’s legs elongate and she proceeds to stomp through the forest, adjusting to her legs as well as her loss of her wings. Her travails as a human at first made me laugh, and the initial scenes are creative. Elise finds a job and a place to live rather quickly and with a touch of help, is enrolled in high school at her self-proclaimed age of sixteen. Elise has thirty days to decide whether to stay with the humans or return to the fairies.

I thought I had this story figured out after reading the early chapters. The novel unfurled as I expected as she turned human. I enjoyed the pixie’s observations of being so tall. After she finds a job and enters high school, I predicted what would happen next, but suddenly the novel took an unexpected turn and then another. I expected one character to follow a stereotypical arc you’d find in stories between an awkward fantastical creature and a ruggedly handsome boy but the novel took him in a different direction. The climax was both logical and satisfactory. I was surprised how innocent it started and how complex it ended. In this way, it exceeded my expectations. I anticipated the angst, the longing, but not the realistic portrayal of how a story like this would naturally play out.

This novel has surprising depth for its length. The author, Tabatha Shipley, packs a lot into her plot and characters without a lot of detail and wrings a great deal of emotion out of her readers.

Promise Kept

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At the end of 2017, before I published Kingdom Come, I made a list detailing how I would promote my first novel. The most exciting entry was a promise I would make to the reading community. I would offer new content each month to anyone who would visit my blog. I always knew the content would mostly consist of short stories, various prequels I had written while revising my novel, but I also planned to display some original artwork from Daniel, the artist of Kingdom Come. Naive dude that I am, I had this vision that people would come back each month as I posted the new story or illustration and would wait in anticipation for my next entry.

It didn’t happen quite that way.

After I uploaded my December offering, I looked back and realized that, while the throngs of people eagerly holding their breath didn’t happen, I gained something else equally important. I started the year with six stories and plans for three illustrations. I ended the year with eight stories (one in two parts) and three illustrations. In other words, I didn’t have enough content to cover the year when I started and I was worried I would fail to dream up new stories, or (worse) publish substandard submissions. I’m proud of the stories I wrote this year which were The Dwarf’s Report, Do Not Save the Princess, and The Witch, the Flower, and The Golden Goose. Their ideas, their quality, and how they contribute to Kingdom are as important as the rest of the stories.

The second hurdle was finishing a short story each month. I also decided to finish a huge project at the same time, and I was determined to complete it in 2018. In my priority list, I ranked that second than my monthly short stories because of my public promise though I knew no one was holding me to it. I struggled because my heart belonged to my big project, but my brain knew I had made this promise. I was overcommitted. I managed to make monthly goals and get in the stories while I worked on the project at the same time. As it turns out, the big project hit a significant milestone at Thanksgiving, so I was more relaxed working on the last month’s story.

While patting myself on the back here, the other lesson I learned was the best goals are those we achieve together. This wasn’t only my effort. Daniel Johnson provided illustrations of my novel, allowing me a much-needed break at various points. And Lauren Nalepa and Dan both illustrated front covers for the stories, giving the tales the needed zing required to entice readers. My goal wasn’t achieved strictly through my own toil, I had help, and I cannot express my appreciation enough to my two artists.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2018 with this blog and these stories. When I recently met with my friend Dan, he pointed out that my short stories, when combined, are the length of a novel. Essentially, I wrote and revised an unplanned novel in 2018. How cool!

I’ve always worried about what would happen if an agent or publisher did reach out and set a deadline for me to give them my work. Would I be able to handle it? This 2018 promise has given me the confidence I can make deadlines. If the due date is reasonable and I prioritize my time correctly, I can set small goals (i.e. one story per month) to reach major milestones (i.e. an entire novel).

I certainly didn’t achieve all my writing goals in 2018. I wanted to make significant progress on another novel in 2018. Yeah, I didn’t come close to that one. But I learned from that goal as well. I made progress toward it which is important, and I’m not discouraged. It becomes a 2019 goal. Do not let your lack of progress discourage you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. Journey on, and when you reach your goal, you’ll see the work, not the accomplishment itself, is as important as reaching the end.

If you are reading this and have read any of my stories, thank you for making the effort. Know that, without a reader, an author’s work goes unnoticed. My goal is always to entertain and make it worth your time to read my work. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as well.

And maybe the stories won’t stop…

Review of Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha

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Cover

I should’ve been born in the time of pulp magazines when Doc Savage and The Shadow ruled the shelves. Running home with my latest August Derleth, Henry Kuttner, or titles like “Lagoda’s Heads” would’ve been a thrilling experience. Alas, I was born too late and had to buy reprints. However, my guess is George Lucas did run home with pulp magazines under his arm and today we have a certain ophidiophobic (fear of snakes) archeologist embedded in pop culture, Mr. I. J.

Recently, I spotted Brina Williamson’s Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha on a reading list on Amazon. The fantastic cover harkens back to the great adventure movies of all time, including a film involving “lost arks.” As you can imagine, I purchased it immediately, and it secured a spot as the next book on my reading list. I could not wait to start reading it. Could. Not. Wait.

A few chapters in, I knew I had acquired a well-plotted novel with interesting characters. The book was all-sorts of pulpish joy. I was concerned it would be too much like a Professor Jones adventure as it was similar to the beginning of the first movie. I’m happy to report this book follows its own trajectory.

Merona Grant, self-proclaimed adventuress, is hired to find the lost thirty silver pieces of Judas he received for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. Legend surrounds where the silver ended up. A wealthy aristocrat, a dog sidekick, a doctor from Australia (but not from the outback), and a linguist who helps bring them together join forces when a map to Judas’ tomb is discovered. Merona, in desperate need of money, brings in a pilot who…gads…happens to be the only man in the pack of treasure-seekers. Before you can say “H. Rider Haggard,” bullets and chase scenes ensue. Following that, our heroes fly away (with not one but two cliffhangers in the air) and start following a unique map to the (deep announcer voice) Lost Tomb of Golgotha. There are puzzles and traps galore before they reach the tomb. Unlike in the Bible where Golgotha means “Place of the Skull” for a certain reason, the Golgotha in this novel is a literal skull-shaped place.

Characters are fleshed out more than in a typical pulp adventure story. Merona is no Indiana despite her pugilistic and gun skills, her trademark adventurer’s special “weapon”, and her affinity for her hat. She has a rich backstory and a ruthless manner of which Dr. Jones would not approve. She shares with most heroes a dogged determination and insightful nature which serves her well in this adventure. Her team’s dynamic make for snappy dialog and exciting scenes.

The writing is top-notch and contains just enough description to enliven the story but not too much to bog down the narrative. The settings, which I don’t want to give away, are exotic and on-the-mark for this type of story. The plot devices are imaginative and the way characters deal with them realistic. The enemies are sufficiently menacing, although I wish the final main encounter had lasted a bit longer. Everything you hope for in a novel like this is delivered with enough imagination to fill two books instead of one. The reader will not be disappointed.

I want to highlight three elements of Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha. The first is if you’re going to write an adventure novel, you have to have good pacing. This novel, over 400 pages, rarely lagged. What made Raiders such a classic movie was the breathtaking sequences, each topping the one preceding it. The same is true here. The pacing is excellent and the cliffhangers are not the typical “A car raced toward them.” The heroes are in real danger and they realistically solve their problems. The second is the snappy dialog of Merona. She has some of the best witticisms I’ve read in a long time. An example occurs when a pug-ugly comes to threaten her to pay a debt and informs her her time is up. Her reply? “Oh please. You’re not the “time’s up” kind of guy…No, I’d peg you as more of a first or second warning goon, which means I have at least a month before the real threats start.” I noted at least ten instances when I laughed out loud and the eleventh, a reference to where Merona grew up, is a classic. And the last highlight, but not least, is the author is also the illustrator. The novel comes with sketches throughout which absolutely drew me in and brought the story alive. I refrained from flipping through the illustrations before I read the story. It was hard, but I’m glad I did because it was a delight each time I came across a sketch.

Remember how I said at the beginning that I wanted to hold a pulp novel in my hands and have the fun a young person may have had in the 1930s? This novel will indeed give you that experience. If you remotely enjoy the pulp fiction of yesteryear, or want an adventure story stuffed with thrills, pick up Brina Williamson’s Merona Grant and the Lost Tomb of Golgotha. You won’t regret it.

All images Copyright (c) Brina Williamson

Review of Abbac1

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Oh the tyranny of the second book of a trilogy! Bridging the first book to the last, it must still take its place as a relevant member of a three-book series and not exist solely as a pass-through. I’m happy to say Karma Lei Angelo’s second book in her trilogy, Abbac1, is a fine novel in its own right.

The book starts where the first book, Modi Ind0rum, left off. It assumes the reader has read the first entry in the trilogy. Our main character, Ameena Jardine, AJ, reacts to a shocking revelation which ended the first novel. From there, she continues her investigation of the murders of the Fasciata, a dangerous underworld cartel intent on selling a potent drug.

AJ has issues she’s dealing with throughout the novel. She has a partner she doesn’t know if she can trust, an informant who knows too much, a boss who is withholding information, and a missing person who she’s desperately seeking. At home, she continues to mourn her first husband, deals with the illness of her father, interacts with a daughter with a hidden ability, and must choose between not one but two romantic interests. During the course of the novel, no less than five murders occur. Described in stark detail, it becomes clear to the detectives that the murders are not random drug overdoses. When the code is finally cracked, AJ looks to be on the verge of administering justice but then…

I’m purposefully being vague on details, but found this to be an engaging and quick read. I finished the majority of the book over two days. Equal parts thriller and mystery, the pacing never lets up and leads to the reader to that important element of all middle books of a trilogy, the cliffhanger at the end. The last fifty pages make for some brutal reading. I don’t recommended it for the squeamish.

The characters become more defined in this novel as you may expect. AJ in particular grows from a rookie to confidant detective. She can be foolhardy at times and the reader may wonder “what is she thinking by doing that?” but that’s part of the charm of the story. But AJ has real emotions, and must overcome her demons, both in her mind and the ones in the world, to move on with her life.

I took a liking to Conrad, AJ’s boss, more in this novel. He came across, especially at the start of the novel, as more of a protector than a middle manager. While it’s revealed he has his secrets, there’s a sense of paternal guardianship over AJ. Her partner Tony comes across as more quixotic. The author also introduces a trio of new, reprehensible characters associated with the Fasciata who play an important part near the conclusion.

There are winsome and witty passages in Abbac1. When a medical examiner teases AJ about her feelings for her partner, she says, “Oh my, look at the eighty-nine flustered of flavors on you.” And a harmless sleepover by AJ’s partner leads to all kinds of confusion when her mother walks in on them. These scenes are a welcome break to an otherwise tense novel, including a phone call to AJ that forces her to listen in while someone is murdered. The author gives the reader a number of chilling details and then, at the end, uses them to dial the suspense to maximum. The end was certainly the best part of the novel.

Not only is the writing clever and filled with suspense, its elegant prose heightens ordinary scenes as well. At one point, AJ receives a gift of a vase. “The vase whimsically spiraled like a polished strand of DNA. Each spiral edge beveled around, and the light caught every reflection, causing it to shimmer rainbows of colors everywhere.”

Lastly, I know the first novel in the trilogy was well-researched but it really shows in this novel. The author has done her homework in spades. At one point, the main character visits a research center and asks about octopi. A detailed description follows, never slowing the story down but stuffed with information. The narrative, whether in the medical examiner’s room or describing “the breakthrough” is authentically presented to the reader.

This was a fun book to read and I look forward to the next, and last one, in the trilogy.

 

 

The Last Dragon Princess

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The Last Dragon Princess is a young adult, fantasy novel by Cynthia Payne. I was honored to be a beta reader for an earlier draft, and I purchased and reread it in order to review the official version of the book.

The story centers on a young woman named Danu, a so-called Breeder. Breeders are Hisgeii (aka people) with special marks whose sons will be special. The sons, known as Shifters, can transform into dragons. Depending on the parents’ caste, the dragon will be born with certain powers. As the story starts, Danu’s people are trapped within one city of her world, hemmed in by the approach of an enemy known as the “Creators.” Creators subjugated the Hisgeii until the people overthrew them and cast them into the far side of the world. The planet, one half stuck in sunlight and the other in darkness, is co-inhabited by Hisgeii and creators.

Danu, the last Breeder of the Hisgeii, is about to take her vows when the council requests she choose the next king from the Shifters and marry him. Danu, unaware she was to become queen and choose the next king, is quite taken aback. Demure and reticent, Danu feels the responsibility of the task before her. And at the end of the ceremony, when a renegade Shifter also joins the list of potential suitors, Danu is overwhelmed by her newfound duties.

And this is only the first chapter.

This novel has many interesting elements which come together elegantly into a cohesive story. There’s the reverse-harem aspect of Danu choosing a king, action sequences with the creators, a few romantic encounters, and dragon demonstrations and fighting aplenty. There’s also intrigue: court politics, assassination attempts, and tricky alliances. About two-thirds through the book, the narrative takes a curious twist which I believe most readers won’t see coming but will enjoy. After this turn of events, the tension mounts to an action-packed conclusion. Kudos to the author for an end that is both satisfying and complete.

Mashing her own world with those of Greek mythology, Ms. Payne weaves a tapestry of the fantastic and the regular. She dives directly into her world which takes some effort to understand the lingo and the caste system, but after the new terms become familiar, it’s worth it. What first seems like it will be a “who will she choose” romance quickly blossoms into a much more complex and deeper plot.

Myth-like in concept, The Dragon Princess includes a scene a third of the way through the novel that is as exciting as most other book’s conclusions. It glides along with effervescent ease. I would have never guessed this was the author’s debut novel. As wonderful as it is, there are a few sequences which could’ve been tightened, but most passages are well-paced and nicely plotted.  The characters: innocent Danu, guileful Calmus, roguish Garm, wise Pyrrah, and honorable Hagen, stick in your memory long after reaching the end. The final sequence gives us multiple cliffhangers, an inventive scheme by our heroes, and a realistic yet fantastic character arc. It’s rare when a book gets better the further it goes along, but this one does.

The Last Dragon Princess is a worthwhile purchase. It has all of the elements of a great fantasy adventure: a charismatic main character, a detailed and descriptive setting, and — of course — dragons. So if you’re looking for a dragon story with romance and suspense, look no further.

 

The Healer of Guildenwood

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The Healer of GuildenWood: The Soultrekker Chronicles by Mary F. Calvert is a YA portal fantasy in the tradition of the sword and sorcery novels most speculative fiction readers enjoy. It tells the story of a high school senior Margaret Ann who wants to blend in with the rest of her classmates but is instead pulled into a Tolkienesque fantasy world, not as an eighteen-year-old human, but as a young adult elf. Once she arrives in the world of Bensor, she loses track of key memories of her life on Earth but retains enough to remember basic facts and slang. Now named Arwyn, she begins her new life in a small village, rooming with a benevolent husband and his pregnant and equally kind wife. From there, Arwyn has a number of adventures while gaining the admiration, but never the acceptance, of her neighbors. For in Bensor, elves have moved away from humans and, for the most part, keep to themselves. An elf in Arwyn’s small hamlet is certainly unusual. Without spoiling too much, the story interweaves an unwelcome suitor, a corrupt king, a detailed history, superhuman abilities, and a number of loyal friends into the narrative.

 

There’s a lot to like here. The world-building is, in particular, well thought out and a cut above most novels I’ve read in this genre. The novel comes with a wonderful map (we fantasy readers love our maps). My one critique of the map is it’s small, and I had to squint to read some of the names. Nonetheless, the detail on the map raised the expectations of this reader for the story ahead. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. The way the author wrote the novel convinced me she had a story or two behind each location in Bensor. Her descriptions of her settings also engage the reader immediately: “…it was the shining city of Maldimere set high atop a cliff overlooking the cobalt blue Eleuvial Sea…And if the palace was the crown, then the mass of white buildings that spread from the top of the hill and down to the bay were golden hair, shimmering in the light of the setting sun.” The author’s descriptions aren’t only about gloriously beautiful places for her description of the dungeon of Dungard below Maldimere channel the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe—unexpected in a fantasy novel. I could picture Dungard perfectly and really enjoyed the chapters set there.

I applaud Calvert’s use of language as well. She has an ear for an “olde tyme” way of speaking without it collapsing into nonsense (e.g. “early” becomes “airly”, etc.). This is hard to keep consistent when you have one character, Arwyn, speak like an American and everyone else in a different manner. She’s also careful to vary the dialect by a character’s station in life.

Bensor has a rich past as well, and some of it comes out in the first half of the book. While the narrative stops for the history lesson—I’d rather it flowed within the episodes of the book—it speaks to the depth of thought in constructing this world. I won’t reveal it, but this portal world has a connection to Earth, and when a major event occurred in our past, the ripples of it impacted Bensor. I love connections like this and thought this idea especially clever.

I especially enjoyed how the author started the book and the interstitials she uses at the beginning of the chapters. The hook from the first two chapters is wonderful.

Arwyn’s character journey through the book comes full circle by the end. She is a different person than Margaret Ann and on the cusp of something great. While the episodes within Guildenwood are contained, you should know the book doesn’t end in the traditional sense. This is very much a Fellowship of the Ring style of a story, not The Hobbit. That is, you’re investing in a trilogy, not a single novel.

Authors, using only words, are capable of pulling magic tricks, and Ms. Calvert pulled off a special one in Guildenwood. It follows the swords and sorcery tradition fairly closely but leaves behind one major element…the big battle. This isn’t that type of novel. This novel takes care to describe how a displaced elf becomes a force to be reckoned with. It’s truly an origin story.

Minor elements that caught my eye include a nice bit of humor thrown in here and there, the characters were honest and memorable, the names alone of people and places builds a picture in one’s mind, and the writing style natural and fluid. Like C. S. Lewis, the author incorporates religious themes into the work without hammering the reader over the head.

This is a great read, not quite what I expected, but a pleasure to get lost in. It’s almost a frontier tale with magic, sort of Little House on the Prairie meets Eragon. I thought the mashup of the two distinct genres fascinating and The Header of Guildenwood is well worth picking up. Onto book number 2!